United we stand, divided we fall

Allons enfants de la Patrie! Le jour de gloire est arrivé[1]… Only that day, the day of devastation had arrived. I myself am one of these children of the French “Patrie”. Born and raised in the mountain city of Grenoble in the Alps, in a Muslim family. The night of the attacks, I was also out with friends. Only fortunate enough, I don’t live in Paris. I migrated to Belfast nearly 3 years ago and I am mourning for the victims from across the sea. 

Paris – France and Europe in general – represents everything the attackers despise:  not only freedom of walking in the streets without fear, independence, enjoying live music, good food or a football match and general joie de vivre but most importantly, diversity and multiculturalism. Therefore today, every citizen, regardless of his or her religion, is a victim. I do not wish to position myself as a greater victim by being a Muslim woman since I have nothing to justify in the name of either my religion or ethnic origin.

The Islam I was raised in is a religion of peace, open-mindedness and thirst for knowledge. France has taught me how to live, Islam has taught me how to love. This is precisely why I decided to study and practice Human Rights law and wanted to understand the intricacies of the freedom of religion, considered part of the “unalienable rights”. The way Daesh and its army is misrepresenting my religion is horrifying me just as much as any other citizen across France, Northern Ireland or the rest of the world. They have, to date, murdered more than 100,000 Muslims. Those of us, who live the “Western way”, are their favourite targets.

France holds the biggest Muslim community in Europe (around 6 million people, 10% of its total population) and most of the offenders were French nationals. Their failure to integrate into the French society has cost their nation the loss of 130 of innocent fellow citizens. However, it is important to emphasize that the acts of 8 men don’t turn the rest of the 6 million into de facto criminals. All of us have attended the same schools; under the same values that form the same Republic. Similarly, it is important to remember that the combined forces in total of Daesh, Boko Haram and Al Qaeda makes up a ridiculous 0.003% of the 1.6 billion Muslim population in the world. Terrorism has no colour, race, nationality nor religion.

The role of the media and how the information is being conveyed is key in the post-attack reporting of the events. They form the main means of communication between two parts of society that are distancing themselves from each other every day with a risk to stretch towards extremism, either side of the fence. Consequently, it is vital to balance what is being said in the mainstream media. It is important that the nation as a whole remains united. That there is no such “us” versus “them” kind of speech, at all levels. The more divided our society; the more power the terrorists will get. Their goal is – surprisingly enough – to create an atmosphere of terror. This resonates even more strongly in Belfast and Northern Ireland.

Holding the entire Muslim community responsible for what happened is playing their game. The best response is to remain as one nation that stands up for its freedom and speaks up against barbarism. Today, the necessity for all parts of society to remain united is stronger than ever. Any society. A mutual understanding and communal sharing of the French concepts of liberty, equality and fraternity (motto of the French Republic) is the best counter-attack to the attacks. As the little Prince would say, “it is a folly to hate all roses because a thorn stung you, to abandon all dreams because one of them didn’t come true, to renounce all attempts because one failed…for each end, there is always a new beginning”.

[1]Let’s go children of the fatherland; the day of glory has arrived! Introduction to the French national anthem

By Meriem Naili 

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