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BEYOND ISLAMOPHOBIA 

On January 07th, the world was shocked by the attack on the offices of the famous French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The attack which left 12 people dead saddened the world and the attack brought with it many debates. Undoubtedly the attack is a blow to freedom of the press and of expression. It will leave an enduring scar in the history of France as well as the world at large.
The three perpetrators, two of whom were brothers were of Arab ethnic origin and spoke perfect French according to witnesses.
In a New York Times article penned by Eric Schmitt, Michael S. Schmidt and Andrew Higgins, American officials were quoted as saying that the brothers Said (34) and Sherif Kuachi (32) had travelled to Libya in 2011 to receive training from al-Qaeda militants.
With the Islamic motivation of the attacks, there has been the counter argument “Islam is the religion of peace”. There have been leaders and Islamic scholars saying that the perpetrators of these attacks do not represent the thinking of 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. These statements are of course meant to ensure the safety of Muslims living in their respective countries. In a statement on January 9th, French Prime Minister Valls also said “France is now fighting terrorism, but it is not fighting Islam.”



Islam at a crossroads 
Following the Charlie Hebdo massacre which left 12 people dead, there has been an outpouring of the statement “Islamophobia is on the rise in the West.” At this point we have to think of Islamophobia as an emotional reflex. The worldwide surge in Islamic motivated attacks (the kidnapping of girl student by the Boko Haram, the hostage crisis in Sydney, the anti-Islamic rallies in German etc.) have led to a prejudice against this religion which has a tendency to become radical. The jihadist activities which blemish the Islamic faith have led to a natural rise in the reflex to fear Islam in countries like Germany and France, which have Muslim populations in the millions.
Islamophobia now represents a crossroads for Muslims. They can either embrace radicalisation or remain moderate and stand up against jihadist activities. There should be image rebuilding through Muslim clergymen and non-governmental organisations in the West. Islamic non-governmental organisations have an important role to play in reducing Islamophobia.
It should be mentioned that civil society in France rests on two pillars: secularism and the freedom of thought. To expect Muslims who live in a public order with such foundations to adopt to the system easily would be highly optimistic. However, given the latest act of terrorism, it will not be enough for Muslims living in France or in countries like Germany where Islamophobia is on the rise to carry out self-criticism. Alongside Muslims, European states too should auto-criticise with regards to the integration of their Muslim citizens with their societies.
Solving the problem of Islamophobia is not a priority for ensuring inner peace in Europe. The issue of jihadists fighters, who have caused this fear, ought to be Europe’s number one security priority.

Security Weakness Revealed 
Following the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, authorities and think-tanks have repeatedly said that the issue of foreign fighters is a vital domestic security matter for countries. heads of state have made awareness raising statements on the issue of foreign fighters. In February 2014, French President François Hollande said “more than 700 French citizens have so far left to fight in Syria, which is worrying.”
Although the vital significance of foreign fighters for France was only revealed with the Charlie Hebdo massacre, France’s problems with foreign fighters are not new. A source in this matter is Karel Valansi. In an article underlining France’s foreign fighter problem, Valansi had reported that the perpetrator of the synagogue attack carried out in Brussels on May 24th 2014, which left four people dead, was 29 year old French citizen Mehdi Nemmouche, who had been trained by jihadists in Syria. Valansi also underlined that the 2012 attack on the Jewish school in Toulouse, in which four people three of whom were children were killed, was perpetrated by Muhammed Merah, who had been trained by the al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The most tragic aspect of the jihadist terrorism experienced is that French intelligence was aware of the jihadists. However, that French officials have not given the matter enough importance is clear from what has happened. That Hayat Boumeddiene, who is one of the suspects in the Charlie Hebdo attack and has become the woman most wanted by the French state could travel to Syria from France (Paris), through Spain (Madrid) and Turkey (Istanbul) shows the lack of synchronisation of intelligence activities among countries. 

Diplomatic Observer Ali Faruk İmre 2015

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