Beheading in France and the rise of radical Islam in Europe

WION New Delhi Oct 17, 2020, 12.54 PM(IST) Written By: Kartikeya Sharma

File Photo: A man lights candles in tribute to the victims of January 7, 2015, Paris attacks. Photograph:( Reuters )

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Are Islamic values incompatible with the ideals of the French revolution and ideas associated with it? Fundamentally, today’s Europe apart from many other differences does not entertain the idea of blasphemy. 

It is a paradox as to how a person can loathe and hate the same society which he or she desires to be part of. Europe is battling with this paradox where the first and second generation immigrants from Muslim countries have led to rise in Islamic terrorism.

Rise of radical Islam in Europe has come in many colours and shades, but France remains an exception where Islamic terror attacks continue unabated. The latest being beheading of a teacher who apparently showed caricature of Prophet Mohammad to his students.

The irony is that he would ask Muslim students in his class to leave lest he hurt their religious feelings. What he practised was quintessentially French like secularism which separates the state from the church, other values also define what it means to be a French.

On a lighter note, it can be sweet breakfast in the morning and on a serious side it can be French commitment towards the ideal of freedom of speech and expression which does not entertain the idea of blasphemy.

French society and law will hold in contempt discriminatory views, but they do hold the right of an individual to ridicule and criticise very strongly. It is a modern French value apart from many others which emanate from manners to customs to food.

Does this make Islam incompatible with modern values of liberal democracy? Does Islam want its version of liberal democracy to be implemented on modern European democracies?

Are Islamic values incompatible with the ideals of the French revolution and ideas associated with it? Fundamentally, today’s Europe apart from many other differences does not entertain the idea of blasphemy. 

A point to be noted is that most of the Islamic terror cases in Europe do not involve the Madrasas. Those involved in radical Islam are not all necessarily poor people. They come from varied backgrounds. Two schools of thought exist in Europe over Islamic terrorism.

One school is of the view that radicalisation has witnessed Islamisation and another locates protest and violence in disempowerment, poverty and dislocation.

The former believes that Islamic violence is a product of modernity and has nothing to do with essential nature of Islam and what we witness today is modern civilization reinventing Islam in which participants have less to do with the book and more to do with the homogenous Muslim identity which is not located in a common culture.

The other school argues that Islamic radicalism should be seen from the perspective of disempowerment in Western cities and a sense of solace and brotherhood being received from an idea of Ummah. With the same logic, racist and right-wing violence can be explained which too wants to alter the character of the state by subversion or capture.

In my view, there exists a third position. Europe over the years has been able to come to terms with the idea of blasphemy. It has been able to rest its bloody history of inquisitions and witch-hunting when hundreds of women were burnt in the name of one supreme God. 

Europe over a period of time witnessed literary, cultural and sexual revolution which is not the case with Islamic societies. Early Christianity considered marriage only for procreation and not pleasure which was not the case with Islam which within its ambit provided for sexual appetite. This has often led to the caricature of lustful Muslim men but is a matter of another debate.

In the last 80 years, Europe has witnessed intense waves of immigration because of multiple reasons. The first wave was during the post World War-II era when Europe was falling short of hands and required men to run industries. The second wave took place as expertise was required and had to be imported and third took place because of the dislocation of West Asian states.

This changing demography in countries like Sweden and France, despite welcoming them in the country, cultural assimilation did not take place. 

Immigrants can be modern by dress but not through values and tastes as incompatibility remains. Whether a woman being beaten in France for wearing a short skirt to violence in Norway over disrespect to one's own religion are all new. They will continue to exist till values of the adopted countries are not inculcated properly.

Islamisation of Europe may be a far-fetched reality but the clash between the native values and self-imbibed imagination of Islam in danger and religion being affronted remains the biggest challenge to a liberal Europe.

In the 1970s, hijab, purdah and head scarves were seen as a symbol of patriarchy and gender discrimination. Women fought against it the world over and won the battle. Today in places like the Americas and Europe, head scarves and purdah are back as a symbol of cultural relativism and diversity. Let’s not fool ourselves.

There are things which need to be kept at bay and first being the idea of blasphemy and punishment for it. 

Hinduism has been able to deal with this problem by building laws on prevalent caste practices. Christianity has been able to deal in parts by cultural shift in popular imagination, but Islam has not been able to inject this change.

Till the idea to entertain and respect the idea of blasphemy remains, violence will remain justified and would continue to express in multiple forms in the name of Jihad.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)

Kartikeya Sharma

Kartikeya Sharma is Political Editor at WION. When he is not working, you will find him travelling, reading or cooking.
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