In connection with the recent atrocities in Paris, Juan Cole has written an important piece on “sharpening the contradictions“, which Cole characterizes as a political strategy that may result in ordinary, generally decent people being co-opted by some very unsavory figures. As Cole puts it:
Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.
Therefore, Al-Qaeda may find themselves emboldened by the anti-Muslim bigotry that’s likely to spread as an unfortunate yet foreseeable consequence of the Paris attacks, and then the cycle repeats itself.
The underlying concept is found somewhat more broadly, in my view, and its effects may follow regardless of intent. It’s not necessary that Al-Qaeda (or whomever) intends to so organize people in service of their goals. If reactions to the attacks only help to further polarize Muslims and non-Muslims, rather than produce actual solidarity across religious and ethnic lines, their specific intention might not matter very much.
The concept is also reflected in the French phrase, les extrêmes se touchent1 — that extreme acts, and the extreme reactions that follow, can sometimes lead to similar ends.
You can help prevent yourself from being turned upside-down by simply considering the actual (not ideal) consequences of your action or inaction. Is your response to the outrageous acts of others likely to promote broad solidarity, or is it likely to further isolate large groups of people? And if it isolates large groups of people, what happens to those people? Are they left to be organized by some charlatan? And if so, what’s likely to happen to the people with whom you ostensibly once found some solidarity?
- “The extremes are touching.” ↩