Multicultural societies: fear is poison

Terrorists targeted the value of democracy, freedom and peace. The answer lies in coexistence and dialogue

France was attacked. France is wounded as the whole of Europe, as the entire world. The great popular participation, along with that of many Heads of State and Government, at the demonstration in Paris on 11 January is a confirmation of this. It is our common civilization, our core values that the terrorists wanted to destroy through the destruction of the life of a newspaper and of its journalists. Namely, human rights, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, secularism based on the dual state and freedom of religion, equality between women and men, respect for differences, parliamentary democracy based on free debate between political parties.The obvious target of the attack on the French satirical weekly was to create a climate of fear, to prevent the free expression of thought. In this freedom lies the greatness of democracy. It’s nice to see so many people standing up, people who had never bought nor read “Charlie Hebdo”, who often held opposite positions to the ideas defended and spread by this publication, specialized in what often was harsh criticism of religion and of authority, in particular the police. To be welcomed is the political system whereby the protection of this newspaper was entrusted to the police; not to control it, but to protect it, and allow criticism to take place with total freedom. Among the dead, figure the policemen placed to protect the editorial staff, one of whom was Muslim.This signals a great awareness that freedom is a greater good, which must be defended relentlessly. It is the awareness that terrorism encompasses a fundamental evil, a kind of evil which Europe was confronted with in the past with totalitarian regimes.But perhaps the terrorists’ intention to attack and destroy civil liberties is not the greatest concern. In fact, States’ structures are strong enough to withstand and protect citizens and democratic institutions.  The greatest risk is a disintegration of society. European societies are now multicultural. Terrorism seeks to prevent people from different backgrounds, with different cultures and religions from living together. This would introduce an insidious poison, that of fear: fear of what comes from elsewhere, of those who are different from me, from us … A pluralistic society reposes instead on mutual trust. Fear, suspicion are destroyers: the alien, or the person of foreign origin, even the neighbour can, in this context, and at any time, become an “enemy”. Here lie the fundamental stakes of preserving social cohesion.But living together is much harder to organize and be protected by institutions. And plural societies are particularly fragile, delicate. Society as a whole, in all its diversity, must therefore take action to find the antidote to fear. To this regard, due consideration should be given to the following reflection by Sangnier, dating back to September 1939: “The war was forced on us by the violence of those who, relinquishing all human emotion, cast the world into disaster. It could, of course, in its foolish pride, in its evil fever of dominion, condemn men to murder. But there is something that it cannot do:  to force the inviolable asylum of our consciences and blemish our souls.”

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