The painful lesson of ‘Charlie Hebdo’

Why people radicalize
PostedJanuary 14, 2015, in  Step 8: sustainable society
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#CharlieHebdo and #JeSuisCharlie: since Wednesday January 7, 2015 these hashtags are worldwide trending topics. They are a symbol for freedom of speech, for democracy itself. The bloody terrorist attack on the editorial team of Charlie Hebdo has led to sadness, astonishment, anger and fear. Understandable reactions, but we must not forget the question ‘why?’ Because therein lies the key to a safer world.   


The attack was the work of the brothers Chérif Kouachi (32) and Saïd Kouachi (34). They were born in France as sons of Algerian immigrants. There was no question of radicalism in their youth. Quite the opposite: Chérif drank alcohol, smoked pot and wanted to make a career as a rapper. Around the year 2000 that changed. Due to a radical imam the boys landed on the path of the jihad. How did that happen? Why was that imam so successful?  

Holy war

What’s crucial is the fact that the higher objective of the jihad offered perspective: it gave direction and therefore purpose to life. From disadvantaged boys to soldiers in a holy war: jihadists find the right to exist, self-respect and pride in their fight. What’s more, they believe they will be rewarded in the afterlife for their sacrifices, which means they are prepared to use extreme violence. There is no excuse for the attack on Charlie Hebdo, but we mustn’t turn a blind eye to the truth: the lack of perspective is an important breeding ground for fundamentalism.  

Ideal image

Since the French Revolution liberté (freedom), égalité (equality) and fraternité (brotherhood) have been celebrated in France. What is left of those ideals in 2015? France is a free country, a democracy where the citizen has the right to freedom of speech. However things are not going so well for ‘equality’: the differences between rich and poor are only increasing and for the most part ethnic differences seem to be deepening. If you grow up in a banlieue (poor suburb), it is very difficult to break out. Needless to say that ‘brotherhood’ is mostly an ideal image.   

A job and a house

The situation in France is not unique: all across Western society similar problems are playing out. Not because people are different, but because people are treated differently. In the core it is not about religion, but about socio-economic circumstances. A better society starts with a job and a house. If you live a good life, you will not radicalize.   

From ego to eco

Western society is ready for a deep innovation of all systems: social, economic, financial and cultural. For example, by choosing for integrated reporting and the tax on commodities instead of capital. A sustainable society is not just good for the planet, but more specifically for ourselves: it is the way to a liveable society. We don’t just need the pen, we need a mirror too. We have to move from ‘ego’ to ‘eco’, because if we don’t then it’s just a question of time before the next crisis.        

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PostedJanuary 14, 2015, in Step 8: sustainable society
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