Last Thursday, August 17th, two tragic terrorist attacks took place in Barcelona and Cambrils, Spain, which ended with the lives of 15 people and resulted in more than 120 injured. These attacks deserve our strongest condemnation and reject, they must be qualified as barbaric and we must work together and at all levels to be sure that they do not happen again. However, as it happens every time that an attack is qualified as “jihadist”, we must also insist in the need of distinguishing between these kind of acts and the values represented by Islam, in the independence between the terrorists and the Muslim population, and in the impossibility of terrorism being in any way representative of the Islamic religion or the Muslim community as a whole (which is composed, let’s not forget, of 1,6 billion people).
It is necessary to insist upon these aspects because terrorism holds always the same objectives, to produce fear, but also to polarize society. It intends to alienate the Muslim community, to differentiate it from the Spanish or Western population and to exacerbate the tensions between them. The tragedy that took place last week has led to very noble acts of help and solidarity, but also to the first reactions of racism and islamophobia, acts of violence and xenophobia involving different groups that are just waiting for a reason to attack the Muslim or foreign population.
Outbreaks of islamophobia
In the last six days we have witnessed different reactions that tried to attack or blame the Muslim population, from attacks to mosques and demonstrations against Islam, to the demand of a specific condemnation of these attacks by the country’s Muslims or a generalization and homogenization of this group’s features.
One of the main dangers of this kind of reactions is the attempt by right-wing groups of taking over the fight against terrorism. We find one example on the promotion of “fuck ISIS” t-shirts by the Spanish fascist group “Hogar social”, or in the holding of a demonstration by right-wing groups in Barcelona (last Saturday, August 19th) under the slogan “terrorists aren’t welcome”, but also under the more classic and xenophobic slogan “Stop islamization of Europe”.
In addition to this demonstration, different graffiti have appeared in mosques all over the country, such as in the mosque of Montblanc (Barcelona) or in the Consulate of Morocco in Tarragona, with messages that read “You are going to die fucking Moors”; in the headquarters of the Seville Mosque Foundation(with messages such as “The moor that prays must be beheaded”), a mosque in Logroño (“terrorists”, “leave Europe”) o Fuenlabrada’s mosque, where, in addition to the graffiti, a pig head was thrown against the building. Likewise, the nazi group “Hogar social” attacked the mosque of Albaicín, in Granada, throwing smoke canisters against it while carrying a banner against Islam.
A different type of indirect attack is the demand of a specific condemnation of the attacks by the Muslim population, which, implicitly, aims at transferring the responsibility of the crimes committed to the average Muslim, or even the disregard of the condemnations already issued by them. For instance, the national newspaper La Razón stated last Saturday, August 20th: “This morning I wrote a tweet in which I asked why didn’t the thousands of Muslims living in Spain demonstrate and said “Stop” to this meaningless trail of blood”.
These thoughts rely on stereotypes that understand the Muslim population as a monolithic and homogeneous body and that tend to ignore the historic and current contributions made by the Islamic civilization. We can refer, in this sense, to the very criticized tweets of the Spanish journalist Isabel San Sebastián, which read:
“Damn you, Islamists, sons of… We kicked you out once and we will do it again. Spain will be a Western country, free and democratic.”
Malditos seáis, islamistas hijos de… Ya os echamos de aquí una vez y volveremos a hacerlo. España será occidental, libre y democrática.
— Isabel San Sebastián (@isanseba) 17 de agosto de 2017
An example of solidarity
However, even though racist and violent reactions are a risk and a danger to all society, these days we have also lived important demonstration of solidarity and unity with the Muslim population. We can find them in the wide condemnation of terrorism expressed by mosques and Muslim associations, which even included the participation and rejection of some of the terrorists’ family members. These actions led to a demonstration in Catalonia Square, Barcelona, last Monday, August 21st, which gathered hundreds of people under the slogan “No tinc por” (I’m not scared) and that concluded with a statement signed by more than 153 associations. But these acts of solidarity can’t only be traced to the Muslim communities. We can highlight also the exemplary answers of the Catalonian Police chief, Josep Lluís Trapero, to the incriminatory questions of international journalists, in which he had to insist on the need to not blame Muslims or immigrants, as they are not the problem: “We must not criminalize the mosques […] Mosques are a place where people go to pray”. It has also been important the emotional Twitter campaign #YoTeAcompaño (#IwillEscortYou), in which people offered themselves to escort scared Muslim through the streets, in order to avoid racist aggressions, and Muslims offered themselves to comfort victims, families or frightened tourists. It also allowed to face the islamophobe Twitter campaign #stopislam.
“Palma de Mallorca, if you need to take a bus or go shopping, #IwillEscortYou. We must fight racism and islamophobia”
These tragedies are a key moment in which it is important to show solidarity and to not give in to the tensions that the different parties are interested in generating, by promoting hate and social fragmentation. Thus, it is important to understand that Muslims are also victims of terrorism, that they are an inherent part of society and that we must avoid the mistake of differentiating or blaming them for the attacks.