Charlie Hebdo attack: Why the massacre may not be mere revenge killings

The premise of the attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo which left 12 people dead appears to be twofold: revenge for the depiction and caricature of the Prophet of Islam and strategic in the sense of polarising European societies. The already tense and fraught relations between Muslims in Europe and their host societies will now come under more stress and strain. Globalised Islam, which, ironically, a French scholar of Islam, Olivier Roy, had implied and asserted would become more Western is turning out to be more assertive and militant. The question is why?

 Charlie Hebdo attack: Why the massacre may not be mere revenge killings

Firefighters carry an injured man on a stretcher in front of the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on 7 January 2015, after armed gunmen stormed the offices leaving at least one dead according to a police source and "six seriously injured" police officers according to City Hall. AFP

The answer is not straightforward: it is largely to do with the historical animus and legacy between Europe and Islam which is now panning out in a novel, modern avatar. The reference here is to the Crusades and Colonialism. The latter followed the former and relations between Islam and Europe remained in suspended animation. The interregnum filled by different developments like post colonial state formation in the Muslim world, authoritarian secularism in these states, globalisation and then diasporic movements into Europe could be held to be in the nature of an interlude or even prelude to the panning out of this old conflict. Charlie Hebdo killings are not then about free speech or a reaction to free speech.

These and other similar attacks are in the nature of the panning out and denouement of an old conflict dating back centuries which merely manifests itself in different forms and avatars in different epochs.

The cartoons and the reaction to these in the Muslim world and now the Hebdo killings, in a sense, eloquently reflect what that great and late American intellectual; Samuel Huntington called the Clash of Civilisations. Even though Huntington put forth and elaborated his thesis only a couple of decades ago, the prosaic reality is that the Clash of Civilisations dates back to centuries. By their very nature, Islam and the West are bound to collide. Both are universalist and hold a certain view of being human and how humans should relate to each other, world and in the case of Islam, the world beyond.

While the West holds being human and its corollary, reason to be its founding premise, Islam vests ultimate sovereignty in God. This much is well known and understood but it is here that the nub of the conflict lies. The rest is mere corollary. The question now is what will be the nature and form of this conflict? Will it be apocalyptic?

Probably not. Given that there is vast disparity between the Muslim world and the West, the shape and form of this conflict will be asymmetric war. This will, among other things, redefine the nature of security in the 21st century and the global security paradigm will revolve around preventing or preventing this kind of warfare. While security cannot and has never been absolute for either individuals or societies, it will become more relative. A mere security approach will neither curb nor check these attacks. These will occur in different permutations and combinations. The issue is ideational and ideological and it is perhaps in the realm of ideas that the issue can be resolved.

For this, the onus lies on the world of Islam. A reactive approach premised on age old conflict and historical wrongs is not the prudent and correct approach. The world of Islam has multifarious problems and issues-within and without. A comeback and revival is essential to reverse this. The key here is ideas.

If the battle between Islam and the West is foreordained and if both these civilizations and civilisational forces are doomed to collide, let the battle not be bloody. Let it be fought on the battlefield of ideas. This, in a broader sense, is the real challenge for Muslims. I am a Muslim, will always be and will die as a Muslim but it grieves me to see that the tenor and nature of engagement with the world is now increasingly being mediated by violence and force. Islam was once a great civilizational force which contributed vigorously to the efflorescence of civilisation.

It sought within itself positive energy to radiate without. This was the spirit of Islam that made it great and a civilisational force to reckon with. The time to reclaim this spirit is now.

Updated Date: Jan 09, 2015 12:46:05 IST