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Monday, January 12, 2015

Charlie Hebdo: the danger of polarised debate

"The demand that Muslims should have to answer for these killings is repugnant. Muslims can no more be held responsible for these atrocities than Jews can for the bombings in Gaza. Muslims do not form a monolithic community; nor does their religion define their politics – indeed they are the people most likely to be killed by Islamic extremists. The Paris killers shot a Muslim policeman; the next day a Muslim shop assistant hid 15 people in the freezer of a kosher deli while the shooter held hostages upstairs. Nobody elected these gunmen; they don’t represent anyone. That said, it is simply untenable to claim that these attackers had nothing to do with Islam, anymore than it would be to say the Ku Klux Klan had nothing to do with Christianity, or that India’s BJP has nothing to Hinduism. It is within the ranks of that religion that this particular strain of violence has found inspiration and justification. That doesn’t make the justifications valid or the inspirations less perverted. But it doesn’t render them irrelevant either. [...]
(D)escribing these attacks as criminal is both axiomatic and inadequate. They were not robbing a bank or avenging a turf war. Anti-terrorism police described the assault on the magazine as “calm and determined”. They walked in, asked for people by name, and executed them. Coulibaly killed a policewoman and shot a jogger before holding up a kosher supermarket and killing four Jews. These were, for the most part, not accidental targets. Nor were they acts of insanity. They were calculated acts of political violence driven by the incoherent allegiances of damaged and dangerous young men. They are personally responsible for what they did. But we, as a society, are collectively responsible for the conditions that produced them. And if we want others to turn out differently – less hateful, more hopeful – we will have to keep more than one idea in our heads at the same time."