Violence Against Charlie Hebdo: The Globalization of Moral and Intellectual Confusion

After killing in Paris, religious fanatics are demonstrating in Grozny, killing in Niger and burning french flags in Pakistan. For what? A drawing of forgiveness which has nothing to do with « gratuitous violence » but everything to do with an act of courage, a pacific reaction to a massacre.

The globalization of insanity is nothing new. It is a well-known trap: Blame French cartoonists for a pacific response to a crime when it is obvious that we should be blaming those who would kill because of a drawing which they have probably not even seen.

The right to blaspheme is part of the fight for secularism. But the lack of secularism is the reason for these religious pogroms which can flare up for the slightest pretext, as we see in Niger. Did the Pope reflect for one second before comparing mockery of religion to an insult which merits a « punch in the face »? In Pakistan it is in the name of this obscurantist « philosophy » that Christians are thrown in prison, like Asia Bibi. Simply proclaiming one’s faith is felt as an insult towards the religion of the majority and can even be prosecuted for « blasphemy. » Charlie defends the right to blaspheme, therefore defends Asia Bibi, contrary to the Pope whose declaration is an irresponsible encouragement of violence.

Yet those really responsible are the perpetrators of these acts of violence, the reactions of a tiny minority (until now…) of those referred to by certain commentators as THE Muslim world, whereas it is a highly diverse community, 99% of whom reacted peacefully. The one percent left is still too much, but less than in the late 1980s against Salman Rushdie’s book in Pakistan… And far fewer than in 2006 when the publication of the Danish cartoons served as a pretext to burn down embassies and murder over 150 people.

There is a price to pay for standing firm, but there is a meaning to that price. How many lives, how many rights would be lost if we capitulated? That is the question we must ask ourselves instead of transforming the trial into one against the « irresponsibility » of the victims.

Terrorists not integrated in society?

Talking about irresponsibility, we were left speechless by the flood of clichés about France in the USA during these terrible attacks.

Ignore Fox News, which confused priority urban areas in France with lawless Muslim areas resembling Baghdad or Kabul, or the maps of « no go areas » highlighted in red, or their pseudo expert who at least made us laugh during this terrible time.

But Fox News is not the only news channel which outrageously and indecently oversimplified. Even Obama, who couldn’t find time to come to France, verged on the indecent when he explained that terrorism is linked to poor integration of Muslims… not like in the USA of course… As if there have never been any American terrorists. May we remind him that social discrimination rarely explains, and can never justify, terrorism?

Did the son of a billionaire Osama Bin Laden really finance the 9/11 attacks and want to attack Charlie Hebdo because he was « poorly integrated »? Or was it because the Algerian GIA islamists were « poorly integrated » that they provoked a bloodbath in Algeria throughout the 1990s? Or that the Iraqi and Syrian jihadists created the Islamic State?

How can one say in the same sentence that Muslims are the first victims of terrorism, which is true, while explaining terrorism by their « lack of integration »? According to this « logic » it is because they are not sufficiently integrated in their Muslim countries that Muslims kill each other. So Muslims are racist towards Muslims and this racism would explain how radical political Islam came to be in Egypt of Pakistan?

Is it because they were born in France that the Kouachi brothers wanted to take up jihad against the Americans after Abu Ghraib and an American war against terrorism which was more destructive than effective?

The truth is that islamist terrorism, just like war, provides a meaning and adrenalin to the frustrated who dream of firing a Kalashnikov and having sex slaves. The visceral and patriarchal explanation is more valid than the social explanation, which is not to say that better social policies are not called for in order to reduce hormonal temptations.

The response to terrorism is not to apologize, but to stand firm on ideals and principles. And that is why the censorship of Charlie Hebdo by certain American and British newspapers is such a serious issue.

Anglo-Saxon censorship

The editorial staff debated, they supported Charlie, but the editors decided… Most of them censored the front page of Charlie Hebdo, just as they censored the Danish cartoons in 2006, claiming that they could offend Muslims.

Today some say that it is for security reasons. It’s a step forward. But would we be in danger if the world media had simply published the Danish cartoons or the « front page » of Charlie instead of making a taboo of them, instead of giving the impression that they justified extreme reactions?

Their refusal to inform reveals a huge cultural gap concerning secularism and freedom of expression.

America founded her democracy on freedom of religion, France was founded on freedom of conscience (freedom to believe or not to believe) and secularism. As for England, it is neither a republic nor secular, but a parliamentary monarchy with a State religion. This privileged religion makes her more careful when dealing with the sensitivities of others minority religions, in the name of a religious ban which does not even exist.

The Quran does not ban the representation of Muhammad. It bans idolatry, i.e. exactly what the fanatics do by worshiping him and killing in his name in order to prevent his image being desacralized… in Charlie Hebdo.

Even if the Quran were to ban the representation of Muhammad, the ban would not apply to non-Muslims and secular democracies. Or if we follow this logic to the extreme, we would have to ban for everyone, everywhere, all representations of the prophets of Islam. As Jesus is one of them we would have to ban Jesus on the Cross in churches and films about Jesus in cinemas. And why stop at religions? Logically, to avoid giving offense, we should also ban Hollywood films which upset the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and, to go completely global, we should import the laws of dictators and fanatics into our democracies to destroy them.

America understood what was at stake when threats were made against the movie The Interview. They stood up to North Korea. But where religion is involved they lose their bearings.

The situation wouldn’t be so serious if we had not adopted these Anglo-Saxon criteria ourselves. These criteria govern the new world media, iTunes and Facebook. They can block or censor jokes about religion or images of naked breasts, whereas incitement to hatred via these media is in constant progress.

Why Dieudonné is not Charlie ?

Meanwhile instead of defending freedom of expression and fighting against incitement to hatred, as Charlie did, media celebrities were spreading confusion. Like Jon Stewart, celebrity host of the Daily Show, who found nothing better to do than accuse the French media of « hypocrisy » for not respecting fully the freedom of speech of the anti-Semite Dieudonné, to the delight of extreme right websites and/or French pro-islamists (these two groups are not at all incompatible, especially among the supporters of Dieudonné).

This confused conception of freedom of expression is not only irresponsible and consternating, it also serves the enemies of freedom.

When Dieudonné was a comedian and made fun of all religions, including Judaism, no one dreamed of imposing fines on him, which he doesn’t pay anyway. At that time he was funny and supported. But that Dieudonné no longer exists. Today he is the leader of a political party, created with a man who defines himself as « national socialist, » whose stock in trade is anti-Jewish racism. He no longer laughs at religions. He minimizes or even denies the Shoah, makes fun of beheading and identifies with the assassin of a black policewoman and customers of the kosher store.

The difference between Charlie Hebdo and Dieudonné is that Charlie makes fun of terrorists whereas Dieudonné laughs with terrorists. It is the difference between humor and hatred, between letting democracy breathe and wanting to kill it.

It is highly disturbing that Anglo-Saxon journalists, internet users or young children do not make this distinction. This confusion is a deadly poison for democracy. We cannot stop all the bullets. But we must look for an antidote and clarify our ideas rapidly before we ourselves give in to those who threaten us, without them even having to fire a shoot.


Caroline Fourest is a specialist on Muslim fundamentalism and the extreme right, former journalist at Charlie Hebdo, author of a special issue of Charlie Hebdo’s on Blasphemy.

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