As events unfold in France centring around Islamophobia, there is a feeling of déjà vu. We have witnessed a few times before this sequence of events. There is some provocation or other targeting the Prophet Muhammad initiated by a non-Muslim group or institution. Predictably, Muslims react. In the midst of demonstrations and rallies, an act of violence occurs perpetrated by an offended Muslim and/or his co-religionists. The violent act leads to further demonization of Muslims in the media which by this time is in a frenzy. Feeling targeted, some Muslim groups escalate their emotional response, sometimes causing more deaths to occur of both Muslims and non-Muslims even in countries far away from the place where the provocation first occurred. One also hears of calls to boycott goods produced in the country where it all started.
On this occasion too it was French president Emmanuel Macron’s vigorous assertion that cartoons of the Prophet produced by the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, in January 2015 and republished since represented freedom of speech that angered a lot of Muslims in France and elsewhere, though some other remarks he had made recently about ‘Islam being in crisis’ and ‘Islamic separatism’ had also annoyed some people. However, it was the beheading of a French schoolteacher who had shown the cartoons in a class discussion on freedom of speech by a Muslim youth of Chechen origin that provoked not only Macron but also other leaders and a huge segment of French society to react with hostility towards Muslims and even Islam. It should be emphasised that almost all major Muslim leaders and organisations in France also condemned the beheading. So did many Muslims in other parts of the world.
It is not enough just to denounce an ugly, insane murder of this sort. Not many Muslim theologians have argued publicly that resorting to mindless violence to express one’s anger over a caricature of the Prophet is an affront to the blessed memory of God’s Messenger. For even when he was physically abused in both Mecca and Medina, Prophet Muhammad did not retaliate with violence against his adversaries. He continued with his mission of preaching justice and mercy with kindness and dignity. It is such an attitude that should be nurtured and nourished in the Muslim world today especially by those who command religious authority and political influence among the masses.