Charlie Hebdo is a left wing newspaper known for publishing cartoons, jokes and reports satirising religion, religious figures and public and political figures. They’ve drawn criticism from Muslim groups in the past for publishing caricatures of Prophet Mohammed, which led to their offices being firebombed. The newspaper is accustomed to regularly receiving threats of violence, such were the level and nature of the threats the offices were under police protection, with some editors assigned their own round the clock security detail for their own safety.
The horrific attack on the editors and staff at the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and the two police officers yesterday seemingly served no purpose other than to further polarise the public.
Reports suggest that the two gunmen were affiliated to Al-Qaeda. France has one of the largest secular Muslim populations in Europe. Of the 5 million Muslims in the country, less than 1/3 label themselves as practicing or have any interest in religion. The main problem for groups like Al-Qaeda is that their recruitment pool is already rather small, add to that the fact that the larger majority of Muslims have no interest in politics let alone terrorism, they find themselves against a wall forcing them to change their approach.
Unlike other attacks against Charlie Hebdo, this one wasn’t a retaliation against a particular depiction defaming the Prophet Mohammed. An attack like this play right into the hands of the far right and only serves to spread Islamophobia amongst the non-Muslim population. Al-Qaeda feeds off the hatred and vengence that is directed at Muslims. It is beneficial to them that communities feel they are being targeted and discriminated against, thus allowing them to manipulate the rising sentiments of grievance providing them a much larger pool of recruits.
Je Suis Charlie – Je Suis Ahmed
The twittersphere is today filled with posts who are using this atrocity to spew their hatred vitriol. To them, Islam in its entirety as a religion is responsible. They believe it is completely incompatible with the democratic values we hold dear in the West. These people homogenise all Muslims; to them, there is no difference between Malala and ISIS. These people ignore that these terrorists are not selective over who they kill, by their inherent nature, they simply set out to murder and Muslims themselves make up a large proportion of their victims, directly or not. The irony is not lost that one of the police officers shot and killed on the street outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo, Ahmed Merabet, was himself a Muslim who died protecting the people and publication that mocked and ridiculed his faith.
At this moment in time, anti-Muslim sentiment is rife across all of Europe. The ever growing and increasingly popular Far-right parties, in France’s case the Front National, single out Islam as the root of all of societies ills. As a result, we will inevitably see a rise in the number of anti-Muslim attacks leading to further disillusionment among an already marginalised and disenfranchised young Muslim population, creating a breeding ground for extremists.
The only way we can ever begin to win the battle against Al-Qaeda and other similar organisations is for the larger population to resist the cries from the far right, to resist the understandable knee jerk reaction to blame an entire religious group and expect them to accept shared responsibility for the actions of a few. When Anders Bhering-Brevik carried out his killing rampage in Norway in the face of what he believed to be the lax response to the Islamisation of the country, the country didn’t declare a war on Islam or terror, they didn’t respond with acts of retribution or revenge. On the contrary, the tragedy united the country and the backlash that Bhering-Brevik wanted never occurred.
We mustn’t forget that extremism thrives on extremism. It can only be defeated by tolerance and humanity. The terrorists want us to seek revenge and retaliate, so why would we want to fall into their trap? Multiculturalism isn’t our enemy, extremist groups feed off the us versus them mentality, and the best thing for France would be for them to remain true to their values of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.