Letter to those who are drawn to or worried about the violent Jihad


  1. Many young people discover the Koran and are inspired by it when preparing for their futures. For them it could be a return to or conversion to Islam.
  2. Several of them go on to become caught up in a new type of global armed conflict, different from the world wars of the twentieth century, and they are aware that some of their fellow combatants, who may or may not be suicidal, can undermine an entire country.

According to them, they want to be part of an Islam which defies all infidels, all those who do not wish, or no longer wish, to be Muslims.

Should Islam be feared?

  1. There are currently approximately 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, i.e. almost 25% of the global population. Their average fertility rate – approximately 7 or 8 children per female – far exceeds the reproduction rate of societies which is approximately 2.0. This demographic advantage is such that future « world Islamization » may be anticipated.
A strength of Islam

A strength of Islam

Should Islam and its potential world dominance therefore be feared? In any case, the birth rate is far from being Islam’s only trump card. In this letter I will briefly explain how Islam could be perceived as possessing a genuine global revolutionary strength, the beginnings of which could be the human mobilizations of what has been labeled the « Arab Spring »[1].


The naive « Stop-Jihadism » initiative

  1. Several internet surfers laughed in the face of the deadly attacks on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, some of them belonging to or being drawn to the Islamic movement or, more specifically, one of its most radical strands: Jihadism. The French government therefore decided to launch an internet anti-Jihadism campaign. However, most young people drawn to Jihadism will refute arguments point by point, often simply roaring with laughter.

Let’s see how and why.

  1. The Stop-Jihadism message which is made up of images and texts begins as follows: « They say to you: sacrifice yourself to us, you will be defending a just cause. In reality, you will discover hell on Earth and die alone far away from home ».
The Stop-Jihadism campaign: fair or unfair?

The Stop-Jihadism campaign:           fair or unfair?

  1. It is easy to see that the message simplifies and distorts reality because, for example, if one speaks of sacrifice, it is to be expected that it will not be a pleasant journey but a commitment. If you are drawn to Jihadism, in this message you will see an additional reason to sacrifice yourself to what you see as a fair but belittled cause.


  1. In order to get through to you and potentially convince you to renounce this cause, it is essential that you are treated with more empathy.


Empathy and inclusion

  1. Let’s look at the case of a young woman who might hear one of the messages given in the stop-Jihadism video: « They say to you: Come and start a family with one of our heroes. In reality, you will raise your children in war and terror ». But for this woman, staying where she is could represent an attempt to restore meaning to a world and a future in which she no longer believes, not without reason.
The Stop-Jihadism campaign: simplification of reality

The Stop-Jihadism campaign: simplification of reality

  1. Empathy, in this context, means putting oneself in someone else’s shoes, seeing things from their perspective and understanding the meaning that he or she attributes to his or her actions. In this case, being empathetic means seeing eye to eye with them, whenever possible, wherever they are, understanding them, as much as possible, like they understand themselves. It would therefore seem that the Stop-Jihadism campaign is not showing empathy towards young people drawn to Jihadism.


 The extreme difficulty of being empathetic in a conflict situationIn many wars, two groups are mutually violent towards one another, not because one is fair and the other is unfair, but because they each want to defend themselves against those they perceive as a threat to their own existence or development. In war an ordinary soldier does not have the intention of killing for killing’s sake; he kills because his intention is to act as a soldier for his country which happens to be threatened or suppressed by its enemies. And that is exactly how it is on both sides. For example, in religious wars, the other side can only be the « baddies » who violate the lives of the « goodies », as this is what our religion teaches us.

Difficult empathy

Difficult empathy

However, it should be recognized that the other group sees things in an entirely symmetrical manner: they believe that they are fair and that their enemies are unfair. Make no mistake: this kind of reversal of perspective is extremely difficult to put into practice when one is experiencing violent conflict.

10.   The case of the Jihadist Mohamed Merah (Toulouse, 1988 – Toulouse, 2012)

Perceived in France as a « Franco-Algerian Islamic terrorist who committed the Toulouse and Montauban shootings in March 2012 » (Wikipedia), reversing the perspective, Mohamed Merah was instead a young French man who wanted to cut ties with his country of birth, in a situation with no meaning, to become a Jihadist, in his own words an « al-Qaeda fighter », feared by many and admired by many others…

Mohamed Merah

Mohamed Merah

11.   The columnist Paul Sheehan blamed Tariq Ramadan for treating Mohamed Merah as a victim when, according to Sheehan, he is a « child killer ». In fact, Tariq Ramadan wrote that Mohamed Merah was a « citizen deprived of true dignity ». He particularly attempted to understand Merah’s actual intentions as he understood them, which Paul Sheehan deliberately did not do.


The Arab Spring

12.   The prominent events of the Arab Spring started on 17 December 2010 in Tunisia. From the start, the repeated demands were the removal of dictators, the establishment of an authentic democracy and the possibility of living in respect and dignity (« karama », كرامة, in Arabic), and not seeking guilty parties, be they Americans or other Westerners.

It is a unique revolution. The participants, the majority of whom were practicing Muslims, used non-violent protest methods. The protests were clash free,, according to the Arabic watchword selmiyye (« peacefully »), and the unarmed protesters encountered live ammunition from police. The mass mobilizations of the Arab Spring were different from what had been seen before that point. Of course, they have been enabled by the use of new information technologies and communications. They are also, and above both apolitical and non-ideological. They had no known leadership. They were not targeted against the United States or Israel, and even less so against the West. With their slogan « Free! « , they were far removed from the burnt flags of the crowds shouting « Vengeance!  » In brief, it boiled down to a demand for freedom and respect, expressed with extraordinary determination.

Arab Spring Mobilization

Arab Spring Mobilization

13.   This empathetic revolution spread just about everywhere in the Arab world, particularly in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, each time showing solidarity to the first, in Tunisia.

It then spread to the non-Arab world, to Spain, Albania, Iran, etc. including Quebec, where it was called « Maple Spring ». The basic demands regarding dignity for individuals were the same, as were the original communication means. But it was primarily in the Arab and Muslim world that the movement began and that is where it has been most significant.

Maple Spring (22 March 2012)

Maple Spring (22 March 2012)

14.   As the Arab Spring did not target any guilty party in particular, it contrasts remarkably with the plots to destroy Islam, conspiratorial countries being Christian « crusader » countries and their Jewish and Zionist allies in Israel. It is a kind of movement that tends not to exclude any outsiders, which assumes empathy not only with the individual members of its own group, but also with others in general.

These new community mobilizations are consistent with the attitude of Tariq Ramadan, who represents a new way of understanding and including young Jihadists by attributing their wrongdoings to their honest yet deceitful intentions, rather than to their fundamental perversity.


The expansion of the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring represents a new revolution to which Islam has the key, so to speak. And yet, on several points, it presents itself as similar to the French Revolution which spread to many other countries, after France.


Why primarily in Arab-Muslim countries?

15.   At the time of the first Islamic jihad, young Islam stood out with its extraordinary social and religious expansion, although through a war of conquest. After the death of the prophet Mohamed, the first caliphs of Islam, Abou Bakr Assidîq and then Omar ibn al-Khattâb began a meteoric expansion of Islam over the period between 632-644, with an army of young people to confront the two major Byzantine and Sassanid empires, one Christian and the other Zoroastrian. What were the strengths of Islam at that time? Do they feature in the Arab Spring revolutions of today?

One of the strengths of Islam is that, since its beginnings, it has claimed to have egalitarian ideology, i.e. without the involvement of an absolute hierarchy between individuals who are treated as equally as possible in relation to others. Furthermore, Islam has demonstrated great flexibility in adapting to various local cultures, which implies strong communication with others.

The strength of IslamThe internet has helped to demonstrate the inclusive characteristics of Islam, which go hand in hand with the cognitive empathy already characteristic of Islam since its first mass historical Jihad. New communication technologies are a preferred method of recognizing individuals and their respective cultures throughout the world. Because of this, Muslim-Arab countries were the first to use them to launch a process capable of including them all. It is important that those who feel drawn to violent Jihad (or Jihadism) are made aware of the true strength of Islam.



Yvon Provençal (february 2015)

Ph.D. in philosophy (University of Montreal)

Philosophy lecturer associated with the Cégep de Granby




References to bibliographic sources and comments


As a philosophy lecturer in Quebec and as a researcher, I was responsible for informing young male and female citizens of the fundamental challenges facing Quebec society and world societies in general. The publication of this letter is part of a cohesive set of educational tools which were made possible by new internet communication methods. More specifically, it is « education acting on the world » (in French, “pédagogie agissant sur le monde”, a « PAM« ; see l’Agorathèque).

  1. Wording taken from the website « L’islam au quotidien » (AJIB.fr) « A video designed to scare? » AJIB| published on 17 October 2012 by Oum Michket:

« The website reports on a video about the expansion of Islam: « … we are contributing to the Islamization of the world. […] Several comparisons are made between European fertility rates and those of people from immigrant backgrounds. For example, according to the documentary the French fertility rate is 1.8 (2007) and the « Muslim » fertility rate is 8.1. The same comparison is made for other European countries (England, Russia, Germany, Belgium) always with the same conclusion: due to the number of children born from this « Muslim immigration », Europe will be Muslim, to the detriment of Christianity. According to the documentary, one French person in five will be Muslim by 2027. According to the video, Islam will be the world’s primary religion within five to seven years. It also raises the issue of the ongoing, and future, decline of the Christian church. … Finally, the narrator invites « believers » to try to spread « the Gospel message throughout the world ». « This is a call to action » is the closing phrase of this short film.  » The L’Islam au quotidien website, AJIB.fr, is dedicated to Islam current affairs and Muslims in France.


The naive « Stop-Jihadism » initiative

  1. Lucie Ronfaut and Benjamin Ferran, « Sur Internet, la liberté d’expression à l’épreuve du terrorisme » [On the internet, freedom of expression is proof against terrorism] Le figaro.fr, 12 Jan. 2015.


  1. Stop-Jihadism campaign:http://www.stop-djihadisme.gouv.fr/

Empathy and inclusion

  1. Stop-Jihadism campaign:http://www.stop-djihadisme.gouv.fr/
  2. Technically, the empathy in question here is cognitive empathy, a concept that psychology researchers recently created. They define it as the ability to truly understand the mental states of others, without necessarily approving of them. It would appear to have the potential to revolutionize research into ethics and human sciences in general.                                                                                                                                            J. Decety. (2002). Naturaliser l’empathie [Empathy naturalized]. L’Encéphale, 28, 9-20.

Iain King. (2008). How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time: Solving the Riddle of Right and Wrong. According to Iain King, ethics is based on steadfast empathy towards others.

Nota bene: Iain King’s philosophy was then criticized by Geoff Crocker who described his method of solving moral dilemmas as simplistic (An Enlightened Philosophy: Can an Atheist Believe Anything? by Geoff Crocker, 2010). Indeed, the problem as posed by Iain King seems to omit the ethical decision as such, i.e. the decision taken by an independent person.

Michael Slote. (2007). The Ethics of Care and Empathy, Oxford University Press, 2007

Marjanovic, Zdravko; Struthers, Greenglass (August 8, 2011). « Who Helps Natural-Disaster Victims? Assessment of Trait and Situational Predictors ».Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy 12 (1): 245–267.

S.D. Hodges & K.J. Klein. 2001. « Regulating the costs of empathy: the price of being human », Journal of Socio-Economics, vol. 30, p. 438.

R. Vischer. (2009).Über das optische Formgefühl, ein Beitrag zur Ästhetik(« Le sentiment optique de la forme, Contribution à l’esthétique » [The optical sentiment of shape, Contribution to aesthetics]), Julius Oscar Galler, 1873. French translation, Maurice Elie, Aux origines de l’Empathie, [Origins of Empathy], Éditions Ovadia, 2009, p. 57-100.

There is at least one author who manages to practice this cognitive empathy towards Jihadists and their enemies. This is Tariq Ramadan, known for his personal involvement as a mediator between the Western and Islamic worlds and for his research into Islamology and philosophy.

The originality of the concept of cognitive empathyCognitive empathy sometimes involves defending what seems indefensible. The problem largely resides in the status that is given to the intention of a human when they direct their actions. Let us take the case of the punishment of stoning that some Muslims deem to be fair and obligatory in some cases, like for example, adultery. Tariq Ramadan is greatly opposed to this torture like any corporal punishment, and more generally, the death sentence, but he is of the opinion that one cannot judge those who practice it without taking the context into account.Tariq Ramadan therefore demands, logically, that these practices are not condemned in an abstract manner, without taking their underlying intentions into account. This is why he states: « Muslim countries take these texts very seriously […] it is not enough to condemn to move things along […] we must open the debate and find a method of education […] My position is a total end to corporal punishment.  » His appeal for a method of education implies that Tariq Ramadan believes that these punishments are proof of a kind of ignorance or blindness, and not a lack of goodwill.From a socio-cultural and religious perspective, cognitive empathy allows these believers to be understood and to be included among humans who need to be helped rather than condemned.


Take the intention into account when it is genuine

  1. The Muslim preaching society Tablighi Jamaat emphasizes the importance of taking genuine intentions into account. Moussa Khedimellah. (2001). « Jeunes prédicateurs du mouvement Tabligh : la dignité identitaire retrouvée par le puritanisme religieux ?  » [Young preachers of the Tabligh movement: identity dignity restored by religious puritanism?] http://socio-anthropologie.revues.org/155. The Tablighi Jamaat preaching society, in French « l’Association pour la prédication« , bases its practices on six qualities shared by the comrades of Mohamed. One of these has particular significance here. This is the « correction of the intention and sincerity »(Tashih al niya oua ikhlasouha), which can mean: ensure that your intention is genuine towards other Muslims. In other words, the intention of doing or not doing something must be taken into account regardless of the consequences.


Tariq Ramadan was accused of doublespeak by both sides, one because he said he was opposed to stoning, and the other because he supports those who practice it, by refusing to condemn them. In fact, his message is highly original and it is difficult to fully understand the meaning and the implications.

Tariq Ramadan caused a scandal in relation to the moratorium for which he appealed for the enforcement of the punishment of stoning: « I demand a moratorium so that the enforcement of these punishments be stopped in the Muslim world. The most important thing is to change mentalities. This requires an educational approach.  » He initially made this statement during his famous duel with Nicolas Sarkozy, on the program  » 100 Minutes pour convaincre » [100 Minutes to convince] on 20 November 2003. He later went on to abandon the idea of a moratorium, but his general objectives remain the same. (Wikipedia, « Tariq Ramadan »)


See Aziz Zemouri. (2005). Should Tariq Ramadan be silenced?, Édition l’Archipel, p. 65-71.

Without ceasing to be oneself one tries to agree with others as an intelligent, but ultimately different, person. It is therefore a case of attempting to fully include others with your reasons, your motivations and your way of understanding others.

10.   The case of the Jihadist Mohamed Merah.

See Wikipedia article: « Mohamed Merah »

Tariq Ramadan, “The lesson of Mohamed Merah”, Abc religion and ethics updated 26 mar 2012; first posted 23 Mar 2012). “The story of Mohamed Merah holds up a mirror to the face of France: he ends up a jihadi without real conviction, after having been a citizen deprived of true dignity”. http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/03/23/3462587.htm

Paul Sheehan, “It’s wrong to make victim of child killer”, Sydney Morning Herald columnist, 29 March 2012: “Professor Ramadan portrayed him as a frustrated, adrift, distressed, non-racist, non-political, non-religious Frenchman. A murderer of children becomes a victim.”


An intolerable relativism?

The concept of cognitive empathy goes hand in hand with a form of moral relativism that some could deem to be scandalous.  For my part, I think that this is not the case here and that the reader will be better equipped to judge my reasons after he or she has familiarized themselves with these two texts: « The Nazis » (2007) (http://agoratheque.yprovencal.profweb.ca/?page_id=1594) and « Lettre aux juifs d’ici, d’Israël ou d’ailleurs » [Letter to Jews here, in Israel or elsewhere] (2013) (http://agoratheque.yprovencal.profweb.ca/?page_id=3580)

11.   It would be wrong to see Tariq Ramadan’s discourse as only being empathetic towards Muslims. In fact, he is also capable of cognitive empathy towards Westerners. Addressing Muslims as citizens of a European country, he urges them to free themselves from the constant role of victim and empower themselves. In this way, he tells them, don’t accuse others of being « Islamophobic » or « racist », thereby justifying their own passiveness; they must « engage as citizens and fight against injustice, racism, discrimination, populist views of stigmatization and hypocrisy.  »

Tariq Ramadan and, through him, Islam breaches the wall of all punitive morality. However, cognitive empathy is not only used to support genuine human beings; it is capable of revolutionizing societies.

Tariq Ramadan. (2009). Mon intime conviction, [What I believe] p. 88.

The Arab Spring

12.   The Arab Spring started with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi(محمد البوعزيزي), real name Tarek Bouazizi (طارق البوعزيزي), born on 29 March 1984 in Sidi Bouzid (Tunisia) and who died on 4 January 2011 in Ben Arous.

It seems that this type of suicide represents the ultimate demand for recognition by and for the individual.

Mondher Kilani interview by Abdelafidh Abdeleli, « Tunisie, Egypte: la rupture non violente » [Tunisia, Egypt: non-violent rupture], Swissinfo, published on 1 April 2011, consulted on 21 May.

Philippe DROZ-VINCENT, « PRINTEMPS ARABE ou RÉVOLUTIONS ARABES  » [ARAB SPRING or ARAB REVOLUTIONS], Encyclopædia Universalis [online], consulted on 13 February 2015. URL: http://www.universalis.fr/encyclopedie/printemps-arabe-revolutions-arabes/

13.   « Les troubles dans le monde arabe depuis la révolution tunisienne » [Troubles in the Arab world since the Tunisian revolution], onL’Orient-le Jour,‎ 31 January 2011.

Duncan Green, « What caused the revolution in Egypt?  « , The Guardian, published on 17 February 2011, consulted on 21 February.


Hanaa Al-Mekkawi, « Les Egyptiennes aussi font leur révolution » [The Egyptians also have their revolution], Al Ahram Hebdo, no. 865, 6-12 April 2011, consulted on 11 April 2011.

14.   Jarret Brachman. (2008).Global jihadism: theory and practice, Jarret Brachman,Taylor & Francis, p. 11.  See Wikipedia:        The primary principle of Jihadism is that there is a plot to destroy Islam and that conspiratorial countries are Christian « crusader » countries  » and their Jewish and Zionist allies in Israel. For the Kuwaiti theorist of Jihadism Hamid al-Ali(EN), Shiites must be added to these enemies of Jihadism .

One question must be asked straightaway. Why did this universal peaceful protest movement against authority start and develop in Arab-Muslim countries? The question is more embarrassing as it is often presented alongside the perception of a narrow-minded, intolerant, misogynous, barbaric Islam.

Democratic revolutions historically occur in Western countries like England, the United States or France. In the case of the Arab Spring, these revolutions started and produced profound changes first and foremost in Arab-Muslim countries, Tunisia and Egypt.

15.   Robert Mantran, (member of the Institute, emeritus professor at Provence-Aix-Marseille-I University), « Islam (History) – De Mahomet à la fin de l’Empire ottoman » [Islam (History) – From Mohamed to the end of the Ottoman empire], Encyclopædia Universalis [online], consulted on 6 February 2015, and that of Mohamed Arkoun, Penser l’islam aujourd’hui [Thinking Islam today], Algeria: Laphomic ENAL, 1993.

Muslim respect for other cultures remains fragmented, particularly with respect to its iconoclasm. However, Christianity also practiced iconoclasm, which now seems a characteristic of monotheism rather than Islam as it stands.

Muslim expansion has also been the medium for the teaching of civilization across the continents. Arabic, which has become the common language of the converted, has also acquired the status of universality, therefore a language suitable for conveying philosophical or literary concepts, and developments in science, which for Arab philosophers implies an understanding similar to that which a teacher has of their subject. The Arabs therefore built the bridge between the ancient knowledge of the Greeks and the scholars of the European Renaissance. This represented a significant transfer of knowledge, particularly in mathematics and astronomy, thereby allowing the birth and development of Western civilization.

On Sharia

One of the obstacles to the global expansionist revolution is quite obvious however: is Sharia not a regressive law which goes against freedom and democracy? It is in fact the opposite. Here, I’ll give the floor to Tariq Ramadan:


What is Sharia?Sharia is neither a « system » nor a « body of closed Islamic laws », but rather the « Path of loyalty to the objectives of Islam », which are to protect life, dignity, justice, equality, peace and nature. All the laws which are compatible with these objectives are, according to Tariq Ramadan, « my sharia applied in my society » even if this is not predominantly Muslim or if these laws were not thought up by and produced by Muslim scholars. Je suis dans la Voie puisque ces lois me permettent d’être fidèle à ses objectifs fondamentaux et donc d’être fidèle au message et aux principes de l’islam.  » [I am on the Path since these laws allow me to be faithful to its fundamental objectives and therefore to be faithful to the message and principles of Islam.]Tariq Ramadan. (2009). Mon intime conviction, [What I believe], p. 86.

This Muslim philosopher therefore views the Muslim citizen as being interested in all issues in society which involve the entire population, both Muslim and non-Muslim, such as social issues, education, unemployment and work, delinquency, urban violence, the activities of political parties, international relations, etc. Muslims should, in the context of their own circumstances, be concerned about understanding the factors which push young people to adopt extremist interpretations of religion, and even sometimes engage in acts of violence. Arranged marriages, circumcision and honor crimes are not Islamic, but are related to local cultures which differ from one another. Ramadan appears to be the most empathetic towards women when he says that men must accept the fact that « guaranteeing freedom for women means accepting that she can make a choice that one understands or another that one does not understand ».

Reading the Koran therefore leads to respecting tradition in its fundamental sense without necessarily seeking to make it agree with rationalist or scientific philosophy. What is important is that Muslims do not attach themselves to a literal reading of the Koran but that they also take the current context of Islamic laws and traditions into account.

From this perspective, nothing is preventing sharia from being in « empathetic » harmony with the rights and freedoms of humans in general as recognized in Human Rights charters, and especially from agreeing with other societies, whether they are Muslim or not.

Tariq Ramadan. (2009). Mon intime conviction, [What I believe], p. 86-87, 89, 95, 97.

Talk by Tariq Ramadan: « Réponses aux critiques de prétendus salafîs » [Responses to critics of « Salafis »]: http://tariqramadan.com/blog/2006/08/14/reponses-aux-critiques-de-pretendus-salafis/. Tariq Ramadan. (2009). Mon intime conviction, [What I believe] p. 88.



[1] All references to information sources, accompanied by explanations and comments, are listed at the end of this letter.