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“They saw how great was his suffering”

November 2015 | ODN |

Reflection on the recent attack in Paris claimed by the Islamic State

 “Then they sat down upon the ground
with him seven days and seven nights,
but none of them spoke a word to him;
for they saw how great was his suffering.
Job 2, 13

This biblical text expresses well our feelings on learning the news of the attacks on Friday, November 13 in Paris claimed by the Islamic state. In the face of so much pain, there is only room for silence and the assurance that good is stronger than evil forces.

Undoubtedly, the suffering and the blood of so many innocent people in Paris and around the world caused by different players, calls us to work tirelessly for the defense of human dignity. It is the basis for other values such as freedom, justice, solidarity and compassion to become a reality in our world.

We must not cease in the effort to provide family and institutional education that develops critical awareness that enables the new generations to not fall into fanaticism or closed mindedness. We must educate in a way that provides elements for discernment and for choosing what is truly human. We must also provide an education of feelings, forming "thoughtful-feelers;" that is, persons who are capable of recognizing the other person is equal to me in dignity and rights, as well as fragile and vulnerable individuals who can only reach their full humanity in the measure that they establish relationships of acceptance and fraternity.

It is now urgent to become aware that the world is transformed and moved by gestures and acts of kindness and solidarity, and self-giving in gratitude. This we were taught by Jesus of Nazareth, the Bethlehem child pursued, the man who "went about doing good," the crucified and risen one.

With the desire to share elements that can help us understand this complex historical moment and to seek ways of humanization in our world, we refer to the article "A human enigma: violence for the sake of violence in the Islamic state" of Leonardo Boff found on Leonardo in Koinonia webpage.

A human enigma: violence for the sake of violence in the Islamic State

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is perhaps one of the most mysterious and sinister political developments of the last centuries. In the history of Brazil, as recounted by the researcher Evaristo de Miranda E. (When the Amazon flowed into the Pacific, Vozes 2007), unspeakable genocide took place. It was "perhaps one of the earliest and greatest genocides in the history of the Amazon and South America "(p. 53): a new cannibal tribe devoured all the first inhabitants of the coast, called sambaqueiros, who lived on the Atlantic coast of Brazil.

Something similar is happening with the Islamic State. It is a fundamentalist movement founded by various terrorist trends. On June 29, 2014 it declared itself a caliphate, trying to go back to the beginning of the emergence of Islam with Muhammad. The Islamic State claimed religious authority over the Muslim world in order to create a unified Islamic world to follow sharia (Islamic law) to the letter.

This is not the place to detail the complex formation of the Caliphate; Let's just remain with what leaves us confused, puzzled and shocked by the use of violence for the sake of violence as an identifying mark. Among the many studies of this phenomenon I wish to include the two Italians who lived this violence at close range: Domenico Quirico (The Great Caliphate 2015) and Maurcio Molinari (The Caliphate of Terror, Rizzoli 2015).

Quirico tells us that this is an exclusively male organization generally composed of people between 15 and 30 years of age. By adhering to the Caliphate they erase all of their past and assume a new identity: that of imposing the Islamic cause even unto death, given or received. Personal life and that of others is worthless. They draw a rigid line between pure (the radical Islamic trend) and impure (all others, also of other religions, including Christians, especially the Armenians). They torture, mutilate and kill without any qualms. You convent or you die, usually beheaded. Fighters kidnap and pass women to one another to be used as sex slaves. Murder is extolled as "an act directed to the purification of the world".

Molinari recounts how young people are initiated by watching a video about beheadings. They immediately ask to be beheaders. Some of the young people are recruited in the peripheries of European cities. Not only among the poor, but even those who are London graduates with good financial standing, and others in the Arab world. It seems that the thirst for blood demands more blood, and the cold, banal death of children, the elderly and all those who hesitate to adhere to Islam.

They are funded through the looting of all goods from conquered cities in Syria and Iraq. The capture of oil and gas wells are especially profitable, providing, according to analysts, a gain of nearly three million dollars a day. It is generally sold at much lower prices in Turkey markets.

The Islamic State rejects any dialogue and negotiation. The road has only one way: the violence of killing or dying.

It is a disturbing fact that raises the question of what is a human being and what he is capable of. It seems that all our utopias and dreams of goodness are annulled. In vain we seek answers from the theorists on human aggression: such as, Freud, Lorenz, Girard. We find their explanations inadequate.

For Freud, aggression is an expression of the drama of human life that is driven by the fierce struggle between the principle of life (Eros) and the principle of death (Thanatos). Tension is released when there is a purpose of self-fulfillment or protection. According to Freud it is impossible for humans to completely control the principle of death. Therefore, there will always be violence in society. But by law, education, religion, and generally, through culture, you can reduce its malice and control its perverse effects (cf. Para além do princípio do prazer, Collected Works. Rio de Janeiro: Imago, 1976).

For Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989), aggression is an instinct like the others, intended to protect life. But it has gained autonomy because reason has created a weapon by which a person or group strengthens its power and can thus impose it on others. A logic of violence has been created. The solution is to find substitutes; that is, return to the reason of dialogue. We must discover substitutes, like a sport, like democracy, critical self-control of an enthusiasm that leads to blindness and, hence, the elimination of others. But such disciplinary action does not apply to members of the Caliphate. However, Lorenz recognizes that deadly violence only disappears when humans are given, by other means, what they were trying to get through brute force (cf. Das sogenannte Böse: Zur Naturgeschichte der Aggression, Vienna 1964).

René Girard with his "negative mimetic desire" that leads to violence and the ongoing identification of "scapegoats" can become a "positive mimetic desire" when, instead of envy and pillaging the object of the other, we decide to share and enjoy it together. But for him, the violence in history is so predominant that it evokes an unfathomable mystery that he does not know how to decipher. And neither do we.

In history there are tragedies, as the Greeks saw in their theaters. Not everything is understood by reason. When a mystery is too large, it is better to be silent and look upward from where perhaps some light will come.