Eszter-Petronella SOÓS PhD

37. Charlie Hebdo: a clash of civilizations?

In this moment, many Europeans think that Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis was right – especially those who react to the Charlie Hebdo murders the most emotionally. Are they right? Or is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? This is a serious issue we have to debate, openly, honestly, publicly. Muslims, Christians, Atheists…

Of course, not everybody refers explicitly to Huntington’s work, but we can be sure that in this moment, many Europeans consider Islam as the “Other”, or even as the “Enemy”. Since millions of European citizens are Muslims, who certainly do not wish to become the enemy of the non-Muslim majority, this is a serious problem.

First of all, the French muslim community condemned the Charlie Hebdo attacks in no uncertain terms. It also seems that French Muslims are now very afraid that they would be, in turn, punished for the bloody terrorist attacks. Their fears seem to be, sadly, well-founded. Right after the shootings that happened in the Charlie Hebdo offices, mosques have been vandalized and set on fire. By the way, reactions from outside Europe are not really different from the European or Western ones. Only radical islamists were happy about the killings – others were dumfounded (it is very interesting, for instance, to see the drawings of Arabic cartoonists about Charlie Hebdo, check them out here).

Secondly, the attackers killed a Muslim, too: Ahmed Merabet, one of the policemen.

Thirdly, in the Hyper Casher supermarket, it was a young Muslim man, Lassana Bathily who helped the hostages to hide from the terrorist attacker.

Do these things fit in the “clash of civilizations” framework? And what about the fact that the majority of terrorism victims are from outside the Western world (more than 80 percent of them from Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan, so feel free to guess their religion)?

The construction of the “Other” is a very flexible thing, it seems. We can shape it however we want. But let us be fair, let us understand the way we think and argue, let us understand the power of emotions and fear. And let us be aware of the counterarguments as well. Especially when they are plain to see.