Special Reports

We cannot bury our heads in the sand

Adam Puchejda · 20 January 2015
Secular, tolerant Europe is shaking in its foundations. It is being attacked from different directions by the Muslim and Christian radicals. The anti-European right is adding its own bit. Although they are in the minority, they set the tone. It’s time to act against it.

For Islamists and radical Christians blasphemy is a sin and de- serves more or less severe punishment. Including death. We saw this recently, when bloody terrorist attacks took place in Paris. And although we heard the voices of condemnation of the murder itself, they were usually accompanied by a number of reservations. You should not laugh at religion, you should not hurt ‘religious feelings’ – whatever they are! Even the enlightened Pope Francis admitted that if someone would insult his mother, not to speak of Jesus Christ, he would have to end up resorting to the argument of violence.

Not to the law – to violence. At the same time, a special sense of superiority Christians feel to have over Muslims was revealed. The Pope will not use a gun after all, that is uncivilized, a punch in the nose will do!

Right-wing radicals – absolutely secular, but equally despi- sing Europe (this cradle of the culture of death) – played their part too. Take Marine Le Pen, who called for the reinstitution of death penalty. Death is here clearly inflected for all cases.

But this is a dead end. Introducing more prohibitions and even more severe penalties will nom ensure greater security. Even tortures do not guarantee that we will begin to live in a better world. We have known that for a while, but history likes to re- peat itself – compare the meagre achievements of the CIA. Our troubles usually result from non-action, the lack of imagination and the lack of at least some willingness to understand the reality. The reality which for many people – including the leaders of the French and Polish left – is slowly becoming synonymous with changing TV-screen images, reminiscent of a bad Technicolor film.

Of course, we rightly worry about the victims of brutal terro- rist attacks in Paris and we rightly go out to the streets to protest against the murder of innocent people. The problem is that our actions are delayed and at times also not lacking hypocrisy. As a result, it once again turns out that we are above all concerned with ourselves, leaving the source of our concerns and worries aside. Tragic and deplorable events obscure the context – both social and political – and bring about some kind of a snooze, which by no means facilitates avoiding further attacks.

We forget that terrorist groups fully understand our pro- blems. They know that the easiest thing to do is to hit the soft underbelly of our societies, which we ourselves leave unprotec- ted, simultaneously sentencing a large part of our own citizens to exclusion and the lack of prospects for social advancement. There is a reason why the police never even gets close to some neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Paris – the people living there are permanently outside the system. They will either end up inprison, perform the worst paid jobs, or they will leave for jihad – to Syria or Iraq. When they come back, it will already be too late. In addition to this, as it were on the opposite side, there is our sense of superiority in relation to Islam, or the fear of something we do not understand or do not want to understand. At present, both in Poland and in other European countries, aversion towards Muslims is openly expressed only by those, who despise politi- cal correctness or profess some form of nationalism. If nothing changes, this type of ideas will gain a much broader response.

Finally, as can be seen especially in modern Poland domi- nated by right-wing political discourse, a large proportion of citizens (and their political leaders) is convinced that the only source of our social norms is religion, and that it is the Catholic religion. It is true that social changes do not support these beliefs, because every year for an ever-growing number of Poles, religion is becoming a matter of choice, not inheritance. Just as for western Europeans it is no longer the essence of our identity, and only one of its elements. Nevertheless, this decline in the importance of religion in public life favours the emergence of fundamentalists who believe that they will once again be able to decide whether it is allowed to go bareheaded or have extramarital sex.

Seeing all this, we cannot hide our heads in the sand. Under no circumstances can we now fondly look at the Muslim victims of Islamist propaganda. It is humiliating – so much for radicali- sed or radical Muslims, as well as for ourselves. We should adopt a similar attitude in relation to Christian extremists. Above all, we should start by enforcing the law and not turning a blind eye on smaller or larger crimes that take place under our noses.

Not only that – liberal institutions must do everything possible to protect us from fear, not only of terrorist attacks, but also of permanent exclusion and lack of psychological security.

By not doing this, they are handing things over to the followers of radical religion movements or aggressive populisms who are slowly gaining influence, because it is often them that manage to give people a substitute for a sense of purpose. The emer- gence of redundant people, including terrorists willing to die in the name of faith, is a catastrophe for all of us. This proves that we did not notice when a social problem turned into a political issue, and even a religious one. The latter can easily – as one can see – turn into violence, which is difficult to stop without having to use other forms of violence.