The outpouring of support and solidarity expressed for the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in the wake of the murderous Jan. 7 attack on its headquarters should send a clear message to terrorist organizations throughout the world — religiously motivated violence can no longer silence the voice of a society.
In the attack by apparent Islamic militants, gunmen shot dead 12 people at the Paris office of the satirical magazine, known for its controversial illustrations lampooning political and religious figures, including Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Four of the magazine’s cartoonists, including its editor, were among those killed, as well as two police officers, one of whom was Muslim.
In a separate incident at a Paris kosher supermarket, a gunman with apparent ties to the Charlie Hebdo assailants murdered five others, bringing the total to 17 killed over three days of terror attacks in the French capital.
The fantasy of the Paris murderers and their ilk is that they are defending and honoring Islam. People who witnessed the Paris attacks said that the gunmen allegedly shouted “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” and “God is Great” in Arabic.
The truth, however, is that these men disgraced not only their religion, but the entire human race.
It’s true that Charlie Hebdo never shrank from mocking the Muslim religion: In 2006, it reprinted Danish cartoons that mocked the prophet Mohammed. In 2011, it published a “Sharia” edition in which “guest editor” Mohammed promised “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter.” A year later, the magazine depicted the prophet naked. On the morning of the attacks, its Twitter account wished a happy, healthy new year to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Indeed, the magazine has routinely mocked all religions: a recent issue questioned the existence of Jesus. The difference, however, is that Christians and members of other non-Muslim religions have yet to respond to any of these satires with acts of violence, much less murder.
Unfortunately, the Paris attacks cannot simply be written off as the acts of isolated psychopaths. Last Thursday, Pakistani Muslims called for the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists to be hanged for drawing the Prophet Mohammed on its latest front cover. Nearly 300 people rallied in the city of Lahore, carrying placards saying “Down with Charlie Hebdo.” Another banner read: “Making blasphemy cartoon of the Prophet is the worst act of terrorism. The sketch-makers must be hanged immediately.”
On social media, there have been comments celebrating the “blessed” attack and telling the killers, “You pleased our hearts.” There are congratulations to the terrorists for shouting “God is great” and striking “a paper known for its abuse of Islam.”
Said and Cherif Kouachi, the Charlie Hebdo gunmen, and Amedy Coulibaly, the supermarket attacker, were each killed by police. But they were not martyrs. They should be remembered instead as humorless, infantile mass murderers who inhabited the same moral universe as a Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer.
Likewise, any religion that calls for or condones such actions should be condemned as a barbaric relic of human history, alongside sacrificial murder and slavery. A civilized world simply has no place for beliefs that cannot withstand criticism without unleashing waves of violence from their most fanatical adherents.
Christianity and other non-Muslim religions have certainly been guilty of their share of atrocities, from the Crusades of the Middle Ages to the murder of abortion clinic workers in the late 20th century. But followers of those religions, like the vast majority of Muslims, have largely rejected the more violent, backward tenets of their faith and learned to accommodate themselves to the modern world.
Among those accommodations is the acceptance that a civil society means that free expression trumps the hurt feelings of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient, a point that’s been expressed again and again in the days following the Paris murders.
Last week’s edition of Charlie Hebdo, the first published since the attacks, featured a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad holding a “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) sign. The slogan was widely used following the attack on the magazine, as people and organizations around the globe sought to show their support.
The cover also carries a caption that reads “Tout est pardonne,’’ which translates into English as “All is forgiven.”
Three million copies of last week’s edition were printed. Normally only 60,000 are sold each week
Last Sunday, dignitaries and world leaders joined hundreds of thousands of people for a unity rally in France in defiance of the terror spree.
Charlie Hebdo’s lawyer Richard Malka told France Info radio: “We will not give in. The spirit of ‘I am Charlie’ means the right to blaspheme.”
And maybe that’s the one glimmer of light in this whole tragedy: a renewed understanding that certain freedoms must be fought for and defended, with blood if necessary.
That’s something the staff of Charlie Hebdo certainly understood. Three years ago, after the magazine’s office was bombed for printing Danish cartoons that mocked the prophet Mohammed, its editorial director, Stéphane Charbonnier, pointed out that the magazine was “provocative on many subjects. It just so happens that every time we deal with radical Islam … we get indignant or violent reactions.”
Charbonnier was among those killed on Jan. 7 for refusing to bow down to that violence.