More from RELS 348: Empire, Colonialism, and Religion

Mark LeVine, professor of Middle Eastern History at the University of California argues in his article, “Why Charlie Hebdo Attack is not about Islam” January 10th, 2015 Mark Levine, Al Jazeera English,  that the factors underlying the incident in Paris run much deeper than religious beliefs alone. He reasons that the attack on the French magazine staff was not a radical reaction to the cartoon that portrayed the Muslim faith in a degrading manner, but rather it was the result of long-standing negative feelings rooted in the problem of colonization. LeVine maintains that this type of violence should not shock Western countries, because is predictable and inevitable. He points out that two of the attackers were from Algeria and one from Senegal, both African countries torn apart by colonization. LeVine shares important historical facts that support his conclusion such as France’s invasion of Algeria in 1830 that resulted in over a century of exploitation and violence towards the country and its people. The struggle to end colonial rule in Algeria cost over 100 million lives of the indigenous people. LeVine contends that French rule in other parts of Africa was even more costly to human lives when the impact of the slave trade is considered.

LeVine suggests that post-colonial independence of Algeria continued to be influenced by France’s support of corrupt and authoritarian rulers. In the 1990’s another 100,000 Algerian lives were lost through an internal war aided by France through weapons and money. LeVine holds that the wounds of foreign domination and post-colonial dictatorships are difficult to heal and account for many of the incidents that Western nations refer to as acts of terrorism. LeVine reasons that France, who sells billions of weapons to support countries that practice the opposite of “liberty, equality and fraternity,” needs to consider its own role in these attacks.

In examining the introductions to the three novels of this course it is clear that colonialism has had a significant impact throughout history on many cultures in the world, which the impact continues to be felt today. Originally, religion was one of the primary factors that aided the spread of colonization, but over time it became an excuse to continue the harm and exploitation of indigenous peoples in order to gain control of resources. In other words, religion was used to justify crimes against humanity, just as the Muslim extremists do today. A century or more ago when colonization began indigenous people were not considered human beings based on the ethnocentric view of the time. Although we like to believe that we have evolved in our views to include concepts of equality and social justice if one were to examine the myriad of events over the last decade as countries continue to fight for power and control for resources it would seem that we really have not come very far. As LeVine suggest we really should not be surprised by events like the Charlie Hebdo Attack.



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