Attacks on Christians show hypocrisy of 'blasphemy' controversy -analysis

Why would being offended by a cartoon lead a man to attack a church?

A man prays in front of the Notre Dame church to pay tribute to the victims of a deadly knife attack in Nice, France, October 31, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/ERIC GAILLARD)
A man prays in front of the Notre Dame church to pay tribute to the victims of a deadly knife attack in Nice, France, October 31, 2020
A man who beheaded a person in a church in Nice, France was radicalized by a recent controversy over another beheading in France. The chain of events shows that terrorists thrive off rumors of religion being “insulted” to then attack other religions, which would appear contradictory since media reports indicated that French “secularism” was to blame for the attacks. The attacks on French churches are not unique; terrorists have targeted them in the past, killing a priest in 2016.
Several media analyses and commentaries have pointed to France’s “extreme form of secularism” as the reason that terrorists are “angry” at France. However, the terror attacks look a lot more like hate crimes against Christians, including the attack on a church in al-Tabqah in Syria, than they do a protest against French “secularism.”
It is worthwhile to unpack the false claim that French “secularism” causes terror attacks. If that was the reason for attacks, then one would think that secular symbols of the French state would be targeted. That’s usually how terrorism is supposed to work. Because we are told terrorism is about getting attention through symbolic acts of violence, then the terror group should target the symbol of the state or thing that it is against.
However, there are few examples of these “terrorists” attacking institutions of the State in France. They don’t attack nude statues either. They attack churches. And they don’t only do it in France; attacks tend to target churches and Christians worldwide. If the extremists are radicalized by being offended over “blasphemy” and insults to their faith, then why is the response to attack religious buildings and innocent religious people?
In January 2015, after cartoons were published in France that were supposedly offensive, there were attacks on 45 churches in Niger. The churches had no connection to the cartoons, and Charlie Hebdo is not a Christian magazine. In short, the secularism that drives critique of religion tends to critique Christianity and Islam, and yet the extremist response is to kill Christians and bomb churches.
Similarly, the response from Iran, Malaysia and other countries has been to deny the Holocaust. This points to a reaction that is not about being offended over cartoons, but rather a wellspring of hatred against Jews and Christians in many countries and communities by Islamist extremists who seek any excuse to carry out hate crimes against religious minorities.
It is important to understand how this toxic blend of media-driven hype over the “insult to religion” leads to attacks on minorities all over the world under the guise that extremists are “angry at secularism.” Twenty years ago, the varied explanations for terrorism directed at Israel and later directed at the US for 9/11 included theories that the killers were angry over being “oppressed” or that “poverty and desperation drives terrorism.”
It later became clear that Osama bin Laden and his cohorts were not oppressed or poor, or even desperate – they were basically privileged men who had seen extremism as a kind of tourism where they could go to various countries to wage “jihad,” often against poor people, and they graduated to attacking the United States.
Most victims of terrorism tend to be poor and the perpetrators tend to be middle class and educated men. During the rise of ISIS, some 50,000 people joined the group from all over the world, including 5,000 from Europe. Many purchased plane tickets to travel to the “caliphate” where they believed they would have new homes confiscated from religious minorities and that they could own slaves. This wasn’t desperation – this was more like men going to the Old South to buy a plantation with slaves.
Increasingly, as was illustrated by the rise of ISIS, what is termed “violent extremism” tends to be a genocidal ideology that targets poor minority communities – usually Christians, Yazidis, Ahmadis, Shi’ites or other groups. The recent controversy with France brings that into contrast.
The victims included 55-year-old Vincent Loques, a church warden, and a Brazilian woman named Simone Barreto Silva, a mother of three. If terrorism is driven by desperation and being offended over cartoons why would a woman of color and mother of three be the victim of a terror attack by a Tunisian man? Why would being offended by a cartoon lead a man to attack a church? Why would being angry over “insults to religion” cause a man to stab a woman in a church?
During the terror attacks in 2015, a Jewish kosher market was targeted. Then US president Barack Obama was criticized for terming the attack “vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli.” The problem was that this was not random. The attack on the kosher market was a targeted attack on Jews. It wasn’t a random market. It was chosen because of hatred for Jews. In July 2016, two men who claimed allegiance to ISIS murdered Jacques Hamel, an 85-year-old priest in his church in Normandy.
Similarly, over the years there have been numerous plots against churches and Christmas markets in Europe. There was the Cathedral bombing plot in 2000 in Strasbourg against a Christmas market, and various plots against churches in 2015 in France. In 2016, a truck was used to attack a Christmas market in Berlin. Countries throughout Europe have boosted security because of what the UK called “a sharp rise in vehicle ramming.”
Christmas markets are targeted hate crimes against Christians; not exactly a political “terror” attack as terrorism was once defined in the 1990s. These types of crimes are increasingly beginning to look more like KKK terror, aimed at communities rather than countries. That means they are largely driven by hatred for Christians and Jews, and in places like Pakistan they are driven by hatred for Shi’ites, Ahmadis and other minorities.
The hypocrisy that underpins the blasphemy allegations against France is revealed by the attacks on churches and Christians. If it is blasphemous to publish a cartoon, then it is equally blasphemous to behead a woman in a church or stab a priest. If they are “insults to religion” that “radicalize” men, then why do those same men attack religious symbols?
It looks like the reality is not that French secularism caused offense, but that religious extremists linked to global Islamist movements have taught generations of young men to hate Christian, Jews, Shi’ites, Kurds, Ahmadis, Yazidis, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and other groups – and that every controversy is used as an excuse to kill these groups, often targeting their houses of worship.
That is why synagogues have been targeted from Tunisia to Morocco, Turkey, Israel and elsewhere. It is why Christians were attacked on Palm Sunday in Egypt in 2017, on Easter in Sri Lanka in 2019 and in Pakistan in 2016. This is why Hindu temples were burned in Bangladesh in 2013, 2016, 2019 and 2020, a Sikh temple was targeted in Afghanistan in March 2020, Ahmadi mosques were targeted in 2010 in Pakistan and Shi’ite mosques were attacked in Afghanistan in 2016, 2018 and 2019.
The flood of increasing attacks on places of worship, almost all carried out by Islamist extremists, illustrates that the real insult to religion has not come from secularism in France but from far-right Islamist extremist groups that target religion worldwide. The French cartoon controversy was merely an excuse to radicalize men to conduct hate crime attacks on other religions that are part of the radicalizer's ideology.