When the French middle school teacher Samuel Paty was murdered on 16 October 2020 in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, beheaded in an act of Islamist terrorism by an eighteeen-year-old Russian-born Chechen refugee named Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov, several people asked me for my response. After all, I’m an Islamicist. And Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov’s brutal attack had been motivated, superficially at least, by a desire to avenge the honor of Islam: In a class on the freedom of religion, Samuel Paty had shown his students several cartoons from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo — itself the target of a notorious 7 January 2015 terrorist attack — that depicted the Prophet Muhammad in ways that might be perceived as disrespectful.
I responded rather flippantly, being extremely busy at the time and facing several imminent deadlines, that I disapproved of the murder.
Clearly, though, that wasn’t exactly what was being sought.
Today, a young Tunisian man who was evidently carrying a copy of the Qur’an fatally stabbed three people in Notre Dame Basilica, in the southeastern French city of Nice, while loudly crying Allahu akbar! (Arabic for “God is most great!”).
It scarcely needs saying, once again, that I disapprove. Of course I do.
But the real question, I suppose, is what I, a lifelong student of Islam with a distinctly sympathetic view of the faith, make of such events.
Well, quite obviously, I don’t see them as representative of the true nature or essence of Islam. I see them, rather, as obscene aberrations. They are not typical of Islamic history. They don’t accord with the teachings or the spirit of the Qur’an:
We ordained for the children of Israel that the killing of a person for reasons other than legal retaliation or for stopping corruption in the land is as great a sin as murdering all of mankind. However, to save a life is as great a virtue as to save all of mankind. (Qur’an 5:32, my translation)
I’m confident that the Prophet Muhammad would have condemned such savage attacks. “”God is kind,” he is reported to have said, “and He likes kindness in all things” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 6601).
On the other hand, I resist the efforts of some would-be apologists for Islam to claim that actions such as those of Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine and, now, of Brahim Aioussaoi in Nice have absolutely nothing to do with Islam. Plainly they do — though coupled, I’m convinced, with some combination or other of psychological malformation, warped indoctrination, and seriously fake news.
But the simple fact is that the vast, overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims don’t do such things. I addressed this topic, more or less, in a column that the late Bill Hamblin and I published in the Deseret News back on 31 March 2015: “Why are there so few Muslim terrorists?”
Incidentally, several years ago a friend who was in an extraordinarily, almost uniquely, good position to have an opinion about such things — though he was no longer in a position to decide them — posed an interesting question to me: “When,” he asked, “will the Deseret News stop publishing a print edition?” I indicated that I hadn’t a clue, so he suggested this interesting answer: “On the next day after the Tribune stops publishing its print edition.”
Well . . .
26 October 2020: “Salt Lake Tribune will move to a weekly print edition in 2021”
27 October 2020: “Deseret News to discontinue daily print edition after 170 years”
I have absolutely no idea what effect, if any, this dramatic change will have on my own little column for the Deseret News. It may mean the end, which, if that turns out to be the case, I will regret very much. We shall see.