It seems every time a Muslim or a group of Muslims behave badly, the rest of us Muslim Americans get asked to respond to the situation, to try to explain their motives and to react to their horrible acts as if we were experts on terrorism or have special insight on Muslim rage.

For example, Don Lemon of CNN asked human-rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar, founder of the “Muslim Guy” website: “Do you support ISIS?”

Do we need to say the obvious to show our patriotism?

I’m tired of being asked to condemn other Muslims, explain others’ actions and even to spell my name. I don’t have any answers or reactions that are different from anyone else’s — Muslim or non-Muslim. As Jon Stewart put it on his show: “… not to make sense of this, because there is no sense to be made of this.”

After the attacks last week in Paris, media condemnation came swiftly. The knee-jerk reaction was to put Islam on trial and to condemn 1.6 billion people. The #killAllMuslims social-media hashtag quickly reached more than 100,000 tweets.

How did this all start, and how did we reach this madness?

It was around 11:30 a.m. in Paris. Stéphane Charbonnier was in his editorial meeting with his staff, like every Wednesday morning, at the French satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo. The rest we know from the media, which described fears of “a rising clash of civilizations, between radical Islamists and the West.” Then we had the Muslim apologists: “Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire and, yes, our fearless disrespect,” vented Salman Rushdie.

Bill Maher’s rants about Islam have become the talk of the town, and the atheist comedian has become the darling of the Christian right. Within hours of the Paris attack, he ridiculously claimed that “millions of Muslims” support the Charlie Hebdo attack.

This hyperreaction reflects self-righteousness and universal absolutism, much the same extremism as the dogmatism and paranoia that Muslim extremists fall into. One camp gets its venom from religious fundamentalism, while the other gets it from secular fundamentalism, where nationalism has become the new religion. Thousands of Muslims are killed every year by states that actually attended Sunday’s antiterror rally in Paris, and freedom of speech is shot down by dictators whom the United States supports — no media outcry, no rallies. As photographer Teju Cole noted in the New Yorker: “Even Voltaire, a hero to many who extol free speech, got it wrong. His sparkling and courageous anticlericalism can be a joy to read, but he was also a committed anti-Semite, whose criticisms of Judaism were accompanied by calumnies about the innate character of Jews.”

In fact, for anyone interested, condemnation of the attack by Muslims came from all over the world, a fact ignored by CNN and Fox News. Muslims don’t condone such an act or the killing of innocent civilians, and they may deny or react in disbelief that a Muslim could be capable of such actions. Some may suspect conspiracy, such as one frustrated Egyptian TV host who vented that “it is the act of the French state to crack down on Muslims in France and a prerequisite to get involved in North Africa.”

Those who like to believe that the Charlie Hebdo attack is a direct reaction to the insult of Islam or the prophet through satirical cartoons don’t get the whole picture. This isn’t just about cartoons depicting the prophet any more than rape is about what the victim is wearing.

When a crime is committed by a Muslim, it is seen by the West as sociologically and culturally based, and the entire culture is condemned. However, a crime by a Westerner is seen as deviancy by an individual, as a psychological problem, as in the Columbine or Newtown massacres. Sky News reported that a 38-year-old German male nurse admitted to killing at least 30 patients between 2003 and 2005 because he was bored. This kind of aberrant behavior is not presented as an assault on Western civilization or on the rights of people to be sick.

Letting a few criminals define a billion and a half Muslims is absurd and dogmatic.

The suspects in the Charlie Hebdo attack were born and raised in French secular culture and apparently led a life of drugs, sex and violence. To claim that a visit to Yemen led to their radicalization is naive and self-serving. The question is not what happened in Yemen, but what happened in France.

The Charlie Hebdo tragedy can’t be explained by religion or culture; it is only explained in the sick minds of the killers alone. Many Muslims saw the cartoons from the satirical magazine but were not provoked and managed to stay calm.


Ahmed Tharwat is a public speaker and hosts the Arab-American show “Belahdan” at 10:30 p.m. Mondays on Twin Cities Public Television. He blogs at This article was excerpted from his blog.