Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Charlie Hebdo, terror attacks, Jews—and freedom

You’ve probably already heard about last week’s terror attack against the French newspaper, Charlie Hebdo (identified in some reports as a magazine). Terrorists attacked the paper because it had a history of publishing cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed in a less than honorific manner. That, many Muslims said, was an insult to Islam.
The paper has been threatened because of these cartoons. It was fire-bombed in 2010.
On January 7, 2015, terrorists attacked again. Two gunmen entered the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo. There, they killed 12 people, including the paper’s publishing director and 5 of its top cartoonists.
It was horrific. It was an attack against France’s freedom of speech (“The attack on Charlie Hebdo is an attack on freedom”, The Spectator, January 10, 2015).
But when almost four million people, including heads of state, demonstrated all across France, the ‘Islamic’ part of the terror attack disappeared. More than 1.5 million gathered in Paris alone (“Largest Crowd in French History Turns Out Against Terror, 3.7 Million Strong”, Bloomberg news, January 11, 2015). But the gathering seemed mostly focused on the terror attack against Charlie Hebdo, and not so much on the terror attack against a Jewish supermarket that had occurred two days after the Charile Hebdo attack. Four Jews had been murdered in this second incident.
The demonstration had been organized to protest ‘terror’. It was organized to demonstrate, ‘we won’t be frightened’ by terror. It didn’t specify ‘Islamic terror’. It didn’t link ‘Islamic terror’ with the murder of Jews because they were Jews.
Instead, marchers spoke of freedom. For example, one said, "Our values are liberty, equality and fraternity…we cannot allow terrorists to dictate to us" (“Paris attacks: Millions rally for unity in France!”, BBC News, January 11, 2015).
He said nothing of Jews. He said nothing about ‘Islamic terrorists’.  
Yesterday, BBC news reported that the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo is ready to hit the street (“Charlie Hebdo's latest edition to depict Prophet Muhammad”, January 12, 2014). By late January 12, 2015, papers around the world ran their own Hebdo headlines. Everyone was proud: the paper wasn’t going to be silenced by a terror attack.
Not everyone mentioned, ‘an ‘Islamic terror attack’.
While Charlie Hebdo normally publishes some 60,000 copies per edition, this edition is to have a run of one million (“Charlie Hebdo: Next edition will mock Prophet Mohammed despite massacre of employees”, The Mirror, January 12, 2015). The paper's lawyer, Richard Malka, told French radio that it was important to show that the magazine would "cede nothing" to extremists (ibid). He didn’t mention ‘Islamic extremists’.
This new edition, Malka said, will lampoon Mohammed - among other figures (The Mirror, ibid). True to form, the cover shows Mohammed the Prophet as a cartoon character.
This gesture was important because after the attack, the gunmen had been heard declaring that they had "avenged the Prophet Muhammad".  They had killed because of an ‘insult’ to Islam.
The attack, Malka said, was why the paper would continue to lampoon Mohammed--to show that its freedom of speech would not be sacrificed to terrorism. Cartoons about Mohammed were not going to stop (“Charlie Hebdo's Wednesday edition to include Prophet Mohammed cartoons”, The Telegraph, January 12, 2015). “We won’t give in”, he was quoted as saying. “Otherwise, all this [the death of the paper’s staff] won’t have meant anything” (ibid).
For this irreverent, controversial paper, freedom of speech means the right to blaspheme. It means the right to mock politicians, religious leaders—and anyone else in the public eye (ibid).
This paper may be offensive, tasteless and insensitive. But for the West, none of these ‘offenses’ is legally contrary to the freedom to speak one’s mind. What is contrary to Western freedom is the killing of those who do that speaking (or, cartooning). What is contrary to Western freedom is terrorism to silence freedom. What is contrary to all Western belief is the use of barbarism in the name of religion to erase freedom.
Given the horrific attack Charile Hebdo has suffered, this return to publication with more Mohammed cartoons is courageous. But it’s not enough.
Every major European newspaper has to stand up. Beginning immediately, every paper and magazine should post a cartoon of Mohammed on its front page.
Each paper should run an accompanying story to state that every time terrorists of any kind attack any one of them with the intent to silence it, all newspapers would publish a cartoon (one specifically chosen to offend the terrorists) every day for three days.
For a particularly grievous attack—such as the one against Charlie Hebdo—every paper will publish a front-page cartoon for a full week.
The message to terrorists should be clear:  kill us, and you will be flooded with cartoons that mock you. The more you kill, the worse the cartoons—and the longer they will run.
This is the most effective way to protect freedom.
If France—or any other Western nation—doesn’t confront the Islamic nature of the terror it faces, then these terrorists will win. The process will be slow. But, attack by attack, these terrorists will limit our freedom.
You cannot stop this terrorism if you ignore the reason it exists. It’s like a disease: if you refuse to address the cause, the symptoms will only get worse.
In addition, if these countries don’t make sure that Jews can live with peace and security, Islamic terrorists won’t simply win. They’ll destroy all of our freedoms.
We know this because we know European history: attacking Jews is never the road to freedom. It’s always the road to tyranny.

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