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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