What extremism aims at is to divide the world into those who form part of its following and those who are not. Terrorism is a means to that end. It seeks to tear apart the very fabric of multiculturalism, replace it with a certain binary that sees homogeneous wholes confront one another.
Fundamentalists will reach their goal if those of us who live in pluralist communities turn against our own neighbours, treating their peculiarities as a cause for strife rather than an opportunity for synthesis. The most resolute response to terrorism is the commitment to the normative ends of liberal democracy: pluralism, freedom, equality, the rule of law.
It is understandable that the public discussion has focused on increasing security and reinforcing the instruments of law enforcement. People need to feel safe, something that the presence of the police and the readiness of the army can provide. Improving the capacity of our states to prevent terrorist attacks is not a bad thing in itself. The securitarian narrative becomes incomplete and, hence, problematic when it represents a reaction and when it loses sight of the broader ends of the democratic polity. Any use of coercive power can only be an extension of this willingness to remain true to ourselves, true to the values that form the core of the European Union. The response to barbarism is civilisation, not another barbarism.
To that end, we should be careful to avoid false dichotomies. Islam did not attack France. This is not a war of religions. Not every Muslim is a potential terrorist. Not every Muslim-populated neighbourhood is a breeding ground for extremism. Such presumptions, should they become dominant, could cause segregation, forcing entire classes of people to live on the margins, bearing a stigma they do not deserve.
Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, commonly referred to as “Molenbeek”, is one of the municipalities of Brussels. It became known to the world as a location with ties to the terrorists attacks in Paris. While it may be true that there are instances of illegal activity that need to be addressed, it is a pernicious folly to think of the entirety of Molenbeek as some microcosm of ISIS.
To that end, I was particularly happy to see my twitter feed filled with tweets and pictures from a solidarity demonstration that took place there yesterday (November 18). Below I embed some of the relevant tweets:
— Javi López (@fjavilopez) November 18, 2015
— Patrice Lempereur (@Patrice4020) November 18, 2015
— Monica Tiberi (@MonicaTiberi) November 18, 2015
— L'dia…! (@LilyPurple311) November 18, 2015
The response to fundamentalism starts with the people. It is about refraining from sweeping generalisations of a racist, xenophobic, or religiously intolerant sort; and it is about reminding ourselves of the democratic values we Europeans live by. Once we agree on this basic point we may proceed to consider the best possible way of dealing with ISIS.