When airplanes hit the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001 in New York, killing around 3,000 civilians, the world entered a phase of immense, escalating challenges for peaceful coexistence, with religion as the axis of the debate, analysis and solutions.
The traumatic event in itself ended an earlier period of uncertainty that the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989 had unleashed. The Cold War was over, and it would let loose a new global dynamic, allowing it to take shape in slow motion.
That meant the surfacing of radicalized Islam, reaching outside of borders, building a global network, defining an enemy in the broadest possible terms, demonizing all but its approach and ways of violence, in a battle — as it were — to prove the thesis of Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” right.
More than anything else, the 9/11 attacks laid out the chief element of a global combat on what, to Huntington, seemed not possible to overcome: It had to do with cultures rooted in religion, lifestyles and the most fundamental values such as freedom of expression, gender equality and so on.
It also brought onto the radar screen a deeper, harsher dilemma — for monotheistic religions, particularly Islam and Judaism, to legitimize using weapons on civilians in the very name of religion.
Post-9/11 has been, therefore, turned into a massive “trial period” of whether the political leadership across the world would be alarmed enough about a dark future, and would benevolently lead the masses across the divides of faith to be closer to one another.
Arguably, the greatest opportunity in the wake of the global shock was handed to Turkey, whose electorate, a year later, massively backed a party with an Islamist identity, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), whose program — had, then — pledged democratization and peaceful coexistence in diversity. From 2011, it was over.
While the terror stemming from extreme radical groups of Islam has escalated, on a political level there have been attempts, but mainly to no avail. Leaders of the Islamic world have remained aloof all along, as the Arab League or Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) remained silent or, at best, mumbling, whenever violence in the name of Islam erupted in the world’s different corners.
One seemingly meaningful attempt, the “Alliance of Civilizations,” a joint effort by Turkey and Spain, lost all steam, only remaining in name, simply because President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan apparently no longer sees in it any “political use for legitimacy.”
On the social level, though, hopes for eventual bridge-building in terms of universal values were again raised when we witnessed the Arab Awakening from late 2010 onwards.
One ray of hope was when Muslims in a large region finally identified the true enemy after a millennium of oppression: their ruthless leadership models. But, except in Tunisia, all the struggles for a dignified life have turned into disappointment and nightmare.
This had to do with three elements: the lack of a central, benevolent religious authority in Islam; the lack of proper wisdom among political leaders; and, worst of all, the false illusion of a “power grab” that the Arab Awakening gave to the Brotherhood movement — and its derivatives — to opportunistically drive an agenda based on exclusivity, polarization, peevishness and dogma.
Consequently, in a matter of three years, a golden momentum was wasted across the region, inviting the old order to return. In the case of Syria, however, the erratic policies of the regional players turned into the midwifery of a monster: the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).
With that background, I argue that, Jan. 7, 2015, is now a new grand rupture point in a quagmire that the Islamic world has been dragged into. The attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine ends an era of wasted opportunities and benevolent external attempts to bring the political leadership of the Islamic nations to adopt proactive policies that would block further radicalization.
The Hebdo incident means an end to Brotherhood-like movements in political Islam; they have lost all trust and legitimacy. Furthermore, a fact crystallizes:
It is now only up to the peaceful, wise Muslims in the majority, themselves, to deal with the ordeal bluntly. The Hebdo event raises the curtain on a new era, where the fight against terror threatens to confront religions even more directly.