Humanist Perspectives: issue 192: “Wir haben es nicht gewusst.”
The 21st century sequel

“Wir haben es nicht gewusst.”
The 21st century sequel
by Madeline Weld


e didn’t know.” And indeed, how should we have known that a bloodthirsty totalitarian ideology threatened our civilization and its humanistic values? It’s true that hardly a day passes that there isn’t something to draw our attention to Islam – beheadings of journalists, hikers, and foreign workers; bombings so frequent that only major ones still make the news; destruction and desecration of non-Muslim (or Muslim from a rival sect) places of worship, community centres, cemeteries and other loci; and vandalization of antiquities because they aren’t Islamic. Then there is the abduction, mass murder, rape, and enslavement occurring in Nigeria, elsewhere in Africa, and especially in the nascent caliphate in Iraq and Syria, to which would-be jihadis from all nations are flocking, enticed by said caliphate’s skillful use of social media.

Nor have Europe and North America escaped murder and mayhem on their home turf. Remember the good old days? In 1989, “fatwa” was a word most of us had to look up in the dictionary and Salman Rushdie was the only person we knew of who had to worry about one. The February, 1993, bombing of the World Trade Center and the October, 2000, bombing of USS Cole, as well as other attacks on Western interests around the world, were harbingers of the carnage that came to New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, which nevertheless took us by surprise. Almost the first thing that then President George Bush said following the attack that killed thousands of his countrymen was that the religion in whose name it was carried out was one of peace. In retrospect, we can see how the pace and variety of jihadi attacks in Europe and North America have escalated since then, especially in recent months.

...hardly a day passes that there isn’t something to draw our attention to Islam – beheadings of journalists, hikers, and foreign workers; bombings so frequent that only major ones still make the news.

The year 2004 brought a bombing in Madrid in March, with 191 deaths and over 2,000 injured, and the brutal and public murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam, who had offended Muslims with his film Submission, in November. There was an explosion of Muslim anger with violent and often deadly protests during the Danish cartoons episode of 2005-06. In July, 2007, 52 people were killed and some 700 injured in bombing attacks in London. A shooting rampage at a Fort Hood, Texas, military base killed 13 and injured 32 in November, 2009. In March, 2012, three soldiers, three schoolchildren and a teacher were killed and five others injured in attacks in Toulouse and Moutaban, France. The spring of 2013 brought jihadi carnage in the form of the April bombing of the Boston marathon and the brutal May slaying of Lee Rigby in Woolwich, England. In May, 2014, four people were killed at a Jewish museum in Brussels, while in September, an 82-year-old London woman working in her garden and a female packing plant worker in Oklahoma were killed in jihadi beheadings. Two deadly terror attacks in Canada killed a soldier and reservist in October, while a mass hostage-taking in Sydney, Australia, in December resulted in two deaths. So far, 2015 has brought us 17 victims in January in the Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine, a Jewish grocery store, and police officers, while two died in February in attacks on a free-speech meeting and a synagogue in Copenhagen.

The above is just a small sampling of the global jihadi carnage because Westerners are not at the moment bearing the brunt of the terror attacks. The BBC World Service and King’s College London reported that during the month of November, 2014, 5,000 people were killed in jihadi attacks.1 Thirty-five percent of the death toll was in Iraq, where many of the victims were civilians. Other countries suffering a large number of attacks by jihadis were Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and a lesser number in Pakistan.

Despite what comes out of the mouths of the attackers themselves (“Allahu Akbar” and various Koranic verses or hadiths justifying their behaviour), our authorities and media are reluctant to address, or in outright denial about, any connections to Islam or jihad. The US government has only recently changed the Fort Hood killings to “domestic terrorism” from “workplace violence,” while British Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that the Rigby killers had betrayed Islam. The denial continues despite the vast amount of resources that governments are now having to devote to trying to prevent terror attacks and keeping tabs on would-be jihadis wanting to go to Syria or wreak havoc at home. In Canada, the RCMP is stretched thin. Nevertheless, the Canadian media are for the most part slow to connect dots about the true nature of the threat, that is jihad with the purpose of subjugating all countries under Islamic rule as required by Islamic law.

Two recent interviews on the CBC radio program As It Happens exemplify the tendency of the media to downplay any association of Islamic violence with Islam and to exaggerate the threat to Muslims of hate-crimes committed in retaliation for such violence. On Thursday, February 12, AIH host Carol Off interviewed a friend of one of the three Muslim victims of the deadly shooting two days earlier in Chapel Hill, NC. The friend expressed his view that this was a hate crime, and not, as the police suggested, about a parking dispute. Off was very sympathetic and asked if the killings had created a sense of fear. He answered that “Now you have to start thinking twice before going out” and that the “basic sense of safety in our own home” was being stripped away. The victim’s friend was also concerned about his own wife who wore a hijab. In reality, as tragic as the killing of the three young people is, there is no evidence of a wave of anti-Muslim hate crimes in America or anywhere else. Nor even that the killer, Craig Hicks, was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. He was thoroughly unpleasant to all neighbours in his condominium complex, gun-obsessed and mentally ill. The fact that this hard-core atheist supported the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) which dismisses any criticisms of Islam as Islamophobia and called those who opposed the construction of a mosque on Ground Zero in New York “hypocrites” does not support a particular animus to Muslims. No motive beyond anger regarding the parking dispute has as yet been firmly established.

In contrast, in her Tuesday, February 17, interview with Denmark’s Chief Rabbi Jair Melchior following the Copenhagen killings, Off went happily along with the rabbi in downplaying the danger of Muslim fanatics to the greater community. Off was quick to blurt out “It’s a fringe” when the rabbi called the Copenhagen killer and people like him “not only a minority, but a fraction of a minority.” Nor did she question him when he said that people like the killer “stand against everything not only that mankind stands for, but that Islam stands for.” Evidently, neither Off nor Melchior think that Islam might have anything to do with the attacks listed in the paragraphs above. It is commendable that the rabbi insisted that he would not let attacks by people like the Copenhagen killer terrorize him, but despite a bow to free speech, his answer to a question about the Danish cartoons was disappointing. People need to take responsibility for what they say, he said, and how their work might change the way other people feel and think. That didn’t mean they should stop, he continued, but that they should understand that before they decide to do it. Off then asked if that sensitivity was missing, and he replied that it was, and that was wrong. If you were expecting harsh words from either Off or the rabbi for those whose behaviour needed to be carefully considered by anyone contemplating drawing a cartoon, you will be disappointed.

The two interviews taken together would seem to indicate that Off agrees that Muslims in America, or at least in Chapel Hill, NC, have reason to live in fear due to anti-Muslim attitudes, whereas Danes should not allow the Copenhagen killings to stop them from going about their business because the Copenhagen killer represented merely a fringe, who wouldn’t behave so badly if only people were more sensitive.

If only this muddled thinking were peculiar to As It Happens or the CBC. But it is symptomatic of the Western media and our leaders in general, who are more than eager to exculpate Islam and avoid making uncomfortable connections. With rapidly rising Muslim populations, these countries are seeing many changes, including self-censorship and, in Europe at least, avoidance by non-Muslims of certain parts of some of their own cities.

So what will we tell our children or grandchildren, should their lives be constrained by the strictures of Islam, either by law or simply through the fear of violence, or a combination of both. “We didn’t know”? Or maybe we’ll be honest and say, “We were scared, and it was easier just to pretend that we didn’t see what was happening.”

– Madeline Weld