"Unity"? About What Exactly? JANUARY 22 2015
The recent rally for free speech and against the terrorism in Paris initially appeared to have generated a surge of defiance and resolve, not just in France but around the world. People were actually talking about a turning point in the battle against terrorism and radical Islam. If only it were true. The reality is that much of the political class and media remain in denial about the events in Paris.
Ban Ki Moon explained that the tragic events had nothing to do with religion. Signing a condolence book for the victims of the attacks, he said: "This is not a country, a war against religion or between religions... This is a purely unacceptable terrorist attack – criminality."
France's President François Hollande said that the Charlie Hebdo fanatics had "nothing to do with Islam," and he was joined in this view by commentators on France24, as well as the German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizière. The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland condemned the actions of a "handful of wicked fanatics against the rest of us." The implication was that they merely acted in the name of Islam -- purely coincidentally, as it were.
In the Daily Mail, Piers Morgan wrote that the perpetrators were "not 'real' Muslims" and that this was "not a religious war." Why he thought he could act as the arbiter on that question is still unclear. As for President Obama, he has effectively outlawed the term "Islamic terror."
The United States, in what was widely seen as a snub, was only represented at the rally by the U.S. Ambassador to France, Jane Hartley. Since the President had declared in 2012 that "[t]he future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam" -- the implication was that they were not acting purely coincidentally.
There is in those comments a mixture of political correctness, wishful thinking and staggering ignorance. It is understandable and commendable not to lump a majority of law-abiding, patriotic and peaceful Muslims together with their violent counterparts. But calling for "unity" in a march leaves one asking: Unity about what exactly?
To pretend that there is a complete disconnect between Islam and terror is to ignore reality. Jihadis are gaining ideological succour from the tenets of their faith, drawing upon teachings promulgated by imams, including the late Anwar al Awlaki. We may like to imagine that this is not Islam, and that the faith promotes peace and nothing else. But the murderers say it is Islam, and they act accordingly.
To confront this problem properly, the ideological underpinnings of jihad need to be tackled comprehensively at source. It is not enough to unite against terrorism, as every community must. We need to know what we are uniting for -- free speech. And we need to know what we are uniting against -- namely the militant war of extremist Islamism.
It is equally inaccurate to describe these jihadis as "lone wolves." They will have spent time gaining combat experience abroad, perhaps in Yemen, Syria or Iraq, and will have received ideological indoctrination and funding from a network of other jihadis. They are recruits in a theocratic, totalitarian death-cult spread across the planet. It comes in different forms: Boko Haram, which slaughtered 2,000 people in Nigeria the weekend before last; the Taliban, which murdered schoolchildren in Pakistan; Hamas with its genocidal doctrine and many years of bombings, and the Islamic State, which seems busy ethnically cleansing nearly everyone in Syria and Iraq. The murders in Paris, therefore, were merely the latest salvo in a global confrontation between jihadist Islam and its declared enemies, this time in the West.
Much of the media has offered up a context for these killings that is false. Within hours of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, the Telegraph led with a feature on the growing problem of "Islamophobia" in France. The Guardian, too, weighed in; one story headlined: "Muslims fear backlash after Charlie Hebdo deaths as Islamic sites attacked". The Spectator spoke of the killings as an "attack on Islam;" and Robert Fisk in the UK Independent referred to the legacy of the Algerian war as a motive for the attackers. Other news outlets voiced fears of a "backlash" against Muslims in France and elsewhere.
But the real story is that while there have been some sporadic incidents against mosques and Muslim owned businesses in France following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, there has been no backlash against the Muslim community. Muslims across France even joined in the unity rally, an act that would have been impossible were there a climate of widespread public hostility.
The majority of hate crimes in France, as in a number of other countries, affects the Jewish community. It was a Jewish supermarket that was attacked. This does not mean that there will not be attacks -- all of them naturally deplorable -- against Muslim innocents, only that fears of a major widespread assault seem highly exaggerated. The same fears of widespread attacks against the Muslim community also proved unfounded after the 7/7 London bomb attacks.
Lumping terrorism and "Islamophobia" together ignores the real motivation of the latest killers in France. One of them, Amedy Coulibaly, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a video address prior to the supermarket attack. This hardly suggests a rant against perceived intolerance or racism. Invoking racism here also suggests, in a shifting of blame, that we in the West are somehow at fault for the violent behaviour of these Islamist terrorists. What "Islamophobia" motivated the killing of Jewish customers in a kosher supermarket? What had those victims done to deserve that?
Another reason this is no turning point is that the press continues to engage in self-righteous self-censorship. Not one broadcaster -- including the BBC, Fox, NBC and CNN -- showed any of the Charlie Hebdo images that had been deemed provocative. Those outlets were joined by the Associated Press, which deliberately cropped a photograph of the magazine's now-dead editor to avoid showing an image of the Prophet Muhammad. In a cringe replicated across almost all of Europe, not one major British newspaper published any of Charlie Hebdo's satirical images of Islam, and only The Guardian showed the full front cover of the edition that the survivors published after the attack.
Big mistake. These newspapers and broadcasters are denying the public a dispassionate view of what the killers themselves say is causing them to kill. Worse again, by drawing a line against possibly offending Muslims -- many of whom seem to have no problem offending Jews and Christians, among others, if not killing them -- the media have acted as if there is already in place an unofficial blasphemy law: the terrorists' key demand. A violent mob, disastrously undermining Western values, is effectively dictating the boundaries of free speech.
It is all very well to praise Charlie Hebdo as an icon of free speech, but after the riots that followed the publishing of Muhammad cartoons in Denmark's Jyllands Posten in 2006, Charlie Hebdo was virtually alone in reprinting them, and it was condemned widely for doing so.
Time magazine, in 2011, likened Charlie Hebdo's reprinting the cartoons as "the right to scream 'fire' in an increasingly over-heated theater." In other words, the "Islamophobic" cartoonists were to blame for their own misfortune. There is a notion permeating Europe, that if you speak out, not only can you can be put on trial -- as is the Dutch MP, Geert Wilders -- but that it will also, in an Orwellian twist, be your own fault; if you had just kept quiet, nothing unpleasant would be happening to you. Try telling that to the four Jews lying murdered on the floor of the French supermarket. What did they ever say?
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia tried to fool the world by joining France's "Unity March" for free speech just two days after a young Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, received the first installment of 50 lashes -- out of the 1000 he is to get -- "very severely," the lashing order says. He was taken after Friday prayers to a public square outside a mosque in Jeddah. His declared "crime" is "insulting Islam," for writing thoughts such as, "My commitment is to reject any repression in the name of religion... a goal we will reach in a peaceful and law-abiding way." Badawi still has 950 lashes to complete. If he lives. There is no medical help.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas -- whose genocidal, jihadi partner, Hamas, was, in a burst of surrealism, declared not a terrorist group by the European Union -- joined the forefront of the Unity March in Paris at the same time as a report was published by a Palestinian human rights group, accusing the Palestinian Authority of "waging war" against university students in the West Bank.
Turkey, "named the world's biggest jailor of journalists in 2012 and 2013" according to the Washington Post, was also there. Turkey "ended 2014 by detaining a number of journalists ... including Ekrem Dumanli, editor in chief of Zaman, a leading newspaper" with links to an opposition movement.
Meanwhile, between January 8 and January 14, as over three million copies of Charlie Hebdo were selling out and four million more being printed, there was already talk in France of hardening its laws against free speech. So this may not be a turning point either for free speech or against radical Islam. So it may be a while before we can truly say, "Nous sommes Charlie."