There were two faces of Islam displayed in Paris, France this past week and the world will probably forget the one and long recall the other. The predominant story was the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine, where the editor and many of the cartoonists and other staff were slaughtered. The final tallying of victims released revealed that eight journalists, two police officers, a maintenance worker and a visitor were killed in the attack. The police murdered lost their lives in the attempt to arrest the terrorists at the scene. The rest of the story from the side of the terrorists will be a secondary series of events which will likely be retold with every rendition of the entire episode. The primary part of the following series of events will recount the standoff between the French Special Forces units outside of Paris where the brothers hid with their hostage in a printing house on Friday, after they hijacked a car and police followed them to a village near the Paris main airport. These two segments, or episodes, of these twisted events which together make up the entirety of the horrors where the brothers, Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi, spent much time threatening, first their original target of Charlie Hebdo then second their standoff at the printing house located in the small industrial town of Dammartin-en-Goele, northeast of Paris, in a massive operation to seize the brothers. This side of the story will emphasize the violence and heinous acts of Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi interspersed with reminders stating that ‘Islam is the Religion of Peace’ stressing that it would be evil and inexcusable to use these events to excuse acts against Muslims or expressing or holding thoughts that Islam authorizes or even condones violence against innocents.
There was another event related to the brothers that took place parallel to the standoff in Dammartin-en-Goele. That event occurred in Porte de Vincennes neighborhood of Paris, the outskirts of Paris, at a Hyper Cacher kosher market which was filled with customers, many of them may have been shopping for the coming of Sabbath. Upon crashing into the market, a terrorist named Amedy Coulibaly, who had already murdered a female police officer the day before, stormed into the store in a sustained burst of gunfire murdering four innocent patrons and taking an additional sixteen hostage declaring “You know who I am.” A Muslim employee at the market, Lassana Bathily’s quick thinking may have saved a number of the hostages from harm. This hero downplayed his actions recounting the events telling reporters how he helped several customers to safety as the chaos unfolded. He spoke recounted his story, “I went down to the freezer, I opened the door, there were several people who went in with me. I turned off the light and the freezer. I brought them inside and I told them to stay calm here, I’m going to go out. When they got out, they thanked me.” He had also turned the temperature up in the freezer to make their hiding place just a little less uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Coulibaly kept threatening to murder more of his hostages right up to when the police made their raid ending the drama and preventing any further loss of life.
Lassana Bathily represented the other face of Islam, the face of being a peaceful member of a multicultural community whose religion as he practices it is the religion of peace that we all hear about after each horrific terror attack made by those Muslims who do not practice Islam peacefully causing all their fellow Muslims a severe discomfort and a rough road as they attempt to reclaim their place as peaceful members in their diverse society. Lassana Bathily was one of the members of the Muslim community whose quick thinking and resulting actions placed a number of patrons from the market safely beyond the reach of the murderous terrorist upstairs. He did not place himself in that safe area and instead guarded their safety from outside the freezer where he hid them. His actions were not broadcast to the world during those tense hours before the police and security personnel raided both sites ending what seemed to be a longer period than the few days which actually passed. The violent terrorists were the ones highlighted during the standoffs as the selfless acts of Mr. Bathily were performed in the secret of the background. His bravery and gallantry placing the safety of the patrons before his own only became known in the hours immediately after the standoff was resolved. He became a part of the story after most had already moved on having taken the rescue operation to be the final act. Many will never have heard and those who do remember do so under the disadvantage of the fact that Mr. Bathily’s story will only receive a lessor coverage which is often the case when acts of sanity become the exceptional acts of bravery. We all owe Mr. Bathily the respect of noting his actions and remembering that people such as he will be the ones who hopefully will define Islam in the future. For posterity’s sake I offer a picture of a hero, a picture of Lassana Bathily below.
Earlier in the week there was another whose actions require our respect and whose sacrifice must not be allowed to fade into the dim recesses that singular actions of bravery often do as the final fiery acts which end the eventual standoff rightfully steal the limelight. There were two French police murdered during the initial attempts to capture the terrorists at the scene of the Charlie Hebdo attack, Franck Brinsolaro and Ahmed Merabet. The names of both these men will also fade faster than the names of the brothers who used their religion as a cudgel with which to silence all who they felt had treated the name of their prophet blasphemously. May their names be stricken from the public memory and replaced with the names which can be raised with pride and held as exemplary rather than name those who should be despised. We need to celebrate the names of the police who gave their all in the effort to protect society, the names Ahmed Merabet and Franck Brinsolaro should be held alongside Lassana Bathily as the saviors who acted above and beyond anything required of them and by doing so raised the level of honor and care in the current society so needful of such souls to laud.
Franck Brinsolaro was murdered inside the offices of Charlie Hebdo and was the officer tasked with guarding editor Stéphane Charbonnier while Ahmed Merabet arrived on the scene and was initially injured by the terrorist brothers who then subsequently executed Officer Merabet as he raised his empty hands signaling that he was unarmed and posed no threat to their escape. This murder was possibly the most heinous of the murders of that fateful morning. There was a hashtag of “#JesuisAhmed”, in addition to “#JesuisCharlie”, started on Twitter to honor Officer Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim police officer who arrived to the scene and paid for his efforts with his life. Ahmed Merabet was another whose actions honored Islam and was an example of Muslims who are amongst the most integral members of Parisians who answered the call when the public needed him. Officer Ahmed Merabet, as was pointed out on Twitter feeds under his honorable hashtag, represented all that we could ask for from the Islamic community or any other community. Hopefully he will be remembered with respect and honor.
Often in the discussions which follow terror attacks such as we experienced in Paris this week concerns what is the real face of Islam. This usually results in much heated debate which inevitably results in the conclusion that it will take the Muslims who desire to live as contributing members of Islamic society to reclaim their religion and defined Islam peacefully. This will be a monumental task as nobody has yet come up with a plan for how such might be achieved. It does not help that the Quran appears to have conflicts within its writing which tend to be dependent on when and where they were written. If Islam is going to be shaped by its peaceful, open and cooperative writings then the Mecca Quranic verses need to be made predominant and the Medina writings given less weight. This will be difficult with the majority of Imams stressing that the later verses supercede the earlier verses when a conflict between the two appear. For a discussion which gives a general background and tries to explain the differences between the Mecca verses against the Medina verse can be found in this article Which Quran, Mecca or Medina?
Beyond the Cusp