By Mohammed Nosseir
After committing their deadly crimes, terrorists often leave a message that Islam or the Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) is the motive behind their crimes. Scholars logically follow this lead, digging deeper into the Quran in an attempt to solve the puzzle of Islam to determine what motivates Muslims to kill innocent people, and accusing Muslims in general of being incapable of tolerating freedom of expression and satire.
Although terrorists openly profess that religion is the motive behind their crimes, the ready acceptance of this assertion by scholars places them firmly on the wrong side of history, creating an obvious confusion. Let us try to understand the true circumstances that shape these terrorists and identify our responsibilities.
The problem with terrorists is not their intolerance of freedom of expression, per se. It lies, in essence, in their inability to either express themselves or exercise their freedom in their respective countries. The absence of democracy, quality education and decent employment opportunities are the seeds extremist leaders exploit to convert people to terrorism. The republishing of the Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) cartoons a few years ago was the easy justification for the recent terrorist attack.
If Charlie Hebdo had not published its cartoons, the terrorists would have found another target to attack; they were mentally ready to express their anger and frustration by committing a terrorist crime. Terrorists have been killing thousands of Muslims in their respective countries, for no good reason, long before the Charlie Hebdo massacre took place. The true explanation for their barbaric acts therefore has nothing to do with westerners or satirists.
Furthermore, there is no doubt that terrorist attacks in general are a part of the ongoing power struggle that has been taking place in the Middle East over the past decades. Political Islamists in almost all of the 22 Arab states (with the exception of just a few countries) are not free to express their opinions. While their arguments are often nonsensical and full of hatred, listening to their extreme verbal discourse (which can eventually be corrected) is still preferable to the loss of innocent civilian lives.
The entire world is happily, and rightly, proclaiming the guilt of these terrorists – but what is crucial is to avoid pushing other extremists to commit new crimes. We must admit that we are, in a sense, guilty of leaving these extremists live their inferior, miserable lives, letting them develop an intensive anger against their communities. These people are left with nothing to cherish but their obeisance to a misconception of religion defined by ignorant leaders, which concludes in the murder of innocent people. Some extremists have deliberately chosen this life, but the vast majority is helplessly trapped into these ugly circumstances. These unfortunate people are surrounded by millions of Muslims who share their dismal environment and are unhappy with their lives, but who are impeded by their better education and relatively higher standards of living from becoming involved in criminal activity.
Using the label of Islam for the recent terrorist attack is not only a convenient excuse for the terrorists; it also serves as an excellent justification for many others. It allows terrorists and their extremist affiliates to claim that they die in defence of Islam and are therefore martyrs headed for heaven; it encourages autocratic Arab rules to enhance their narrative claiming that Islamists pose a real threat to the entire world and should be barred from access to power (thus putting an end to democracy); it provides citizens who are not happy about tolerating emigrants to their countries with an excuse for persisting with their social marginalisation and maintaining their second-class citizen status.
Western scholars working on solving the Islam puzzle to determine what drives Muslims to kill innocent people are simply wasting their time. Being an extremist and, eventually, a terrorist is a state of mind fuelled by a number of circumstances and specific cultural traits. It is completely unrelated to the Quran.
The Holy Book of any given religion can be read and interpreted in different ways depending on the reader’s perception, in which culture and education play a major role. People believe the concept that terrorist acts are committed in defence of religion – but the reality is different. We must ask the question; why is it that, although the number of Asian Muslims is substantially greater than that of Arab Muslims, the vast majority of terrorists are Arabs?
We have to face up to the fact that a large portion of the Arabs in this world feels inferior! Due to the absence of genuine democratic systems, these Arabs are not treated as first-class citizens in their home countries, and they receive the same treatment when they leave their homes to live in advanced nations.
The small numbers of immigrants who are successfully integrated into their new countries are the exception to the norm. The norm is the illegal immigrant who faces a number of challenges; from being torn between two cultures, to having to deal with a major language barrier, to the painful search for employment that barely allows him to survive, all while trying to hide from law-enforcement officers to avoid deportation. After a long and arduous process, the immigrant finally becomes a second-class citizen.
While the majority of the suffering Arabs who decide to immigrate know that this move will lead to the miserable route described above, the decisions they make are still a matter of choice and privilege. Rather than exact revenge on the innocent citizens of their adopted countries (who have often paid a price to accommodate them), immigrants have the option to return to their home countries.
This argument may be a valid one to use when addressing well-educated, mature people – but a large portion of those who move to escape the poor living conditions back home lacks these qualities. Furthermore, the ugly truth is that we Arabs have been raised to believe that the West (Europe and the United States) is conspiring against Islam and Muslims, and is somehow responsible for all our problems. Arab rulers, who often condemn terrorism in public, have never attempted to correct this notion; it is beneficial to them because it serves to distract citizens from the real challenges they face at home. Even so, the West is also guilty of not correcting its image in the Arab world and of not being genuine in its condemnation of the lack of values in autocratic nations.
A huge cultural difference definitely exists between westerners who for decades have enjoyed living under full-fledged democratic values (including the right to freedom of expression protected by the rule of law), and Arabs and Muslims who are still struggling to obtain their basic human rights. For well-educated people to provoke millions of poor and illiterate citizens who literally possess nothing to be proud of in life apart from their religion is utterly insensible.
The primary challenge that the international community needs to address is to prevent the making of new terrorists. The current expression of courage by Western citizens demonstrating their fearlessness in the face of terrorism will not put an end to terrorist attacks against innocent civilians. We must work on the root of the problem, which lies in the home countries of the terrorists.
Preventing the emergence of terrorism should be the responsibility of the entire international community. We cannot condone or accept, by any means, the loss of innocent lives due to acts of terrorism. Nevertheless, in attempting to resolve the problem, we must not permit ourselves to be satisfied with the obviously superficial approach of condemning the crime and expressing solidarity with the victims’ families.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian Liberal Politician working on reforming Egypt on true liberal values, proper application of democracy and free market economy. Mohammed was member of the Higher Committee and headed the International Relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012