At a time when Muslims in France fear they will be targeted after the Paris terror attacks which killed 129 people and injured 352 others, it is a beautiful story for some that one of the people who apparently prevented the carnage from taking a much uglier turn was a Muslim guard.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, a guard — identified only by his first name, Zouheir — said that one of the terrorists was stopped from entering the Stade de France, the French national stadium where President François Hollande was among the 79,000 people watching the football match between France and Germany.
Zouheir revealed that the attacker was caught after he was discovered wearing an explosives vest, when he was frisked at the entrance to the stadium around 15 minutes into the game.
The attacker then backed away from security and detonated the explosives vest on the street outside the stadium, which was obviously less crowded. The report also said that a police officer suspected that the attacker had aimed to detonate the vest inside the stadium to cause a stampede.
Zouheir's account is indeed a heroic tale of how the security at the Stade de France prevented a horrible spate of violence from getting even deadlier.
However, people took to social media with theories about how it was the sole bravery of the 'Muslim guard' Zouheir that saved many lives. A lot of criticism was also hurled at the media for not properly reporting Zouheir's bravery.
Did you hear about the Muslim security guard who saved hundreds of innocent lives in Paris Attacks? Neither did we pic.twitter.com/lrnALzX7vC
— Kash Ahmed (@KashAhmed77) November 16, 2015
Apparently, the security guard who stopped the person who wanted to bomb the Stade de France was Muslim. Why isn't that on the news more?
— Gabby Tan (@gabbytan_) November 16, 2015
2 American soldiers saved lives in France: front page news & awarded medals. A Muslim guard at the stadium saved lives: who cares.
— Maher Arar (@ArarMaher) November 16, 2015
— صالحة كموال (@saliheeee) November 15, 2015
A Muslim security guard saved an enormous amount of lives on Friday. pic.twitter.com/4OtpxJmeQv
— Carl Newman (@ACNewman) November 16, 2015
However, in all the frenzy and outrage that social media often tends to create, many people forgot the most critical point: Where in The Wall Street Journal report is Zouheir's religion even mentioned?
Most of the social media posts refer to the report or other reports that have borrowed details from The Wall Street Journal article. But nowhere in the report are the words 'Muslim', 'Islam' or, for that matter, even 'religion' used.
This fact was also pointed out by rumour watchdog website Snopes.com.
What is even more disillusioning is the fact that the much-quoted Wall Street Journal report also does not say that Zouheir 'directly interacted' with the attacker who was stopped at the entrance. Instead of clearly pointing out that Zouheir stopped the guard from entering the stadium, the report says, "The guard — who asked to be identified only by his first name, Zouheir — said the attacker was discovered wearing an explosives vest."
In other words, Zouheir just described how the terrorist was caught by the security team. It's possible that Zouheir could've just witnessed the entire incident.
This, of course, does not mean that Zouheir was not part of the security team that stopped a terrorist from entering the stadium, thereby saving thousands of lives. But it is very different from the communally-tinted accounts popping up on social media, in which Zouheir is presented as a lone hero who directly intervened and stopped the terrorist.
Besides, when people conclude that a Muslim man was directly responsible for preventing more deaths in a terror attack on the basis of a report which makes no mention of his religion or direct interaction with the terrorist, it's clear that there's a lot of confusion in the air.
In fact, the confusion over Zouheir was so high that some people even decided that Zouheir died while trying to stop the terrorist from entering the stadium.
The security guard who died keeping the suicide bomber from entering the stadium, killing hundreds & Hollande too, was Muslim. <crickets.>
— Justice Putnam (@justiceputnam) November 16, 2015
RIP Zouheir - the MUSLIM who saved thousands of lives. #PARIS
— Shoaib Ahmed (@ShazAhmed99) November 16, 2015
But yet again, his apparent death was also never mentioned in the Wall Street Journal report.
The mystery over Zouheir's identity, apart from glaringly pointing out social media's tendency to jump the gun, raises an important question: Are we really so petty that we need to hear about accounts of heroic deeds done by Muslims to believe in religious equality?
Even if it was established that Zouheir was indeed a Muslim, should it have mattered?
At the end of the day, if we aim to delink terror from religion, shouldn't we also delink heroism from religion?
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Updated Date: Nov 17, 2015 16:03:08 IST