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Reconsidering the transformation of global politics after the attack on Charlie Hebdo: “Our Values” versus “Your Values”

By Birgül Demirtaş

The classical type of international relations that we have known and studied since the Treaty of Westphalia has been rapidly losing its meaning in recent years. The global challenges that we face today incorporate so many different actors and issues that we cannot grasp their meaning if we continue to focus solely on our good-old nation-states. From north to south, or east to west, wherever we concentrate, we have to accept the fact that new realities have come to the surface. Terror organizations in the Middle East such as Al Qaeda and ISIL and paramilitary groups in the eastern part of Ukraine are just two recent examples of new non-state actors that play an important part in this new reality.

One of the basic targets of criticism for some of the critical IR theories has been the current nation-state system, which it is argued leads to various types of violent conflicts on the international stage. In response, different proposals have emerged, varying from the creation of supranational organizations to the foundation of a world government, as to how to shape the future of global politics so that we can have a more just, stable and peaceful world order. Yet before these different proposals can become a reality, we have to face the counter-challenge to the current international system by new types of non-state actors. The fundamental features of these actors have been their proneness to the use of violence, their rejection of the current international system and the predilection to base their ideologies on religion.

The brutal terrorist attack on the offices of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo has led to an outcry from the entire world. The attack will be a turning point in many respects, not only in French history, but also in the history of Europe and the world as a whole. The fact that this incident occurred in a context in which we have seen the emergence of ISIL is worth remembering. ISIL’s terrible attacks against Christians and non-Sunni Muslims have prompted strong reactions from all over the world. We can assume that the Paris attack will lead to a reconsideration of the balance between freedom and security by the French government in internal politics and a rethinking of foreign policy actions taken against ISIL and other threats in the Middle East.

We should also expect that the attack against Charlie Hebdo will have a considerable impact on the Pegida (German: “Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes”) movement in Germany. Pegida represents “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West” and is a movement with a discourse against foreigners. With the aim of trying to push the government to take more measures against immigration, it argues that the western culture is pervaded by the influence of Christianity and Judaism at its core. Hence, its discourse is mainly posited opposite Muslim immigrants. The movement started in Dresden with a few hundred people, but by the beginning of January it grew to encompass 18,000 supporters . The representatives of Pegida have already stated that the attack in Paris confirmed what they have been trying to say. Their argument that they made public via their Facebook page is that the Paris attack is proof that “Islamists are not capable of democracy, but capable of violence and death as a solution”. It is now possible that more people will attend the Pegida rallies in Dresden and other German cities in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the anti-Euro party in Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has decided to support the cause of Pegida. The meeting between the leadership of Pegida and AfD on the day of the attack against Charlie Hebdo is of considerable importance. The declaration that came forth at the end of the meeting stated that the two have found intersectional elements and that together they will push the government to amend immigration legislation.

In fact, the Pegida rallies have consisted of different societal groups that are expressing reactions to the mainstream parties. Some of the participants can be conceived of as positioned to the right of center, holding the belief that the current parties in Germany do not offer any solutions to the societal and economic problems the country is facing. But some of the participants belong to the extreme right. Even the name of the group itself has discriminatory connotations. First of all, they call themselves patriots, assuming that the others are not patriots. Then they call themselves Europeans, hence implying that the others are not Europeans. They also try to create the image that there is a trend of Islamization, though Germany has not experienced any huge migratory flow as say Turkey has, with the Syrian refugees located there now numbering about 1.5 million. The concept of “Abendland” also deserves explanation, since it implies the Christian origins of Europe. This shows how the group is attempting to recreate a concept of Europe that is embedded in religion.

There are different reactions in Germany to the Pegida rallies. Some politicians think that these demonstrations are in fact a shame for Germany, as for example can be seen in the speech of Justice Minister Heiko Maas, and that they should be criticized by all means. However, others think that there is a need to understand these people and to establish a dialogue with them. Spokesperson of the AfD Konrad Adam states that he understands the concerns of Pegida. Although there are different interpretations of the Pegida demonstrations so far, one can assume that if the Paris attack were to lead to greater mass rallies, this atmosphere will have an impact on Germany’s future immigration policies. Even mainstream parties, like the CDU/CSU and SPD, can be expected to take this societal movement into account in their election campaigns.

Meanwhile, the reactions of European leaders to the Paris attack are an important sign of how the dichotomy of “we” versus “they” has been reconstituted. German Prime Minister Angela Merkel stated that this was an attack on freedom of thought and press, a core element of “our free democratic culture”. In a similar way, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council expressed his view that it was a brutal attack against “our fundamental values, freedom of speech, a part of our democracy”. In addition, Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, said, “We Europeans will always defend our values of press freedom and freedom of thought, tolerance and mutual respect.”

This discourse of “we Europeans” as the bearer of fundamental values as opposed to the unstated albeit latent “you inferiors, without values” has the potential of bringing about a resurgence of Huntingtonian arguments. Throughout history, Eastern and Western philosophers have always impacted one another. Therefore, attributing all the fundamental universal values just to “the Western civilization” does not contribute to global understanding.

As the whole of humanity passes through a critical period, “what to do in order to prevent mutual intolerance” is an important question that all individuals, decision-makers and societies should ask. First of all, we should recognize the fact that the chaos in the Middle East breeds the current wave of terrorism. To rethink ways of solving the Israeli-Palestinian issue would be an important step in addition to taking measures to stop Israeli violence perpetrated against Palestinians and the violence of terrorism perpetrated against Israelis. Second, international military interventions, as we have experienced in Afghanistan and Iraq, should not be repeated. Third, the problem of state failure in countries like Iraq and Syria should be solved. Fourth, the global “we” versus “they” discourse should be rethought and replaced by a more inclusive frame of reference. In the future, we will be discussing this issue of new actors and new challenges more than the classical notions of inter-state relations.

Demirtaş is an Assoc. Prof. Dr., TOBB University of Economics and Technology, Department of International Relations.

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JTW is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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