I posted about the attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo on Facebook and offered my condolences to the victims and their families. I spent the next 24 hours moderating comments, at first arguing with people who were quoting the Qur’an, then wholesale deleting comments and banning users. Most of them were trolling the trending topic and commenting on my page for the first time. There seems to be a small army of hate-filled anti-Islam racists ready and eager to turn this tragedy into their personal platform for why all Muslims should be (take your pick): shipped back home, eradicated, banned from immigrating or stripped of their religion.

The alleged suspects have now been identified and tied back to Al Qaeda. If there was any doubt before, there is none now. There is nothing about this attack that has anything to do with Islam, any more than 9/11. Al Qaeda isn’t any more Muslim than Anders Breivik is Catholic, the madman who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, after writing a pro-Catholic manifesto.

It’s about fear. Politics. Freedom of speech.

One story has come out this that to me highlights what we should be really focusing on. One of the victims was Ahmed Merabet, a French police officer who was shot and killed. He was Muslim. He died as he fought to defend a publication known for insulting his culture and religion. He didn’t discriminate. He didn’t hesitate. He most likely never knew what he was dying for, but he did it, rushing to the scene, because it was the right thing to do.

This isn’t about Islam. It’s about a terrorist group trying to shut down free speech. This was so-called Muslims killing indiscriminately, even when Ahmed kneeled on the ground and asked, “Do you want to kill me?”


He was 42. He happened to be patrolling the area. He is survived by his wife.

As travelers, many of us have visited or lived in Muslim-majority countries. What’s the first thing we learn, especially if we’re coming from a secular or Christian nation? Muslims are not that different from us. Most people are good. Human beings are the same everywhere: we have hopes, we love, and we do our best. Even if you grew up feeling like there’s “us” and “them” and even if you never thought much about the “others” — that separation vanishes when you make friends with someone from a different culture. It’s one of the best things about travel, it unites people across political and social boundaries and if we’re lucky we get a chance to bring that home with us.

Ahmed gave his life to protect the citizens of his country. Let’s honor his sacrifice, by speaking out. Muslims shouldn’t have to defend their religion saying, “As a Muslim I condemn this attack.” As humans, we all condemn this attack. As humans, we can judge each other on the things we do — not the color of our skin, our religion, or our nation of birth.

It’s 2015. Isn’t it time we stop letting terrorists manipulate us into fighting each other over our differences?

I invite you to share your stories of travel to Muslim-majority countries, of making friends with Muslims, of your experience with Islam firsthand. The greatest threat to ignorance is the light of day. Let’s shine our light.

For Ahmed.

A couple of notes:

– I know that Islam is not a race, but I call Islamophobia racism because many of the people who fear or hate Islam are racists. It doesn’t even occur to them that Muslims live all over the world and represent all cultures, ethnicities and races.

– I do believe it’s important to talk frankly about what we don’t like about any religion, but I don’t see how this situation is appropriate for that discussion. It seems rather crass actually.

– I have closed comments. I invite you to comment on Facebook.

– Here are the Muslim-majority countries I have visited: Egypt, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and Lebanon.

– I lived in Beirut in 2012 during the anti-American protests while studying Arabic. I know first hand the difference between the politics and the people.

– I will post my stories on the FB thread.

– I created the above “JE SUIS AHMED” image, and you’re free to use it however you like.