Stop Blaming France for the War Radical Islam Started
In 1905, sociologist Max Weber posited that the economic inequalities between Germany’s Protestants and Catholics arose from a fundamental difference in values. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, he described Protestantism’s high esteem for effort and austerity, and its general encouragement of hard work and prudent savings. This, Weber argued, explained the discrepancies in the rates of capital accumulation and overall prosperity between the religious groups. But whether one adheres to the Weberian reading of Protestantism or not, it remains difficult to deny the hypothesis underlying it: beliefs matter, and they have a decisive influence on human actions.
Materialism vs. Subjectivism
Up until the nineteenth century, this idea had been widely agreed upon. It had led Enlightenment thinkers to subordinate the fight against oppression to the fight against obscurantism. In his Essay on Universal History, the Manners, and Spirit of Nations, Voltaire noted that human history had been continuously disfigured by superstition “until philosophy finally came to enlighten men.”
This “subjectivist” conception of history—which cast the beliefs of individuals as the main engine behind the human adventure—gave way to a “materialist” understanding that relegated the influence of beliefs and ideas to a secondary, subordinate status, without autonomous influence and wholly dependent on the political, economic, and natural circumstances that preceded them.
The most prominent theorist behind this materialist reading of history was Karl Marx, for whom ideologies were but a consequence of socioeconomic competition and class struggle. But Marx held no monopoly on this thinking. The same general conception of history inspired the liberal industrialists, who saw economic progress as a necessary—and probably sufficient—precondition for moral progress.
The architects of the Marshall Plan were similarly disposed toward this philosophy and believed that saving Europe from economic misery would suffice to defeat the threat of socialism there. As the United States emerged as the leading world power, American strategists were so convinced that prosperity conferred immunity to leftist doctrine that they were blind to its increasing appeal among their own population.
The Problem of Radical Islam
Unfortunately, materialist prejudice also clouds our perception of other phenomena—Islamic terrorism, for example. France has become a regular target of such attacks. On October 16, 2020, a history teacher named Samuel Paty was beheaded for showing his teenage students two of the famous Charlie Hebdo cartoons during a class on freedom of expression. Thirteen days later, three Christians were murdered in Nice. These murders are but the most recent in a long list of political crimes, and the grief at them just the latest in a series of national bereavements.
These killings have established a climate of terror that weighs on free thinkers. Since the deadly 2015 attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Islamist organizations have called continually for the murders of the remaining editorial staff. These journalists must now work from a secret location lest the work of the Kouachi brothers be finished by others. The most public critics of radical Islam, such as journalists Zineb El Razoui and Mohammed Sifaoui, lawyer Richard Malka, and Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, must now live under constant police protection.
This threat also hangs over ordinary citizens. In early 2020, a French teenager named Mila rose to prominence following her virulent criticism of Islam on social media. She was forced to move to a new school amid a barrage of death threats. The public is far from indifferent to the oppressive mood and debates conflicting theories in a struggle to make sense of an unbearable situation. The myriad motivations they cited for the ongoing violence include France’s military interventions, its colonial past, its racism, its Islamophobia, the insufficient social mobility of its minorities, its authoritarian secular tradition, and the vulgarity of its cartoonists. But whatever the grievance of the moment, all the criminal reprisals seem to be committed in the name of a single religion. Despite this fact, many still refuse to assign blame.
A Francocentric Analysis
The sins of this blinkered attitude do not arise solely from overindulgence in historical materialism. The denialism also has roots in a Francocentric indifference to global issues. In 2019, the Foundation for Political Innovation, a French think tank, published a comprehensive study of Islamist terrorism between 1979 and 2019. Among its revelations was the fact that the majority of Islamist attacks are committed in Muslim countries. Since there are more Islamists in Islamic countries than in Western countries, this might not be a surprise, but it highlights that even in those nations there exist Islamists aggrieved that nothing is “Muslim enough.”
Those for whom the French system resides at the origin of Islamist terrorism are curiously silent regarding the global scope of the phenomenon. Note the paradox in this stance shaped by postcolonial theory. On the one hand, they reject a Eurocentric reading of history. On the other, they remain convinced that the West is history’s only driving force, as if other civilizations and ideologies were incapable of formulating their own political agendas, as if “reacting” to the West were the only thing they were capable of.
And yet on November 11, more than fifty people were beheaded in Mozambique. On November 28, at least 110 civilians were executed in Nigeria, probably by the Boko Haram sect. On November 2, four people were killed in Austria, which, it should be remembered, is a neutral country. Switzerland, which shares a similar tradition of neutrality, is also the target of attempted attacks and home to Islamist cells. Countries as diverse as Ireland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden send Islamist fighters to Iraq and Syria. While no society is entirely free of imperial stains on its past, it is difficult to attribute Islamic anger to alleged Swiss, Irish, Norwegian, Danish, or Swedish imperialism, or to the unjust domination of the Muslim world by sub-Saharan Africa.
Vocal critics of the French system persist despite these facts. In an article published in the journal Foreign Policy, Mustafa Akyol bemoans the tendency of French secularism to ban religious signs from the public space rather than accommodating them, arguing that it is too authoritarian. Moreover, while France proclaims freedom of conscience and expression for all, its legislation prescribes penalties for insulting national symbols. According to Akyol, these inconsistencies in the application of the freedom of conscience partly explain Muslim mistrust of liberal values. He uses the example of his own country of origin, Turkey, to show how the export of French secularism to the Muslim
Article from Mises Wire