Responsibility for terrorist acts

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Terrorist acts, either those that emerged in France and targeted the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo or those that transpired and continue to ensue in Egypt and other countries, instigate social, political and cultural debates regarding the responsibility for such terrorist acts.

In their attempts to explain the reasons behind terrorist operations and the causes of their production, a number of researchers, observers and specialists in issues pertaining to society, political Islam, radicalism and terrorism, argue that there exists a multitude of sources behind the production of terrorism and that such sources are distributed throughout the cultural, ideological and political environments in the Middle East; the stagnation of authoritarian infrastructures and their inability to actualise countries of citizens without discrimination between sects, races and faiths; the inability to come out from the past with its legacy and culture and enter the horizons of the new era and its respective culture; the policies of the super powers which took part in and encouraged radicalism and terrorism to secure political gains; the stagnation of the international system, the lack of justice between its members, its double standards and its sidelining of the Islamic and non-Western world. This logic also comprises the regional environment and the rise of Islamic Iran and its urgent and permanent alliances with either Shi’a or Sunni political groups.

Surely, this variability of the sources that mold terrorism and the fact that a number of parties carry responsibility for the production of radicalism do not function as excuses for the terrorists and murderers nor do they serve as justifications for villainous terrorist operations that target innocents. The variability does not in any way seek to alleviate the crime that was committed by these terrorists. What it rather targets, first and foremost, is a comprehensive and thorough diagnosis regarding the problems of terrorism and radicalism; to initialize a depletion of these sources and introduce policy reforms that can cripple the ability to nurture terrorism and mold a ripe environment for its growth and proliferation. Moreover, it also seeks to arrive at a set of conclusions and recommendations that can stand in the way of terrorism and interrupt the latter’s investment in apertures on the national, regional or international levels.

In the science of criminology, sociologists look into the social origins of crime and the cultural and sociological environments that participated in the production of the perpetrator and the crime committed. Some of these sociologists assert that the criminal is usually a victim of society and that it is therefore crucial to reform society, methods, and the family in addition to employing other sociological policies to curtail the production of crime and its perpetrators. That said, these discussions do not mitigate the crime that was committed by the wrongdoer or exempt him from responsibility for his criminal acts. He receives punishment for the crime he has committed and there are sometimes exceptions when a court can alleviate the punishment if it is convinced that the criminal’s background and conditions might have pushed him to commit such a crime.

From here, the responsibility of the terrorist act is carried by whoever committed it, planned for it and whoever took part in its perpetration; for the crime, punishment and responsibility for it are all carried by the individual. The truth is that if we are to talk about the recent terrorist act that targeted France, it is not possible to hold Muslim communities in France and across Europe accountable for these criminal acts, especially that the communities and their leaders had taken the initiative and condemned this operation, disavowed it and took part in the huge rally that denounced this crime.

Regardless of this, we cannot ignore the sociological, political and cultural backgrounds that pushed two youth – the Kouachi brothers – to commit this terrible crime. They are third-generation immigrants in France. They were born and raised there, receiving their education in its schools and carrying its nationality. Despite that, they carried within them an antagonism towards the country as well as towards their fellow French citizens regardless of agreement or disagreement with the latter’s professional practices and the extent of their morality. This introduces a number of questions regarding the policies of assimilation in French society, how the French people perceive these Muslim communities, and the truth of marginalisation, exclusion, segregation and surveillance that these communities are always subjected to within France and other European countries.

Despite this, shedding light on some of these questions does not translate into finding excuses for these criminal acts or toning down the crime. I repeat this a number of times to make absolutely clear this perspective. The criminal’s responsibility for their terrorist act is one thing, and searching for reasons, backgrounds and foundations that underpin the production of terrorism is another.