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Religion and Society

The Decisive Crossroads

The recent massacres committed by jihadists in Paris and in Nigeria confirm that contemporary Islam is facing a problem with violence. This historic challenge is already producing a polarization within the Muslim world. In this process the confrontation with Christianity has a role.

A protest to support Charlie Hebdo

In the Paris massacre, and in everything that followed it and will continue to follow, there are at least two strands that intertwine: freedom of expression and its significance for Europe and religiously motivated violence.

 

About this second theme, it would be easy to liquidate the Charlie Hebdo carnage as an isolated act of some deranged persons. It would be easy, but it is not realistic, because contemporary Islam is suffering from an obvious problem with violence, both towards non-Muslims and internally: Nigeria, Mali, Kenya, Somalia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan are some of the countries with a strong Muslim presence that in recent years have witnessed jihadi massacres. Although Paris horrifies, we must not forget about Peshawar, where just a month ago, some teachers were burned alive in front of their students, or about the Boko Haram offensive in Nigeria, which received little coverage in the West because it coincided with the Charlie Hebdo facts, but left more than 2,000 victims on the ground, also using young kamikaze girls.

 

 

Several Muslim circles, up to a short while ago, often resorted to a rhetoric shortcut to avoid dealing with the disturbing reality of violent radicalism. They used to present these actions as a response, certainly extreme but basically legitimate, to a previous aggression. Hence the idea, still widespread in some countries, that it is Islam that is under attack. As a result, the jihadist was sometimes considered a resistant or, alternatively, an agent provocateur of the enemy.

 

 

Yet these self-acquitting attempts, that also appeared during the recent events, appear increasingly less credible. First of all due to the tighter frequency of massacres. If it is true that violence, once triggered, tends to breed like a contagious virus, we can unfortunately assume that the phenomenon will continue to grow in intensity, until it reaches the climax of a crisis (Have we already got to this point? This is the real question) after which some sort of resolution will necessary follow. There are already many Muslims who speak openly of a crisis. In Al-sharq Al-Awsat last September Ridwan al-Sayyid spoke of extremism as a contagious disease that IS and its analogues are manifesting. The Lebanese thinker lucidly pointed out that ‘religion, - with the illusion of realising itself [this way], is absorbed by the struggle for power, splinters and collapses.’ Information globalisation does the rest: it reduces the twilight zone and casts a harsh light on the bare facts, nearly turning them into a show.

 

 

Yet the predicament of Muslim world today is probably not fully understandable if you forget the global context in which it is now inserted and, in particular, the inevitable comparison with Christianity. As René Girard has shown, leave-taking of the logic of sacred violence was started by the event of Christ. In this century, from the two world wars onward, this position becomes crystal clear in the magisterium (just think of Pope Francis' declarations) and unarmed testimony of many martyrs. It is not unreasonable to speculate that this increased awareness is beginning to invest other religious traditions. It elicits a double reaction, of acceptance and rejection. It cannot leave indifferent.

 

We can, therefore, expect, in the Muslim world too, a growing polarisation for or against violence in the name of God. The grey area of archaic religiosity is narrowing and the choice between an authentic religious sense and a faith reduced to ideology cannot be postponed any longer.

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