Suffolk, Virginia, U.S.A. – It was right in the middle of my AP U.S. History session when I felt my heart drop into my stomach.
My teacher, each time we convene, has made it an objective to discuss recent events with us. Regardless of it being 2020 and thus with no lack of distressing developments to talk about, I have so far enjoyed these conversations and making connections between the past and the present, especially where America is concerned.
Last week, however, was the complete opposite of fun. I had been enjoying it, initially – until my teacher mentioned something I had been entirely unaware of until that point.
The particular event in question was the Oct. 9 beheading of a teacher in France, after his display of caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad during a lecture on free speech.
I cannot pinpoint one single reaction in that moment, but it felt as though my head was spinning, anger and fear clawing at the walls of my brain, each entity trying to overtake the other. Anger at the teacher, anger at the extremist, and dread of the consequences.
School being virtual, I was not even in the same proximity as my classmates. But in that split second, I was suddenly self-conscious. If there’s only one thing that anyone at school knows me for, it’s that I’m Muslim, and that I wear my beliefs proudly as a scarf on my head.
I wasn’t awaiting the world’s reaction. I already knew what was going to happen.
And French President Emmanuel Macron certainly delivered. Aside from an extremely Islamophobic speech he had delivered Oct. 2 where he declared his desire to “reform” Islam, he doubled down even more on that rhetoric afterwards, defending the caricatures.
This sparked sky-high levels of tension in a country that was certainly familiar with the marginalization of Muslims and their religious expression.
Then I realized. As angry as I was with those directly involved in the situation, this was the one who deserved the brunt of it.
Though he might not have unsheathed a tangible weapon, the hatred he propagated was just as much terrorism as was any actual act of killing.
He escalated the situation, his Islamophobia manifesting into incidents of physical assault on French Muslims, one of the most recent involving two hijab-wearing women who were stabbed near the Eiffel tower by two other French women.
This is alongside another incident where caricatures of the Prophet were again projected on government buildings for all to see, the overall crackdown of the French government on its Muslim population and the increasing amounts of danger they now face.
And all of this for what? Macron has very low approval ratings, and out of his desire to get re-elected, he’s pulling the old “marginalize-the-minority” card in the hopes that he could gain more support and power out of it. Nevermind the insane ripple effect that such events would have on not just France and French Muslims, but the entire world.
What is especially disgusting is the sheer hypocrisy of the situation. We have Macron hiding behind the guise of free expression, all the while stifling that of his Muslim population and spewing hate speech to whoever will listen.
It’s not like these tactics are novel, either. We’ve seen it happen all throughout history, with different rulers and different groups of people.
Are these the so-called Enlightenment values you want to uphold? You’re trying to build a house out of cards, Macron, and this deck is particularly old. It’s ancient and torn and greased with the oily, bloody hands of past dictators and it is never going to hold up.
Once upon a time, I would have just retreated into my own little bubble and closed myself off from the world, as I was wont to do after such events. But this is different. This entire year is different.
I do not have the patience to sit aside and ignore the world going up in flames around me, to watch my religion and my Prophet being blatantly disrespected without speaking up about it.
I am sick and tired of politicians’ attempts to constantly put an entire religion of people on the defensive, to make us invest so much energy in proving that we’re not terrorists or that we’re normal human beings rather than use it for something far more worthwhile, and all for the sake of their own selfish agenda.
Because anyone with even half a brain cell should be able to understand Islamophobia is rooted in lies and misinformation. Those who don’t are not worth anyone’s time — and especially not any pathetic excuse of a leader that tries to weaponize it, whether it be the likes of Macron, Chinese President Xi Jinping or American President Donald Trump.
Once I had snapped out of that initial, reflexive worry, I remembered the endless amounts of persecution and abuse that the Prophet endured in his lifetime from those who opposed him, and how, despite these challenges, he still retained his kindness and good character.
People threw things at him, left thorns on his doorstep to harm him, insulted him and tried to poison him, but never did he deign to kill them or stoop to their level.
And even in times of war, Islam established ground rules about how to approach warfare. No killing civilians, women, children, or the elderly. No killing horses. No cutting down trees. No destruction of property.
He would have, without a doubt, condemned any act of terrorism. So does any true Muslim today. As such, I am not going to apologize. I’m not going to take responsibility for something that has absolutely nothing to do with my religion or its values.
I am not going to accept the repercussions being placed on my shoulders – nor do I want any of my fellow Muslims to do so.
Just like how the French, as a whole, are not going to apologize for the stabbing of those two women. Because it’d be downright ridiculous to hold millions of people responsible for the actions of a few.
Even if that courtesy is not going to be extended to us, then absolutely – under no circumstance – should our Prophet be deliberately treated with such disrespect.
This sentiment has been echoed heavily throughout the Muslim world in the past few days, between the protests in Bangladesh, the widespread boycott of French products, caricatures made of Macron in return, trending hashtags in a variety of languages (roughly translating to #OurProphetIsARedLine, #ExceptOurMessenger, #PeaceAndBlessingsOnTheProphet, and #BoycottFrance, among others) and various public figures attacking Macron and the French government’s take on the situation.
My fellow Muslims are getting the point across.
It is heartwarming to see the sheer number of people unafraid to speak their mind and demand respect, and in a way that actually aligns with the values we are supposed to embody.
The unifying effect of the situation is especially wonderful considering the fragile state of many Muslim countries and the overall atmosphere of disunity that the Muslim nation, across the world, has been plagued with in light of the recent geopolitical situation.
These events have evoked a passion and kindled a fire that seemed dead before.
And as long as we don’t let anyone delude us into backing down, no house of cards will ever stand a chance.
Salma Amrou is a Reporter and Senior Illustrator with Youth Journalism International.