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Paris attacks: Say no to xenophobia

News agencies have reported that a Syrian passport that passed through Greece — potentially belonging to a political refugee — was found near the body of one of the attackers. However, it’s not clear if the passport belonged to the attacker. Moreover, one of the attackers, according to the Paris prosecutor, has been identified as a French national. The father and brother of Omar Ismaïl Mostefai, one of the seven jihadis killed in the deadliest attacks on French soil since the Second World War, were among those arrested by the French police on Sunday. Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s resurgent far-right party, is up for election next month. 

The horrific attacks could help her at the polls, according to various political experts. Following the attack, Le Pen reiterated her call for mosques to be closed and migrants to be deported.  Other populist leaders around Europe have also rushed to demand an end to an influx of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa, despite a lack of clarity over whether the passport belonged to the attacker. Turn the tables and it is amply clear that the refugees are trying to run away from the very horrors that Paris suffered late on Friday night. Terrorist organisations like ISIS are exactly the kind of danger that many Syrian refugees are fleeing from. Furthermore, such terror groups have been recruiting a number of European citizens. According to a report tabled in the French Parliament earlier this year, among the 3,000 European fighters that ISIS has recruited, 1,430 were from France. 

So the assumption that only foreigners would be to blame for a terrorist attack in France is not only wrong but deeply xenophobic. France has established tight controls on its borders and the refugee camp at Calais in northern France was set on fire. We must constantly remind ourselves that they are vulnerable people on the run from the same forces responsible for the attacks in Paris.
 What is happening in Paris is tragic and frightening. The outpouring of #prayforparis on our social media portals, and the media devoting so much airtime to this incident ignores a rather fundamental fact. 

Throughout 2015, thousands of similar attacks have occurred in Pakistan, Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, and Turkey, among others. On the same week as 17 people were massacred in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, Boko Haram had murdered over 2000 innocent civilians in Baga, Nigeria. Suffice to say, it was the Charlie Hebdo massacre that found more airtime, with the events in Nigeria relegated to a “local” story. Why are some parts of the world, where people of colour reside, considered violent and insignificant to begin with, that attacks on innocents, similar to Paris, are considered unworthy of global outrage? Another narrative arising out of these attacks is that Islam is responsible for such attacks. 

To answer those who believe that Islam, a global religion practiced by over 1.6 billion people around the world, is responsible for the atrocities in Paris, Iranian scholar Reza Aslan has a rather simple answer: “Islam is just a religion and like every religion in the world it depends on what you bring to it. If you’re a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going be violent. There are marauding Buddhist monks in Myanmar slaughtering women and children. Does Buddhism promote violence? People are violent or peaceful and that depends on their politics, their social world, and the ways they see their communities.” 
 
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