The shameful myth of Charlie Hebdo solidarity
Our self-censoring politically correct media and politicians believe 'terrorists' emerge from a culture free swamp and only coincidentally imbibe the concepts of their Islamic faith. The shameful truth is that, with very few exceptions, there hasn't been any genuine Charlie Hebdo solidarity. Quite the reverse
The barbarians who carried out Wednesday's attack at Charlie Hebdo succeeded in killing some prominent journalists, and two policemen. But they wanted to do much more than that. They wanted to kill freedom of expression too.
They wanted to intimidate every other journalist and writer to prevent them commenting on Islam. They wanted to spread fear across society in order to cower people into silence and self-censorship. That, after all, is the whole point of terrorism. It is less about physical killing, horrific as it is, and more about the killing of our minds and hearts.
It is about paralysing us into stupefied submission, effectively shattering our judgement as much as their bullets shatter our bodies.
The sad fact is that for years they have been succeeding. They have succeeded because western leaders have shied away from offending Muslims, preferring denial and political correctness instead.
From George Bush telling Muslims after 9/11 that Islam's teachings were purely 'good and peaceful', to David Cameron's declaration that there was 'nothing in Islam to justify terror' after the Lee Rigby murder, to the US authorities describing the Fort Hood shootings as an act of 'workplace violence' to Boris Johnson's insistence that Muslim terrorists 'wrench (quotes) out of context' from the Koran, there is a persistent refusal to 'Islamise' jihadist violence.
Media outlets too refer to the attacks of 'militants' without mentioning their religious affiliation, (see this on the astounding behaviour of the BBC). Instead of explaining that jihadism arises from extreme, theologically ultra conservative interpretations of Islam with millions of adherents and many sponsors worldwide, we are told that terrorism is a problem of isolated extremists and psychologically maladjusted individuals.
On this view, 'terrorists' emerge from a culture free swamp and only coincidentally imbibe the concepts of their faith. Such denial is then accompanied by the ubiquitous accusation of 'Islamophobia', a staple of western discourse, and a blatant attempt to stifle any criticism of Islam.
Much of the media too is complicit. Sure, paper after paper and broadcaster after broadcaster has condemned the killers and paid tributes, rightly so, to those slain at Charlie Hebdo.
The overwhelming sentiment is one of 'Je suis Charlie'. But few have republished the controversial cartoons in solidarity with the newspaper, just as many dared not republish the Jyllands Posten cartoons in 2005.
Within hours of the tragedy, Fox, CNN, NBC and the BBC said that they would not be airing the satirical cartoons, and they were not alone.
They were joined by the Associated Press which deliberately cropped a photograph of the now dead editor to avoid showing an image of Muhammad. By the same token, no major British paper published Charlie Hebdo's satirical images of Islam.
The message for the Islamists is clear. The Western media is being cowed into silence and self-censorship, and terrorism is succeeding. Those lone voices brave enough to satirise Islam will be even softer targets, and the terrorists know it.
Some argue that republishing these images is either unnecessary or offensive. Ordinarily, that may be the case, especially when the offended parties respond with peaceful protest. But when journalists are slaughtered for what they do, the importance of their message becomes amplified and there is a duty to propagate it. As Ayaan Hirsi Ali puts it, collective publication also shares the risk of publication.
But worse than this self censorship is the tendency to blame Islamist violence on the victims. In Wednesday's Financial Times Tony Barber condemned the murders while accusing Charlie Hebdo of having a 'long record of mocking, baiting and needling French Muslims,' and not being a responsible champion of free speech.
This ignores the fact that the publication has been an equal opportunities offender that has satirised all faiths, and that Jews and Christians don’t respond to provocation with gun attacks against irreverent journalists. In an interview on Wednesday with Channel 4 News, Baroness Warsi was asked what 'we might have done' to merit this attack.
On BBC Question Time, Vince Cable condemned Germans who marched against Islam in the same breath as the Islamist butchers. Intolerance, he said, can come 'from both directions', drawing a wholly spurious form of equivalence.
A piece in the Catholic League said that we should not tolerate 'the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction'. Many papers have made much of the alleged 'Islamophobia' building up across Europe, as if these attitudes provoked the shooters.
There is nothing new here. While world leaders condemned the violent aftermath of the Jyllands-Posten affair, many other voices condemned the 'irresponsible' and 'provocative' actions of the paper. Around the world, many newspapers that did republish the images had to close down or issue grovelling apologies in an abject display of appeasement.
In 2012, a 14 minute film 'The Innocence of Islam' was blamed by many for widespread violence across the Middle East that led to 50 deaths. The Obama administration questioned YouTube's decision to host the film while Obama himself went out of his way to declare that the future 'must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam'.
Charlie Hebdo itself was criticised for satirising Islam in the wake of a previous firebomb attack on its offices. TIME accused the paper of begging 'for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy'. Too many of these and similar voices will have also blamed Western foreign policy for encouraging terrorist attacks.
The assumption here is that our alleged ill treatment of Muslims has rebounded upon us, that we are to blame for the Islamist attacks. The net result is that aggrieved Muslims are not seen as capable of responding peacefully and lawfully, which does them a gross disservice.
If democratic protest is the norm, it is an option for all Muslims too, and we should demand it. By contrast, we should recognise Islamist terrorism as the response of ideological fanatics, people suffused with such intense hatred of non-Muslims that they deem any challenge to the faith to be a capital offence. This is the mindset of Islamist supremacism, not rational outrage.
The denial and wilful blindness must end. It is not enough to simply condemn the murderers, no matter how vehemently. There must be an end to the self censorship that has so characterised liberal debate.
There must be a bold defence of satire and ridicule, weapons which have been used throughout history to resist the worst forms of tyranny and subjugation. We must do this because freedom of speech is a cardinal principle of any western society that calls itself enlightened. So too is the need to challenge and, if need be, offend people’s sensibilities. No one has the right not to be offended.
Above all, the opinion formers must connect the dots. This was no isolated or random attack. It was merely the latest salvo in an ideological war between radical Islam and its enemies, the same war that has witnessed the slaughter of schoolchildren in Pakistan, the mass murder of Yazidi Christians and the killing of Jews in a synagogue.
How we respond is a test of our civilisation. Appeasement must give way to defiance because Islamism, like Nazism, is a form of tyranny that needs to be confronted, resisted and ridiculed.
One would like to think that this tragic attack will launch the fightback, that saying "Je suis Charlie" is more than just an empty gesture. It may happen soon, but not yet.
Jeremy Havardi is a journalist and the author of two books, Falling to Pieces, and The Greatest Briton
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