Escalating divisive rhetoric and violence fan the flames of hatred and extremism.
Rabat – Another shocking display of gruesome violence and extremism emerged in Nice, France, this morning as escalating rhetoric and violence continue to spiral out of control. Within two weeks of the murder of French teacher Samuel Paty, a man attacked churchgoers in the south of France. As provocation and violence follow each other, the question remains, who does this escalation help?
People across the religious and political spectrum reacted with shock to the violence in Nice. Muslims on social media spoke out about the despicable act, a desecration of today’s celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The feelings of despair and sadness were shared by many, regardless of their faith or political beliefs.
Yet the attack in Nice will likely fuel further escalation of hate, extremism, and reactionary acts in France. French politicians are again trying to win far-right votes by blaming millions of French Muslims for an individual’s despicable act. The response from France’s government, in turn, will likely serve as propaganda to motivate further extremism.
In the end, extremist minorities on both sides aim to divide the vast majority of people in the center who disavow both xenophobia and racism as well as heinous acts of violence.
In reality, the divide is not based on religion or opinions on free speech. In essence, extremists on both sides are working together to fan the flames and divide Muslims and non-Muslims that share the same values of peaceful coexistence, mutual respect, and an opposition to violence.
Extremism is a scourge wherever it exists, whether through hateful rhetoric aimed at casting blames on millions of law-abiding citizens because of their beliefs, or acts of despair caused by marginalization, poverty, and discrimination.
Vicious cycle of hate
This vicious cycle of extremists reacting to each other’s provocations requires not a further escalation, but a moment of unity and mutual respect and understanding.
Most of us in the center share the same values. We want to be safe, feel respected, and have the opportunity to work hard and advance our position in life. Breaking apart these shared values is exactly the goal of extremists who aim to humiliate or strike fear in the other.
Acts like today’s events in southern France are just another step in decades of escalation. Islamophobia in France, fueled by the aftermath of the Algerian war of independence, led to the ghettoization of French Muslims, placing millions on the margins of society. This, in effect, created a sense of economic and social poverty and despair that pushed a tiny minority of Muslims in France towards extremism and desperate acts of violence.
In a similar way, many in France who fear the loss of jobs because of immigration are fueled by increasing despair by diminishing public services and reduced economic opportunities. Extremism on France’s far-right is equally fueled by a sense of loss, which is directed at Muslims as the scapegoat of increasing economic hardships.
Instead of alleviating these economic difficulties, politicians in France have jumped on this despair as a means to win votes by adopting the language of extremism. With Marine Le Pen’s Islamophobic party rising in the polls, France’s centrists have adopted its language instead of combating the corrosive nature of this xenophobic extremism.
Manufactured clash of civilizations
The fact that today’s attack in Nice took place in a Christian church further emphasizes that extremists like today’s assailant aim to manufacture a “clash of civilizations.” Solitary acts of violence like today’s aim to erase centuries of peaceful coexistence and cooperation between faiths and erode our shared human heritage and values.
With this in mind, a response to such an act cannot give the assailant what he appeared to crave. This is a time for language of disavowal of violence and a call for mutual respect and understanding as we all face the threat of extremists aiming to divide us into their camps.
In a time when humanity faces common enemies like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, we cannot let extremists on both sides divide us. We need sensible and moderated language from politicians. We need this language not to appease extremists, but to join together those of us in the center through our shared values.
When extremism leads to further provocation and hate on both sides, whether in France or around the world, nobody but the extremists themselves win.
After centuries of imperialism which evolved into the war on terror in the Middle East, this moment of global shared crises facing the pandemic and climate change should serve as a unifying moment.
It is time to address the marginalization of French Muslims, not as a purposeful act of “separatism” but as a logical result of decades of mistrust and xenophobia. Muslims and non-Muslims alike share vastly more values than extremists on both sides aim to make us believe.
As the world expresses their condolences to families of the innocent victims of today’s attack, this act of violence ought to serve as a moment to address grievances and build understanding, instead of further dividing us into increasingly extremist opposing camps.