Our enemies are theirs: Answer to Paris is not Islamophobia

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As I’m writing this, over 130 civilians have been confirmed dead, with an additional 300 wounded, after organized terrorist attacks on Paris this Friday night. Bodies are still being counted and identified. Thousands of Parisians, unsure of their friends’ and family’s safety, still fear the worst. Paris has experienced its worst catastrophe since the Second World War, and the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) has staged a terrorist attack of unprecedented scale and scope. The whole world is reeling. As I mourn for Paris, I also fear the impact of this attack on more than 4 million Syrian refugees and 1.6 billion Muslims across the planet.

After a night of celebratory social media posts from ISIS members and sympathizers, the extremist group officially declared responsibility for the attacks in a statement released Saturday morning. The group claimed that the main sites of carnage were specifically targeted: popular rock venue the Bataclan, “where hundreds of idolaters were together in a party of perversity;” the Stade de France, where “the imbecile” French President Francois Hollande was attending a soccer match; as well as the streets of several bustling restaurant districts. With its tough stance on terrorism and often Islamophobic rhetoric, France has long been at the center of the jihadist group’s hatred of the West.

“France and those who follow its path must know that they remain the principal targets of the Islamic State,” said the statement, claiming that the attacks were in retaliation for French airstrikes against jihadist strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

The attacks were completed by eight men, each equipped with machine guns and explosive belts, who were all killed by the end of the night — the majority by their own suicide blasts, a couple by law enforcement officers. Though these terrorists have been apprehended, they are hardly the “lone wolf” attackers on the international stage that ISIS has encouraged in the past.

These attacks were coordinated and technologically fluent, a carefully orchestrated joint effort between ISIS leaders in Syria and Iraq and insider extremists in France. If ISIS is indeed responsible for the attacks, which has yet to be confirmed by French government investigators, the group’s power has expanded more quickly and broadly than Western leaders ever anticipated.

The aftershocks are already shaping up to be massive. President Hollande called the attacks an “act of war” by ISIS, justifiably yet ominously promising “unforgiving retaliation.” Barack Obama has offered America’s assistance iin what he referred to it as “an attack on all humanity and the universal values we share.” American presidential hopefuls on either side of the party line have chimed in with both sympathy and distasteful politicizing of the tragedy.

As usual, politicians are jumping at the opportunity to build a platform out of bodies not yet cold. Both the American and European right are pointing fingers at France’s strict gun control policy, which presumably left civilians defenseless, and its loose border control, which allowed a distant enemy to become the enemy within.

Poland has already backed out of the European Union’s plan to resettle throughout its member states 120,000 refugees from Syria, Iraq, and neighboring war-torn countries; other nations, especially in fairly homogenous Eastern Europe, will likely follow Poland’s example. In too many people’s minds, a toxic mixture of xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia has equated Syrian refugees — along with millions of peaceful Muslims — with a few thousand jihadist extremists from ISIS and al Qaeda. We can only expect more pogroms, burning of mosques, and anti-Muslim discrimination.

This is victim blaming at its worst. Just like the Parisians, Syrian refugees have experienced first-hand the violence and destruction of ISIS. They did not willingly leave their homeland to “infiltrate” Europe; they were driven from it by ISIS, as much their enemy as ours. Persecuting them for jihadist brutalities is the equivalent of arresting a black pastor for the actions of the Ku Klux Klan. As Obama has stated, and virtually every major Muslim organization has vehemently asserted, the “Islamic State” is neither a state nor true to the principles of Islam.

In light of this, an increasing number of world leaders — including President Hollande and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry —are abandoning use of the group’s chosen name altogether. Its alternative title is “Daesh,” a derogatory term that translates in Arabic to either “trample down and crush” or “bigot.” ISIS hates it, reportedly threatening to cut the tongues out of any mouth that utters it. According to Arabic translator Alice Guthrie, “They hear it, quite rightly, as a challenge to their legitimacy: a dismissal of their aspirations to define Islamic practice, to be 'a state for all Muslims' and — crucially — as a refusal to acknowledge and address them as such." Because the group is illegitimate, a desecration of Islam, I choose to refer to them as Daesh from here forward.

Now is the time to find compassion for all victims of extremism, both the Parisians and the Syrian refugees who will be an international scapegoat for their deaths. Beyond that, closing borders and hearts to Muslims plays directly into jihadist hands. Daesh’s main method of recruitment is Western Islamophobia. They want to turn the West against Muslims. They want to point to the West and say, “See, they do hate you.” There is no better way to grow their ranks and, eventually, incite an all-out global conflict.

What happened in Paris this weekend should be too horrible to conceive. It’s horrible how numb the world has grown, how callously politicians and journalists build their platforms and think pieces on someone else’s nightmare. But we must continue to fight against the worst tragedy of all: turning our backs on the victims and calling them the enemy.