Article written by Dr. Hameedullah Zabuli (16th January 2015)
The deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris by armed gunmen appeared to be a brutal attack on freedom of expression. On the face of it the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo’s offices had done nothing except exercise their right to free speech guaranteed to them by French law and the UN Charter. Therefore to attack them in such cold blood seemed incomprehensible to the ordinary person. This attack appeared almost to be an attack on the identity of France, an affront to the values of the French Republic. It drew international condemnation and caused widespread dismay. The perpetuators of these attacks were tracked down in a matter of days and shot dead. Their motivations for the attack will never be known. Perhaps it was best to view these attacks as pure savagery rather than the work of some reasonable or calculating mind. To the French in particular, and the Europeans and other westerners in general, this attack illustrated once again the barbaric and unyielding nature of the Muslims and strengthened the hands of the emerging neo-facists of today’s Europe.
However if we dig deeper into this incident we are confronted by some confounding truths. It is reported that when the two brothers, suspected in this attack, were cornered by the police they initially took a hostage but then later released her saying that they did not want to take innocent lives. Furthermore according to media reports the two brothers had also attempted to negotiate with the police whom however rejected any talks of negotiations. Why would these suspects, assuming they carried out this attack, walk into an office kill its staff indiscriminately but then later release a hostage because she was ‘innocent’? How could the same persons who perpetuated this savagery then turn around and seek a negotiated settlement with the police?
Surely these brothers, if we accept that they carried out this attack, had a motive for targeting Charlie Hebdo’s staff but not risking the life a hostage. Surely they must have believed that they had a valid grievance to try and negotiate their surrender and be given a chance to defend themselves in the court of law. Every so often we hear of deranged individuals targeting innocents in schools, parks, cinemas and the like and then killing themselves when confronted by the police. Yet these two brothers did not seek the same destiny. Better yet, why are the perpetuators of those attacks not classified as belonging to a group or religion that threatens the very existence of a nation yet these two brothers are portrayed as Muslims threatening the European way of life?
Before returning to these issues we should first look at the central issue that fuelled this attack. Although the two brothers were never given a chance to explain their targeting of Charlie Hebdo’s office yet it was widely accepted that their motivation for attacking this particular establishment was due to its cartoonists ridiculing Prophet Muhammad Peace be upon Him. Europeans in general and Frenchmen in particular deplored this attack on their freedom and there have been widespread calls for Europeans to exercise their right to freedom of expression by making drawings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH. It has been stated that Muslims hate us, they deplore our freedoms and that they want to compel us into submission through the use of terror. We should stand shoulder to shoulder in defiance of this threat and bravely defend our right to freedom of expression. It is interesting to note that when a Muslim speaks out against the abuses of western countries in Muslim lands and asks Muslims to defend their lands then such a person is accused of inciting violence and put behind bars. Yet when a western draws pictures of Prophet Muhammad PBUH ridiculing him and inciting the beliefs of 1.6 billion people around the globe then he is hailed as a hero and a model to be followed. Why is the right to speak out against injustice challenged as incitement of violence as an abuse of the right of freedom of expression, but the right to abuse the religion of billions of people around the globe upheld as a proper use of this very same right?
In truth the demonizing of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH is not new to European history. European history is full of visual or written accounts demonizing the figure of Prophet Muhammad PBUH, portraying him in all forms of dehumanizing figures. With the rise of European imperialism however, such blunt attacks were put aside by European scholars who instead embraced the more subtle arts of persuasion embodied in the works of Orientalists. The recent resurgence of such grotesque attacks on Islam is both regrettable yet at the same time explainable. Europeans frustrated with the lack of progress by Orientalist writers (as witnessed in the revival of Islamism) simply reverted back to their basic instincts and possibly a more gratifying method of insulting Muslims. To them these blunt attacks on Muslims and especially the Prophet Muhammad PBUH serve a double purpose. Firstly it gratifies their need to insult Islam more openly and passionately. Also if their abuses inspire a backlash from Muslim individuals then they can simply use it to justify their continued abuse of the Islamic faith. In that sense Charlie Hebdo was not the only source in inspiring hatred towards Muslims all over the world. It was merely one in a long line of sources dedicated to feeding the new-found genocidal tendencies of Europe and America.
The loss of even one life is both regrettable and deplorable. Never should we encourage the taking of innocent lives. It is also worth pointing out that Muslims have no natural hatred or enmity towards Frenchman, Europeans, or Americans. We do not envy them their take on life, or their beliefs in the values of the European Enlightenment and the entailing freedoms and individual rights. Our feelings can be described more as indifference rather than anything else. We may even congratulate them in pursuing a political philosophy which holds meaning to them. If Voltaire, Rosseau and Montesqiue inspire them in their political life then we say: bon chance. Yet where we do draw a red-line is when they use these freedoms to hurl insults at the beliefs of billions of people around the globe. When they use these rights to incite hatred and violence towards Muslims all over the globe. They believe it their God-given right to force Muslims, not only those residing in Europe and America but also these living in their very own lands to submit to the ideas of the French forefathers. To relinquish their own history, values and beliefs in exchange for the writings of the Enlightenment.
The deaths of Charlie Hebdo’s staff drew million-man marches in the capitals of Europe. I ask both the laymen and the leaders present in these marches, where were you when France invaded Mali simply because they did not agree with the political beliefs of the Tuareg? Where are your marches when French bullets and planes kill thousands of civilians, including women and children, in Afghanistan, Mali, Syria, Iraq and dozens of other countries? Francois Hollande kills thousands of innocent civilians in Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria simply because their political inspirations are different to his. He stands shoulder to shoulder, like a brother in arms, with Benjamin Netenyahu because four jews were killed in these attacks. Yet he forgets that Netanyahu only two months ago killed more than two thousand innocent civilians in the Gaza strip including several journalists covering the indiscriminate genocidal war. France provides intelligence and logistical support to American-led operations in dozens of countries around the Muslim world. All of this is being done why? Because the Muslim fail to be inspired by Voltaire? Because they see Rosseau as nothing more than a romantic Frenchman? Because we dare think that our political destiny is different to yours? That we should be inspired by our own history and thinkers rather than yours? Everyday Muslims are being slaughtered on an industrial scale. You brush it under the carpet as if they were fleas. Yet when your own actions propel a backlash by some individuals whose sanity might be a matter of law, you feel offended in true Gallic spirit. You shout out that your continent is under attack, that Muslims are overrunning your countries, that they want to eliminate you and your way of life. You call for arms amid calls of Viva le Republique.
No doubt the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s office will not be brushed off as another of the dozens of incidents we saw in European and American cities by frustrated individuals (think of the dozens of attacks in American schools last year). Rather it will be painted as an attack on Fortress Europe. It will inspire more bouts of abuses against Muslims and Islam. More pictures insulting Islam will be published (as Charlie has already done). More neo-nazi marches will be held across Europe, more restrictions on practicing Muslims will be legalized throughout European capitals, more bombings and murders of Muslims around the globe will be justified. Europe will be aflame with cries of war. But the Europe of today is not the same as the Europe of a 100 years ago. It can no longer simply ignore the beliefs and aspirations of other nations around the world. If it wants to extinguish the flames of hope inspired in billions of humans around the world then it should contemplate the possibility that her flames of war might very well end up engulfing Fortress Europe along with it.
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.