After the Paris Massacre: It’s politics, not religion

We must not make the mistake of building trenches and hate when what we need are bridges and effective policies

Head, ECFR Madrid
Senior Policy Fellow

This is one entry in a series on the murders at Charlie Hebdo. Find more articles on the issue in the right column (or on the bottom for mobile or tablet readers).

With each Jihadist terrorist attack, the chorus of voices that seeks to blame the Muslim religion and its practitioners for murders committed in their name reappears. First, they characterise the religion as intrinsically violent and exclusionary in nature and thus incompatible with any form of democratic life or system of individual rights and liberties. Second, they accuse the religion’s practitioners of a complicity gleaned from their silence, their inability to criticise religious leaders, and their resistance to modernise cultural habits. This is woven into the chorus’s rhetoric of victimisation and too often accompanied by demands to restrict rights or constructing spaces within our societies where ‘they’ do not govern.

For each Westerner murdered at the hands of these Jihadist terrorists, thousands of Muslims die

But this reasoning, which ultimately leads us to a clash of civilisations between the West and Islam, crumbles before evidence that for each Westerner murdered at the hands of these Jihadist terrorists, thousands of Muslims die. Since the Algerian civil war which claimed between 150,000 and 200,000 victims in the 1990s, to Iraq where the same number perished following the 2003 invasion, or even in today´s Syria, Libya, Tunisia and other scenarios, the dominant conflict is not between Islam and the West.  The conflict is within the Islamic world, victim to intertwining fissures of an ethnic, geopolitical or economic nature between Sunnis and Shiites, Kurds and Turks, autocrats and democrats, secular and religious, and rich and poor.        

To ignore the depth and severity of these fissures, which help to explain the nature and process of these societies' modernisation, and to ignore our role in the creation and maintenance of such fissures, leads us to succumb to another recurring temptation on these occasions: to assert that terrorism is simply nihilistic senseless savagery. No, terrorism, this like any other, is political and finds objectives in political domination, so precisely in order to counter these goals effectively; we must understand them in all their complexity.

We must not make the mistake of building trenches and hate when what we need are bridges and effective policies.

This is neither a call to renounce nor relativise anything. Instead the brutal slaughter in Paris compels us to reaffirm our values and principles and to reject any infringement upon the sphere of rights (including, to be clear, when satires or irreverence are aimed at our symbols or institutions, whether the monarchy, the flag, the Christian religion, Jewish or whichever other). That a humorist armed with a pencil can be considered an existential threat for a fanatic, even more so than a soldier, is proof of how far we´ve come and the light years that separate us from them. Precisely because of that, we must not make the mistake of building trenches and hate when what we need are bridges and effective policies.

This article first appeared on El País

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.

Author

Head, ECFR Madrid
Senior Policy Fellow

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