Charlie Hebdo attack is a tipping point: Will xenophobia trump tolerance?

Jihadists are at war with Islam, other religions, tolerance, free speech and almost everything a liberal, modern society stands for. And they seem to be at a decisive stage in their ugly battle.

The balance may be tilting in their favour not because they have been able to strike with impunity and audacity from Paris to Peshawar or Sydney to Srinagar.

They are marching ahead because they are succeeding in making all of us wage our personal war against long-held faith in tolerance, non-violence and the tenet of universal brotherhood and equality.

Every terror attack tests the patience and conviction of those who believe in the core values of a liberal, democratic and secular society. And the spate of recent attacks by jihadists is threatening to tilt the balance dangerously in favour of xenophobia and distrust of Islam.

 Charlie Hebdo attack is a tipping point: Will xenophobia trump tolerance?

Associated Press

In France, for instance, there are fears that the attack on the Charlie Hebdo staff is a ‘qualitative and quantitative tipping point.’ Many believe this is a ‘dangerous moment’ for all of Europe, where growing radicalization and the rising influence of the far-right may lead to a disastrous face-off.

“This is a dangerous moment for European societies. With increasing radicalization among supporters of jihadist organisations and the white working class increasingly feeling disenfranchised and uncoupled from elites, things are coming to a head,” Peter Neuman, director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College in London told the New York Times.

Neuman could have speaking of any country in the world that is battling with the menace of terrorism. In Europe, the rise of Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN), is widely seen as a result of her stiff opposition to immigration and vocal fear of the threat of terror attacks.
Soon after the attack, Le Pen posted a video on her website saying the time for “denial and hypocrisy” is up. In a message that may reverberate through large swathes of France and Europe, Le Pen said, “The absolute rejection of Islamic fundamentalism must be proclaimed loudly and clearly.” The NY Times described the Paris attack as ‘double honey’ for Le Pen, arguing that her stand that Islam is a major threat would now find more takers.

Le Pen’s rise and Neuman’s fears reflect recent developments even in India, where rightwing parties and hardliners have begun to increasingly dominate political and public discourse in a backlash against politics of appeasement--both perceived and real--and the threat of jihadists.

The fundamentalists will be smiling. For this is exactly what they want.

Mahatma Gandhi had famously said that the purpose of a movement like civil resistance is to ‘provoke a response.’ The same philosophy drives extremists and jihadists. They want fault lines and social divides to deepen, fear of religious groups to escalate and their opponents to strike back with greater intensity and ferocity. Fear is just the overt, short-term objective. The real aim is to trigger a backlash.

But the governments can’t afford to be passive. When the mood on the ground is overwhelmingly in favour of strong action, pacifism can lead to a dangerous erosion of the state’s authority and decline in public morale.

Soon after the recent attack in Peshawar, there was widespread support for retaliatory strikes by the Pakistani army against terrorists. But many analysts had pointed out that the retaliatory war suits terrorists because it helps them recruit victims of the state’s action. It is a win-win situation for terrorists; a fight that only they can win.

The attack in Paris is indeed a tipping point. Its political and social response will decide the long-term course of the war against fundamentalism. And our own battle against our cherished beliefs.

Updated Date: Jan 08, 2015 22:29:35 IST