The Arabic word “insan” means “one who forgets”.
In the light of the world’s reaction to the appalling massacre in Paris on Friday 13th November (an ill-omened day to be sure), we should perhaps consider that French pundits and the media are themselves “insan”, as we have heard no reference whatsoever in the media to the earlier shocking Parisian massacre in 1961, sanctioned by that xenophobic elder statesman Charles de Gaulle, of Algerian Muslims who dared to protest against French colonialism.
200 people were shot in cold blood by the French authorities. De Gaulle ensured that this “small local incident” was hushed up, and the world in general was none the wiser, continuing, obdurately, to believe in the self-congratulatory slogan of “liberté, égalité, fraternité”.
Now, however, we hear it being confidently stated that the 13th November death toll was the worst in France since the Second World War…and we are suddenly and uncharacteristically great allies of the nation we usually scorn as “frogs”.
This shameful slaughter, perpetrated by ferocious activists, prompted me, as a Muslim chaplain, to send emails to numerous colleagues across many faiths, and none, reminding them of Inter-Faith week, and the need to pray for people of all faiths and none.
Yet again, the responsibility for these shameful assaults is being laid at the door of Islam – but Islam is no more responsible for what has occurred than any other faith.
Islam absolutely condemns terrorism and the shedding of innocent blood, which runs counter to the philosophy of absolute moral constraint against violence.
Many European intellectuals are aware of this – Immanuel Kant, one of the greatest of European philosophers, acknowledged the debt he owed to the work of Muslim polymaths and scholars.
Why, then, are the French now struggling to accept the diversity of their society rather than reaping the benefits of the many different cultures and beliefs within their borders?
The University of Sheffield’s Vice-Chancellor, Sir Keith Burnett says it is our ‘solemn duty’ to ‘replace ignorance and hostility with understanding and discourse’.
It is illuminating to consider, as Interfaith Week draws to a close, the response to the Paris attacks from faith leaders.
The Dalai Lama was quoted as saying: “We are one people.”
As a Buddhist he stated that he believed in prayer, but found it illogical to ask God to help when humans had created the problem.
In contrast, the Archbishop of Canterbury confessed he sometimes doubted the existence of God, if God could allow such suffering.
Surely, we should, rather, move forward by emphasising our common humanity, which must be born again in each of us, and occupy a common ground in which we can work to right the wrongs that insecurity, the interventionist foreign policy of so many global politicians of all persuasions and poor life chances have created in the lives of so many young French Muslims, who have, tragically, fallen easy prey to extremists.
Let us, then, not turn away– we must, rather, remember, learn from history, and provide voices of reason.