The debate on terrorism forces Muslims to participate in an unwinnable argument
I arrived in Oslo, Norway, on Nov. 16 as Europe began its first workweek after deadly terrorist attacks in Paris. As I stood in line for passport control, a clipped voice over a public address system declared that it was time for a moment of silence in solidarity with Parisians. As the announcement ended, the two men ahead of me in line, clutching green Pakistani passports, exchanged a glance.
I understood their palpable anxiety. The horrors of Paris have bloated the weight of being brown and Muslim to grotesque proportions. Terrorism’s ravages dangle over the exchange that permits entry or can deny it. In the hush, I began to rehearse my responses to anticipated questions. I felt nervous and unprepared.
Europe was coming together to commemorate the 130 lives lost, the 350 people injured and the millions left traumatized in seven coordinated attacks claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Despite condemnations by Muslim community leaders and ordinary Muslims alike, the post-Paris political climate was overtaken by a seductive Islamophobia that substantiates existing prejudice and rallies the terrified Westerner to support outright exclusion of Muslims from their countries or an abridgment of their rights. It did not matter thatMuslims are the most frequent targets of terrorism and the vast majority of Muslims condemn ISIL. In the odd instance that Muslims were included in television debates or quoted in news reports, their remarks have been ineffectual, bouncing off the Teflon-coated belief in Muslim complicity and culpability.
Religious profiling and social and cultural exclusion often reach a fever pitch after a terrorist attack. Such profiling and the resultant mass surveillance place undue expectations on ordinary Muslims. During a radio interview I did a few days after the Paris attacks, my interviewer appeared baffled when I insisted that my power to stop terrorism was equivalent to his capacity to stop the next mass shooter.
The anti-Muslim bias also assumes that there is something inherently Islamic about terrorism, making all Muslims inherently suspect and tainted. Muslims try to counter this misconception with condemnations, disassociations and enumerations of Muslim lives lost. But they lose every time. More than a decade after 9/11, 56 percent of U.S. citizens think the values of Islam are at odds with American values.