Let’s Not Allow Extremism and Generalizations Strangle Everything that We Have Worked Towards: Tolerance

After two gunmen stormed the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and killed eight journalists and four more, including two police officers, Europe made its voice heard. Freedom of speech and expression was on everyone’s lips; and in a country like France, liberty is considered a national symbol. However, amongst this energizing discussion on a human’s most valuable right – freedom – another argument that may not be so healthy has risen.

This argument is about Islam, more notably radical Islam but many have decided to aim for the religion itself rather than the minority that have used it as their justification for atrocities. A minority have came out and instead of uniting under one banner have instead blamed a religion that is followed by two billion people for the problems of the world. This mentality is not only worrying but also contagious; and it’s not the first time that Europe has seen this.

It is often shunned whenever anyone uses Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party in an argument, “don’t be ridiculous” they retort. However, this time it cannot be ignored. Before Hitler had even joined the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (an ironic name as they were anything but Socialist) anti-Semitism was very popular in Europe. In Germany it was more ingrained especially due to the loss of the First World War. The Jewish community did not want to take part in the war as it went against their views; and so the belief that the reason Germany lost the war was because of the Jews was conjured, and Hitler had very little part to play in the creation of this belief. Thus Hitler feasted on this mentality: he reinforced it, he said what everyone at the time was thinking, and he rose to power and popularity because people believed that all the problems of Germany were because of a small group within the country.

George Santayana’s famous quote is more than fitting here: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. He’s right. Nowadays there are marches in Germany that are against the “Islamisation of Europe” and even more surprising is that a think-tank poll from November [LINK] found that 61% of Germans believed that Islam had no place in Europe. Even more worrying is that 24% said that Muslims should be barred from entering Germany. It is ironic then when these people say they stand up for freedom of speech. This belief has now spread across Europe thanks to the horrendous atrocity that happened in Paris earlier this month; but why is there an exclusive fear of Muslims?

Due to many terrorist attacks in the past few years carried out by Islamic extremists, people have tended to generalise a religion that covers over two billion people. This society of generalization is, in my opinion, as dangerous as the attacks that have been going on for the last few years. The reason for the history lesson earlier was because that is exactly how anti-Semitism grew in Germany; generalizations. It was believed that all Jews were rich and greedy and more importantly considered to be “un-patriotic” because of some Jewish communities deciding that the war of 1914 to 1918 had nothing to do with them and wished to not get involved.

Now generalizations have led to the far-right demanding that Muslims condemn the terrorists attacks and “break their silence”. Even though Muslim communities have continually said that the terrorists are not part of Islam and instead using it as a banner, the far-right is still not satisfied. However, something isn’t right here. Why must ordinary people who practice a religion feel responsible for the actions of others? Should all Christians apologise for Anders Breivik or the Klu Klux Klan? Should all Europeans feel responsible for the slave trade or American citizens for the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan that resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocents? Just because someone belongs to a very large group of people – be it religion, nationality, skin colour, sex, or any other sort of group – does not mean they are responsible for the crimes of others.

The only people responsible for the killings of the journalists, police officers and civilians in Paris are the killers themselves and the ones who enticed them to do it, not the average human being who happens to practice Islam. If people continue to generalise groups of people simply because of the actions of others then things will only get worse as the growth of anti-Islam sentiment grows so too will extremism. The enemy isn’t religion itself, it’s extremism, and until everyone unites against it then we will see some progress.

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