I was studying in UK in 2001. That was the year of the 9/11 attacks. When the attacks occurred, most of us international students were home for the summer break. Including many of my Muslim friends. After the attacks, many of them were apprehensive about going back to the UK. But they had to. And they did.
Looking back, I think it was extremely courageous of them to do so. Because they went back to a place where a significant part of the population viewed them with immense suspicion. And I know it was tough for many of my Muslim friends studying in UK then. The emotional stress was immense. None of them were terrorists, but many of them were terrified. Terrified by the suspicious looks and threatening glares from a lot of the Brits. If I were them, and if I knew the treatment that I would receive, I don’t know whether I would have had the courage to go back, university degree or not.
And with what just happened in Paris, I am sure many Muslims who live in countries with a predominantly white population will be starting be anxious and worried. What sort of dirty looks will they be getting? What sort of reprisals will they face? What sort of unfair treatment will they be subjected to? Why should these Muslims, most of whom share nothing in common with the evil and deranged extremists who carried out the attacks in Paris, have to suffer thus? No reason at all.
And for that, my Muslim friends, I am sorry.
To the vast majority of Muslims, I am sorry that a group of extremists has once again hijacked and twisted your religion to suit their own senseless and evil purposes. I am sorry that they have tarnished the good name of your religion of peace. I am sorry that many of us non-Muslims have allowed ourselves to be convinced by these extremists that your religion of peace promotes war, death and carnage. I am really sorry that I do not yet know enough of your religion to speak up on your behalf, to defend your religion, to help you convince my fellow non-Muslims that your religion is one of peace. I am sorry.
To the vast majority of Muslims, I am sorry just because we allowed ourselves to be misled by a small group of extremists, many of us will tar all Muslims with the same brush. I am sorry that many of us non-Muslims will now believe that all Muslims are terrorists. That surely cannot be the case. As the Australian comedian points out, there are 1.6 billion of you. The extremists are but 0.003% of the total number of Muslims worldwide.
Yet, many of us non-Muslims refuse to be logical. Many of us will still choose to stereotype all Muslims. And as a result, the vast majority of Muslims will have to suffer dirty looks, unfair treatment, and unwarranted reprisals in the days to come. For that I am deeply sorry.
To the vast majority of Muslims, I am sorry that you had to suffer our hypocrisy. While we rushed to condemn the attacks in Paris, we were deafeningly silent when atrocities were committed against Muslims. And there WERE many atrocities that we non-Muslims have committed against Muslims. From Lebanon to Palestine, from USA to the Central African Republic, from Afghanistan to Myanmar, the atrocities that Muslims had to suffer went on largely unnoticed by most of the world. As if that weren’t enough, while we demanded that you condemn the attacks in Paris, we did not even allow you to protest against us when atrocities were committed against your brothers and sisters. For our hypocrisy, I am sorry.
I know that I am in no position to ask this of you. But to the vast majority of Muslims, I beseech you: forgive us. I know. How dare I? What right do I have? I have none. Nonetheless, I hope you would. I hope you would be able to draw strength from your faith, be guided by the Quran and forgive us.
And I hope that you do not give in to despair. I hope you will not give in to anger and frustration. We will improve. We will do better. But we need time. Be patient with us as we try our level best to right the wrongs committed against you. Be patient with us as we learn more about Islam, and find out that it is a religion of peace.
For those of us who are non-Muslims, let’s not be stupid. If we let ourselves be misled into thinking that Islam is not a religion of peace, the terrorists win. If we let ourselves give in to our rage and vent our anger on innocent Muslims for what the terrorists did, then the terrorists win. Because those are the surest way to turn more people to the cause of the terrorists. Those are the surest way to help the terrorists grow in numbers. Those are the surest way to give the terrorists more excuses to commit heinous acts of death and destruction. So let’s not be so stupid.
And with wisdom, empathy, compassion, and forgiveness from everyone, hopefully we will realise that there really isn’t a “them” or an “us”. Yes, there are many differences, many fault lines that could divide us, split us asunder. But why should they? As Pope John Paul II was reputed to have said, “Because of our differences, we are one.” Not despite our differences, we are one. But BECAUSE of our differences, we are one. Indeed, e pluribus unum. Out of many, one. One humanity.
Assalamulaikum. May peace be upon you.
[Featured image: TWITTER.COM/JEANJULLIEN]