Charlie Hebdo: We should not tolerate the intolerant

There is something deeply problematic about French society, rooted in the French Revolution. The secular state has made people ignorant about religion, fragmenting society in the process. I obviously condemn the massacres in Paris, but I am not Charlie, says Charlotte Kude

Free speech? Not if the Islamic extermists have their way
Charlotte Kude
On 17 January 2015 11:27

We are at war. Not my words, those of a French MP last Thursday. Finally, someone says it. This is a war that we didn’t start. Let me clarify: the West is not at war against Islam and never has been.

However, it will defend itself against any force that tries to destroy the values that we have fought for over centuries. Now, these values are being challenged by history, threatened by this new form of fascism that is radical Islamism.

Of course, the majority of Muslim people disagree with it as much as Western societies do, and we shouldn’t forget that. Tarnishing all followers of Islam will only aggravate the problem. But, equally, we shouldn’t be afraid of naming things for what they are: our 21st century enemy is terrorism and over the past two decades the most deadly attacks all happen to have been carried out in the name of Islam.

I wholeheartedly condemn last week’s Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris. Anyone who even tries to justify them is just inhumane. But I am not Charlie. The reason why is because that newspaper represents everything that is so paradoxical about French society and that as a result, has led to such fragmentation. 

France is a country whose values and political system are deeply rooted in the French revolution, when people turned against king and Church. By trying to escape the grip of the corrupt religious establishment of the time, the French developed a profound disdain for religion in general and indeed any form of cult or belief.

The secular state that has subsequently prevailed has prevented religion from interfering in any way with public life; confining it to the private sphere and, as a result, also eliminating it from education. And this is why communities are so divided and people from different ethnic or religious backgrounds so scared of each other: because they are ignorant.

They know nothing about any religion other than their own -- if they have one.

French society is in constant denial of individual differences. The Republic considers everyone the same. This is also why the French definition of integration is quite the opposite of multiculturalism: If you move to France, it doesn’t matter where you come from. In fact best to forget about it, you are now French.

Ever thought of them as not very open to the outside world? Well that may just be the beginning of the explanation. That's not to say that the French aren't tolerant, because they are. They are anti-religious, yet tolerate it in any form on their soil on the condition that it accepts criticism, even the harshest, as the norm. After all, that is what freedom of expression is all about.

Perhaps most shocking was how the French mainstream media appeared so evidently shackled by political correctness. To the point that, even after several attacks confirmed to have links with global Islamist groups, the media continued to speak about “isolated acts” committed by “mentally unstable individuals.”

It is outrageous that they did this in the name of tolerance.

I am the first one to preach and promote tolerance but it has to come from both sides. By being tolerant towards forces that fail to reciprocate, we are putting ourselves in great danger. Even worse, we are flying the white flag of surrender.

Tolerance is one of the many benefits of individual freedom but that freedom turns into weakness when it makes us so selfish that we are incapable of defending ourselves as societies.

On a larger scale, this is also what makes the EU so pathetic, as it still tries to appease tensions with joint statements and resolutions while not having any hard power defence mechanism. Besides, in the eyes of the enemies of freedom, using mere words against those prepared to kill and die for their cause is frankly laughable.

Finally I would just like to make sure that I am not misunderstood. Once again when I talk about the enemies of freedom I mean radical Islam: extremists. Not the great majority of European Muslims who practice their religion without bothering anyone.

I also sympathise with the argument that Christian history is also full of massacres and bloodshed in the name of an avowedly peaceful religion. But peddling guilt about the past will not solve a problem that we are facing now.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Islam is a religion of peace, because I don’t know enough about it to judge, but I know just about enough to understand that the duty to spread is in its very essence.

The question is how far a minority of fanatics are prepared to go to impose their values on the non believers, be they Muslim, Christian, Jew or atheist. And maybe instead of just blaming religion western societies should first take a closer look to the causes of extremism and what actually motivates individuals to become terrorists.

Poverty, instability, envy, having nothing to lose is what draws young passionate minds closer to these radical views and what makes them choose the path of fear and the one way ticket to Syria.

Radical Islam is a threat to humanity as a whole but the novelty about it is that it is no longer limited to one geographical entity. It no longer respects borders. And the greatest difficulty is that it doesn’t only come from outside, it is already here.

However it is never too late to wake up from this lethargy and show our enemies that the free world will not give in to violence and oppression. It is high time for us to stop tolerating intolerance.

Charlotte Kude is a political consultant based in London @charlottekude

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