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Beware the words of 'moderates' | Remi Brague

Remi Brague is professor emeritus of Arabic and religious philosophy at the Sorbonne. He has written many books with his latest Où va l’histoire? (Salvator) looking at the future of the continent and coexistence between religions. Here he shares some thoughts after the Nice attack with Connexion.

 THE MOTIVES of the Nice killer are still not clear. If they are linked to Islamism it is just one more example after a number of earlier ones. A link with Islamic State was clear for the previous attacks because both the killers and IS propagandists claimed it.

  The problem with a ‘war’ is that it takes two sides and so we need both sides to want peace for it to cease. There is no evidence that, if we stopped fighting, IS would lay down their weapons.

 Some reports say the Nice killer had recently become ‘radicalised’...

When people talk about ‘radicalisation’ it always makes me think. The word comes from the Latin radix, meaning ‘root’, and means seeking to take an idea as far as possible, back to the original practices that seeded it. But that produces very different results. A radicalised vegetarian stops eating eggs and milk; a radicalised Jew eats only kosher food and respects the Sabbath; a radicalised Christian is Saint Francis of Assisi. But a so-called ‘radicalised’ Muslim is a criminal.

  That makes you wonder about the idea of ‘radicalisation’, and what sort of ‘root’ we’re talking about. It also suggests to me that we should not apply such ideas, borrowed originally from Christianity, to every religion.

 Perhaps part of the blame for Islamist violence must be placed on the marginalisation of some Muslims in France…

It is true to some extent but, having said that, Osama bin Laden was not working class.

There are two factors that must be considered, social/psychological and ideological.

Marginalisation, frustration et cetera are realities that we have to fight against but they are not enough to push people to commit violent acts. You have to add ideology which takes away blame, making you believe that you are on the right side of history (as Lenin did), achieving biological progress (like Hitler) or fulfilling God’s plan for humanity.

The idea that all ‘religious extremism’ is equally dangerous is, in my view, a lazy one. The Crusades, the crimes of Zen Buddhist Japanese generals, pogroms against Christians by Hindus — they are in the past, whether the recent past or ancient history. We can only regret what happened and ask forgiveness. But the fact is ‘religious extremism’ right now focuses on Islam, and there are still things that we can do.

It is important not to jump to false conclusions. We must not associate every person from a country dominated by Islam and who may have links with it, with the crimes committed by a few individuals.

On the other hand, it is illusory to distinguish Islam from so-called Islamism, because they have the same goal – for Europe and the world to submit to Islam.

It is understandable that many people feel tired, sad or angry by the attacks committed in France but that won’t get us very far.

  What gives me hope? Firstly, violence is in the long-term a clumsy tactic. It risks stirring people up, giving a jolt to those who refuse to lay down. What’s dangerous are the nice-

sounding words of some of the so-called ‘moderates’ who pursue the same objective by more discreet and patient means.

At the same time, more and more people of Muslim background are tired of the cliché that ‘all this has nothing to do with Islam’ and want to put things in order in their own religion.

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