On the massacre of innocents in Nice

On the massacre of innocents in Nice

It has happened again. This time Nice, a lovely city on France’s Mediterranean coast, has been attacked. The mass murderer drove a huge truck into a large crowd of people who had just celebrated the Bastille Day, the national day of France. He pumped the gas viciously and made zig-zags in order to kill as many people as he could. According to the initial death toll, 84 people lost their lives, 12 of whom were children.

This was a massacre of innocents, to use a Biblical term. The victims had done nothing wrong, other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time — just like the victims of the recent carnage in Baghdad, Istanbul, Orlando, Dhaka and Medina. 

For the murderers, however, all these people were guilty, because the murderers were affiliated with ISIL, the death cult that calls itself “Islamic State.” In ISIL’s sick worldview, anyone who refuses to join them is either an “infidel” if they are professedly non-Muslim, or an “apostate” if they are Muslim. All these “infidels” and “apostates” can be killed at will, or at least become “collateral damage,” in order to strike terror on the whole world.

I saw this sickness, once again, when I checked Turkish-language pro-ISIL accounts on Twitter. (Yes, those accounts exist. Twitter sometimes closes them down but then they open a new one. I don’t know what exactly the police is doing about them.) “Praise to God! This night has so many blessings,” one of them wrote. “The French are being slaughtered.” Another one shared the sentiment. “Good news is coming from France,” he cheered. “I hope it is the mujahedeen of the Islamic State.” 

For sure, these messages, and countless of others in the ISIL universe, are disgusting. But we should take them seriously and calmly. In other words, we should neither blind ourselves to ISIL’s religious ideology, nor extrapolate it irresponsibly. 

This is what I mean: I see two opposing self-delusions about this ISIL problem. One is to say, “This has nothing to do with Islam.” No, frankly it does have something to do with Islam, in the same way that the Crusaders and the Inquisitors had something to do with Christianity. ISIL is a very violent and bigoted interpretation of a great religion, which also has much more comforting interpretations.

The other self-delusion about the ISIL problem is to amplify — in fact, wildly exaggerate — its relation to Islam. It is to argue that ISIL somehow is representative of Islam, or at least Islamic concepts such as “jihad” or “sharia,” which can in fact mean very different things. 

The American politician Newt Gingrich presented a bleak example of this hype with a message he tweeted right after the Nice attack. “We should ... test every person here who is of a Muslim background,” he argued, “and if they believe in sharia they should be deported.”

In return, Andrew Stroehlein, a Human Rights Watch official, said what needs to be said: “[This is] exactly the kind of Western response that IS wants: divide with hatred, make outcasts, create more recruits for IS.”
Indeed, more Islamophobia in the West, and a wholesale demonization of Muslims, will only help ISIL.

Rather, sensible people in the West need to keep a balance: To see what ISIL is without any denial, but also to use a very careful language - not only to not demonize all Muslims, but also to not give ISIL the legitimacy it yearns for. 

In the meantime, we should all stand united against terror, and mourn together for its innocent victims.