The discussion after the barbaric attack of Charlie Hebdo is one that has been seen before: the freedom of free speech and expression versus religious sensitivities. Cartoons about current political and social matters in a satiric way are seen as a key part of a free and democratic society and one of the big achievements during the enlightenment period by many in Europe, and even more so in France.
Who is the victim?
For many, Charlie Hebdo seems to be an Islam-critic magazine, which is far away from the truth as they make fun of all religions, politicians and world leaders. Charlie Hebdo stands for challenging authority (of any kind) and does so purposefully in a blasphemous and offending way. Therefore, it might not come as a surprise that ultra-conservative Catholics sued the magazine in 2010 over a cartoon of the pope with a condom. Also the French government criticized Charlie Hebdo in 2012 that they should show respect and tolerance of religion.
Twelve people were killed in the attack, among them four cartoonists. For many, they have been almost put to the status of martyrs and heroes. Others claim that Charlie Hebdo was in fact focusing and fuelling Islamophobic sentiments in France. And there are those out there who claim that the cartoonists were responsible for the attack.
The cartoonists provoked others and consequently this attack had to happen. This absurd argument is a stark reminder of all those rapists that claim that it’s the fault of the women who provoked them with their sexy mini-skirt. Accusing the victim instead of the perpetrator is where the problem starts.
It is particularly the right-wing extremists that cry out the loudest over the attack. Marie Le Pen demanded to re-introduce the death penalty in France. The new Islamophobic Pegida movement in Germany expects even more demonstrators at its Monday rallies. There is the fear that anti-Muslim feelings will rise even further in Europe. Thus, Muslims across Europe, and probably across the globe, are targeted – one more time.
That is exactly what these terrorists actually wanted with the attack: fear among the population that fuels Islamophobia. This in turn should help Islamists to recruit young Muslims in Western societies that feel excluded exactly because of negative behavior or even hatred against them from the majority population.
And yet, many Europeans seem to expect an excuse of all Muslims (and there are some 1.6bn out there at this point), not least the one they meet on the street or the neighbor. As if all Muslims had attacked Charlie Hebdo and therefore need to apologize. It was good and necessary that the French Muslim Council clearly condemned the attack. Yet, there is a suspicion of the majority population out there against Muslims. That does not lead to anything and is just leading to more hatred – on both sides. A first step for many in the West might be to know that also Arab newspaper condemned the attack, showed solidarity and published their own cartoons about the tragedy.
It is another wake-up call for Europe to study the Islam. It will be necessary to have more interest in this religion that is contributing its part to European society. This should be done critically but first of all it is necessary to know what is written in the Quran and what interpretations this complex and diverse religion has to offer. On the other hand, it is not acceptable either to defend the barbaric act.
It is high time to visit the mosque in the neighborhood and speak to the local imams. Both sides need to be open which will be quite a challenge. However, only through dialogue and conversations will it be possible to leave the debate behind that Muslims are responsible for terrorism while the West is responsible for Islamophobia. The world is more complex than that. And this complexity needs to be kept in mind so the terrorists will not get what they have aimed for with this attack.