By Anthony L Hall
A shooting at the offices of a satirical magazine in Paris has left at least 12 people dead [10 journalists and two policemen]…
Witnesses report that two masked men entered the building with guns and open fired on staff of ‘Charlie Hebdo’, a weekly newspaper that had [drawn repeated threats for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, among other controversial sketches].
The gunmen fled the building [shouting the prophet has been avenged] and are believed to be on the run….
(Al Jazeera, January 7, 2015)
Late reports are that the editor and three celebrated cartoonists are among the dead. The gunmen are still at large; and the police are searching, house-to-house at times, in an increasingly anxious operation to apprehend them….
Meanwhile, like Pavlovian dogs, Western media are lapping up feckless expressions of defiance from political figures, as well as arm-chair insights from anti-terrorism experts about who these gunmen are, what the French government needs to do to find them, and what it needs to do prevent further attacks.
Whereas, in fact:
It must be understood that no matter their collective resolve, there’s absolutely nothing our governments can do to prevent such attacks. That Americans reacted yesterday as if those explosions went off in Washington or New York should compel Westerners to focus on calming our collective nerves, instead of fretting about (or worse, trying to figure out) the motivation for and timing of terrorist attacks by Islamic fanatics.
(“7/7 Terror Attacks in London,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 8, 2005)
Indeed, what is most notable about saturation media coverage of this attack is the groundhog-day nature of it all -- so much so that, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think they were just providing continuing coverage of a similar terrorist attack in Ottawa three months ago.
Alas, raising the terror alert to the highest level and deploying police all over Paris, like coalition forces patrolling Kabul, will offer comfort only to fools.
I feel obliged to repeat my wonder that such attacks are so relatively rare. Not to mention my oft-stated and abiding fear that only God will help if/when al-Qaeda deploys not one lone wolf, but packs of wolves to open fire at airports, shopping malls, and/or sports stadiums in the United States (a la Westgate shopping mall in Kenya).
(“Lone-Wolf Gunman Terrorizes LAX,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 5, 2013)
This point bears stressing because, if this one attack by two former pizza-delivery boys can command 24/7 worldwide media coverage, cause political scrambling from Berlin to Washington and all seats of government in between, make French police and security forces look like keystone Robocops in (ongoing) hot pursuit, and evoke public grieving reminiscent of 9/11, then I shudder to think what feckless, fatalistic spectacle would unfold if/when 20 seasoned terrorists launch ten coordinated attacks at different locations in a major Western city….
That said, I am on record defending freedom of expression -- even when that expression offended the sense and sensibilities of Muslim Jihadists.
Here, for example, is an excerpt from “US Grants Asylum to Celebrated Islamic Reformer after Dutch Government Deports Her,” May 17, 2006, which attests to my declared solidarity with two documentary filmmakers who were prepared to die for this cause.
Anyone who thinks that Europeans have not cowered in the face of intimidation by Islamic extremists needs only consider the unfortunate fate that has now befallen Ayaan Hirsi Ali — Islam’s most progressive voice in Europe.
Last year, I wrote two commentaries about Hirsi Ali’s daring campaign to expose and reform the misogynistic and provincial tenets of Islam. The most controversial and provocative part of her campaign was a film she wrote and co-produced with iconoclastic Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. That film, Submission, portrays how conservative interpretations of Koranic verses compel Muslim women to submit to the most demeaning and abusive treatment -- all to show appropriate obedience and devotion to the men in their lives, as well as absolute faith to Islam.
It did not matter that Hirsi Ali’s film presented a wholly accurate depiction of the scars (to bodies and minds) that conservative-Islamic practices inflict on Muslim women, which are always hidden from public view by the chadors many of them are forced to wear. Immediately upon its release, Muslim clerics in the putatively liberal and progressive Netherlands issued a fatwa (decree of death) against her and van Gogh. And, within short order, van Gogh was found dead in the streets of Amsterdam with a note stabbed in his chest warning Hirsi Ali that she was next….
And, yes, Muslim fanatics duly trolled me….
Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at http://ipjn.com
With, my advocacy for the cause of freedom of expression thusly established, I trust, I feel constrained to make this critical distinction:
It’s one thing to defy Islamic jihadists to expose human rights and other abuses Muslims perpetrate in the name of Islam -- as Hirsi Ali and van Gogh did with their film. It’s quite another to do so merely to propagate caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad -- as Charlie Hebdo
and its celebrated cartoonists did with their cartoons.
The former clearly informs and has undeniable redeeming social value; whereas the latter serves no purpose other than to provoke/offend Muslims (for the amusement of non-Muslims?).
Put another way, would so many people be standing in solidarity with these cartoonists if they were propagating racist caricatures of blacks -- complete with liberal use of the word “nigger” in speech bubbles…? Or, perhaps more relevant to Europeans, would so many people be standing in solidarity with them if they were propagating anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews -- complete with hooked nose sniffing for financial schemes…? I don’t think so.
In fact, regarding the latter, a respected German daily newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung
, provoked public outrage last year with a cartoon of Facebook founder Mark Zukerberg -- “drawn in the style of the worst anti-Semitic caricatures: adorned with a greedy fish-lipped mouth and a long hooked nose under a hat emblazoned with Facebook’s logo and a fringe of Zuckerbergian curls,” according to February 24, 2014, edition of Tablet Magazine
But, in that case, instead of rallying to support that cartoonist’s freedom of expression, people mounted such sustained and widespread protests that the newspaper was forced to apologize, and promptly deleted the cartoon.
By instructive contrast, despite all of the protests its anti-Muslim cartoons incited, which included the bombing of its offices, Charlie Hebdo
never apologized for, let alone deleted, any of them. Incidentally, this is just another reason why so many Muslims feel disenfranchised, disrespected, and disillusioned in Europe….
Therefore, those declaring unqualified solidarity with the cartoonists in this case might want to consider how liable they are to charges of brazen hypocrisy. (This applies especially to student activists in the United States -- who are making quite a show of standing in solidarity with these politically incorrect cartoonists over in Paris, while continuing to enforce politically correct litmus tests on guest speakers at their respective campuses.)
Freedom of expression gives one the right to offend. But prevailing standards of decency and respect have always put generally accepted limits on that right.
Apropos of which, I am also on record declaring solidarity with the American Indians. They, of course, are every bit as offended by an NFL team using the image of an Indian chief and the nickname “Redskins” in its logo, as Muslims are by a newspaper using the image of the Prophet Mohammed in its cartoons.
In point of fact, the editor of the newspaper at issue displayed even more wanton disregard for the sense and sensibilities of Muslims than the owner of that NFL team continues to display for the sense and sensibilities of Indians. Mind you, if Indians were still as inclined to scalp heads as Muslims are to chop them off, the owner of that NFL team would’ve stopped using his offensive logo long ago. But I jest/digress….
As it happens, I warned it would be thus. Here, for example, is a foreboding excerpt from “Caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad Incite Fiery Rage, Part II,” February 6, 2006.
Muslims in Asia joined the protest that spread like wildfire throughout the Middle East last week after European newspapers published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by Danish cartoonists. Unfortunately, most Europeans seem as dumfounded by their grievance as the French were about the grievances that ignited a fiery rampage amongst Muslim youths three months ago.
I can understand how centuries of cultural arrogance made the French ignorant of (indeed inured to) simmering rage amongst disenfranchised, disillusioned, and disaffected Muslim youths. And, I can even understand how a gaggle of 12 cartoonists thought they had creative license to perpetrate this religious insult. I find it utterly deplorable, however, that European editors published these caricatures knowing full well that Muslims would consider them a desecration of their religion.
This was a callous, pernicious and blasphemous provocation—made all the more craven by the specious justification that it was done in the spirit of freedom of the press.
This is why I’m eschewing the virtual activism now going viral under the banner, #Je Suis Charlie.
Instead, I feel constrained to note that those participating in this viral campaign appear too busy to be concerned about Boko Haram terrorists slaughtering another 100 innocents in Nigeria today. After all, this constitutes mocking, murderous defiance of the virtual activism against their unconscionable acts of terror, which went viral nine months ago under the banner, #Bringbackourgirls.
There’s no denying, though, that this attack will have a galvanizing effect on anti-Muslim sentiments that are becoming epidemic across Europe. And so onward we march towards The Clash of Civilizations Samuel Huntington warned about….
But I shall end here with two prevailing points:
• No amount of religious or cultural offense can ever justify the kind of jihadi justice meted out against Charlie Hebdo and its staff today -- no matter how repugnant, or indeed sacrilege, their offense.
• No amount of rhetoric or security measures can ever protect us from the wrath of fanatics who are hell-bent on acting out in this way to avenge grievances (real or perceived). We are all sitting ducks.
Accordingly, my thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones of those killed and injured in today’s terrorist attack in Paris. I am all too mindful though that:
There but for the grace of God go I [… or you].
Hirsi Ali van Gogh…
Caricatures of Muhammad…
* This commentary was originally published at The iPINIONS Journal on Wednesday at 1:03 p.m.