Is Charlie Hebdo the French 9/11?
France’s response to this undoubted outrage, which saw it galvanize world leaders into a show of solidarity against terrorism on Paris’ streets, has to be understood in terms of its culture. There is a much higher tolerance in France, in contrast to other Western nations, for the kind of extreme satire produced by the Charlie Hebdo publication.
As the American writer David Brooks points out in his New York Times article, “I am not Charlie Hebdo,” the United States is not exactly a haven for freedom of speech. Brooks argues that the very magazine everyone’s now supporting, would have been shut down for hate speech if it tried to publish in the US.
Holding a country’s passport and speaking its language does not make a person automatically part of its society. What qualifies one for citizenship of a nation such as France is the ability to understand the culture, respect differences of opinion and allow a measure of assimilation. In terms of this perspective, we cannot consider the Kouachi brothers, who have family origins in Algeria, as French, even if they were citizens and fluent in the language.
These two men follow in the footsteps of others who justify their acts of violence on the basis that they have exclusive access to the truth. In the name of Islam, just last week, these killers murdered hundreds of people in Nigeria, dozens of military school students in Yemen, and three Saudi soldiers on the border with Iraq.
Whether these groups call themselves Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, Islamic State or Al-Qaeda, they are all motivated by the same takfiri beliefs, which declare other people non-believers. Their actions allow Islamophobia to flourish even though right-thinking people know that shouting “Allah-o-Akbar” does not make them Muslims.
These extremists are intellectually and morally bankrupt, they are only able to counter arguments with terror and force. The war against terrorism is against this type of thinking, whatever the name of the organization that springs up today or tomorrow.
Like in the US after 9/11, Muslims will pay a high price for these attacks. Perhaps it was coincidental that the novel Soumission (Submission) was published on the same day of the attack on Charlie Hebdo. The novelist Michel Houellebecq, who envisions France being ruled by a Muslim president in 2022, is now under police protection at a secret location. The country is on high alert, with increased scrutiny of Muslims.
These attacks will embolden and empower the rightwing French parties whose members despise foreigners living among them. They will use Muslims as the bogeyman to gain more votes, marginalizing and drowning out rational and moderate voices. A sad reality is that these terrorists do not understand they are fostering more extremism against the very people they are claiming to defend.
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