What if the gunmen had been Christian?

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What if the gunmen had been Christian?

After the terrorist attack on French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a Muslim friend asked, “How many people were killed?”

It was easy to answer.

I remembered from news coverage that the victims included 10 staff members and three police officers at the Charlie Hebdo office, as well as four others at a local market.

When I said there were 17 victims, he asked, “What about the terrorists?”

It was a rhetorical question.

“Twenty people were killed,” he said, “but people only talk about 17 victims.”

He didn’t discuss the subject further.

Strangely, it felt sad and painful when he said that 20 were killed. The terrorists were also human. But my friend is a Muslim from Southeast Asia, a hardworking man supporting his old mother and family. Yet, he is suffering for something he didn’t do. He may have empathy for the terrorists, who grew up in despair and hatred and became monsters. Or he may have felt it was unfair that those who mocked his religion were revered as victims who died protecting “freedom of speech.”

Maybe he was upset that Muslims are being shunned because of this violence. Or it could be the irony that the majority of people killed in terrorist attacks are Muslims. Or it may be all of above.

I was reminded of a taxi driver I met in Paris on the day of the attack. “All religions speak of love, with the exception of Islam. The Quran instructs Muslims to kill people. Muslims force their religion upon others. Buddhists don’t force their religion. Christians wouldn’t kill me for saying ‘No.’”

He was so sure of this inaccurate argument, and now I understand how deep-rooted Western antagonism toward Islam really is.

“One cannot kill in the name of God,” Pope Francis said. “What happens now surprises us, but always think of our history: How many religious wars have we known?! Just think of the night of St. Bartholomew,” referring to a shameful part of Catholic history, a massacre on the night of Aug. 23, 1572, when thousands of Huguenots were murdered by Catholic believers.

He was simply asking us not to blame Islam for the violence of Islamic extremists.

A British columnist also wielded a difficult question, “What if the terrorists were Christian?”

Clearly, if the terrorists were Christians, we wouldn’t be asking such a question. And Christian leaders wouldn’t protest that it was unfair to criticize the whole Christian community for a single incident. Whether we admit or not, we may already have the mindset of the taxi driver.

The author is the London correspondent
for the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 17, Page 30


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