Article by Nesrine Malik
It has already started – the talk of a clash of civilisations. After the horrific Paris attack in which 12 people were killed, there is a palpable sense of a Europe on the edge, teetering between righteous anger and tense restraint. Many of the subsequent reactions have fallen along the predictable lines of reasserting the difference between “us” and “them”.
But the Paris attack was not yet another front in the “clash of civilisations”. The term civilisation in itself is meaningless in this context. What civilisation do the terrorists represent? It is understandable that, on the face of it, the attack highlights the perpetrators’ and the victims’ starkly opposed values, one barbaric and silencing, and the other enlightened and freedom loving.
But this is a false dichotomy. It omits a far more uncomfortable and complicated truth about racial tension in France, immigration, and how Muslims are settling in an increasingly secular Europe where the resurgence of rightwing parties has further racialised religion.
In the past few weeks we have seen anti-Muslim demonstrations in Germany, attacks on mosques in Sweden and, over the past few years, several isolated attacks on Muslims in a cycle of reprisals and counter-reprisals. In this context, it is impossible to reduce the Charlie Hebdo tragedy to anything as simple as two cultures clashing over the sanctity of a prophet.