“Everything we hear is an opinion, and not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, and not the truth.”
I’ve waited until the anger of the ones that became “Charlie” boiled down, in the sight of the shock produced by the absurd death of the comic journalists and the contagious public reaction, which was a mimetic reflex. It’s been a few weeks since the political ritual took place in Paris, where marching leaders were constantly looking at upper-floor windows from where someone could be shooting. In the meantime, timidly, the new current of the skeptics came to life “Je ne suis pas Charlie”, the society was no longer in a trance and the debate was about to start. Although the debate wasn’t taken too far, we could still come to understand among propagandistic statements that for Europe, a continent that failed as an identity, as a cultural, constitutional project and even as a market, the event grounded on unity in front a common enemy, which is terrorism, gave a breathing time, a mouthful of oxygen. But the problem still remains and refers to lucidity and rationality and is related to the construction of the collective sense and is to take into consideration a common project.
It was difficult to launch a realistic debate on the limits of liberty or group security because the assassination of some journalists in the city of lights is a fact that blocks with cruelty and relevance any means of searching for the truth. For sure, in the face of death and of the absurd and barbaric killing of the journalists, we cannot find justifications. We must reflect, although we cannot justify or explain the extreme violence gesture. We cannot find excuses for the killers, for anything that is absurd cannot be explained or substantiated, still, reflection is necessary because the pain, experienced individually or collectively, must be followed by lucid reflection or by corrections regarding the existent normative and institutional structure because we very well know that social order doesn’t occur spontaneously.
The need to invent the enemy
“It’s important to have an enemy not only to be able to define our identity, but also to find an obstacle that can help us evaluate our system of values and display the value by facing the enemy. That is why, when the enemy doesn’t exist, one has to invent it”, states Umberto Eco in Inventing the Enemy (Polirom, 2013, p. 10). Knowing the enemy is the essential element of identity and a cohesion principle. Pascal Bruckner, in Democratic Melancholia. How to live without enemies?, observed that democracies are dependent upon enemies, “we deeply mourn the disappearance of a sole enemy which was replaced by a multitude of threats, because the scarier they become, the harder it is to identify them” [p. 5], an enemy that disappeared together with the fall of the Berlin Wall, suggests the French philosopher quoting Grigori Arbatov, the Director of the Institute of USA and Canada of the Russian Academy of Sciences (ISKRAN) that supposedly told some American journalists: “We are about to harm you, that is to deprive you of an enemy” (quote from Andre Fontaine in Le Monde, May 27 1988). The demonstration is edifying and the West succeeded in constantly following this path, whether unconsciously or pragmatically, in politics, intellectual culture or in the public space. “An enemy, notes Pascal Bruckner, is a provision for the future, the way a group ensures its cohesion and establishes its opponent; and the best way to reform itself, is by continuously correcting the angular image offered by others. In the end it is the lasting certitude, by crossing the hostility of the others which, paradoxically, enriches our well-being, by contesting us. When not certain of the love ensured by friends, one can rest quietly on the hate of the enemies” (p. 44).
Whether it was anti-Semitism, or the Maghrebian immigrants, or Muslims or the gypsy, they all turned out to be interesting benchmarks for projecting the collective identity in relation with the internal or external enemy that pollutes the civilization and its values. The mass media participates to this spectacle in which the enemy is reinvented, strengthening the stereotypes and giving facile explanations to complex and profound social phenomena: unemployment, inequalities, economic crisis, violence in society and the general social competition.
Are we not capable to live without enemies?
Europe is the owner of a more tolerant form of narcissism and exceptionalism, especially France during the past few years, and consequently delivers a performance on intolerance which becomes more aggressive by the day. Several French anthropologists and sociologists have spoken lately about the way France shifted from Arabophobia, which characterized the National Front to Islamophobia, as a cultural and intellectual current. Emanuel Todd explained how Islamophobia seized the upper classes and was hard to control and it resulted in cultural turbulence, an effect of a religious void, of the difficulty to live without God. The opinion polls show an increase regarding the adversity towards Islam in France. An IFOP poll from 2012, run by Le Figaro, shows that 43% of the French believe that the Isalm is a threat to France, 63% oppose the construction of mosques, 67% believe the Muslims don’t want to be integrated into the French society. A 2013 Harris Interactive poll shares the information according to which 73% of the French have a bad opinion about Muslims.
Islamophobia is still a western pathology, criminogenic or not, but one of the pathologies of the public spirit. The beheadings and the cruelties of the jihadists or of the IRI create a wonderful box of resonance for such forms of emotionality, together with indignation, rejection, abomination, which are all politically capitalized.
The clash of civilizations? No, it is rather the clash of liberties
Many western specialists in Islam tell us to see the killing of the Charlie Hebdo journalists as a horrible murder, respectively not as a sign of the clash between civilizations, but rather as a social fact, as stated by Durkheim. It has become a political event not because of the proportion of the murder, but because it transforms an intellectual debate into a quasi-existential debate: can we live with Muslims in Europe or in the world. To speak about the clash between civilizations is exaggerated from several standpoints. First, beyond the jihadist terrorism, the massacre in France is an “internal” French business, the authors being French citizens.
Security versus Liberty
There have been discussions regarding the opposition between security and liberty or on the need to give up freedom to some extent in order to gain more security. The theme has been present for a while and was considered an either/or type of dilemma. Nothing can be more wrong or false. I believe that this dilemma is the result of the schematic approach regarding the two terms. First, liberty should not be confused with absolute freedom of expression or with absolute liberty of action, or the result of free will, which seeks the limits or the extremes. At the same time, security does not make reference solely to cutting the degree of liberty, security means the feeling of safety and the plenary assertion conditions in the society and the possibility to foresee the future development and trust in reciprocity or the respect for collectively shared values. The game between liberty and security is not a game with a null sum. As stated by Spinoza, the security is the main function of any society and any state. Spinoza also said that the function of the state is to free the individual from terror, fear, so that he can exert his natural right to exist and act, the purpose of the state being freedom. We can conclude: liberty is a desideratum, a purpose, and security is a means of achieving it.
A choice between liberty and security?
YouGov ran an internet survey between the 8th and the 9th of January 2015, showing that the French believe that freedom of expression must be defended regardless of the price (89%), but, at the same time, 51% declared that they agreed with applying restrictions to individual liberties (and 36% were against). In another survey, 89% of the French accepted the restriction of liberty on internet for the jihadists (in a context in which it is hard to differentiate among ideas of the Muslims in general, and over 60% of the French recognized that they don’t know much about this religion).
Benjamin Franklin stated in a well-known phrase that “people that agree to sacrifice a bit of their freedom for a bit of security don’t deserve any of the two and will end up losing both”. The interpretation is still complicated, beyond its aphoristic force.
Today we confuse freedom with freedom of expression and security with control measures of the citizen. Do not follow the lead of the politicians. This is not the case of a civilization being attacked by another civilization. We address here another matter, the gap of contemporary civilization: the enclavisation of the Western Muslim culture and the support offered to authoritarian leaders by the West, because the West is been wanting to use the resources offered by the Arab world during the past decades. Are we to sacrifice the state in order to increase individual freedom?
The different types of events and the cinematic way in which they are presented lead to exaggerations by reducing things to social apocalyptical representations of great expressivity. The Orwellian image of Big Brother is already a strong cultural stereotype, a representation that exaggerates the control of the individual and the manipulation of conscience. Still, it is a rather beautiful Science Fiction story that was ideologically and politically employed during the cold war, and, in general, in the fight with communism. But let’s see the other extreme, another dystopia, less capitalized by propaganda and ideology: the Mad Max film by George Miller. In Miller’s movie there is a world of violence and lack of order, in which any trace of humanity disappears. In the dystopian society placed in desert framework rules no longer function, the nations rebel, and the gangs of delinquents make the rules. By representing violence, the author suggests the destruction of civilization. The gangs of bikers induce a feeling of violence which sets the rhythm of life, sets the pulse, and cyclically returns. The urban-rural distinction is a kind of distinction between peace and violence, but slowly, the rural is invaded by violence and the very utopia of the withdrawal from the world, of the search for a secluded place, without violence, disappears. Max, the main character, experiences a change from heroism to insanity, ending in murder, which reveals the change of the human being and the complete destruction of all the moral reflexes or of the idea of order, in general.
Must we choose between these two apocalyptical scripts, between Big Brother and Mad Max? I’m sure that some might rush with an answer, choosing one of these two options. But we can overcome this dilemma, its solution being the acceptance that there is a need for a rational way of thinking in the future, because fear is the worst adviser, and emotion is a poison that clouds our mind and sends us on false paths. After all, the absolute security is unimaginable as well as freedom without limits, and the price of excess needs to be paid.
The solution: a reconstruction of the community
Zygmunt Bauman, in his work Community. Seeking Safety in an Insecure World (Antet, 2001), is in search of a solution to the mentioned dilemma and writes “…security without freedom means slavery, and freedom without security means being lost and abandoned. These circumstances give philosophers headaches that have no treatment. Moreover, they dwell with a conflict generator, because the security sacrificed in the name of freedom tends to become the security of others, and freedom sacrificed in the name of security tends to become the freedom of others” (p. 16). Even if the sociologist doesn’t believe that we can have security and freedom at the same time, the cited work outlines a solution: together try to come up with an inventory of future risks and reconstruct communities according to new demographic compositions or new frameworks and challenges.
People that live today in urban agglomerations are faced with risks that cannot be managed because nobody wants to help them understand these risks. The ethnic communities, especially the ones that migrated to other mother societies, as well as several underprivileged or poor categories, live in an atomized way with a feeling of rejection. During the electoral campaigns they also experience the intolerance of others. This is how the silent war starts and from time to time it ignites violence. There is a lack of solidarity and common control of the worries, as well as of the possibility to gain a collective structure in front of threats and anguish. Community translates into collective responsibility, support for the ones that are in difficulty, finding a place for everyone in the collective structure. We shouldn’t have to chose between Big Brother and the insane world of the individuals and of the decomposed society portrayed in Mad Max, but we owe our world the effort to reason, a new project of the society in a world in crisis, in which everybody is trying to avoid saying the one thing that is more and more obvious: the inequalities, the discrimination and the social polarization are the true risks of a prospective civilization.
We cannot defend ourselves with walls, the disease is within our society, although we invent enemies and we entertain the phobia of a foreign invasion. Security becomes a means serving the achievement of freedom, but it is also a project more complicated than the defense in front of the absurdity of terrorist violence, it is a project that needs to restore the tissue of collective solidarity for the final purpose which is gaining freedom for as many people as possible. For now, freedom is just the attribute of the very few, and the war that started is not a war of the civilizations, but a crisis generated by the collapse of the communities and of the need to co-opt everyone in the project that envisions building new solidarities.