"Extremist groups want to impose on us a clash of civilisations"
Mr Seddiki, what consequences do you foresee for Muslims in France as a result of the terrorist attack on the satirical magazine "Charlie Hebdo"?
Djelloul Seddiki: I was visiting Pope Francis as part of a delegation of French imams when we received news of the terrorist attack on "Charlie Hebdo".
In my view, this attack is a catastrophe because it means that the conflicts in the Middle East have now reached France. Of course we had to expect this kind of development, but not in the form of such a brutal attack involving heavy weapons and killing so many journalists who are known for standing up for a free press and secularism in French society.
The attack is also a catastrophe because we – along with other minorities in France – already find ourselves in a difficult, agitated situation. I therefore fear that public opinion will now change dramatically, leading to an aggravation of the existing conflicts between the Muslim community and French majority society.
What specific conflicts are you talking about?
Seddiki: The Muslim community in France has for a long time had to deal with two conflicts: an internal one with radical, misguided young men and an external one resulting from the prevailing media discourse on Islam. As far as the imbalance in the media representation of Islam is concerned, we are tired of having to distance ourselves from criminal acts of violence in the name of Islam every single time. We are first and foremost French citizens – just like all other citizens of this republic – and therefore bear no responsibility for this deeply godless attack on the country's free press.
What can France's Muslim community do to correct this imbalance, as you put it?
Seddiki: We must first of all do everything in our power to overcome these negative reaction patterns. We need to move away from a situation where the media reflexively blames the Muslim community for the barbaric acts of individual perpetrators.
Tragically, most of those in the media overlook the fact that ordinary Muslims in France are the primary victims of jihadi terror. Worldwide too, 90 per cent of the victims of the various Islamist terrorist groups are Muslim: in Syria, in Iraq and in Lebanon. And let's not forget Pakistan, where the Taliban recently perpetrated a massacre on children.
Behind this cowardly attack on the magazine "Charlie Hebdo" are criminal, extremist groups that want to impose on us a clash of civilisations, a battle of cultures. Ultimately, regular Muslims have no influence on global political conflicts and on the geo-strategic state of the world.
Nevertheless, these conflict-laden events contribute to the image of Islam as a "violent religion" becoming increasingly entrenched. What concrete action can Muslims take to correct this distorted picture?
Seddiki: That is unfortunately true. We definitely have to run more education campaigns, to encourage greater openness through education, and to step up our co-operation with civil society in all European countries.
The majority of French Muslims are members of the fourth generation; their mother tongue is French and they usually speak only rudimentary Arabic. At the moment, the majority of French Muslims live on the margins of society, but if we want to be part of this society, we must seek more integration. In this respect, we can certainly learn from the experiences of the Jewish community, because most French Jews are well integrated without having given up their cultural and religious identity.
How do you rate the work of Muslim associations in France in dealing with this complex situation in society?
Seddiki: Most Muslim associations in France were only founded in recent years and have only modest resources at their disposal. So we should not expect too much from them. They are currently doing what they can.
French society is a secular society through and through, which believes in the individual and not the collective. I am an advocate of a clear separation between the private/religious realm and the public sphere. In today's France, everyone can and should worship according to his or her own beliefs. We must therefore strengthen Muslims as individuals and accept their heterogeneity. Nowhere in the world do Muslims form a monolithic block.
Interview conducted by Yasser Abumuailek
© Qantara.de 2015
Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor