image of jerusalem 2016

The Boomerang Syndrome!
Over the past few months, and perhaps more pointedly ever since the terrorist attacks in Paris on the night of 13 November 2015, I have regularly been voicing feelings of sadness, anger, solidarity and even distress at the savage attacks that have targeted innocent men, women and children across France, Belgium, Germany and the UK.

15 August   |   2016   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Every single incident, no matter how finite, has made me realise that Europe today is a continent undergoing tectonic changes on different levels in its perception of itself and therefore in its relationships with others.

Mind you, I make no excuses about my critical views either! After all, this Europe - warts and all, Brexits or otherwise - is my home and I cannot stand idly by while some deranged ideologues with sociopathic or homicidal tendencies decide to kill, maim and destroy what was at best a tenuous project for roughly 508 million peoples.

However, Einstein is supposedly credited for saying that “stupidity is doing the same thing, over and over again, expecting different results”. So based on that argument, let me also share some observations with my readers. This is not because I am a cleverer expert since they have been proven time and again to get it wrong, but because I have luckily spent just under half my life in the MENA region and just over the other half in Europe. As such, perhaps I have learnt a thing or two during those years about bridging the varying cultures of those countries.

  • It is only normal that we in Europe should respond to the attacks against what I deem are our values. However, we should not also forget that solidarity cannot be monochromatic or unipolar. I only need to look at Iraq - take the Karrada outrage that was one of the biggest examples of terrorism in the country since 2003 - to realise that men, women and children there are also bleeding daily and that they too have families and hopes that are being crushed cruelly. Moving further into Syria, I take note of the relentless and criminal bombings of hospitals, blood banks and dispensaries in Aleppo and elsewhere. Is this any more conscionable? Slitting the throat of Fr Jacques Hamel is a barbarous example of depravity, but is it any more repugnant than those being murdered in droves also in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen or elsewhere? I understand that empathy cannot humanly be boundless but it can surely be more inclusive.
  • I agree that the interpretation of Islam - an ism of sorts - responsible for such heinous crimes cannot be tolerated and should be challenged with all our might and by all our institutions. However, perhaps it makes sense also to exercise some further soul-searching to realise that our global commissions in Iraq or our omissions in Syria have contributed to the creation of this terrorist spectre that has now come to taunt us. We did not act judiciously - we were arrogant in some cases, complicit or duplicitous in others - and our attempts to know better than ‘the other’ is now boomeranging in our faces.
  • Al-Qaeda was distinctive in that it had by and large a central command that directed its terror-driven activities. This made it slightly easier to predict and even infiltrate their cells. Then came Daesh and its various permutations or shifting alliances and they decided that their intent to recreate a caliphate went hand-in-hand with callous attacks meant to coerce us to lose our nerve and cave in to fear. But we are now witnessing the solitary ‘lone wolves’ with their own grievances going on the rampage. No matter the intelligence services and security readiness of the agencies protecting us, it is almost a Sisyphean task to predict let alone manage every single terror act. This is perhaps where true grit kicks in.
  • I realise it is a hard admission, but whether we confess it or not, Islam - and Muslims - are under the microscope in the West today. Some of us are doing it more subtly than others, but it is such a sad fact that the wonderful praise to the Almighty - Allahu Akbar or God is Great - has been hijacked by deviants and this peroration is now willy-nilly viewed not as a praise to the Maker but as a shrill battle cry. Whether European leaders and citizens are politically correct or outrageously incorrect, there is wave of distrust coalescing against peace-loving Muslim men and women who are being viewed suspiciously because of their beliefs, their complexions, their demeanours or even their dress codes. In themselves, those factors would not have affected most Europeans so plainly, but graft to them a sense of insecurity or fear and the social cohesion which defines civilised societies begins to crumble precipitately.
  • Moreover, this hint at an unravelling of our social norms is not solely due to the MENA refugees (roughly 1.3 million of them) who fled into Europe over the past 12 to 18 months. After all, many of those terrorists were born and bred in the EU countries and are either Muslims by birth or else converts. Hence, the problem is as much within our borders as it is outside them. Our answer therefore cannot simply be the odd denunciation hither thither by a mufti or a cleric - whether interreligious or confessional - as those have become so humdrum and dare I add casuistic. What is long overdue is a concerted and brave process of education by Muslim leaders to ostracise those elements within their ranks and to undertake the necessary jurisprudential reforms that bring Islam into touch with modernity and rolls back the growing sense of erratic and illiterate jihadist pathologies. This is not easy as modernity (al-hadatha) requires a huge jurisprudential effort and goes against the grain of many Muslims who have been taught that the teachings of Islam are frozen in the 7th century and cannot be altered since the Revelation of the Word of God cannot be tweaked anytime. But modernity is not about changing creeds, but more of viewing them within the contextual realities of the 21st century.
  • Parallel with those long overdue efforts, though, must be a willingness by the political parties in Europe to foster a stronger sense of unity within society and to oppose any racism or discrimination rather than encourage fragmentation for the sake of political agendas or electoral gains.
  • Finally, and no matter what we in Europe understand by democracy, and no matter also how hard and painful it is to appreciate such Aristotelian ‘essences’, our best weapon to counter terrorism is to anchor ourselves firmly in our values and to defend the rule of law as well as the pursuit of due process. We ramp up our security measures, ineluctably, but we also realise that if we slide down the road of totalitarianism as a reaction to such brutal terror, we would lose the qualitative edge that has marked us over the past few centuries and helped us in Europe move forward.

As I pen down those few incipient thoughts, I am acutely aware that many readers - Arab intellectuals (and even Western ones such as Gilles Kepel and Olivier Roy whose own divergences are so public) as much as religious clerics or academic scholars - would drive a coach and horses through some of my arguments. They might even experience outrage. However, nobody - least of all self-assigned experts assuming the role of prophets - have discovered any sure-fire way of countering our predicaments. Hence, the need to act prudently lest the future becomes a landmine of unknown unknowns and inevitably boomerangs in our faces with even nastier outcomes.

Photo represents Hans Bolling’s ‘Optimist & Pessimist’ figures taken by author of article.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2016   |   15 August


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