Thursday, January 8, 2015

Je Suis Charlie: Paris Attack on Charlie Hebdo Offices

I think that one of the keystones of modern civilization is the ability to say, believe or write things which others find offensive without being killed for your expression of thoughts. I don't think that anyone who believes in freedom of speech can hold otherwise. And even people who aren't necessarily the biggest fans of free speech still usually aren't big fans of murder. So all right minded people deplored the Paris acts of murder directed against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. At least two armed French-Algerian men, presumably angered by satirical and scatological cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, stormed the magazine offices, killing twelve people and wounding eleven others. At this time the men are still at large. They are believed to be the brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi. 
On Wednesday, eight journalists - including the magazine's editor - died along with a caretaker and a visitor when masked men armed with assault rifles stormed the Charlie Hebdo offices during an editorial meeting. Eleven people were also wounded, some seriously. Two policemen were also killed.
Witnesses say the gunmen shouted "we have avenged the Prophet Muhammad" and "we killed Charlie Hebdo", as well as "God is Great" in Arabic. The attackers fled to northern Paris before abandoning their car and hijacking a Renault Clio, police say. The magazine's office was firebombed in 2011. It had angered some Muslims by printing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as part of its irreverent take on news and current affairs.
These murders and attempted murders were immediately condemned by the overwhelming majority of Muslim leaders, religious and otherwise, in France and beyond. Nevertheless, the murders of French cartoonists for blasphemy feeds into the idea of a clash of civilizations, much beloved by extremists in all of the Abrahamic faiths. In this Manichean understanding, certain religions are simply incompatible. We must eliminate or suppress them. We can not possibly live with them. They are evil. Obviously "we" and "them" and "they" depends on who is speaking or writing. Strangely enough the people rushing to condemn all Muslims for the depraved acts of a few don't think that others should condemn all whites or all cops or all Christians for similar acts in the past  or the present. A Muslim acting badly reflects on all Muslims but a Christian acting badly is one individual. Right. Doesn't that seem a little, well, wrong?

In this country I am more worried about home grown indigenous right wing terror or a trigger happy cop than I am about some immigrant religious nutter or first generation resident. Given the size of the faith communities on the planet, it is a pipe dream to imagine that a faith you don't like could ever be eliminated but fundamentalists of any stripe tend not to deal in practicalities. No, what these murders could do is to increase the growing sentiment among some Europeans that there are too many Muslim immigrants and citizens already resident in Europe. Some people may start to wonder where is Charles Martel when you really need him.

Overnight, seven people believed to be connected to the Kouachi brothers were detained in the towns of Reims and Charleville-Mezieres, as well as in the Paris area. Cherif Kouachi was sentenced in 2008 to three years in prison for belonging to a Paris-based group sending jihadist fighters to Iraq. Following the shootings at the magazine, there appear to have been a number of revenge attacks on Muslims reported by French media, though nobody was hurt:

  • Two shots were fired at a Muslim prayer room in the town of Port-la-Nouvelle in the southern region of Aude on Wednesday evening
  • A Muslim family was shot at in their car in Caromb, in the southern region of Vaucluse
  • Dummy grenades were thrown during the night at a mosque in Le Mans, western France
  • The slogan "Death to Arabs" was daubed on the door of a mosque in Poitiers, central France, during the night
  • A blast hit a kebab shop beside a mosque in Villefranche-sur-Saone in central France

European countries have traditionally been ethnic homelands and not settler states or targets for immigration The murders may increase the stigma around Islam. It is also important to make it clear that "free speech" in the abstract includes a lot of things that I do not like and that I think that most decent people would not like. Some which Charlie Hebdo published were roughly about the same quality and tone of work that Hustler owner Larry Flynt might have featured. Some cartoons were deliberately offensive. Worse, some of them just did not amuse. But I don't have to agree with them or find them funny to be upset that other people murdered the cartoonists. I feel very strongly about freedom of speech, the right to dissent, the right to have your own beliefs. If I want to reject your religious views that's my right. If I find them silly and harmful and decide to spend my time making fun of them that's also my right. Your moral choices when faced with that situation are to counterattack with your own speech, ignore me, or perhaps try to get me fired from my job. It's not a moral choice to beat me into submission or kill me. Not in the US or most Western countries anyway. Other countries have different ideas about mocking religion.

All that said we should remember that in many aspects the US has greater freedom of speech than France. In the US, you can deny the Holocaust or make fun of it. If you're funny enough you can build a career out of telling racist jokes. You can suggest that Black people were better off under slavery and/or are less intelligent than everyone else. You can write books earnestly explaining how white people are genetic Ice Age mutations predisposed to violence or how your particular ethnic group just happens to be smarter than everyone else. In France such things can get you banned, fined or arrested. So it's not that France is some free speech paradise. It's not. If I were a French Muslim religious extremist I might well be peacefully agitating for my religious sensitivities to get the same free speech carve out as other people's ethnic or racial sensitivities. 

But the bottom line is that if your understanding of your religion requires you to kill people who make fun of it, then a modern secular society with separation of church and state is simply not for you. You should depart such a place at once and resettle in a country which features ruthlessly enforced blasphemy laws. You would be much happier and so would I. It's a win-win situation. Quite simple really. #JeSuisCharlie

What are your thoughts? 

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