Thursday,25 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)
Thursday,25 April, 2019
Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Opposing visions

The Paris attacks do not represent a clash of civilisations but one of visions, between one that wants to impose itself by force and one that is open to coexistence, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Sunday, 11 January 2015, the whole world watched in awe as more than one million people marched in Paris. With them were around 50 international political leaders, there to show solidarity with France in the wake of the terrorist attacks that rocked the French capital on 7 and 8 January.

The first attack targeted the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Two terrorists assassinated 12 people,

including two policemen, at the headquarters of the magazine. The second attack took place a day later, when an accomplice of the terrorists entered a Jewish grocery store and held shoppers hostage, killing four.

Egypt was represented at the Paris demonstrations by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who stood side by side with other Arab officials, including King Abdullah of Jordan and his wife, Queen Rania.

Not only have the French people been shocked by the brazen attacks, but also Europe and the entire world. The world watched the unfolding drama while French authorities tracked the terrorists and killed the three of them in simultaneous attacks.

From the outset there was no doubt that the terrorist attacks were masterminded and ordered by terrorist groups in the Arab world. The question was: Was it Daesh (the Islamic State) in Syria and Iraq, Al-Qaeda or another affiliated group?

It turned out that the group responsible was Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, operating in Yemen, and the reason for the bloody attacks was to avenge the satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed that Charlie Hebdo reprinted in 2006, courtesy of a Danish newspaper.

Amid the ordeal, not only French President Francois Hollande but all top officials in France stressed that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism, and asked the French people not to equate the French Muslim community with the terrorist groups that have been spreading mayhem across the world in the name of Islam.

On the night of the attack against the French satirical magazine, some mosques in France came under attack. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve warned that the French government would not tolerate any attacks against places of worship, including mosques.

Reactions from the Arab and the Muslim world were not slow in coming, foremost among which figured the official condemnation of the Paris attacks by Al-Azhar, the oldest and most prestigious institution in the world of Sunni Islam. The official Saudi religious establishment also condemned acts of violence in the name of Islam.

In these situations, a certain blame game usually gets underway. Across Egypt and the Arab world people started taking sides along expected and traditional lines. Those who blame the West for all the ills that have befallen Muslims, including the emergence of radical Islamic groups, have not been a minority.

A fringe of them, while regretting the loss of life in Paris, pointed out that Charlie Hebdo should not have published cartoons disrespectful of the Prophet Mohamed. Others questioned why we should denounce the Paris attacks when Western governments and the Western news media do not condemn terrorist attacks against Muslims and Arabs, almost on a daily basis, in the Arab world and Muslim countries.

Others — quite a few, as a matter of fact — had the courage to display the slogan, “Je suis Charlie,” seen not only in France but in the four corners of the earth, in solidarity with the French people and French news media.

These respective positions, sometimes diametrically opposed, have missed the essential point in these sad and terrifying attacks.

Some 21 years ago, Professor Samuel Huntington predicted that the next world conflict, after the fall of the former Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, would take the form of a clash of civilisations. He talked about an impending confrontation with the world of Islam.

At the time, and for many years after, many people around the world, particularly Arabs and Muslims, disagreed with him. Unfortunately, his vision may be coming true. But the point I would like to stress is that the confrontation shaping on the horizon is not between the world and Islam, but rather a confrontation between two different visions of the future.

One vision is radical, even by Muslim standards. It wants to conquer the world, including Arab and Muslim countries, and reshape it by force to fit its nihilistic interpretation of Islam. From its standpoint, the world must succumb to its apocalyptic vision.

The other vision is more liberal, more tolerant, more interdependent and believes that different civilisations, cultures and religions can respect each other and peacefully coexist.

In other words, the geographic lines of the clash of civilisations should not be seen as horizontal but vertical.

The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.

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