Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

Even if we have difficulty grappling with complex and complicated notions, and even if we are ruled by an urge to divide the world into Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, Civilized and Barbaric, it is still necessary to turn an ear to the lessons of history.

A first lesson is that Good and Evil have no geographic relevance. Good exists in no greater quantity in Europe and America than in Asia and Africa, and the same goes for evil. In recent history, the West has on numerous occasions flirted with the forces of Evil to promote its interests, which should make us skeptical to claims of purity and goodness.

A second lesson is that the religious and cultural map that we have come up with in a bid to conveniently give locations to our ideas is too a product of biased fantasy. No matter what the Scriptures say, there has never been a religion that was purely benign. Similarly, no civilization in history has ever been virtuous and immaculate through and through. Our Greco-Roman legacy has its own failings simply because it was the product of history, not metaphysics.

So if we insist on treating history as a clash of civilizations, the conflict is not one between Western and Afro-Asian civilizations, or between the Christian and Muslim religions. The dividing line is between the culture of freedom, solidarity, tolerance and democracy on the one hand, and the culture of violence, intolerance, authoritarianism, religious zeal and theocracy on the other. The two camps are clear, but they have no relevance to geography or race. After all, how can one forget US President George Bush, a religious fundamentalist in spite of his Western background?

Among other things, the above was underscored in the massive demonstrations in France, a country which has once more drawn the eyes of the world as the locus of ideological fermentation. The crowds did not protest against a specific religion or race – after all, the demonstrators came from different races and religions. They did not demonstrate against refugees and migrants that supposedly threaten to Islamicize the West. Rather, they demonstrated against those who try to install fear while speaking and killing in the name of – absent or ignorant – gods. They protested against those who sow or exploit fear.

Demonstrators did not just carry “Je suis” signs, which could be interpreted as an indication of ephemeral emotional identification. Other signs carried the revolutionary slogans that have inspired generations of people across races and religions. “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” The one and only chapter of an ever-timeless gospel.