Charlie Hebdo, terrorism and identity

[Image Source: Sky News]

Some will probably know that I have been interested in issues of identity formation, adoption and social identity for quite some time now. While this is not the time or place to engage in a long discussion of the factors of Tajfelian Social Identity Theory, I think that the issues we are facing now interact strongly.

Many of the statements and  rhetoric surrounding the Charlie Hebdo and subsequent incidents have focused strongly on a type of positive-negative asymmetry, where pejoratively denouncing the other while reinforcing ingroup bias comes as a priority for group identification. The problem is that these reinforcing mechanisms tend to make constructive discourse harder to engage in, as it is driving at the heart of the group identification. The rhetorics of #jesuischarlie, #jesuisahmed and the ‘We don’t condone such actions’   foster such identity dichotomies.

However, I am somewhat heartened by articles such as this one from the Telegraph:

Instead, they [extremists] merely pretend to be offended by cartoons, in order to give themselves a pretext to commit murder. Murder so horrifying, on a pretext so unWestern, that non-Muslims – blinded by grief and rage – turn on Muslims. Blame them. Persecute them. Burn their book, attack their mosques, threaten them in the street, demand their expulsion from Western societies. Actions that, in turn, scare Western Muslims, isolate them, alienate them. And thus drive some of them to support – and even become – terrorists.

While I think that the strong reaction to ignore religious and social differences in many of these articles (this one trends in that direction) is unhelpful. I do think that considering and engaging with some of the underlying social and identity motivating factors, especially in a diachronic fashion, is required. Perhaps this is a good place to start…

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