France, and Fraying Muslim-Christian Bonds?

The recent events in France, and the way they are reverberating around the world, have been heart-wrenching to watch. The horrific violence—and the collective blaming and punishment that is bound up with it—is an affront both to God and our common humanity.

In France, we have seen Christians killed by Muslim individuals, and Muslims attacked by Christians (or those from Christian backgrounds). Government leaders in France, the U.S., and some Muslim-majority countries have responded to these tragedies by scapegoating others for political gain, and by cracking down on entire communities who do not bear responsibility for the attacks that occurred. The violent episodes cannot be easily boiled down to religion or ‘religious motives,’ but rather are intertwined with broader problems in France and beyond: inequality, racism, harmful narratives and ideologies that dehumanize ‘the other,’ and—to use Christian theological language—sin. Despite the complexity, I fear these events will lead to the cementing of a simplistic ‘us versus them’ mentality, and further erode the already-frayed bonds between many Muslims and Christians (as well as secular folks) around the world.

I want my fellow Christians to know that the vast majority of Muslims see the recent killings in France as entirely antithetical to their religious convictions and the example set forth by the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims often voice this, but many Christian audiences are not exposed to it, either because the mainstream media doesn’t cover it or because they don’t know Muslims. As Muslims remember Muhammad’s birth this month, my social media feed is full of beautiful and inspiring remembrances of the Prophet. The negative impression we often get about the Prophet in Christian circles usually does not resemble the luminous individual that Muslims love.

The first line, in Arabic: “In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.” The second line is a Qur’anic passage often interpreted as a reference to the Prophet Muhammad: “We [God] have sent you as nothing but a mercy to the world.”

Yes, Muhammad and Jesus have been invoked for ill, but we can model ourselves off of their generosity, forbearance, love, and passion for justice, which both of our traditions foreground. Fortunately, many people already do. Most of the Christians and Muslims whom I have the good fortune of knowing put this into practice every day, and by and large they are deeply frustrated by the hypocrisy they see when others fail to do so, especially their co-religionists.

My fellow Christians should also be aware of the fact that we in the West are often not exposed to news about violence and institutional Islamophobia that Muslim communities face in France and elsewhere. Rarely does it make headlines, yet it is a reality that is connected to the other events we do hear about. This lack of coverage means that many in the West see Muslims primarily as perpetrators, a view that does reflect the complex reality. Muslims are suffering, too.

Both of our communities could do a better job of opening our eyes to the ways that other groups are (or feel they are) victimized. Victimhood complexes make us unable to contemplate the ways that others do indeed suffer, sometimes at our hands. From both groups, I often find a narrative that “our groupis the most persecuted religious group, the ones most under siege globally.” Indeed, there is grave suffering going on around the world in both our communities. For global faith groups like ours, an event in one corner of the world resonates across oceans and shapes the experience of others who share their faith. This solidarity amid suffering is natural and important, but when it obscures our ability to see the suffering of others—and when it devolves into persecution complexes that are drawn across religious lines—it can be a recipe for further harm.

I hope that in response to all of this, we all can cultivate a real “spiritual solidarity,” where the sufferings of ‘others’ are also felt by ‘us,’ as if they were our own. What gives me hope right now is all the good work that so many Christians, Muslims, and non-religious folks are doing in their corners of the world, as well as the personal bonds that I as a Christian have with Muslim friends. Our friendships withstand these travails and even seem to be insulated from them much of the time. Last week, it was during a call with two Muslim friends that I was finally able to forget about the Muslim-Christian tension I was seeing online that day. We connected over our studies and the ordinary aspects of our everyday lives.

My reflections here are only partial, and there is certainly more to say (and more for me to learn). Below I share some recent, salient articles that give broader context beyond the major headlines.

Muslim women stabbed in park near Eiffel Tower

From The Evening Standard

“An attempted murder enquiry has been opened in Paris after two Muslim cousins were “stabbed repeatedly” underneath the Eiffel Tower, prosecutors revealed today.

French police have arrested two female suspects following the suspected racist attacks in which the women were subject to a racial slur.

The suspected in custody – who have not been named – are described as being white women of “European appearance”, who now face attempted murder charges.”

From Al-Jazeera

“Both victims claimed their attackers called them “dirty Arabs” and told them: “This is not your home.””

Man with allegiance to white nationalist group killed after assaults/threats in Avignon

From the Associated Press

“A man shot and killed by police in the French city of Avignon on Thursday claimed allegiance to an anti-immigrant group and had assaulted a merchant of North African descent, authorities said.”

From The Independent

“French media reports had initially suggested he had shouted “Allahu akbar”, suggesting it was an Islamist attack.

The man appeared to be wearing a jacket displaying a “Defend Europe” logo, which refers to a string of anti-refugee operations by the Generation Identity group.

The pan-Europe white nationalist network, which is called Génération identitaire in France, spreads a conspiracy claiming that white people are being “replaced” and calls for the “remigration” of Muslims from the continent.

The Christchurch attacker, who massacred 51 victims at mosques in New Zealand last year, used the name of Generation Identity’s core ideology as the title of his manifesto.

It later emerged that he had donated money to the group and exchanged friendly emails with Austrian leader Martin Sellner.”

Instead of fighting systemic racism, France wants to ‘reform Islam’

in The Washington Post

After Terror Attacks, Muslims Wonder About Their Place in France

in The New York Times

Deadly knife attacks at a church in France and its aftermath

in PRI’s The World

The Weaponization of Laicite

from Georgetown’s Berkley Center

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