Countering Fear

Armed officers take part in a police drill simulating an armed attack on the Intu Trafford Center in Trafford, Manchester, Britain, May 10, 2016. REUTERS/Sean Hansford/Manchester Evening News/Pool

It’s time that we broke the link between Allahu Akbar and terrorism

BY Nabila Ramdani

Two words guaranteed global infamy for fake terrorists this month: Allahu Akbar—Arabic for “God is the greatest.” They were allegedly used at a train station near Munich, as a mentally ill German man randomly killed one victim, and wounded three others in a knife attack. On the same day, an unidentified British volunteer taking part in an emergency services’ training exercise in Manchester shouted the phrase four times before he pretended to blow himself up.

The alleged murderer in Bavaria was called Paul and in fact had no links to Islam whatsoever. An unemployed carpenter, he had been taking drugs, hallucinating, and rambling incoherently. Claims that he was an immigrant from the Middle East or North Africa also proved false. German prosecutors remain baffled as to why Allahu Akbar had been mentioned at all, least of all in sensational breaking news tags across the world.

Nine hundred miles away, meanwhile, the U.K. authorities also eventually tried to distance themselves from the words. A Greater Manchester police statement read “on reflection, we acknowledge that it was unacceptable to use this religious phrase immediately before the mock suicide bombing, which so vocally linked this exercise with Islam.” That was the official line, but some senior officers suggested that the Allahu Akbars had purposefully been used for dramatic effect.

It worked too; newscasters reporting on both Manchester and Munich blurted out the words with uncontained glee, and they dominated bulletins all day. Never mind explaining events in context, let alone verifying any facts: the grossly manipulative shorthand of Allahu Akbar was all anybody needed.

Within minutes of the two incidents, the international media was flooded with hatred aimed at Muslims. A typical comment on a thread left un-moderated by a normally respectable British outlet read: “Kill all muslimes (sic) now.” The well-received post (lots of “likes”) said every Muslim “man woman and child worldwide” should be exterminated “for the sake of humanity.”

Numerous other reactions were similarly disturbing, praising real life attacks on civilian Muslim communities, especially in Palestine, where hundreds of infants are among those periodically murdered by shelling.

Such macabre gloating did not deter the politicians, security analysts and other commentators who believe in linking all Muslims—whatever their age, nationality or background—with terrorism as a matter of course.

Allahu Akbar references multiplied across mainstream news outlets, as well as on social media, long before anybody really knew what was going on at the German station. Even in the age of camera phones and CCTV everywhere, anecdotal claims were enough to stigmatize Muslims.

By the time most of the allegations about the knifeman were discounted, it was too late. There were no retractions or apologies: for Islamophobes, the sacred myths tying belief in God with death and destruction had stuck.

It was exactly the same in Manchester. The mock attack at the Trafford Center was as routine as it was mundane. Were it not for the man’s melodramatic screams of Allahu Akbar, then the entire exercise would have made, at most, a few paragraphs at the end of broadcasts and in published reports. Instead, there was an international polemic, with bigots given carte blanche to pour out their deepest religious and racial prejudices.

Of course killers including terrorists use Allahu Akbar. The words can also be heard on battlefields from Libya to Syria. However, anybody brought up a Muslim will know they are invoked instinctively in all kinds of situations—and especially during prayer. They are by no means solely hijacked in horrifically violent situations. On the contrary, Allahu Akbar expresses the belief that God is greater than the material world, and indeed the ephemeral nature of life. Theologically, it has nothing to do with harming others, or any kind of evil acts.

Despite this, the words have now become a failsafe trigger for publicity: the perfect tool for those seeking to spread as much discord as possible, whether they are drugged-up psychopaths, or dishonest authority figures. Whether offering divisive sound bites, or convoluted theories about the “enemy within,” agenda-led media pundits also jump on the bandwagon whenever they can.

Cynically using the words Allahu Akbar not only ensures international interest, but propagates the fallacy that they are irrevocably linked with criminality. Throw Allahu Akbar in to almost any situation and a buzz follows. You do not need a video or sound recording meaning that, yes, witnesses can even make them up. No wonder there are so many copycat attacks.

Sadly, violent crime in countries like Germany and Britain is prevalent in all communities, just as it has always been. Political extremists, drug gangs, armed robbers and thousands involved in domestic disputes every year use knives, firearms and other lethal weapons. The threat level from Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Great Britain has just gone up from moderate to substantial, for example. Far-right groups in Germany are carrying out arson attacks on migrants’ shelters. Schizophrenics and others with similar illnesses continue to kill and maim, but in the current climate it is usually only the addition of an Allahu Akbar that keep them top of the news agenda.

Those who express concern about venomous generalizations based on overblown or fabricated evidence are meanwhile accused of being overly sensitive. The idea is that “politically correct” Muslims who object to being vilified should just put up with it.

If you are even vaguely suspected of demeaning the followers of other monotheistic religions, however, then you can expect very serious consequences, from criminal proceedings to having your career destroyed.

It is an increasingly grotesque situation, and one that will continue so long as those in positions of power allow even the most sadistic criminals to be elevated to “holy warriors” at the drop of a hat. Affiliations to Islam are many and varied, but the vast majority of Muslims are absolutely repulsed by terrorism, and indeed any form of violence. Fueling Allahu Akbar myths at every opportunity, however spurious, insults and humiliates them all.

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