Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Who isn’t Charlie?

Words are not enough to summon the sense of grief we, the staff at Al-Ahram Weekly, feel for our Charlie Hebdo colleagues, mowed down by an evil of such terrible proportion — an evil of such depth that many still have trouble fathoming, and many will be dwelling upon for a long time to come.

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Our shock and horror, our sadness and our undivided solidarity with Charlie Hebdo have nothing to do with the material it publishes. We don’t care if we agree with it or not. No man or woman wielding a camera, a brush or a pen deserves to be killed for what he or she writes or portrays.

Our condolences are unbounded and our heart goes out to all the journalists across the world who are falling to the evil forces of terror and oppression as they write, depict and offer opinion. It is a lasting disgrace when writers and artists have to contemplate that their work may put them in danger, that one day they may — for expressing a view — find themselves staring at the wrong end of the barrel of a gun.

The crime that took Paris by brutal surprise has catapulted the problem of militant Islam from one tackled by governments and security forces to one tugging at the hearts of millions of ordinary men and women in the Western world.

Europeans are now asking questions about the Islamic State (IS) group, how it was formed and who is backing it, and how it procures its funding and hardware.

As images flash across television screens in Western capitals, the focus is no longer on the news of jihadists in Africa and the Middle East, but on the phenomenon of radical Islam.

Something is happening in Paris and other Western cities that had already taken place in Cairo and other Middle Eastern capitals.

The irony is that when the Egyptians ousted a government that was nothing but a front for radical Islam, in June 2013, the West was up in arms against us. How dare the Egyptians depose the Muslim Brotherhood?

The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in closely contested elections and then proceeded to dismantle Egypt’s secular traditions without compunction seemed to be beyond the grasp of the average Western analyst or diplomat.

Then, when a sliver of the horror the Egyptians knew so well hit Paris, all hell broke loose — as it should.

To say that we could have told you, or have told you, is no consolation, not to the families of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, not to the freedom of expression that has been trampled upon, not to the millions of Muslims who live in Europe and are bound to suffer the backlash of far rightwing bigotry.

But the horror that unfolded in Paris was written in big letters on Cairo’s walls all along. We read it, but the West refused to take notice. Even today, Western sympathy for political Islamists who tried, not without success, to hold Arab capitals hostage following the Arab Spring revolts hasn’t abated.

Even today, Western diplomats see the Muslim Brotherhood as a moderate force that was denied its birthright by an unfair, heavy-handed, army-backed popular upheaval. Political Islamists may, and often do, pose as moderates. But in fact, they share much of the ideology that led well-armed jihadists to wreak havoc upon Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Lebanon.

Four years after the Arab Spring revolts unleashed the latent power of radical Islam, Europe is now facing the same questions that we had to grapple with for years, indeed decades.

There are at least six million Muslims living in Europe, nearly five per cent of the population in Britain and Germany, and some say close to 10 per cent in France. These Muslims, among whom the radicals can easily hide, are now faced with a tidal wave of rightwing abuse. Our heart goes out to them as well: our sympathies go to the victims of Islamophobia, just as to those who are the victims of radical Islam.

Fairness, or maybe indolence, or even a twisted sense of self-interest, led European capitals to play host to radical Islamists, to political Islamists, to people who everyone knows have nothing on their minds but hatred to everyone who differs from them, even their co-religionists.

In London, Vienna, Paris and Berlin the radicals found refuge and used it to plan their political and military conquests in the Arab and Muslim world — and occasionally in the West.

What Western analysts don’t seem to grasp is that much of the radical doctrines of today were honed by Muslim Brotherhood leaders of the past two generations. People like Sayyed Qotb, still an icon of Muslim Brotherhood thinking, paved the way for the emergence of the militant groups we see today.

The followers of Qotb present themselves as the ultimate lawgivers of Islam. They alone have the right to speak for true Islam and everyone else is misguided. Countries, borders, secular governments, rulers, police and army are all an anathema to true Islam and must be disposed of, goes the jihadist thinking that the Muslim Brotherhood has propagated over the past 80 years or so, and which has been embraced by many young people around the world.

Some of those young men and women are fighting in the Middle East and Africa today, and a few have major Western capitals in their crosshairs.

Turkey, under Erdogan, has reportedly aided and abetted radical Islamists in Syria and Iraq, including IS and Al-Nusra Front. But what is even more galling is that the West has given refuge to Islamist firebrands who to this day are still fanning the flames of jihad in the heart of Europe. If the Charlie Hebdo attack is anything to go by, it signifies that the chickens have come home to roost.

Washington and European capitals thought they could befriend the Muslim Brotherhood, help it come to power and then use it as a magnet to coax radical Islamists out of Europe and back into the Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood was a sort of political vaccination Western diplomats hoped to inflict upon us, in order to protect themselves from the more virulent forms of Islam.

But the vaccination didn’t take — not in Egypt, at least. The Egyptian mainstream objected to the Muslim Brotherhood with the same indignation many Parisians feel for militant Islam following the infamous shootings at Charlie Hebdo

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