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Islam

Having the Courage to Take a Stand after Nice

The time of gray is over. Only black and white remain, for and against violence

Nice, Promenade des Anglais - Flowers for the victims

Two thunders, one right after the other: the attack in Nice and the failed coup in Turkey. Two tones, but the first one rang the loudest: in fact, while the events in Turkey can be seen as part of a “normal” struggle for power, with low blows, behind the scenes operations, purges, and naturally, blood. In the case of Nice we are confronted with the unexplainable. So unexplainable that the majority of experts on jihadism hesitated almost an entire day before speaking, perhaps secretly hoping that the massacre remained the act of an isolated madman for which nobody dared claim responsibility. But, with only a few hours of delay, came the claim of the Islamic State.

 

 

Two thinkers come to mind in the face of this tragedy: the first is Benedict XVI. The good is rational, the evil on the other hand is an obscure abyss whose final reasons escape us. Phrases such as "murderous rampage" are but expressions of convenience to cover our unconquerable discomfort.

 

The second thinker is René Girard and his anthropological reading of violence as a virus of civilization. ISIS and other jihadist movements put the poison in circulation and some individuals – who, in order to reassure ourselves, we would like to believe as always disadvantaged or utterly crazy – take it, get infected and strike, in Nice as well as Würzburg and elsewhere. Whether it is an isolated incident that is later claimed by a terrorist organization or it is an orchestrated attack, ultimately makes little difference.

 

 

The mechanism of escalation is as old as the world, but the novelty is that today the phenomenon of emulation is greatly amplified by means of communication. Before, the contagion could hit a small group on a specific territory until the point of its annihilation, in extreme hypothetical cases – now it can infect the entire global community.

 

 

Facing this situation, it must be acknowledged that the system of channeling and finalizing violence, which medieval sharî‘a had elaborated, no longer stands. One need not be an expert of Islamic law to know that this never authorized large scale attacks on unarmed civilians, especially children, and the attempts of some jihadist circles to find precedents to their actions in the use of medieval ballistas and catapults are laughable. Yet, this system of rules and exceptions, concessions and retractions, checks and balances, this casuistry founded on contradictory texts, today is no longer sufficient. Before the flaunted and celebrated violence of a truck driving at full speed through an unarmed crowd, the doctor of the law sounds redundant. And actually, in the Muslim world, who still follows these “official” ulemas who we demand to distance themselves and condemn every attack?

 

 

A few days ago, an attack hit Medina. There were a few casualties, relatively speaking, but the symbolic impact is huge, because this territory is sacred for Muslims. This active violence, which has already dramatically impacted the Middle East in recent years, has stormed into the sanctuary of Islam, as it had under the Umayyads and later the Qarmatians, like under the Wahhabi fanatics of the early nineteenth century and – a sort of dress rehearsal – like during the Salafi-jihadist insurrection of 1979. The time of gray is over. This is the time of black and white, for and against violence.

 

 

And it is the time of examples. If Oasis continues to recount experiences of encounters between Christians and Muslims, it is not out of irenicism, justificationism or fear, rather it is because the contagion of evil can only be resisted by another contagion, that of Good. This too continues to operate, especially thanks to the fecund testimony of the martyrs of our time, in particular the many Christians of the Middle East who, despite persecution, have refused to feed the cycle of revenge. Their lives document the renunciation of sacred violence Christianity offers to all people of good will. A renunciation which must be constantly renewed.

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