Commentary: European demonstrations for unity give us hope, demagogues take it away
On Sunday 11 January, millions demonstrated in Paris for social unity, with French citizens across all of society taking up a common cause. "We must not create amalgams," the French are saying.
By that they mean that different things should not become mistakenly identified with one another, that it is not correct to tar everyone with the same brush - such as, first and foremost, Islamist terrorists and moderate Muslims. For that reason there were many French Muslims among the demonstrators, and for that reason French President Hollande invited the political representatives of Muslim countries to attend the demonstration.
Muslims against terrorism
Muslims demonstrated against Islamist terrorism across Europe, including in the Czech Republic, and most of their events involved unequivocal condemnation of last week's violence. "This appalling, bloody attack is a repugnant act of terrorism and cannot be justified under any circumstances, to say nothing of excusing it for cultural or religious reasons. Similarly, it is not possible to attribute it to the Muslim faith as an example of its allegedly natural tendencies," said Uday Zabadi on behalf of the General Union of Muslim Students and Youth in the Czech Republic (Všeobecný svaz muslimských studentů a mládeže v České republice).
"The young student further emphasized the importance of coexistence based on equality, mutual respect and solidarity," reads the organization's press release, which has been endorsed by other Muslim organizations active in the Czech Republic. Approximately 50 Muslim people demonstrated their "solidarity with the French people and sharply condemned the recent attack in Paris" last Saturday on Wenceslas Square in Prague as well.
The Czech mainstream media failed the public once again. There was almost no coverage of that event.
in favor of freedom of speech. However, that sounds too kitschy, too romantic, to be universally true.
Is the society in this and other European countries actually so unified that we can speak of an unequivocal defense of European values and solidarity with the victims of last week's attacks? Let's take a look at a couple of examples.
Attack of the "but" faction
Opinions are turning up in online discussions that are mind-boggling. This is not just about those good old users of the world "but", even though they predominate, but about other demagogues and promoters of violent solutions.
The "but" faction distinguishes itself roughly through the following argumentation: Terrorism is not good, BUT we should acknowledge that we participate in it (i.e., that we ourselves have provoked it). The most frequent "but" argument says that the caricatures at issue had insulted Muslims for so long their reaction is unsurprising.
This can be answered by pointing out that for most Muslims in Europe, terrorism is incompatible with Islam (and is therefore an infinitely greater evil than offensive caricatures). Mohammed Abbas, director of the Muslim Union in the Czech Republic, reiterated this on Czech Television's "Hyde Park" program.
We can also argue that Charlie Hebdo consistently endeavored to ridicule Christians and Jews too, as well as actors and politicians. No one was ever spared by the authors of the caricatures it published, but the only people to whom it occurred to address that offense through murder were these Islamist fanatics.
Every such "but" more or less casts doubt on the first part of the sentence, i.e., on the condemnation of terrorism. Terrorism is simply wrong - period.
No "but" belongs after that sentence. European values include the basic right to life, which surpasses all others.
Fanatics across ideologies and religious revere hatred as the highest value and place human life lower on the scale, if at all. If someone, however indirectly, says these devotees of hatred have a point, then understandably they are indirectly casting doubt on the right to life as a basic value.
"Hunting down human beings"
should not forget that even crossing far beyond the line does not authorize anyone to murder people in response.
The internet offers demagoguery of another type as well. I have read, for example, that the search in Paris for the murderers of the Charlie Hebdo editors and a Muslim police officer was an example of police "hunting down human beings".
This kind of remark is about at the level of Tomio Okamura, who attacks common sense from the other side of the political spectrum in a similarly stupid way. I don't know whether it is worth adding anything here, but just to be clear: The two terrorists could have killed more people, so it was very important to apprehend them as soon as possible.
"Extremists on both sides"
The Center of Muslim Communities in the Czech Republic has engaged in a similar approach to reality in its own declaration on the Paris attack. In addition to making good statements, they also wrote this: "None of the extremist actions committed by either side will keep us from our efforts to endorse civic decency, justice, tolerance and the truth."
"Extremists" here unequivocally means terrorists, because this declaration is about the Paris tragedy. The declared "truth" that terrorists exist "on both sides" leads to the question of who the terrorists on the "other side" are.
Are they caricaturists, are they Jews? Who are they?
Sharia in Europe? No way
When he spoke on the ČT24 channel's "Hyde Park" program, Mohammed Abbas, the director of the Muslim Union in the Czech Republic, doubted the claims that the terrorist attack in the USA on 11 September 2001 and this recent attack in Paris had been committed by Muslims. Abbas is a charismatic figure with healthy self-confidence.
During the program he also made some good observations and meaningful statements. In addition to conspiracy theories, however, he unfortunately mentioned the idea, at about the 30-minute mark, that it would be fair for Muslims living in Europe to be able, in the sphere of family law, to live according to sharia law.
That is a problem. The already absurdly-used phrase "majority society" would actually take on some meaning then.
A different law for Muslims would divide society into "us" and "them", into majority and minority societies. This would not be about integration, but about excluding part of the population from society.
We cannot give up on human rights
Islamophobia and other anti-Muslim hysteria is just as repugnant as antigypsyism. Euroamerican civilization cannot give up on human rights and the laws those rights are based on.
Throughout the 20th century, the recognition of human rights as universal values has been achieved through great anguish, and we cannot risk that some segment of society will be exempt from upholding human rights. This is not just because it is important to hold the line, but mainly because it would be a step backward to how things were before the Second World War (at the very least).
One of the leading European values is that of the equality of citizens before the law, even though practice sometimes casts doubt on that claim. This value is based on the traditions of Roman law and we cannot give it up, for similar reasons.
The demand to introduce sharia law introduces misunderstanding into our mutual coexistence, or rather, it introduces a tension that prevents understanding. As far as the demagoguery of online discussions goes, we can hardly get rid of it.
We could, however, face it with humor. With caricatures, for example.
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