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In the face of terrible deaths, at a time when we are so destructively polarised, this must be said bold and up front and repeatedly: no cartoonist deserves to be killed, ever. No innocent person shopping for Kosher food deserves to be terrorised and murdered, either. All of those tragic deaths in France last week, including those of a police man and woman and numbering 17 in total, all of them are horrendous and incomprehensible

In the face of this terrible killing spree in France, at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and then at a Kosher supermarket, the overwhelming reaction is revulsion. But at the same time, there’s a need to respond in other ways as well, to frame a discussion that can

In the face of terrible deaths, at a time when we are so destructively polarised, this must be said bold and up front and repeatedly: No cartoonist deserves to be killed, ever. No innocent person shopping for kosher food deserves to be terrorised and murdered, either. All of those tragic deaths in France last week, including those of a policeman and policewoman, and numbering 17 in total, all of them are horrendous and incomprehensible.

In the face of this terrible killing spree in France, at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and then at a kosher supermarket, the overwhelming reaction is revulsion. But at the same time, there's a need to respond in other ways as well, to frame a discussion that can prevent this tragedy leading to even more tragedies, or being spun out to lash out at other innocent people. And here is the trouble with the backlash that has already begun, and the demands that have being made in the name of "solidarity".  

Listening Post - The reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attack

France today stages a unity march, an attempt to help heal a wounded nation, amidst a much wider discussion of the need to stand together in the face of terror.

But within that discussion, there has been a distinct fundamentalism - for example, in the insistence that to support Charlie Hedbo's right to publish, we must reprint and replicate their work.

It's an unnecessary conflation of two things: support for the right to do something and actually doing the thing. It should, of course, be possible to express disgust at the murders fully, without having to endorse certain types of offensiveness.

And the French magazine, while broad-spectrum in its religious targets, has undeniably focused its gaze on France's Muslim minority in a racist manner, in recent years.

Hierarchies of control

There is, for media, a responsibility (the abrogation of which clearly does not invite murder) to not be tone deaf about the environments we live in: about ignored hierarchies of control; about powerless minorities and colonial heritage and migration and foreign policy; about how things feel when you are stigmatised, marginalised and scapegoated; about what it's like when you don't have a voice or much representation in the mainstream; and when the majority culture insists that equality and liberty await all those who just learn to be more like the majority.

If we don't create the space to say these things without casting those that do so as fanatical supporters of murder, then what is this limitless freedom of expression we keep insisting we are firmly on the side of?

The demand that we all respond in a mass, uniform way also makes a basic error about how unity works - which is to forget that it can only survive if there are spaces between us; solidarity and common ground take hold because of the existence of a spectrum in thought and experience, and not despite these things.

The danger in blaming Muslims for such atrocities is that we shirk any responsibility. And the harsh reality is that the French killings, just like previous terror atrocities in Britain, just like the European self-proclaimed jihadists that go and fight for the death cult ISIL, are all homegrown.

Deadly terrorism seeks to stamp out the possibility of difference - which is why, in condemning outright those atrocities in France, we need also to keep insisting on and cherishing our diversity.

Meanwhile, equally fundamentalist is the predictable casting of blame at Muslims and their "backward" culture, painting this as a "clash of civilisations" and insisting that all Muslims repeatedly apologise for the slaughters in France. The now routine insistence that all Muslims apologise for all such atrocities has spawned a spoof Muslim iCondemn phone app for such eventualities - a curious development, since we have been led to believe that Muslims don't actually have a sense of humour.

'Civilised v barbarian'

The ridiculous "civilised v barbarian" argument has been skilfully taken apart by others - its false premises, hypocrisy and misguided superiority complex rigorously deconstructed.

But there's grave danger in this sort of "us or them" thinking - not just in the physical attacks on mosques and Muslims in France, which have already begun and which are obviously bad enough.

The danger in blaming Muslims for such atrocities is that we shirk any responsibility. And the harsh reality is that the French killings, just like previous terror atrocities in Britain, just like the European self-proclaimed jihadists that go and fight for the death cult Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), are all homegrown.

We - not just Muslim society, but our societies - are accountable. We, not just the fanatics that recruit to and commit mindless terror, are bound up in the causes and the context in a way that makes it not just insulting but actively counterproductive to single out Muslims as bearing sole responsibility both for the crimes and for their prevention.

If we don't own this terrible reality collectively, we won't be able to find a way out of it collectively, either - and that means we won't be able to find a way out of it at all.

Rachel Shabi is a journalist and author of Not the Enemy: Israel's Jews from Arab Lands.

Source: Al Jazeera