The recent Golden Globe Awards ceremony got us thinking about how television programming has evolved…
The Paris attacks of Nov. 13 came as a shock to French citizens as well as many of us around the world. The terrorist attacks by European (primarily French and Belgian) youth connected to ISIS left almost 130 innocent civilians dead. This atrocity follows on the heels of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, a similar terrorist attack in Paris which took place less than a year ago.
The perpetrators of the shooting in January and this most recent violence are demographically identical: young Muslim-French men – in fact, brothers and relatives – in their 20s and 30s who have grown up in France, speak French and have gone to French school.
What could be learned from those violent incidents? What would be a best reaction to keep our society peaceful and safe in the future?
Immediate reactions from a number of hysterical politicians in the U.S. Congress and local governments are to “stop refugees from Syria.”
Before enacting such a drastic policy, we might want to ask carefully if limiting “refugees” from Syria actually will help to prevent another terror attack or the radicalization of “Muslim” youth here or elsewhere in Europe.
I pose three general questions to help put these recent attacks in perspective and to guide our discussion of the best course of action going forward.
The first and obvious question is: How are 21st century terrorist attacks connected to ISIS or Al-Qaeda related to “refugees” from Syria or other Muslim nations?
I see no logical linkage between those two variables. It is widely known that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by foreign Al-Qaeda followers who entered the United States on tourist or business visas.
It is also important to keep in mind that a mass exodus of civilians from Syria and Iraq and the refugee crisis in Europe is not the cause of the Paris attacks or any other terror attacks, but rather the consequence of the military expansion of ISIS under the war-torn autocratic rule of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
The second question is why France (and Belgium) has been a prime target of terrorism and radical Islamist recruitment, while other European nations who have opened up their doors and accommodated a large number of Muslim population and refugees (especially Germany) have not.
What is the key difference?
Unlike Germany or Britain, France historically has had difficult relations with its former Muslim colonies and Muslim communities at home. The state’s aggressive enforcement of French secularism (Laïcité) has justified intolerant policies such as the banning of veils in public schools, policies easily perceived as “anti-Muslim,” with the unintended result of the ideological radicalization of secular Muslim youth.
On the other hand, the American model of secularism based on “twin religious tolerations” is said to have accommodated multi-religious communities relatively peacefully because it does not favor one religion over others, at least in principle.
Imagine what would be the likely reaction if any one of our faculty proposed the banning of bearded men and veiled women in classroom because they could potentially be a security threat, and Muslim students should be watched. The reaction seems obvious.
The likely result would be religious intolerance, deteriorating social capital and trust, and discrimination against particular religious communities based on identity.
It might be worth flipping through Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” to reflect what societal attributes impressed the French philosopher about American democracy: It was the American civil society.
Uncivil and intolerant fundamentalist religion and politicization of religion was not – and will not be – the best answer to make American (or any) liberal democracy work. The potential damages to our civil and multicultural traditions would be substantial.