Let’s face it- there’s no way to avoid this topic. At this point, I don’t know that there’s anything I can say that hasn’t already been said in the past few days. What I’d like to do, if I can’t offer anything new, is at least offer some clarity. Here are the facts, folks:
On the 7th of this month Sayeed and Shareef Kouachi attacked satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for running cartoons deemed “insulting to Islam”. The Kouachi brothers, armed with AK-47s, a shotgun, and a grenade launcher, killed 12 individuals- most of them magazine staff and cartoonists- in addition to wounding several others. Two days later the Kouachis would be killed by French police after a protracted siege in a warehouse. Other suspects involved in the attack are currently being hunted down.
Since the 7th, we’ve seen an outpouring of indignant outrage over the killings, as well as solidarity marches, both for France and for freedom of speech. Despite the near universal solidarity behind Charlie Hebdo, a myriad of differing conclusions have been voiced in the past few days- some good, some bad, and many missing the point entirely (in spite of genuinely good intentions). Let me try to address a few of these below.
Not All Muslims Are Terrorists/Not All Terrorists Are Muslim
…But I shouldn’t have to tell you that.
At this point, parroting that line is starting to feel almost patronizing. It’s an obvious truth, and it shouldn’t need me to defend it. There are millions upon millions of Muslims in the world, the vast majority of whom want nothing more than to live their lives in peace- among them, Ahmed Merabet, a police officer and the first of the Kouachis victims. Whether the infamous 9/11 attacks (in which American Muslim Mohammad Hamdani died attempting to rescue people from the North Tower) or the thousands of Muslim Arabs and Kurds fighting against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Muslims shouldn’t have to be “rescued”. From Abdul Haji to Aitazaz Hassan Bangash to Malala Yousafzai– there are just as many heroic actions from Muslims as their are heinous ones.
But this is, again, obvious to anyone actually interested. I don’t know that there’s anybody out there who hasn’t already made up their mind about it (for better or for worse).
The Attackers Were Muslim
In our haste to respond to the torrent of bigotry and xenophobia this attack has and continues to elicit, we need to avoid whitewashing the facts. Liberal guilt tends to paint a flattering picture of the oppressed, often to the point of fantasy, and that just exacerbates the issue.
The Kouachris were Muslim. Whether they were good or bad is a matter of theological and psychological debate. Regardless of what side you come down on, it must be understood that their motivation and their vehicle for their attack was Islam. They cited Koranic verse and historical precedent as their justification, and that needs to be addressed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, every bit as much as Christians and non-Christians need to deal with the Biblical command to slaughter those who engage in homosexual activity. We can’t and shouldn’t ignore this problem.
This Was Condemned By Muslims
When I said that this attack caused righteous outrage across the globe, I meant it. That includes Muslim world, Muslim and Arab cartoonists being especially vocal in their condemnation of these murders.
Heck, even Hassan Naserallah, leader of Hezbollah (cited by many countries as a terrorist organization), has declared that “Extremists harm Islam more than cartoons“, arguing (as many even deeply conservative Muslims have) that their religion does not need defending, and that such extremists “are the biggest threat to Islam, as a religion [and] as a message.”
Again, anyone claiming that Muslims aren’t vocal enough in condemning terror attacks simply isn’t listening. And of course…
This Will Get Used By The Xenophobes
We do have to be prepared for that. That past months have seen a vicious rise in French ultra-nationalism, Muslims typically being the dreaded “other” that the goose-steppers are casting as bogeymen (though Roma, refugees, and African migrants are getting hit too). Islamaphobic attacks (including state repression and violence) have been running rampant through Europe these past years, and this attack is only going to be used as fodder for further persecution of innocent men and women.
And yes, that’s in spite of the fact that the largest terror-attack in French history actually came from French nationalist group (Organisation armée secrète) whose 1961 bombing killed 28 people and wounded over a hundred. But that’s Fascists for you.
This Isn’t A Pissing Contest
Likewise, folks on the radical left aren’t exactly exempt here either. While it’s tempting to shine the spotlight on hypocrisy (see France celebrating free speech while simultaneously restricting it), this doesn’t quite seem like the time. That’s not to say that such hypocrisy isn’t important (it absolutely is), but there’s got to be a better way of framing it. Coming in with cynical and sardonic barbs (as much as yours truly is guilty of that) comes across as spiteful and defeatist, rather than determined. Again, I’m not exactly Mr. Sunshine-and-Rainbows, but if we can get the whole world to get fired up about free speech, I’ll work with it, y’know? Throw our support behind this now, and perhaps we can harness the momentum into dealing with those other issues.
Same thing goes for the media. The Boko Haram massacre in Nigeria (which killed roughly 2,000) happened at roughly the same time as the Charlie Hebdo attack but was given far less media attention and garnered less outrage. Is that fair? Of course not. Same goes for the lack of outrage over Mohammad Saba’aneh, a Palestinian cartoonist jailed by Israel since 2013 over dubious charges. He should get attention as well. His freedom of speech should be defended. I’m not asking anyone to like it, but I am asking everyone to be pragmatic. A horrible attack occurred that’s caught the world’s attention. It wasn’t the only one, it wasn’t the worst one, but it’s still there for us to turn into something good.
Can’t It Just Be Simple?
Hebdo was a controversial magazine, sometimes funny but also often willfully insensitive. Had this attack not occurred, I’m guessing it might have even been called trashy or shock-jockeying by the very folks now singing its praises. Heck, some of the cartoons (such as a one portraying France’s Black Justice Minister as a monkey) would appear to be just plain racist.
Nevertheless, I think we can all agree that the courage and dedication of the staff to keep publishing in spite of the death threats and previous attacks they received should be commended. Those who gunned them down did so out of self-righteous self-delusion. What they did was monstrous and no dissertation on imperialism, colonialism, or culture is going to change that. The killers believed that what they did would discourage similar “blasphemies”- it most certainly won’t. The far-right is going to use this as an excuse to crack down on Muslims, the far-left is going to use that as an way to rail on the right, and the most extreme sects of Islam are going to use the whole affair as propaganda for more of the same. We repeat the whole damn cycle over again.
It doesn’t have to be this way.