In the aftermath of the January 7 attacks by Said and Cherif Kouachi on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the subsequent manhunt and the attack on a kosher supermarket by Amedy Coulibaly there has been an avalanche of news. But we haven’t actually learned that much, and many important questions are not being answered.
Yes, we learned that al-Qaida in Yemen claims responsibility, just as we learned one of the murderers claimed to have done it for Islamic State. We have learned that Coulibaly had a long road to his hateful end, converting to Islam in prison, where he befriended one of the Kouachis. His common-law wife Hayat Boumeddiene is considered a person of interest to police, and he was implicated in the murder of policewoman Clarissa Jean-Philippe on January 8. In some ways the story that has emerged is of a closely linked group; that, as Jeannette Bougrab, the partner of Hebdo editor Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier claimed on TV, “It could have been avoided”; and that the terrorists were known to police and allowed to pass back and forth to Yemen to train.
But paucity of actual facts aside, there were some disturbing aspects to the media coverage: 1. “Is it time to curtail free speech?” asked several debates on BBC. The BBC had previously refused to show images of the execution of Ahmed Merabet, the 40-year-old French policeman, that was on the cover of many newspapers.
For some reason showing actual images of what terrorists do is “offensive,” just as the BBC deemed it “offensive” to show the images of Hebdo cartoons.
While Douglas Murray, associate director of the Henry Jackson Society, protested on BBC World’s Have Your Say that the imposition of Islamic blasphemy laws was already happening de facto because of these terrorist acts, the very fact that the subject of discussion on the BBC in the immediate aftermath of the attacks was “perhaps speech should be curtailed” is extraordinary.
Why does the mere fact that a group of people is willing to kill imply that there is a reason to debate whether that group is somehow correct? Murray got it right when he noted that although those willing to kill over being “offended” is quite small, the number of people who implicitly accept their agenda is quite large.
Some in the media’s cowardice in not showing the true face of the murders and not being willing to show what supposedly “enraged” people enough to kill is not helping anyone. It is like pretending that images of any great human rights crime, whether it is images of lynchings or the Holocaust, cannot be shown lest they offend someone’s sensibilities.
2. The “small group of extremists” is one of the claims we often hear when it comes to explaining why we mustn’t ask too many questions about where those extremists come from, who they are, the milieu in which they fester, or the effect they have on society. But “small groups of extremists” and people willing to die for their beliefs have been main drivers of world history.
How many members of the KKK engaged in actual lynchings? A few hundred, over 100 years? The actual number of KKK members who participated in the killings was relatively small. Yet they had an immense effect.
One lynching sends a message to millions of people. Very few people were actually lynched, but that doesn’t mean we should have disregarded the KKK or gone on about the need to “concentrate on all the good people in the US South.”
The KKK wasn’t defeated by being ignored, it was defeated by a multi-generational cultural struggle against the swamp in which it festered, the underpinning cultural motifs that gave birth to it and coddled it. The same is true of homophobia. Very few people actually engage in homophobic hate crimes.
However the harm done to the gay community by such crimes has been massive, and only when society began to confront these hate crimes did events like pride parades and such become normal and accepted.
And the KKK is just one of many examples. The Nazis were initially just a “small group of extremists,” as were the Communists who birthed Stalinism.
How many people served in the East German Stasi? Not many. How many people served the Stasi as informers? Many more. How many led placid lives and just accepted the situation? Most. And that’s the case in all these stories. The vast majority allow the tiny minority to exist. Not many Irish actually joined the IRA; not many joined the 1920s independence struggle either.
Yet with Islamist terror we always suspend disbelief and concentrate on the 99 percent and not the 1%. It’s like, after a lynching in the US South, having to reference the “good 99% of white people who don’t lynch.” That’s nonsensical.
You can’t always reduce the terrorists to just a “tiny unrepresentative group” or “not real Muslims.” Sure, the Nazis or KKK weren’t “real Christians” – so what? Acknowledging that their deeds are not “representative” doesn’t change anything; in fact it encourages acceptance of the fact that they exist at all, and discourages discussion of their actions and motivations.
3. The news coverage of the massacre in Paris is characterized by a strange shift of focus from the actual victims to a larger “narrative.” This occurred also in the Sydney attacks in Australia. Even as the gunmen were still roaming Paris and Coulibaly was packing his weapons with ammunition with which to kill Jews, the media was already talking about how the “real victors today are the far Right and racists.”
Really? Those are the “real victors”? And, at the same time, we started hearing that the “real victims are Muslims.”
In fact there were Muslim victims, such as policeman Ahmed Merabet and an Algerian-born copy-editor Mustapha Ourrad. There were also Muslim heroes: at the kosher market a Muslim man saved Jewish lives. But what was meant by the “real victims” narrative was that “French Muslims will pay a price now.”
That was the theme of a Latuff cartoon that showed the gunmen shooting at Charlie Hebdo and hitting a mosque.
The problem with these narratives is that they ignore the actual victims. And let’s be honest about this: if it had been some other group that carried out these attacks, would we be having this conversation? Were the “real victims” of the IRA the Irish and Catholics, because their “reputation” was harmed, or because “IRA attacks will increase stigmatization of Irish people”? Were the “real victims” of the KKK the Southern white people who were “subjected to Southernaphobia?” The real victims of the Nazis were not “ordinary Germans who suffered from Germanophobia.”
The “real” victims of Islamist terrorism are the actual victims of Islamist terrorism.
The “real victims are the Muslims” story might be easier to swallow if there was a passionate, hateful disdain for these groups expressed by most Muslim communities. The irony is that the actual victims of much Islamist-inspired terror are in fact Muslims; in Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and other places; just two days ago in Nigeria many Muslims died at the hands of Boko Haram.
Every time there is a terrorist attack, such as in Australia or Kenya, in which non-Muslims are singled out and butchered, we all have to discuss how the perpetrators “are not true Muslims” and about how “in Kenya, many Muslims now feel stigmatized.” Who feels more stigmatized, the Muslims in Kenya, or the men and women separated from the Muslims on the bus and then murdered? Who is more stigmatized in France, Muslims or the Jews who just wanted to shop at a kosher supermarket and were murdered by Coulibaly?
4. In 2006, in “response” to the publication of cartoons by Danish daily Jyllands- Posten mocking Muhammad, Iran decided to host a Holocaust cartoon competition to illustrate “Western hypocrisy on free speech.” Similarly the response of some on the radical Left in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre was to attack Jews – once again – and encourage publication of anti-Semitic cartoons, supposedly for “balance.”
This is one of the new paradigms of terrorism and debate on free speech.
Increasingly Islamist terrorism attacks Jewish targets. Note, not Israeli targets, but Jewish targets – so don’t get bogged down in the idea that they are “attacking Israelis,” as if such attacks are “part of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.” Coulibaly’s first thought was to kill Jews. Just as Iran’s reaction to cartoons in Denmark was to bash the Holocaust, To Coulibaly the best way to “show allegiance” was to attack French Jews. During the Mumbai massacre, the local Chabad House was targeted. Why? We are not supposed to ask that question. But to the Pakistan- trained and -guided jihadists – as the phone transcripts show – killing Jews was a major goal of the operation.
Consider that logic; in an Islamist- and Pakistan-backed war against India – a country with a billion people in it – the Pakistanis felt it was important to murder Jews, of which there are a mere few thousand in all of India. It wasn’t that they were striking at Israel; they could have attacked the Israeli embassy or an Israeli target. No, they chose Jews. That shows the worldview of the Islamists.
They are obsessed with the need to murder Jews.
And yet we are not supposed to discuss that. Why was the kosher supermarket Coulibaly’s primary target? Why was the jihadist in Toulouse’s target (after killing French soldiers) a Jewish school? And just as in Denmark and then Paris, the excuse in Toulouse was that killing Jewish children at school was “revenge.”
Only when it comes to Jews is there always an excuse.
You have a world of 500 million Europeans, and 1.4 billion Muslims, and when a cartoonist in Europe mocks Mohammed, then the reaction is to impugn Jews, deny the Holocaust, and attack Jewish people.
If it was any other group there would be a major media debate about why. If in “reaction” to the killings at Charlie Hebdo the radical Left chose to publish anti-gay cartoons, everyone would wonder why.
If a radical Left newspaper, in the wake of Charlie Hebdo, encouraged publication of anti-black cartoons to “celebrate” free speech, we would think they were crazy.
But the world has become too inured to the murder of Jews. Too many on the radical Left and the Islamist extremists work together against the Jewish minority.
The media won’t discuss this; it has become “normal” for Jews to be targets, from Mumbai to Toulouse to Kansas and Paris, from Iran to wherever.
One final note: when Iran or others in the media attack Jews with anti-Semitic cartoons, there are no extremist Jews who go and shoot up the offices of those who publish them. If an extremist Jewish fundamentalist group went and killed a blogger for publishing anti-Semitic cartoons, would the media start talking nonsense about how “the real victims were the Jews”? Would the narrative be “there are only a few extremist Jews”? No.