Very shortly after the first images of a burning Notre Dame made it to the media the past month, the cause of the fire was identified as an accident related to ongoing restoration work and not as an act of terrorism committed by a religious fanatic. Since 9/11, for many Muslims, a common reaction to news of an act of terrorism is, please, let it not be a Muslim. Instead of thinking of the victims our thoughts are directed to how the incident could affect us and peoples perception of us as Muslims.
There is a reason for this reaction. If a member of the dominant community religious, cultural or otherwise commits an act of public violence, he or she is usually labeled as a misfit or a lone wolf. In contrast, if the person responsible is a Muslim, public opinion spirals into a whole misguided narrative about Islam being a violent religion and incompatible with the European way of life. The popular press rarely talks about the social and physiological characteristics of who undertakes these acts, and why. A secondary narrative that also comes into play is of Muslims countries and Muslim communities not condemning or distancing themselves from acts.
Now imagine, what would have been the reaction in France and the rest of the world, if the Notre Dame fire had been the result of a bomb placed by a Muslim with a video claiming the responsibility? What if it had been an act of sabotage by one of the Muslim workers working in a foreign land? After all, there are plenty of people working in the construction industry in France are of African and North African origin.
Unsurprisingly, predictable reactions would have followed. Political parties such as Le Pens, National Rally would have rushed to highlight the growing dangers of a multiracial society, echoed by populist leaders in other countries in Europe. The police would haul in Muslim youth living in poorer areas, alienating them further from their community while denying them the legal aid; and border checks and visa procedures tightened.
However, the consequences could be far more dramatic with attacks on Muslim houses and businesses while neighbours and friends standing by instead of intervening to stop the violence. Muslim youth might then react, inviting further attacks, but this time by the police and other law keeping agency.
The fact that France and other European countries are rich, peaceful and liberal is no guarantee against the outbreak of acts of violence. After all, the pogroms against the Jews were a European phenomenon and the Balkan conflict confirmed that even relatively rich communities can turn up against each other violently.
The two prerequisites for such violence already exist in much of Europe. Firstly, there has been a progressive erosion of trust towards Muslim communities. Secondly, there has been a rapid rise of well-organised extreme right-wing and neo-fascist groups that are ready to take the law into their own hands.
To prevent such events, the focus has to be on addressing the two prerequisites discussed above, that is, the lack of trust and the activities of neo-fascist groups. The first requires efforts by the Muslim communities living in Europe including working closely with the law enforcement agencies; better supervision of religious education; and putting in place safety nets for those young people who may be at risk of radicalisation. The second requires action by governments in Muslim majority countries to enter into a political and diplomatic dialogue with the European governments about jointly addressing violence against Muslim communities and the galloping anti-immigrant rhetoric.
The Article First Appeared In The Express Tribune