An attack on a mosque in Bayonne, France left two worshippers injured late October. According to the Guardian, 84-year-old Claude Sinke entered the mosque with gas canisters and arms with intention. The attorney of the two injured individuals, Méhana Mouhou, described the event as a “terrorist act”. This was in response to the defendant only being charged with attempted murder, gun and arson as opposed to terrorism, and Mouhou blamed this on “judici[ial] ineptitude”.
While this particular incident did not result in any deaths, it is a chilling reminder of the precarious position that mosques in the West are in and the danger the congregants face when worshipping. This incident no doubt reminds us of the horror that we all felt when dozens of worshippers were killed earlier this year in New Zealand.
While I sympathize with the impetus for such calls, these measures would ultimately be counterproductive towards their stated ends and Muslims are better off allying with those who already understand the problem of gun violence in American society to make society safe for not only us but all.
While Muslims should take reasonable safety precautions especially in the immediate aftermath of mosque attacks, these are ultimately ad-hoc responses and will not address the root causes of the problem. Yes, we should be vigilant immediately following the aftermath of attacks on our mosques because of the serious risk of islamophobes being inspired to kill us. At the same time, we all know these measures will only last for a week or 2 and then we will return to the status quo meaning that these cannot be a long-term solution for our problems. Furthermore, we cannot expect to make us safer by turning our mosques into fortresses with armed guards as this will only further the false perception of Muslims as a security threat inspiring more violence.
America is already a society armed to the teeth with their being a significant intersection between those who see us as a threat and the people who are armed, so any attempts by Muslims to repel these people’s strength with weapons will be counterproductive and incite more violence against them. In fact, Pew reports that about 1/3rd of Americans claim to own a gun coming out to >100 million people in a country with over 300 million. There is no way that we as a religious minority of only a few million can hope to match that firepower, and Islamophobes would almost certainly use any attempt to do so as a means of inciting further hatred against us leading to more violence against our community.
If you want to see the consequence of such a defensive approach, you need to look no further than the Jewish communities whose temples and synagogues are amongst the most well-guarded yet are subject to ever-increasing attacks and desecration according to the ADL. There are also positive currents in American society pertaining to gun violence which Muslims can take part in, furthering not only their own safety but that of others as well.
Thankfully, there are many reasons people in American society who understand not only the problems of gun violence but also the white supremacists who see Muslim as a threat. The fact is that the vast majority of Americans understand that the status quo is unacceptable with 60% of Americans believe that gun laws should be stricter, according to the Pew article cited earlier. Furthermore, the same study indicated overwhelming bi-partisan support for stronger background checks and majorities in both parties supporting the banning of assault-style weapons. These are measures which Muslims should support thereby demonstrating genuine concern for the safety of the people of this land as well thereby furthering their own
When I enter the mosque a few hours after finishing this, I will do so in full knowledge of the fact that I am doing so in a society with a significant part of it looking at our religion and existence with hostility. For that reason, we are rightfully asking ourselves questions about how to defend ourselves in the case of a potential attack. Simply doing nothing and being sitting ducks is rightfully ruled out, but the proposal of some members of the community for us to collectively take up arms in a society which already hostile elements already heavily armed would be positively counterproductive. Rather, Muslims partnering with sensible people who do understand the problems of gun violence in American society such as March for Our Lives to pass measures that will reduce the ability of those who intend us to harm to do so. In doing so, Muslims will demonstrate that they are sincerely concerned with the safety of the entire society, in the process of reducing the false-perception of them as a threat to it.