Terrorist attacks, on the scale of the Brussels explosions, invariably incite a spectrum of reaction among Arabs from shock and compassion to a blaming of the West, which in turn spawns yet more anger and resentment.
Big-scale terrorist attacks also spark heated social media debates, exposing a wide variety of views on terrorism and its perceived immediate and distant causes. The debates almost always extend to the subject of the West’s relationship with Islam, a relationship often perceived as purely adversarial.
Events that support this claim include the troubled existence of Israel/Palestine, the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and growing Islamophobia in the West. Widely shared assumptions and perceptions and conspiracy-based opinions come to the fore: the West is engineering a plot to break up the Arab world and destroy Muslim identity; Al-Qaida and Islamic State are a creation of Western intelligence agencies; Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad has a hand in the cataclysmic events in the Middle East and well-plotted terror acts from the 11/9 attacks to the Brussels explosions; racism underpins Western media coverage of terrorist acts.
Those are some of the perceptions and assumptions commonly expressed in debates on Arab social media following big-scale terror acts. Yet increasingly critical voices can also be heard pointing the finger at the extreme Islamism spawned by Saudi Arabia’s Wahabi ideology and its consequences being terrorism, intolerance and backpedalling on decades of relative modernity, and moderateness—in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Critical comments are sometimes articulated in English or French, usually by westernized Arabs.
The comments below were posted on Facebook and Twitter in reaction to the Brussels attacks. Mohammed Matter, a Berlin-based Palestinian journalist, usually writes posts, often on the Israel-Palestine conflict, which excite a spectrum of conflicting views and strong sentiments from Arabs and non-Arabs. His string of posts on the Brussels attacks touched on many aspects of the topics of Islamism and terrorism—Western media coverage, or non-coverage, of terror acts, Islamophobia, and the collective blaming of Muslims.
Matter’s criticism of Western media coverage of terror acts was widely shared by other Arabs.
Some interpret this media coverage as a form of Western racism. Al-Jazeera talk show host Ahmed Mansur, known for his Islamist affiliations, is one of those.
The comments sparked a deluge of comments agreeing and disagreeing with Mansur with some criticizing Al-Jazeera itself for affording far greater airtime and coverage to the attacks in Brussels than the ones in Ankara and Istanbul which occurred only days earlier. Others lamented the selective mourning of the dead in Brussels and Paris and forgetting Muslim deaths in conflict-torn countries and the persecuted Rohingya Muslims of Burma.
Adel Ibrahim wrote:
Mansur’s post also triggered verbal altercations over Turkey and its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is both an icon of adulation and a hate figure in the Arab world. To Islamists, he is the former; to haters of the Erdogan-backed Muslim Brotherhood organisation, especially in Egypt, he is the latter.
Yunis El Zorkani criticised Al-Jazeera, owned by Qatar which is a close ally of Erdogan, over a perceived bias for Turkey.
Rachid Rachidi commented on the Brussels bombings, describing them as “the work of an intelligence agency” designed to trigger a European attack on the Islamic world.
Rima Eichouh wrote:
Some Muslims acknowledge that Islam has a problem and others even identify what they think the underlying causes are. Among these causes are a long overdue separation of religion and state and the puritanical Wahhabi ideology embraced and promoted by Saudi Arabia, the Islamic world’s powerhouse.
In a commentary on the Brussels attacks, Egyptian writer Khalid Montassir raised the question, which he said was asked by people in Belgium about why the country’s Muslim citizens “refuse to integrate”.
Thanks to secular values, he maintained, Belgium’s Muslims are enjoying freedom of religion and benefits that include the teaching of the Islamic faith to Muslim schoolchildren and upholding the right of schoolgirls to wear the hijab as well as state funding for the upkeep of mosques and salaries of imams in the country.
All those benefits are not given as a favour to Muslims but as an obligation of the secular system, he said. It does not return like for like, as it might have done in response to the ban on the building of churches in Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, Montassir wrote.
Others opined that Western governments and the left are too soft on Europe's radical Islamists as well as on their Muslim allies, chiefly Saudi Arabia. The latest example of this perceived soft approach is the bestowal of the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honour, on Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Nayif.
In a criticism of this move by French President Francois Hollande, Abdou Bendjoudi, who identifies himself as a political analyst from Algiers, wrote on Facebook.