Police officers in France.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The gruesome massacre in Paris of ten cartoonists, political satirists, and members of Charlie Hebdo’s editorial staff – along with two police officers who attempted to defend them – must become one of those watershed events in which the tide turns, the trend is reversed, and a new resolve is born.
All who value the hard-earned freedoms offered by open societies must confront unequivocally and without apologetics the reactionary fundamentalists who perpetrate murderous violence to intimidate and advance their vision of reinstating a Muslim caliphate. We must reject any attempts to “understand” what those two assassins with Kalashnikovs did as anything but an intentional assault on western values – in this case the freedom of expression – in the name of their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.
Unfortunately, too many of us – including journalists who should know better – take the tack of blaming the victim.
In 2011, after Charlie Hebdo’s offices were firebombed for an issue that featured the Prophet Muhammad as its editor-in-chief, Time magazine’s then-Paris bureau chief commented that “not only are such Islamophobic antics futile and childish, but they also openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy in the name of common good. What common good is served by creating more division and anger, and by tempting belligerent reaction?” Did Charlie Hebdo’s staff “beg” to be massacred when they were lampooning French politicians, the pope, Protestants, Orthodox Jews, or any of the other groups and individuals whom it singled out for a laugh? Over the years many have felt the sting of Charlie Hebdo’s wit, but only Muslims have resorted repeatedly to violence.
To construct such a strong causal relationship between the exercising of free speech and murder – as though the latter logically proceeds from the former – is to invite more intimidation and Islamist-inspired violence.
Closing down Charlie Hebdo would not be enough to appease the Islamists. Inevitably, there will be a creeping inflation of concessions to be made in exchange for security in our cities. The Islamists, after all, have many grievances and are easily offended.
Besides the press’s freedom to criticize and satirize, Islamists do not like the freedoms afforded women in Western countries. They are also hostile to modern science’s insistence on free inquiry, especially inquiry that might lead to the contradiction of religious dogmas. They see as blasphemy the idea that religions other than Islam are permitted the freedom to worship or that Muslims are free to leave their religion.
Appeasing the Islamists would also mean not intervening to stop Islamic State or al-Qaida from massacring Shi’ites and Yazidis, or from raping and enslaving women in places like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, or Afghanistan.
To fully appease the Islamist extremists, we would have to take the cowardly and ignoble step of giving up on all of the values that make Western culture so great.
No, caving in to Islamic extortion is not the answer.
We must recognize that Western culture is not an amorphous, relativistic system capable of accommodating any ideology no matter how abhorrent.
We in the West have our own principles and we, too, are offended when these principles are desecrated, not because we fear for our souls or are attempting to bring about an apocalyptic messianic era, but because free inquiry, freedom of expression, the protection of human rights, gender equality and political freedoms create an environment in which all humans regardless of race, religion or creed can realize their full potential in the fields of science and art, business and technology for the benefit of mankind.
“Je suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie” has become the rallying call of those outraged by Wednesday’s massacre in Paris. It can seen on placards and stickers on the streets of Paris, on Facebook, and Twitter. By personalizing the tragedy, those who proclaim themselves to be Charlie are not just articulating empathy for the murdered, they are taking sides in a war of ideas.
French citizens of all persuasions – including thousands of Muslims – are reaffirming their allegiance with the side of enlightenment and freedom against barbarism and terrorism. A line has been crossed and the tide has turned. A new resolve has been born, at a horrible price.