Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, wants to see a million Muslims take to the streets to protest against "the scores of Muslims recently murdered by jihadists in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria and Syria." Well, I fear it's more likely thousands than scores, and this very list could easily reinforce some pretty ugly stereotypes about all Muslims. But those stereotypes would be false. In truth, despite the terrifying sporadic attacks and the lurid media coverage, we in the west have little to fear from violent extremists. The reality is that in 2013, as Maclean's magazine has helpfully pointed out, "there were 12 western victims of terror attacks compared to 22,000 non-western fatalities." So Tom Friedman's idea would seem a good one.
In fact it's such a good idea that it's been done umpteen times since the Charlie Hebdo murders. Muslims have marched, written and prayed in their thousands against terrorism carried out by those who pervert Islam, although media coverage of this important phenomenon has been distinctly modest. This has to be wildly frustrating to the huge majority of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims, who are entitled to feel the West pays attention to them only when a tiny minority commit heinous acts in their name.
To add injury to insult, Muslims in many places have been busy defending themselves against those who accuse all Muslims of being responsible for Charlie Hebdo. Such people never insist that all Catholics are responsible for pedophile priests, or all Jews for the anti-Arab racism of many Israeli West Bank settlers, or all right-wingers for the mass slaughter carried out in Norway by the zealot Anders Behring Breivik. But Muslims are judged by a different standard.
In France itself as of a few days ago, 26 Muslim places of worship had been attacked with firebombs or guns or defiled with pig heads. (In its prohibition against pork, as in so many other ways, Islam and Judaism share many characteristics.) Muslims across Europe have been extensively threatened and insulted. In Germany, 25,000 turned out to support the unsubtly named PEGIDA -- Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West.
So Muslims may be too preoccupied to appreciate the real significance of the great Paris march in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. The U.S. and Canada are alleged to have been present although no one recognized their apparent representatives. As bad luck would have it, Stephen Harper could not skip an all-important celebration for the 200th birthday of John A. Macdonald, thereby missing a god-given opportunity to march down the Champs Élysées with the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia and bask in their shared values.
Too bad, because by any measure it was one of the great demonstrations of hypocrisy and double standards of our time. Most of the world has seen the historic photo of world leaders marching with linked arms. Charlie Hebdo's satirists might have had a grand old time mocking these peace-loving, justice-loving, free-press-loving presidents, prime ministers and the like. The World Press Freedom Index and Reporters Without Borders accuse well over a dozen of their governments as guilty of serious attacks on press freedom and journalists. But their own suppression of press freedom at home was of course different from the attacks on Charlie Hebdo's journalists in Paris, as everyone except me seems to understand.
And the prominent world leaders in that splendid photo also have much to teach us about democracy, human rights, peace and free expression. Think the U.S., Britain, France, Turkey, Israel, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority. In fact, it's startling how many of the world's ills can be traced directly back to these countries. Among a multitude of possible examples:
America's initial supply of cash and arms to the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, enabling the Taliban. America's post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan. The U.S.-Britain invasion of Iraq. The coalition that overthrew Gadhafi in Libya, a country now in turmoil. France's complicity in the Rwandan genocide, still unacknowledged and unapologized for. Saudi Arabia's lavish funding of madrassas and jihadis and the enabling of the Islamic State. Russia's aggression in Ukraine. Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Egypt's deep-sixing of the Arab Spring. Turkey's authoritarianism.
What titillated most observers, naturally, was the presence -- at opposite ends of the line, to be sure -- of the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Authority. I know it sounds unhinged even to say these words, but in a sane world they would have marched arm-in-arm. For in a real sense, whoever suffers directly from acts of terror, the ultimate victims in our time are Jews and Muslims. What's worse, instead of demonstrating the solidarity of victims, as would happen in a sane world, the two are ferocious, lethal enemies. Twisted men who are Muslim go out and murder Jews in the name of the Prophet. While invoking the Holocaust, twisted men in Israel scream "death to Arabs." This is not only insanity. It's a recipe for permanent war.
What we need is a multi-million person march of Muslims and Jews together, joined by all those around the world who truly love justice and peace. WE ARE JEWS AND MUSLIMS. It's a crazy idea, but not as crazy as the alternative.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.
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