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Islam

The Lesson of Paris

Condemning violence also means opposing the ideology which has fuelled terrorism for decades with the complicity of Muslim and non-Muslim governments

Doaa El-Adl on al-Masry al-Youm November 18, 2015

Pieces on the massacre of Paris are slowly coming together. The image of the cell that planned the action is taking shape, details are emerging about its operational modalities, a direct link with the leadership of the Islamic State has now been given as certain. And of course everyone sees the connection between the growth of jihadism and the unresolved conflict in Syria-Iraq, as well as between the attacks in Paris and the terrorist acts that have hit Egypt and Lebanon in recent weeks.

 

 

But if we really want to understand the lesson of Paris we need to focus not just on how it happened; we must also consider the identity, the name I would say, of the declared instigator of the massacres: the Islamic State. In the Muslim world, in fact, this expression has a strong evocative power, embodying in a slogan an idea that has enjoyed an extraordinary success in the last fifty years: the project of building a modern state in which the perfect identity of politics and religion is finally achieved, in particular through the application of the Sharia, understood as a set of immutable legal rules, and resuscitation of the Caliphate. As recalled by the Italian philosopher Massimo Borghesi, this is a form of political theology, which is sometimes (not always) allied with an exasperated literalism (Salafism) with which it shares the negation of otherness.

 

 

Launched in the Islamic world in the 1930s, this political theology soon failed. And faced with its failure, it found two ways out which were complementary: put the blame on the West and/or blame the Muslims themselves, who were seen to be insufficiently Muslim. In this way, instead of becoming a proof against the crazy project of governing today by cutting off the hand of thieves, crucifying bandits, killing apostates and so on, any practical failure has become the occasion for self-confirmation.

 

 

However, within this curve of progressive radicalisation, the emergence of jihadism, from the 1980s marks a singular reversal of ends and means, for which the masterly studies of René Girard about the anthropological mechanisms of violence probably offer the most appropriate theoretical key. Indeed, as can be observed in the actions of various terrorist groups, the method gradually takes over the objective and suppression of the other, from being a limited instrument for realising the political project, becomes an end in itself. Also with regard to the pseudo-caliphate, if the first moves appear inspired by a rational, although obviously unacceptable, logic of state building (taking over a territory, organising it, coining money, etc.), the destructive dimension and the denial of otherness progressively supersede every other element in an intentional search for a total confrontation.

 

 

So, if the ideology of the Islamic State appears to be a kind of desecration or profanation, in the etymological sense of a sacred that become worldy and a worldliness that becomes sacred, it seems appropriate to speak of its method as a real blasphemy, that of violence in the name of God, on the basis of the words of Pope Francis in the Angelus on Sunday 15 November. Desecration precedes conceptually, but violence predominates virtually.

 

 

Without wishing to underestimate the seriousness of the security threat, the real challenge that we face today is cultural and consists of going back over this path of radicalisation. First of all by condemning the method of suppression of the other, which led in Paris to the killing of 130 defenceless civilians and that is taking its toll across the whole Islamic world, from Nigeria to Pakistan. But immediately after, or perhaps at the same time, also opposing the ideology that has fuelled it for decades with the complicity of Muslim and non-Muslim governments. Without this we will continue to suffer the symptoms without curing the disease.

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