On Friday, March 23, while he screamed “Allahu Akbar,” Redouan Lakdim killed three people in a supermarket in Southwestern France, where he had just taken hostages. First known to the police as a drug dealer, more recently Lakdim became known as a jihadi, an Islamic militant who proclaimed his allegiance to ISIS. He had demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, the prime surviving suspect in the Islamic State attacks that killed 130 people in Paris in 2015. Yet he was allowed to circulate freely. Why?
All too often, the first reaction to such acts of Islamic terrorism is not horror at the barbaric acts and compassion for the victims, but an obsessive fear that “Islamophobia” will increase. In France, editorials in liberal outlets will once again warn against “conflation” (in French, the expression is “pas d’amalgam”), by which is meant that there should be no automatic identification of acts of terrorism with Islam. Islam is a religion of peace, we are instructed, and terrorists know nothing about true Islam. Liberal publications deny the evidence of the Koranic texts, Islamic principles, and the 1,400- year history of jihadi terrorism, which began with the Prophet Muhammad himself. They also ignore the writings of “modern” jihadists such as Sayyid Qutb, Abdullah Azzam, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the Ayatollah Khomeini, which provide ample justification for holding Islam itself responsible for acts of terror.
Unfortunately, “Islamophobia” has now entered the dictionaries of all modern languages. It is at once a way to deflect any criticism or critical examination of Islam, on the one hand, and, on the other, a means for apologists to play victim. It is also no less than an attempt to stifle the fundamental principles of democracy and one of the glories of Western civilization—freedom of thought and expression. By demanding separate and privileged treatment, Islamists undermine another fundamental Western achievement—the concept of equality before the law, irrespective of race, gender, or religion. Islamists argue that they have been humiliated and victimized by French secularism; thus, their demand that we accept their Islamic laws, which they claim comes from God himself, but which reduce women and non-Muslims to an inferior status. If they prevail, the Islamists will undermine the principle that, more than any other, has resulted in unprecedented peace and prosperity in the West: the separation of state and religion, state and church, or state and mosque.
This brings us to the recent declaration by 100 French intellectuals against Islamist totalitarianism, published in the Paris daily newspaper Le Figaro. “We want to live in a world where no religion lays down the law,” it concludes. Some of the signatories have personal experience of the pernicious effects of new laws designed to protect the tender sensibilities of Muslims, and only Muslims. For example, award-winning historian Georges Bensoussan was acquitted in March 2017 of charges of incitement against Muslims; he had quoted an Algerian scholar who said that “in French Arab families, babies suckle anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk.” Another signatory, Mohamed Louizi, is being taken to court for defamation for having implied that French president Emmanuel Macron had been politically hostage to the Islamist vote. Louizi has an intimate knowledge of Islamists, since he’s a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Several other signers are also ex-Muslims, such as Walid al-Husseini, Boualem Sansal, and myself. We, too, have firsthand knowledge of Islamist ideology. We value the freedom of religion and from religion, which includes leaving or changing one’s faith, or not having any faith. Female signatories, such as Fatiha Boudjahlat and Fawzia Zouari, underline the need to defend women’s freedom to live their lives without interference from fundamentalists. Many signers are distinguished philosophers—Alain Finkielkraut, Luc Ferry, Renée Fregosi, Vincent Descombres, Rémi Brague, Philippe de Lara, Jean-Pierre Le Goff, Damien le Guay, and Yves-Charles Zarka—while others are historians, essayists (Pascal Bruckner), and professors. All are dedicated to secularism and the firm separation of state and religion; all, of course, value the free discussion of ideas, wherever it may lead.
Our worries are founded on facts, not irrational fears. Well-known Islamologist Gilles Kepel has remarked upon the inexorable rise of Islamist propaganda and proselytism in universities, where the ideas of the Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood are often promoted. Thankfully, French authorities have recently shut down 20 mosques and prayer halls that they found to be preaching radical Islamist ideology—hatred of non-Muslims and advocacy of jihad.
The French suburbs are rife with Islamic militants proselytizing among the young, imposing sharia on all (especially women), segregating swimming pools, demanding halal food, and so on. Incidents of anti-Semitism in France have multiplied dramatically, almost all of them perpetrated by Muslims. But if I were to say so in France, I might well be prosecuted for “Islamophobia.”