Although this blog is about Asia, I think it would be inappropriate to ignore the hideous terrorist attack that happened in France yesterday. The death of 12 cartoonists at the hands of islamists is a tragic event that I feel obliged to mention. The attempt to silence the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was a barbaric act which everyone who believes in freedom of speech and tolerance will certainly condemn.
However, the European debates that this attack has stirred are deeply worrying. As usual, some people are using a tragedy to promote their own anti-Muslim agenda. It must be said very clearly that those who are now insulting and vilifying all Muslims are by no means saving democracy; they are burying it.
Powerful #CharlieHebdo homages from around the world flood Instagram: http://t.co/aWs5huDVSp pic.twitter.com/gBlm3dZHXr— New York Magazine (@NYMag) January 8, 2015
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsWhatever the attackers aimed at, they are likely to have achieved the opposite. Charlie Hebdo was a provocative magazine, but its influence on public opinion was limited. Its circulation is only 45,000, a modest number compared with other magazines such as Le Point, which sells over 417,000 copies, not to mention newspapers like Le Monde, which has a circulation of over 331,000 copies. Next week Charlie Hebdo will publish 1 million copies; an unthinkable number before the attack. Apparently, the terrorists not only destroyed human lives, but they even contributed to propagating the ideas of Charlie Hebdo all over the world.
What I would like to say – and I think it is my duty to say it – is that we must condemn islamic fundamentalism, but we should not condemn Islam as such. It is a mistake to believe that all Muslims are violent or potential terrorists, or to assume that all people whose ancestors came from Muslim countries are Muslim (some of them are, in fact, atheists or agnostics). Let us here remember that one of the policemen who was killed by the terrorists was Ahmed Merabet, who was himself a Muslim.
In every society there might be radical and violent minorities led by ideologies who are willing to kill in order to achieve their own objectives. The Nazis, the Communists, the Mafia, left-wing terrorists etc. are all examples of how the West, too, produces and has produced radical murderous ideologies.
The European malaise is part of the problem. Europe has been declining. People are frustrated, unhappy. Youngsters find no jobs, have no aims, ideals and hopes. Our states are too weak. As I have explained several times, I believe that neoliberal ideology has disrupted our states and societies; some people, however, blame the euro and immigration (specifically immigration from Muslim countries). Scapegoatism has become the only thing that some Europeans feel passionate about. They blame the euro, the Muslims. PEGIDA (an anti-Muslim organisation, literally ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West), and the German party AfD (“Alternative for Germany”) are two alarming examples of scapegoatism.
In order to fight terrorism, we need to promote democratic values, economic growth, industry and commerce; we must promote constitutional ideas; and we must promote integration of all individuals in the name of constitutional values (not in the name of nationalism, race, or religion). On the other hand, we need to isolate extremists, fight against those who want to subvert our constitutions and our democratic institutions. Making a clear distinction between Muslisms that identify themselves with our constitutional values and those who choose radicalism is absolutely necessary.