The week’s events in Paris cannot go unremarked, not even when one has little to offer beyond what has been related elsewhere. There is a sense of obligation to take some kind of stand, knowing that it may be largely symbolic and ineffectual. We feel outrage, frustration, numbed shock that these horrific things could happen, though horrific things happen all the time. The same week saw, by way of a small sampling, the Boko Haram rampage in northern Nigeria, a suicide bombing of a Lebanese café, the bombing of a building that houses offices of the NAACP in Colorado Springs, a Saudi blogger flogged for “insulting Islam,” and a wave of anti-Muslim “reprisal” attacks in France (This map shows every attack on French Muslims since Charlie Hebdo, Vox, 10 January 2015), along with sadly routine carnage in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
More than a few commentators were as much at pains to distance themselves from the content of Charlie Hebdo’s satire as they were to denounce the attacks. With this I have some sympathy. The handful of Hebdo cartoons I viewed are not to my taste. They tend to be ham-fisted, sophomoric, and not particularly clever. To give the cartoonists their due, the objects of their satire are figures and thinking that tend to be dogmatic, intolerant, and not particularly thoughtful. Charlie Hebdo attacks objectionable speech with other speech, satire and ridicule, not with censorship, and not with violence.
It is not often that I agree with David Brooks. On this I am with him.
When I think back home, I think of how we think about tolerance. And the point I try to make that everyone was saying, I am — Je suis Charlie, or I am with Charlie Hebdo. But if Charlie Hebdo, the magazine, newspaper tried to open up on any college campus in this country, they would be shut down in 30 seconds. They would run afoul of every political correctness, every hate speech code, because they are offensive in some ways.
And so my point for this country is that if we are going to tolerate offensive talk, or if we’re going to expect, frankly Islamist radicals to tolerate offensive talk, then we have to tolerate offensive talk. And we have to invite people to speak at our campuses who are offensive some of the time. And we have to widen our latitude in that area. (PBS Newshour, 9 January 2015)
It is easy to be for free speech that expresses ideas with which we are in agreement or when we have no strong feeling one way or another. Not so much when we find speech offensive or hurtful. Most of us acknowledge that there are always limits. Values are not always compatible. Those of us who see values as principles, habits, ways of thought, and norms that have evolved within the culture may struggle to find common ground with those for whom fundamental values are immutable laws, whether handed down by an omnipotent deity or derived in some other fashion.
The usual suspects in Europe and the U.S. may be counted on to shamelessly exploit the attacks for their own ends, which in Europe go beyond being anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant to include opposition to the European Union. There are genuine issues and problems in relation to immigration, multiculturalism, conflicting values, tolerance, and assimilation. Pat Lang, speaking in reference to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s call for Islam to reform itself, points out that Shia and Sunni Islam have quite different traditions in this regard.
Of course you [al-Sisi] are Shia and the notion of gradual adaptation to a changing world through accumulated fatwas from the senior scholars of the hawza is embedded in your version of the faith.
From the point of view of al-Sisi the largest problem is with the much larger Sunni Islamic presence because of the rigidity of the process of non-adaptation to a changing world that has been deeply characteristic of Sunni Islam for a millennium and more. The presence within the Sunni “community” of factions that hold extreme salafist opinions and who are willing to put them into action by force of arms has become a problem for the whole world. (Col. W. Patrick Lang, retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces, ‘In need of a religious revolution’ Toronto Sun, Sic Semper Tyrannis, 10 January 2015)
These issues will not be addressed by xenophobic fearmongering about plots to impose Sharia law in Western countries or the calumny that moderate Muslims fail to renounce terror.
“These men are criminals, barbarians, satans. For me, they are not Muslims,” the imam of the Paris suburb of Drancy [Hassen Chalghoumi], said, addressing the media. “Their hatred, their barbarism, has nothing to do with Islam. We are all French, we are all humans. We must live in respect, tolerance and solidarity.” (Jon Henley, Muslims fear backlash after Charlie Hebdo deaths as Islamic sites attacked, The Guardian, 8 January 2015)
“The fact is that both governments of Muslim-majority countries and the chief religious institutions have been engaged in a vigorous war on religious extremism for some time” (Juan Cole, Yes, they’re Condemning the Paris Attacks: The Muslims’ War on Terror, Informed Comment, 9 January 2015):
Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke to an audience of clerics at the Department of Religious Endowments a few days ago. He made waves by denouncing terrorism among Muslims, and said it wasn’t right for the rest of the world to be afraid of 1.5 billion Muslims. He pointedly insisted that the al-Azhar clerics do something about this stain on the honor of Islam, implying that they were not effectively combating extremist ideas. He called for a new sort of “religious discourse” and a “new revolution” to combat extremism.
Islam does not have a monopoly on intolerance and violence. Few if any religions have not seen the blood of innocents shed in their name. Israel’s hands are not clean. America’s hands are not clean. I am in agreement with Col. Lang:
Many people here at SST [Sic Semper Tyrannis] are still horrified at the level of destruction wrought upon Iraq, Pakistan, etc. by the United States. As I have written before “you ain’t seen nuttin yet.” The US was distracted by the false dogma of COIN in these wars, a doctrine easily accepted as a panacea by the ignorant. This doctrine sought an accom[m]odation with local populations through “good works” but carried out in the context of a largely unadaptive world view on the part of the populations involved.
Most Americans, while willing to give such efforts a “try,” really prefer overwhelming brute force and the complete destr[u]ction of enemies. The air campaigns of ann[i]hilation that we waged against Germany and Japan were not a fluke. We never really applied that level of force in the recent wars. The possibilities available are virtually unlimited.
We can be heartened Saturday’s rally in Dresden.
“We won’t permit that hate will divide us”, Dresden’s mayor Helma Orosz said in front of the 18th-century Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). (Around 35,000 Germans rally in Dresden against racism and xenophobia, Reuters, 10 January 2015)
We can be heartened too by those in France who responded to the attack on Charlie Hebdo not with xenophobia and hatred but with a renewed call for liberty, equality, and fraternity. “Samia Ghali, mayor of one of Marseille’s districts, told the BBC that people there were marching for tolerance and co-existence. Marseille is the city with the largest Muslim population in France.” (France attacks: Million-strong unity rally in Paris, BBC, 11 January 2015.
This is where we stand.
9 moving tributes to Charlie Hebdo from Arabic-language cartoonists, Vox, 11 January 2015.
My brother was Muslim and he was killed by people who pretend to be Muslims. They are terrorists, that’s it. As for my brother’s death, it was a waste. — Malek Merabet, brother of slain French police office Ahmed Merabet. Malek Merabet’s brief eulogy for his brother concluded with these words:
Devastated by this barbaric act, we associate ourselves with the pain of the families of the victims.
I address myself now to all the racists, Islamophobes, and anti-Semites:
One must not confuse extremists with Muslims. Madness has neither color nor religion. I want to make another point: stop painting everybody with the same brush, stop burning mosques or synagogues. You are attacking people. It won’t bring back our dead, and it won’t appease our families. (Ahmed Merabet’s eulogy is the most important thing you’ll read on Charlie Hebdo, Vox, 11 January 2015)