It is no easy task to situate the Charlie Hebdo attack within a particular framework. The assault's reasoning, purpose and repercussions remain extremely complex. One could suggest that the assailants targeted the French government's policies, or link the most recent attack to the 2004 Madrid and the 2005 London bombings. The violent act had quintessentially French socio-cultural and political elements, as well as implications for Europe and the Islamic world. Future policies of European governments as well as popular responses to the Paris attacks will determine which set of purposes and repercussions will attain greater significance.
At this point, efforts to link Islam to terrorism, and the idea that Islam and democracy are inherently incompatible remain largely unpopular in Turkey. Yet there has been no shortage of analyses that isolated the violent act from the broader socio-political context to raise questions about the relationship between terrorism and the Muslim world, thus turning the issue into a problem concerning Muslims. Others asked followers of Islam to engage in self-criticism, to condemn the attack and to come clean.
There is no question that the situation affects Muslims more directly than it does others. As a matter of fact, people around the Islamic world have long thought about similar matters but especially on how to prevent the rise of radicalism in their own communities. Accordingly, they have publicly and most strongly condemned violent attacks such as the Charlie Hebdo massacre without seeking to justify them in the slightest.
Muslims and the organizations they form, however, do not have the luxury of determining everything about the universe in which they live. Their behavior often bears traces of the socio-political setting to which they have been subjected. As such, attempting to analyze the situation with reference to the problems of Muslims with no mention of the Islamic world's socio-political dynamics not only fails to tackle the problem at hand, but also effectively breeds racism and discrimination.
In this regard, we must leave aside shallow interpretations of the current situation, including accusations against Islam and numerous requests for Muslim repentance, and concentrate on developing an analysis geared toward keeping track of all socio-political elements involved. Here, at least two factors bear scrutiny.
The first relates to the role of Islam and the Muslim community as a European challenge. The old continent takes pride in developing the idea of pluralism, yet lacks practical experience with actual co-existence. There are no positive signs regarding the future either. With Muslims becoming more and more visible in public, xenophobia gives way to Islamophobia. Meanwhile, racist assaults against Muslims go unpunished, as those on the far-right gain popularity to serve in coalition governments. At this point, European parties on the right and left both promote Islamophobia with reference to xenophobia and secularism. Young European Muslims find themselves at the intersection of these two forms of opposition, and are alienated from their home countries. As a matter of fact, the Charlie Hebdo attack was informed by the socio-political context in France rather than the religious identity of the perpetrators.
The second factor relates to the political experiences in the Islamic world. The vast majority of Muslim countries were subjected to invasion after World War I and the authoritarianism of colonial governments from 1945 onward. It was these authoritarian governments that blocked all channels of political participation and representation to avoid their countries turning into a hotbed of armed radicals. More recently, the 9/11 attacks and the U.S. invasion of Iraq marked major ruptures in history. In particular, the latter development and the Iraqi government's post-invasion policies fueled ethnic and sectarian tensions in the Middle East, and created fertile ground for radical organizations to form. Finally, the Arab Spring, which shook a number of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa by triggering a major wave of democratization across the Islamic world, came to an abrupt end. A range of regional and global actors simultaneously sided with old regimes against popular, pro-democracy movements, and even threw their weight behind radical Salafists. The developments in Egypt alone would attest to the high costs of the Arab Spring's failure. Those who sang the praises of the military coup in the country created enormous opportunities for others who choose armed struggle over civilian politics in the Islamic world.
The problem, the latest manifestation of which was the most recent attacks in Paris, derives from the above factors among others. Those reluctant to engage these elements, and who alienate Islam in Europe and democratic movements in the Islamic world, not only conveniently blame the situation on Islam and the Muslim community, but also turn to additional security measures out of desperation, which, unfortunately, only breeds more violence.