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More attacks expected

Interview: Stefan Dege / db
January 8, 2015

The Paris attackers had a clear message, according to Richard Traunmüller. Violence, however, is by no means a Muslim characteristic, the Frankfurt-based political scientist told DW.

Frankreich Anschlag auf Charlie Hebdo - Titelseiten in Deutschland
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

DW: The attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris coincided with the publication of a new novel by controversial French author Michel Houellebecq, who imagines France after an Islamic government takes power. Is it really a coincidence?

Richard Traunmüller: Such attacks are no longer isolated incidents. It appears the attackers were very familiar with French society and its debates. The satirical magazine has been under observance for a while. I'd say it stands to reason that it was no coincidence but calculated.

If it turns out Islamist extremists really were responsible for the attack - what do you think provoked them?

We're looking at two components where Islamist terrorism is concerned: for one, brute force is used to retaliate for the perceived violation of norms that result from their own convictions. Then, there are strategic goals. You always find these two components, the mental and the strategic, which presumably involves foreign policy goals.

Richard Traunmüller
Islam expert Richard TraunmüllerImage: privat

In the West, free media and the freedom of opinion are important goals. Is that what the terrorists were targeting?

In this case, yes!

Can we even openly criticize Islam any more?

Of course you can.

But should we?

The question is: what are the consequences?

Violent Islamists invoke religious reasons as being their motive. But terrorism is not a Muslim specialty.

It's certainly not a Muslim characteristic; however, you must take the perpetrators at their word. Obviously, we're not looking at vegetarians or creationists here. There was a clear message. At the same time, it is true that Islamist organizations have been highly active in recent years. Violence is not a unique Muslim feature, but it is part of the form of terrorism currently concerning and threatening us most of all.

Does that have anything to do with the fact that Islam is not a private affair? And if so, why is it that a religious ideology must also touch upon an entire society?

When was religion ever a private affair? That assumption doesn't do justice to any faith. All religions are familiar with the concept of proselytizing. If you possess the truth, you want to spread it. That's inherent in religion.

Does the Muslim side plead this ideological claim to power more intensely, more aggressively?

Currently, that's the case. But it can't be generalized. What's clear is that the groups we're dealing with today are intent on just that: to emphasize a political claim to power, if need be by resorting to violence. It's not a feature unique to Islam, but right now, that world religion is conspicuous for such behavior.

Do you expect further attacks?

It would be naive to believe that was the last attack.

What do you recommend to journalists and satirists?

Of course there's a risk, that's clear, and you may want to call it an occupational hazard. But there are also occupational ethics. In my opinion as a citizen, journalists should by no means run and hide.

Richard Traunmüller teaches political science at Frankfurt's Goethe University. For the Religion Monitor complied by Germany's Bertelsmann Foundation, he participated in a special section on Islam.

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