After Tragic Acts Of Terrorism, Can We Grieve Without Reflexive Racism?

We’re all desperate to understand the heinous slaughter in Paris Wednesday, chilled by those seemingly assailing free speech. Twelve people are dead and it doesn’t make any sense.

Mass murder to indecipherable political ends is difficult — bordering on impossible — to wrap the mind around. I say it as a human being struggling to understand vicious, senseless death. And I say it as someone who’s analyzed it in various academic and professional capacities.

In a former life, I studied International Relations, lived in the Middle East, and worked at a foreign policy think tank. As someone who’s taken multiple classes, read a backbreaking amount of books, and sat in on endless roundtable discussions on the matter, I can confirm that radicalism and terrorism — how they’re born, how they manifest, and how they should be confronted — are incredibly divisive topics.


Can we grieve without dehumanizing? Without perpetuating nonsensical violence, hatred, and marginalization? Can we reel from the loss of life, from the grief and fear, without inducing a societal knee-jerk of bigotry and intolerance?

These sadly rhetorical questions are in direct response to the seemingly endless calls for Muslims to account for, condemn, and apologize for the extremist actions of a handful. The calls are — and have been — unceasing. And they are about as racist and ignorant as you can imagine. Worse probably.

A few salient points:

1. Not that they should have to, but Muslims from around the world have fully and passionately condemned the attacks:

The Arab League — representing 22 Arab states — has condemned the attacks. So did Al-Azhar, one of the most prestigious centers of Sunni Islam learning in Egypt.

The Union of Islamic Organizations of France in no uncertain terms denounced the attacks.

America’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization — the Council on American-Islamic Relations — did, too.

The UN’s high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein — another Muslim! — also condemned the attacks.

And these are just a few of the organizations. And this is just Wednesday.

2. Here are some facts the mainstream media fail to highlight or get plain wrong:

That this attack represents the “worst terrorist attack Europe has seen since 2005” (what about Anti-Muslim extremist Anders Behring Breivik and his 2011 attack in Norway that claimed 77 lives — the majority of whom were teenagers?). That Ahmed Merabet, one of the two police officers who died defending Charlie Hebdo, was Muslim. That the U.S. just experienced its own terrorist attack — a bombing on an NAACP building in Colorado — this week, too.

Oh, not to mention that terrorism claimed the lives of more than 30 people in Yemen Wednesday. Just Wednesday.

Or that UN reports — like the one that came out in September but get almost no media coverage — highlight all of the ways in which Muslims constitute the population that suffers the most from terrorism.

Or that, you know, countless Muslims do, have — always have — come out against the acts of extremists.

3. The majority of lives claimed at the brutal hands of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other terrorists groups are overwhelmingly Muslim.

And yet. At our kindest, we ask Muslims to apologize for actions they are in no way responsible for — it’s a burden they’ve overwhelmingly shouldered, with minimal, if almost nonexistent, recognition.

Just in recent months, there was #NotInMyName, a devastating reclamation of Islam by Muslims in the wake of ISIS brutality, of a global population that yearns to be understood — seen as just humans attempting to live their lives instead of as beheading barbarians. Then #MuslimApologies trended, a gallows humor attempt at combating Islamophobia and shining some positive light on the history and achievements of a religious population that brought us algebra and algorithms — an attempt at showcasing the ridiculousness of terrorism speaking for a culture with such rich and fruitful history.

As Muslim journalist Roqayah Chamseddine eloquently puts it:

And writer/economist Mohamed El Dahshan, like countless others, reiterates:

Far from the first time — and as her own country flails and persecutes — Libyan activist Hend has called out the misguidedness of terrorist attacks:

And as captured by writer and activist Iyad El-Baghdadi, who’s posted and relinked this response letter to an American asking for a Muslim condemnation of terrorism:

“I know you mean well, but we have nothing to apologize for and nothing to prove. We are double, even triple victims. We suffer under tyrants, we suffer when extremists fight the tyrants, we suffer when Americans bomb & occupy us to get rid of the extremists or the tyrants, and we suffer when the extremists turn their guns and bombs on us. And yet somehow we come out blame-worthy.

So I’m sorry if I’m not going to explain, defend, or justify myself, my culture, or my religion. It takes away from one’s humanity to have to explain that one is indeed human. It’s very humiliating to have to assert to someone that you do, indeed, think that murder, hatred, and intolerance are bad. Especially so when you’re more a victim of murder, hatred, and intolerance than the person smugly demanding that assertion.”


But instead of growing in knowledge, of acknowledging these voices, our cultural response has been one of increasing vitriol and hatred, damning over a sixth of the world’s population in the same broad, ignorant brushstroke. At our worst, we even propose genocide in response to slaughter.

Yesterday #KillAllMuslims was a worldwide hashtag.

Terrorism, senseless death, radicalism… these phenomenon are nothing short of mystifying, confounding in their cruelty, their murderous myopia.

But rather than attempt to understand that an entire belief system can’t be sacrificed on the altar for the actions of a few, people are already marching against Islam, continuing to marginalize and dehumanize the existences of others about whom they know — and refuse to know — very, very little.

I may never feel like I fully understand terrorism. But I know that a reflexive pivot toward bigotry and racism only reduces our collective humanity and exacerbates the violence.

This post by Kelley Calkins originally appeared at Ravishly and is reprinted with permission.

One thought on “After Tragic Acts Of Terrorism, Can We Grieve Without Reflexive Racism?”

  1. I can’t remember where I read it, but someone wondered why no-one ever asks of white (Christian) people to step up and say they don’t support the actions of people that shoot up theaters, schools, political buildings and so on.

    Just like I don’t represent the actions of every ginger worldwide, it’s so incredibly dumb to think that Muslims are a hivemind that can control the fundamentalists that foul their name.

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