Why We Should Not Tolerate This New Barbarism

A person reads the latest issue of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015, after gunmen arm
A person reads the latest issue of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015, after gunmen armed with Kalashnikovs and a rocket-launcher opened fire in the offices of the weekly in Paris, killing at least 11. AFP PHOTO / BERTRAND GUAY (Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)

The barbarian and inhumane attack on innocent French journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo -- following incidents like the massacre in Peshawar, the killings of the innocent Yazidis by the Islamic State and the kidnapping of 172 women by Boko Haram in Nigeria -- have created a sense of alarm and fear of religious fanaticism.

Fear of religious fanaticism is nothing new in our world. What is new about all these attacks is that they have all taken the form of a new barbarism.

Taking the long and violent history of "the crooked timber of humanity" into account, Isaiah Berlin once said that the best we could hope for in a "common moral horizon" was what he called a "minimally decent" society.

But is even Berlin's minimal hope possible today? Is there any way to build a world of diversity and intercultural dialogue in the face of this new politics of universal hatred that renounces recognition of others?

Why is this departure from tolerance happening in a world of multiculturalism and global integration? Why this increasing division of the global village into fundamentalist camps shouting and killing each other?

All of us are seeking relief from various forms of frustration which globalization and the juxtaposition of cultures is bringing with it -- and which is feeding the rise of fundamentalism and transnational terrorism. But we cannot abide in any way the kind of response we saw in Paris.

Fanatics and fundamentalists have always rejected and struggled against each other. When fundamentalism seeks to enforce sectarianism through coercion and violence, it invariably leads to terrorism. When people believe that they have the absolute truth, they end up denying other people's existence. Then they can no longer distinguish the good from the evil and are thus unable to establish a modus vivendi among different values.

Finding a common ground can only work if we share enough to behave civilly. It goes without saying that though some Jews, Muslims, Christians and Hindus may be terrorists, no religion in the world, much less Islam, teaches terrorism or inspires anyone to kill innocent people.

It is the politicization of religion and its ideologization which is a great danger for peace and tranquility in our world. If fundamentalism, in all its different forms, is akin to violence in its mode of thinking and its methods of acting, it cannot expect to be recognized or tolerated by others. As German psychoanalyst Karen Horney observes, "one cannot step on people and be loved by them at the same time."

In the face of this explosion of barbarism -- born in the throes of the Arab Spring and in the wake of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the endless Israeli-Palestinian confrontation -- we cannot return to the politics of tyrants whose motto is no different than the fundamentalists: "to rule others unconditionally."

To be anti-barbarian in our time is to say "no" unconditionally to fanaticism -- not as tyrants or "avenging angels" who are intolerant in our own turn -- but by engaging in meaningful dialogue with anti-fanatic believers. Civilization is the cry of humanity in the face of barbarism.