“The jihadists seek to exploit the flaws in our debates”

“The jihadists seek to exploit the flaws in our debates”

The cross : You notice that it is difficult to think about the challenge of jihadism. Is it because religion remains a delicate subject in France?

Hugo Micheron: For thirty years, we have considered jihadism as a reaction to the specificity of our social contract linked to a certain conception of secularism. It is true that this republican principle has historically been nourished by a share of hostility towards religion. By reflex, we consider the fight against this radical ideology that is jihadism under this exclusive prism. In doing so, we miss the point.

If we want to rise to the height of the challenge, we must look at the jihadist enterprise for what it is intrinsically and broaden the focus, observe what is happening on a European scale.

Isn’t the difficulty also that we cannot agree on the causes of radicalization?

HM: Some interpret it as the consequence of the socio-economic and cultural marginalization of immigrant populations. Others as an essentially religious issue. These analyzes are mutually exclusive whereas they should be complementary, because jihadism is a politico-religious phenomenon. This binary opposition is all the more counterproductive as the jihadists seek to exploit the flaws in our debates.

For thirty years, we have not paid enough attention to the way in which jihadist propaganda exploits and exploits our own – legitimate – questions, for example on Western imperialism in the Middle East.

While the threat has subsided, do you think that the mobilization of society is insufficient?

HM: The veterans of jihadism, Syrians, Egyptians or even Jordanians had already identified the fault points of Western democracies, but they did not always have a detailed understanding of their functioning. They thus underestimated the capacities of reaction of democracies, and this is what will cause their downfall after September 11, 2001. But since then, we have gone in Europe from a few dozen individuals to around 6,000 activists who, for most grew up in Europe and think in more political and sophisticated terms than their elders.

It is urgent to raise awareness without waiting for a new wave of attacks. During the Cold War, citizens perceived the East-West divide, situated themselves politically between the Soviet and capitalist blocs. Today, we must be able to collectively equip ourselves with tools for understanding jihadism without falling into the clichés of excuses or generalizations.

Between accusations of Islamo-leftism and Islamophobia, is the search for a consensus possible?

HM: You don’t necessarily need a consensus, because controversies can be legitimate. At least we agree on the fact that jihadism is not a simple reaction to the socio-economic context and that this movement has its own driving force. We are dealing with activists who have a project and methods to make it happen. They have, according to the English term, a agencya consciousness of being and of moving.

I am not pessimistic because, on the scale of history, these issues are recent. The exchanges we have today were unimaginable ten years ago. Understanding has improved but there is still room for improvement, in particular to better articulate the issues of radicalization and jihadism with questions of immigration and Islam. It is a matter of distinguishing each of these subjects and, when taking them together, of being both careful and rigorous.

The university should enlighten society, but reflection on Islam and Islamism seems impossible there. For what ?

HM: It is not impossible. It occurs. Over the past ten years, high quality research has been published in Europe. We must not reduce everything to Franco-French polemics. Admittedly, controversy is normal and even welcome, but it requires consistency. I have sometimes been attacked by researchers who have not read my work. There, we touch the limit of university ethics.

The problem is also that we lack researchers. It is a question of means and also of attraction, because there can be a form of self-censorship among certain young academics who fear being suspected of Islamophobia by working on Islamism. Despite everything, when I compare us abroad, France remains equipped. In England, the lead screed is much heavier.

Doesn’t the reluctance also come from the fear of making room for the extreme right?

H.M. : Yes, but giving up is the worst solution. When we leave the monopoly to hysterical or malevolent political forces, we must not complain about the mediocrity of the debate. The paradox is that it is often among the progressives least suspected of xenophobic drift that we refrain from talking about Islamism.

The jihadists, however, attack principles historically supported by the European left: gender equality, openness of morals, freedom of conscience and expression. It is possible to form a society around these questions without falling into excess, without compromising with the facts and without naivety. I would even say that it is a necessity and a duty.

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