Dear French politicians,
Recently, as we are all aware, France was devastated by two terrorist attacks which led millions to take to the streets to protest against terrorism; express their commitment to respect for human life and their desire to live in a country where disagreements are not resolved with Kalashnikovs; a country where one is not killed just because he is a Jew or because one has offended the religious feelings of others; a country where law is respected and freedom of conscience protected.
The heinous attacks have been rightly condemned with the utmost firmness by the entire French political class, and we support you fully in this process.
Unfortunately, the fact that the attacks were perpetrated by criminals claiming to be following Islam, is not only used to justify the stigmatization of Islam and its followers, but leads to an exacerbation of hostility towards religions and to an escalation of misinterpretations and exaggerations that are no credit to anyone.
As revealed by the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, since these attacks the number of hostile acts against Muslims have more than doubled in the country.
The confusion between what terrorism is, what is claimed in the name of religion, and the practice of religion, even though it may be diligent and ardent, is the breeding ground for a social fracture that will not help anyone and will do nothing to stem the criminal extremism we all want to see removed from society.
When politicians confuse the fact of a child "going to prayer" with "radical extremism", when it is said that because a young woman chooses to "wear the veil" it is "sectarian abuse" which leads to" Islamist radicalisation", we are going through a dangerous political positioning which leads us away, each day a little more, from the core values that led to the birth and development of the French Republic.
When a 9 year old child is taken to the police station and interrogated for "advocating terrorism" because he said "Allah Akbar, long live the Koran," and then the only issue that challenges our journalists is to know whether or not he actually uttered the words without even clarifying that saying “God is great” and praising a sacred book cannot be mistaken or equated with terrorism, then we can actually fear for even worse abuses in the future.
The choice of terms is also important in these periods. It does not follow that a religious practice must be "moderate" or otherwise equated with being extremist or terrorism. Moderation may be seen as a valuable virtue, but the application of this term to a religious practice, as if to practice without moderation was a crime, can only lead to a false vision of what we need to fight.
A "fatwa" is not a "call to murder", but a legal advice given by a specialist of Islamic law on a particular issue. The "Jihad", although the term has been overused by groups claiming to be Islamic is not for all Muslims synonymous with terrorism. It is necessary to clarify the use of these terms in the future in order to properly describe, and not demonise, the beliefs of the vast majority of Muslims. A Muslim who practices the "great jihad", i.e. the fight against his own evil inclinations, cannot identify with a message that encourages him to "stop jihadism," even if he understands that the intention is to stop terrorists.
We all agree on condemning terrorism, whether it is the work of criminals claiming any religion or none. Terrorism is not a religion, it is one of the worst forms of crime that exists, and it is a crime for political purposes.
We all agree that the recent events should lead to a strong and effective response to prevent what is called radicalization and the fight against terrorism.
For this, it is imperative to foster greater understanding of what the religions practiced on French territory are, and to avoid confusion that leads to exclusion, stigmatization and denigration of an important part of the French population.
Beliefs and religious practice are freedoms guaranteed by the French Constitution and law and the great strength of France is its secularism that should actually protect every citizen's freedom of conscience and their right to freely practice the religion of their choice. Misuse of this secularism could be the tomb of our “living together”, the tomb of a public order that would bury together individual freedoms, feelings of belonging to the nation and social peace.
In France there are many interfaith initiatives which show every day that it is possible to live together, to understand each other without having to adopt the religion of others and to live one’s faith by giving the other the right to live theirs fully too. Nothing replaces understanding. It stems among other things from education to principles underlying fundamental freedoms, but also education on what really are different religions.
We encourage you to support these initiatives and to support actions that go in the direction of a greater understanding between the French people, whatever their religious beliefs, or whether they have one or not, and we are at your disposal to participate in this vital effort not only for France, but also for the whole of Europe.
EUROPEAN INTERRELIGIOUS FORUM FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM (EIFRF)
CAPLC (European coordination for freedom of conscience)
THE LOKAHI FOUNDATION – UK
Aïcha le Strat
Attorney at law at the Paris Bar
Attorney at law at the Paris Bar
Lecturer at Paris Dauphine University
Director - Cultures et Croyances
Secretary General EIFRF France
Forum of European Muslim Youth and Students Organizations
Interfaith Alliance – UK
Prof. Gwen Griffith-Dickson
Director – The Lokahi Foundation – UK
Director – Shoulder to Shoulder
Program/Research Associate "Religion and Social Cohesion in Conflict-Affected Societies," at DU's Korbel School of International Studies.
Chair – EIFRF
Shiromani Akali Dal (France)
French Sikhs Association
Rabinda Singh Sohil
Chair Sikh International Council
Revd Dr Kevin Snyman
Synod Mission Enabler
West Midlands Synod United Reformed Church
Director – All Faith Network, UK