SHAFAQNA- My late friend Saleh Al-Azaz was undergoing cancer treatment in Houston when the September 11 attacks, which shocked American society, happened. We were worried that these terrible events would affect the American public’s attitudes to the country’s Muslim residents, students and tourists.
A few weeks after these events, I called him to ask if he and his family had received any threats or if they had been harassed. He surprised me when he said that everyone around him, from the neighborhood he resided in to those at the clinic where he was undergoing treatment, had treated him sympathetically. He said his neighbor, who didn’t even know him very well, visited him at home to check on him and offered to take his children to school along with his own so his wife could stay with him during his treatments. These kind of relationships between people are what terrorists and extremists want to sabotage. There are many joyful stories about the compassion which was shown following recent events in Paris and the extent of the anger felt by extremists on both sides.
French President François Hollande’s speech evidently had a positive influence. He defended the Muslim community in France and pointed out that terrorist organizations killed more Muslims than non-Muslims. The aim of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and of Al-Qaeda before it, has always been to incite Muslims against others and stir tensions in mixed communities to cause disputes, as they do in every society they infiltrate.
Despite this, there have been many incidents committed by racists who want to benefit from the crimes which took place in Paris, claimed by Al-Qaeda in Yemen, and use it to pit French public opinion and those of others against peaceful Muslims.
However, the French people celebrated an act that stands in opposition to last week’s attack on Charlie Hebdo which led to the death of 12 people. Despite the presence of terrorists, there are great Muslim heroes like Muslim policeman Ahmed Merabet who was killed by the terrorists as he chased them following the Charlie Hebdo attack. Another Muslim hero is the immigrant shop assistant at the supermarket that was attacked by a gunman who killed four people. The French government has decided to hold a celebration to honor the Malian Muslim shop worker because he risked his life to help save several shoppers, including Jews, and hid them in the supermarket’s freezer. The government has promised to grant him French citizenship, and has commended his heroic acts and publicized his story in the media.
The act of the American neighbor who volunteered to take the children of my friend Saleh, God rest his soul, to school and what the Muslim shop assistant did expressed the essential goodness of humanity—it is in people’s nature to coexist as different groups, sects and ideologies. At the same time, we should remember that the media is a tool that can be used for either good or ill.
As such, it can also defuse or incite hatred and racism. What groups like ISIS try to do is use the media to incite Muslim public opinion against its own rivals. They do so using excuses which are easy to fabricate and which can readily stir up tensions and reopen old wounds. They are also aware that the media remains the most effective way to spread images, tears, anger, incitement and insults, and to transfer this battle from the media into our neighborhoods and homes.