The recent killings in France--one producing more public response and angst than the other--have again exposed some perhaps substantial contradictions in Western culture, politics, law and governance. It again reveals the deep fissures between a more or less scattered "left" (e.g., here) and a dissipated but increasingly effective "right" (e.g., here) and their collective advances against what once had been a more or less solid (if conventional and ideologically uninteresting) middle. It also suggests the contradictions among those now projecting their beliefs, in violence, into states. Yet those contradictions must also be situated on sets of wider contests across borders, between people within Islam, within European cultures, within constitutionalism, about secularism (and thus between the state and dominant religions) etc. This does not suggest the broad view simplicity of Huntington, or of the racialized view of Oswald Spengler, but it does suggest that violation of the borders of identity, and contests among them, can produce disruptive reaction. And more importantly, that the frontiers of identity may not be effectively managed from outside.
If media accounts are to be believed, the accused Boston marathon bombers were "radicalized" by watching American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki's YouTube sermons and reading Inspire, the al Qaeda magazine. To whatever extent it is true of the Tsarnaev brothers, this narrative follows a familiar path: one in which seemingly ordinary people are exposed to radical ideas, then adopt those ideas as their own, and then become violent. That theory was set out in a 2007 NYPD report called Radicalization in the West, which focuses exclusively on Muslims, and describes a four-stage progression – a "funnel," the report says – in which each step towards violence is intrinsically linked with increased religiosity. (John Knefel, Everything You've Been Told About Radicalization Is Wrong Despite the rhetoric, scary YouTube videos don't turn people into terrorists, Rolling Stone Magazine, May 6, 2013).
"The idea that radicalization causes terrorism is perhaps the greatest myth alive today in terrorism research," he says. "[First], the overwhelming majority of people who hold radical beliefs do not engage in violence. And second, there is increasing evidence that people who engage in terrorism don't necessarily hold radical beliefs." (id.).
"Muslim scholars responded quickly to the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo which killed 12 and injured 10. Slamming the incident as un-Islamic, scholars express anger towards the perpetrators who “betrayed and tainted” Islam rather than defended it. In addition to vehemently condemning the attack, the scholars’ comments reflected a concern about the damage it causes to the image of Islam and Muslims." (What Muslim scholars have to say about the Charlie Hebdo attack, OnIslam, Jan. 8, 2015).
It is about second- or third-generation descendants of Muslim immigrants no longer feeling at home in their parents or grandparents’ culture, at the same time not being fully accepted into European societies, often having experiences of discrimination. They do not feel they belong into France, even though they were born in France, they went to school in France, they have French passports. (Transcript: What’s driving European Muslims to extremism?, Jan. 8, 2015 (PETER NEUMANN, King’s College, London)).Together, these narrative turns produce the creation of the identity of violence as centered in individuals who are misled through the embrace of erroneous beliefs. That view of reality, then, does not pose the great threat that a clash of narratives--an open war--would have produced.
The current techniques, though plausible, also carry with it consequences that may well make the objectives of its use harder to attain. Threats are threats. A society must determine the extent to which it is willing to define and protect its values--and to act to protect them in accordance with their dictates. That requires an avoidance of discursive narrative--and especially the narrative of radicalization and legitimacy--and a collective effort to understand threats for what they are, not for what we want them to be, or worse, for how society can make them fit within the rules that define their own community. Yet the latter is precisely what society does when it engages in these elaborate narrative reconstructions grounded in a false scientism (radicalization is pathology) or a conscious defamation campaign (legitimate and illegitimate expressions of religion or other value sets). It might, then, be more useful, then, to accept them for precisely what they claim to be. To that end, one ought not to disconnect action from reaction whichy acquire significance only in the context of the nature of the reaction generated. And that all too quickly is what tends to be lost as people protect their agendas in the face of contradiction As for consequences; well, that ought to depend on our values and the strength of our commitment to their preservation, even in new circumstances. And that, in turn, is the space within which social narratives--the basic premises that define society, ought to be given pride of place. Society can shape itself.