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Answering terrorism

16 January 2015

IF TERRORISTS force people to change their behaviour, then they have succeeded. If residents avoid certain areas (Birmingham not being one, despite what Fox News viewers heard), or tourists think twice about visiting, the terrorists have succeeded. If suspicion of a particular ethnic or religious group is engendered, and leads to antagonism and alienation, then the terrorists have succeeded. In the West today, despite the assurances of politicians, including those who attended the rally in Paris on Sunday, we must recognise that this is the case. Suspicion of Muslims is widespread. Public figures and buildings have been given enhanced security. Everyone who travels, particularly by air, is subject to time-consuming checks. Most seriously, parts of North Africa and the Middle East are awash with refugees, driven from their homes by terrorism on a far greater scale than that experienced here. The response by European nations, especially the UK, has been to tighten border controls as much as possible.

Our first statement must be qualified, therefore. Since this partial victory has been awarded to the terrorists, in Paris and elsewhere, people must change their behaviour in one way, at least. The qualities of respect, tolerance, and acceptance can no longer be assumed to happen by default, but must be pursued and promoted actively. This does not depend on the growth of secularism, or the coming of the Enlightenment within Islamic societies. These values are at the core of the Abrahamic faiths, and Muslim scholars attest to this repeatedly whenever there is an atrocity by people - invariably non-scholars - who believe otherwise. The suggestion by one of our correspondents ( Letters) that we instigate a week of prayer for peace and unity with and among Muslims has much to recommend it.

This will not happen overnight. The centuries of Western imperialism and, more recently, an uncritical support of Israel have left a residue of suspicion and animosity among Arabic Muslims which will be hard to dissolve. It has been suggested that the Kouachi brothers, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo murders, were susceptible to radicalisation because of the violent record of French colonialists in Algeria, their country of origin. The damage caused by history is in greater need of repair than that caused by religion, although, of course, the two were linked.

A word about this page: we invited our cartoonists to respond to last week's murders at Charlie Hebdo. It was not our policy to carry representations of Muhammad before last week's attacks, out of respect for Muslim believers, and we saw no reason to change this in response to the Paris murders.

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