by Chimene Suleyman

ISIS have never shocked the West. Not really. They are an al-Qaeda template with a Twitter handle. There are only so many ways you can torture and kill someone, and it’s nothing Abu Ghraib hasn’t seen before. But is there anything that suits the West’s understanding of the Middle East more than a group of highly violent, Islamic-obsessed men who shout Allahu Akbar as a prelude to murder? Probably not.

To dehumanise is a natural extension when discussing the Middle East, least of all because of terror organisations like this. Whilst the actions of ISIS are horrifying, inhumane behaviour is still human. Still, brandishing ‘barbaric’, ‘savage’ and ‘backwards’ is barely confined to the actions of a few with a YouTube channel broadcast from a training camp. The words are spread to include all Muslims, used to describe with suspicion all facets of Islamic and Middle Eastern life. These are the ‘Dark Ages’, they tell us, with repeated and tired rhetoric of a standard of living that is at best largely misunderstood, and at other times completely fabricated.

It’s convenient, then, to ignore how many Muslims have been killed by ISIS and how the threat to Arab countries is greater than in Europe or America. In the region Muslims are being killed with frequency for as little as refusing medical aid. Sunni mosques have been destroyed and in June 2014, as many as 1,500 Iraqis were slaughtered. The list goes on.

When Fox News showed the death of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh followed by an astonishing catalogue for ‘why’ Piers Morgan’s needed to watch it on behalf of humanity, it was unlike all earlier encouragement to remember victims of Isis first as men, journalists, or fathers. Al-Kasaesbeh’s brutal death would be made a spectacle, shoved in faces as a sinister example of Western morality and principles: Savage! Barbaric! Never forget. There would be no consent from the victim or his family. Even worse, a wife who learnt of his killing through a Facebook post. But it is easier to view a person’s final moments as simple political declarations once we’ve already thought, during their life, of their cultural identity as precisely this.

Executed Arabs and Western jingoism is nothing new. Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi and Bin Laden’s corpses circulated the internet like trophies. Viva la celebration! Their deaths were symbolic. Just as Muslim actions are symbolic, stretched beyond individual thinking; the action of one is associated elsewhere, representing something else.islamophobia 2

At times the marches in France against the Charlie Hebdo killings felt less ‘solidarity’ and more ‘severance’. A point to all Muslims who have come to be understood as rejecting the very basics of Freedom of Speech. How tiring ‘Freedom of Speech’ became. Mass hysteria that followed published careless and offensive words and images as one might panic-buy tinned soup before the storm. There is of course no threat to Freedom of Speech. That we endured limitless boring articles on the matter was testament to this.

What there was, however, was a threat to Muslim lives. 200 attacks on Muslims and mosques ensued in the days following the Charlie Hebdo attack. A pregnant woman miscarried after a faith-specific attack in retaliation to the cartoonists deaths. She would then, as a Muslim, be expected to apologise on behalf of the two Hebdo killers.

The deaths of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill were barely reported, then presented as a dispute over parking spaces. Their killer’s social networking pages alone brimmed with anti-theist content but were still largely overlooked. Three Muslims were assassinated in their homes, yet this would not be classified as terror. Had it not been for social media it’s unlikely it would have been reported at all. The same people who attached ‘Muslim’ to any criminal activity acted out by someone of the faith were now asking whether it was necessary to write ‘Muslim’ when reporting these deaths. Now their religion shouldn’t matter.

Films like American Sniper acted as a distressing future pointer of what could and would happen. A fictional film caused outrage amongst many who called for the deaths of Muslims, ‘rag heads’, who deserved to be punished for what – and who – fiction portrayed Muslims to be. And so it goes on.

Context, reality, is no longer relevant. Perpetrator and victim are redefined according to the religious belief of the persons involved.

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Chimene Suleyman is a writer from London of Turkish / Middle Eastern heritage. She writes opinion pieces, contributing to The Independent as well as regularly featured writing for online blog and events organiser Poejazzi. She has represented the UK at the International Biennale, Rome 2011 with spoken word. Her poetry collection “Outside Looking On” published by Influx Press is out now. She collects photos of Canary Wharf. Find her on twitter @chimenesuleyman

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