Marino de Medici: The many shapes of culture war in Europe
Following the grisly attack against the staff of the satirical Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo, all the talk in Europe is about the raging “culture war” between the Western and the Muslim worlds.
Culture war is a term that is being abused not just in Europe but in the United States as well, although in the latter instance it pertains mostly to social issues and moral values. There is however a significant parallel to be drawn between the attack against the Twin Towers in New York and the slaughter in the offices of Charlie Hebdo. The two actions carry a high symbolic value: while the Muslim attackers in New York and Washington wished to hit the symbol of wealth, power, the American empire and the infidel and opulent Western world, the Muslim commandos in Paris aimed at the symbol of freedom, the expression of diverse opinions, and sarcastic dissent.
Let us be clear about it, it is a cultural war unleashed by Islamic fundamentalism against the Western style of life, the freedom to criticize, the refusal of doctrinaire authority, the plurality of values. These are the evils that fundamentalism intends to extirpate, not just in Europe but everywhere else. The fundamentalists also hit schools in Pakistan and Nigeria, where they destroy books and the innocence of young girls. Absolute obedience and universal censure are steps toward total subjugation that at the end of the road will impose the shariah, the Islamic moral and religious law.
The imperative is how to defend our values without aggravating the already tense relations between the Western and Muslim worlds. The jihadists have a purpose in their terrorist undertakings, forcing Western states to crack down on Muslim communities to prove the Islamist point that the West is waging war on Islam and Muslims. Among the voices of reason that are rallying the French people in these dark hours is that of the philosopher Bernard-Henry Lévy, who is taking the position that France must field an anti-terrorism strategy with special powers, a revitalized patriotism, but without a Patriot Act. There is always the temptation, he writes, of bringing torture and freedom killing policies into play.
France is handling the grave crisis by crying aloud for unity and displaying the national spirit of resistance symbolized by the motto “Je suis Charlie,” in honor of the heroes of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. In simple terms, it is an invitation to French Muslims to show their fraternity with the victims and their commitment to unity that was compellingly voiced by President Hollande. On a higher level, it is time to state loud and clear that it is the duty of Muslims to liberate Islam from the impious acts of Islamic fundamentalists.
It is not going to be an easy thing to achieve given that many Muslims consider freedom of expression to be a license for sacrilege. On the other side of the ledger, there are political forces in Europe and particularly right wing movements that inflame the anti-Muslim rhetoric. Their extremist posture and the disaffection of Muslim communities threaten a combustive confrontation in Europe.
An Italian right wing ideologue did not hesitate to proclaim that a “holy war” is underway and that terrorism is “a strategy by Islam to destroy the Christian-Jewish world.” In France, the right wing leader of the Front National Marine Le Pen pursued her personal war on Islam by advocating the reintroduction of death penalty. The anti-Islam crusade dovetails with the anti-immigrant message that is resonating in many European countries, including Germany, Denmark and Sweden.
Free people in the Western world must work hard not only to protect their freedoms and the ideals, sacrosanct in France, of liberty, equality and fraternity but also to clearly identify their enemies without hysterical reactions but with the strength of their values.
The security challenge in Europe is huge, since it is now clear that al-Qaida has found means to attack the West in different ways by using limited military, technical and human resources. The Paris terrorist offensive reveals a new approach by the extremist fringes of Islamic fundamentalism and all signs point to al-Qaida, a more threatening movement than the Islamic State gropu that can be confronted and defeated in a military battlefield.
In the final analysis, the task in Europe is to help the Muslim communities live as full-fledged components of a free society that accepts the true values of tolerance and peace of the real Islam. Much will have to be done to bring the young generation out of the dismal state of poverty and alienation of the banlieues where the Kouachi brothers lived and grew up in the cult of a radical and murderous Islam.
Marino de Medici is a Winchester resident and formerly the dean of foreign correspondents in the United States.