We were all stunned by the avalanche of death that hit Paris last weekend, and a wave of friendship and love towards the people of France swept the world, in the hope that, somehow, they might be comforted.
At the same time, we showed our contempt for the perpetrators. I’ll be honest, I felt more than contempt: my first thought was, The world is better off without them. Because I’ll never understand how anyone could massacre innocent people or how anyone could take pride in the fact they’ve left a family motherless or a parent childless.
At the point of writing this, I still haven’t tried to understand them, or think of their families, or consider any part the West might have played in it. Not yet …
As the week has worn on, around me I’ve noticed a rage beginning to rise. A rage directed towards Muslims, all Muslims. My Facebook feed has calls for our government to stop Islamic immigration, for us not to accept Syrian refugees, for a ban on the burqa, and there was even a video telling me that the ‘peaceful majority (of Muslims) are irrelevant’.
Alongside this, I’ve heard and read the personal stories of Muslims, of how they’ve been treated with disrespect and alienation.
I understand that for many, this is not a decision based on reason, but on fear. People are frightened. For the future. For their safety. For their freedom.
I understand, too, fear of strangers and fear of difference. Fear of people who don’t look like us, or dress as we do. Fear of people with different values, different beliefs, different customs.
I know that fear, because I’ve felt it, too. I’ve judged people based on their appearance, and felt uncomfortable in their presence. All sorts of people, not just Muslims.
As a doctor, I used to meet more people than I ordinarily would in everyday life. They were from all over the world and all sections of society. I got to look after them during pregnancies, treat their sick children, diagnose their breast cancers. As they sat with me, I got to hear their concerns and worries—how hard they were working to pay off a mortgage; how busy they were raising a family; how worried they were for their children.
And the more I got to know them, the more I realised how similar we were.
I remember one of my first Muslim patients, who came in wearing a hijab and jilbab, and when she undressed for the examination, revealed a mini-skirt and tee-shirt underneath. To another, I commented that I liked the fabric of her jilbab, and each time she came after that she wore a different one to show me.
And there was the one who liked Johnny Depp movies, and the ones who laughed at my jokes …
Not only did I get to see what they wore under the cloaks and headdresses, but I was able to see under that, too—to their skin and their bodies.
And they were the same as mine.
I have Muslim friends and colleagues, as does my husband and my children, and there is no way I want to see them hurt or ostracised.
At times like this, we need to remember that we are the same. We need to remember that we respect others’ cultural and religious beliefs. We need to remember that we value life. We can’t throw away our core values because of a few whose actions we cannot comprehend.
You can’t judge all Muslims by the actions of ISIS, and say the peaceful majority are irrelevant—no Christian wants to be judged by the actions of the Ku Klux Klan.
And blaming, hating, and alienating Muslims will only help ISIS. As Waleed Aly said, this is what ISIS want. They want the world to turn against not just them, but against all Muslims, to give them even more reason to hate.
If we call for a war against a religion with a peaceful majority, we’re just stooping to the level of those whose actions we condemn. Guns and bombs aren’t the answer. (We haven’t yet bombed the world to peace, and we’ve been trying to for a couple of centuries.)
As I said earlier, I will never understand what goes on inside the mind of a serial killer or a suicide bomber or a terrorist or anyone who can shamelessly kill, but I’m not about to condemn a whole religion based on the decisions of an extremist few.
I’d rather reach out to the peaceful majority with compassion and understanding. I feel for Muslims around the world right now—some of their own have chosen a murderous course of action in the name of their God, and I can only imagine their grief.
The Syrian civil war has caused the biggest humanitarian crisis of our era. 7.6 million people have been displaced by this conflict. An estimated 4.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in hard to reach and besieged locations. 12.2 million people remain in Syria and in need of humanitarian assistance including more than 5.6 million children. (From ABC website.)
If you would like to help, please consider donating to one of the following:
Save the Children
Refugee Council of Australia