Tuesday 19. October 2021
#179 - February 2015


Attacks that need to be explained


The attack on the editorial board of “Charlie Hebdo” strikes at the heart of the comfortable illusions we nurture about secular European society. Heads of state and government walked arm in arm through the streets of the capital city of the quintessentially lay state, a symbolic collective demonstration of their repudiation of jihadist outrage.

The attack on “Charlie Hebdo” and the Jewish supermarket, leaving too many people dead, was an attack carried out in the name of Islam and Muhammad upon the European values of freedom of expression and religion. The concept of freedom is interpreted in a wide variety of ways in our contemporary world, and people draw different conclusions from their understanding of it. European society is united in the view that freedom is never without limits for all and sundry, which is why the courts have to set boundaries. The State safeguards freedom, but it cannot ensure that it is handled in a responsible way. One of the fundamental principles of a State is the respect for human dignity. We do not have to share another person’s feelings, but we should still respect them. It follows that we willingly impose restraints and limits on ourselves – in the same way that something that is technically possible is not automatically authorised. If European pluralistic society wants to preserve public peace, politics has no alternative but to protect the values that are sacred to the faithful (ie to Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists alike) without identifying with them in this way or, in the words of M. Houellebecq: “A society without religion (which imparts fundamental values) cannot survive.” (Zeit Online 21.1.2015)


Looking at Islam, today we are paying the price for the failure of Muslim scholars in keeping the Koran and Muhammad immune from being instrumentalised by Islamists. In the Koran verses can be found that relate to violence, such as the “Sword Verse” (Koran 9,5). Similar statements can also be found in the Bible. But the passages in the Old Testament do not have the same mobilising effect on Jews and Christians as Islam and the Koran have on political Muslims. The violence lurks beneath the surface and is associated to the postulate of asserting, as quickly as possible its intentions through use of force. A religion that has not answered the question of violence in unequivocal terms serves as justification.


The globalisation of media reporting is without doubt one of the reasons underpinning the Islamists’ acts of terrorism. The media display images that make clear to anybody and everybody the stark differences in social, political and economic situations throughout the world. While Europe, whose culture is largely Christian, enjoys a high standard of living and freedom of expression and religion are under the protection of democracy, most Muslims around the world are living under conditions of war, economic deprivation and political oppression by authoritarian regimes. The enemy is “the others” that prevent “Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah.” (Koran, 3,110).


The second reason is the philosophical-theological dissonance between Islam and European thinking. No movement to remove the myths with regard to the magical-ritualistic perception of God has had any effect in the various Islamic traditions. The jihadists derive their spiritual nourishment from a naïve ‘direct connection’ to the will of God and especially to that of Muhammad. Whoever submits to the will of Allah is already in Allah’s favour and therefore can do anything he or she pleases. A God revealing himself in this way, as He Himself pleases, may correspond to the early tribal religious phase in many respects, but not to the rational understanding of God as preached by Jesus. Islam will never be able to find its way out of this impasse unless it breaks out of its prison of the historical tribal roots of religious consciousness. There is not one single passage to be found in the Koran that exacts penalties for blasphemy or pictorial representations of Muhammad. Pakistan did not introduce the criminal offence of blasphemy until the period 1980 –1986 under the military dictatorship of General Zia ul Haqq.


The aberrations of a religion cannot be shrugged off through semantic sophistry. People have tried to do this by repeating over and over that it is possible to disassociate Islamists from Islam as a whole. The differentiation between Islam and Islamism has never been wrong. It is just incomplete. The terrorists are invoking Islam to justify their actions and therefore it would make no sense to deny the religious background. The al-Azhar University clarified in December 2014 that jihadists are not “unbelievers” but their terrorist acts in the name of Islam should be condemned. Muslims must maintain their distance from those groups that interpret Islam as a political ideology.


P. Hans Vöcking

Georges Anawati Foundation (GAS)



Translated from the original text in German

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