The “piecemeal Third World War” described by Pope Francis broke out on September 11, 2001

Al Qaeda’s attacks in the United States disclosed it to the whole world. Since then, terrorism became a typical phenomenon of our times, a concern that breaks into our lives on a daily basis, a thread that binds us to that event and contributes to transforming the past years into an extended present. Since then, Western governments’ consideration of Islam, along the attitude of with public opinion, has radically changed. Our relationship with Islam will continue topping the public agenda as well as individual concerns for the coming years.

Fifteen years have already passed since the day framed in the memory of many Western citizens as an event that occurred last month. Those who in 2001 followed international politics will remember that at the time public debate focused almost entirely on economic globalization. The G8 in Genoa had taken place a few months before and ten years after the end of the Cold Way political analysts were seeking an equally simple – albeit different – interpretative key, in order to find a meaning to the international system as a whole. Politics, and war in particular, were thought doomed to disappear from the large global arena. The civil wars and ethnic conflicts of the 1990s had been tragic, unfortunate incidents, but the general trend, although not openly declared, was to consider them local episodes.

Many failed to realize that having blown the lid off, the civil debate between the two superpowers had reached a boiling point.

Economic inequalities, political discrimination, ethnic conflicts, dictatorships and corrupt regimes, all contributed to the disintegration of the international political system, while trade and investment flows tended to keep it connected in economic and financial terms.
The “piecemeal World War III”, accurately defined by Pope Francis, had already broken out fifteen years ago. The Al Qaeda attacks in the United States disclosed it to the whole world. Since then, terrorism became a typical phenomenon of our times, a concern that breaks into our lives on a daily basis, a thread that binds us to that event and contributes to transforming the past years into an extended present.
Since 2001, Western governments’ consideration of Islam, along with the attitude of public opinion, underwent an equally radical transformation. Before then, only experts addressed the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism, while today each one of us is concerned about organized attacks perpetrated by transnational terrorist networks inspired by the Jihad, raising questions on the integration of Islamic communities in Italy and throughout Europe.This phenomenon is rooted in the period that goes from the end of the Cold War to September 11 2001. With the demise of support and protection by the two superpowers, many of their client-states experienced the weakening of their institutional structures, plagued by inefficiency and corruption, led by governments disliked by their own populations. Other states seized the opportunity of the greater freedom they had been granted by the new international system to propagate – directly or indirectly – a religiously motivated ideology that paved the way to changing a status quo – perceived by many in the Middle East as a source of discrimination, inequality, and frustration – through acts of violence. Fundamentalist imams thus began to spread across the Middle East and throughout the suburbs of large European cities, where colonial empires, followed by migration flows many decades later, brought about the creation of not always well-integrated large Muslim communities.

This leads to the question on “our relationship with Islam” that we are facing today, and which we will have to continue addressing attentively and wisely even after ISIS’ defeat as a territorial entity.

If we intend to overcome the extended present ushered in fifteen years ago, domestic and foreign policies are equally important. We ought to rediscover and defend our cultural and religious identity at national and European level, whilst fighting against discrimination. Law – and their founding values – must be respected by all citizens alike, but at the same time we must prevent ghettoisation and build a society that leaves room to Muslim believers. On the external front, it is necessary to repair the many errors committed in the past fifteen years, finally starting to rebuild, instead of continuing to destroy. It is essential to promote the opening of the Middle Eastern and North African regimes, actively supporting those who, like Tunisia, are making great efforts in that direction. Without massive investment on the other side of the Mediterranean, both political as well as economic, we will only be providing buffer solutions. Europe must return to be the beacon of freedom and justice it can be, capable of fascinating people of different cultures and faiths and enhance its radical difference, as compared to political projects based on violence and slavery.

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