Karima Bennoune says what’s needed now is firm rejection of violent religious fanaticism.
As many Australians themselves have already clearly demonstrated in the wake of the attack through the wonderful anti-racist hashtag #I’llridewithyou, the correct response to such atrocious events is not blind discrimination against people on the basis of real or presumed religious identity or refugee status. However, unconditional condemnation of the extreme Islamist political ideology that may be behind this terrible attack — and at least was used to justify it — is absolutely essential, and is in no way discriminatory.
In fact, any tolerance of such intolerance does not produce tolerance, but rather has paradoxical and dangerous results — allowing illiberalism to flourish and letting violent events proliferate. No one knows this more than those who have lived on the frontlines of Islamist terror.
She was in Australia last May to talk about her book.
After my lecture about the book at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, which ended with the story of Amel Zenoune-Zouani, an Algerian law student killed by the Armed Islamic Group in 1997, I was surrounded and embraced onstage by a group of people of Muslim heritage — all women and many in tears. They were refugees from Algeria and Afghanistan who had been driven from their own countries by fundamentalist violence, like that the Sydney hostage taker Man Haron Monis appeared to be mimicking. Some of the Algerians later told me how loyal and grateful they were to Australians generally for being so welcoming to them when they were forced to flee there in the 1990s, and that they were disturbed to occasionally encounter Muslim fundamentalists in their adopted country who reminded them of the ideology that had forced them from their homes.
Rejection of that ideology does not equate to rejection of Muslims in general.
The unprecedented (for Australia) Sydney hostage-taking is yet another reminder of the urgent need to discredit Islamist ideology, and to effectively counter the narratives that promote extremist violence. One of the best ways to do this is to support people of Muslim heritage — like those I lectured about while in Australia — who are fighting back against the fundamentalists. Meanwhile, the stories of the Muslim immigrants and refugees I met down under are also a reminder of the urgent need to prevent the manipulation of this terrible event in support of an anti-refugee narrative — a development which would only harm many who have already been victims of Islamist violence and who are allies in the battle against extremism.