Lessons from Charlie
In the aftermath of the shooting at the French satire magazine, Charlie Hebdo, I thought I would talk a little about the incident itself and the world’s reaction to it. The incident is being portrayed as an instance where Islamic extremists are attacking free speech. There was a march attended by almost 2 million people, (but conspicuously minus one American president), where world leaders and people from all over walked arm in arm in support of free speech and against terrorism. Still others, like Ron Paul, say that the shooting was not over free speech but rather blowback from meddling into Islamic affairs for the last century. Incredibly, other talking heads have even blamed George Bush for the shooting even though he is neither a French citizen, nor an editor at Charlie Hebdo. In my opinion, they are all wrong. Some more than others, obviously.
If you have been living under a rock for 2 weeks here’s a little background. Two masked men dressed in black carrying guns, walked into the office of a satire magazine called Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people while yelling “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” and “God is Great” in Arabic. This particular magazine had a habit of making fun of religion with images of the prophet Muhammad kissing a man, or the pope or Jewish leaders in compromising positions on a fairly regular basis. Every religion is fair game as are politicians and other people of note. That’s what Charlie Hebdo does. To be honest, I had never heard of this magazine before the shooting and found a google search of their previous magazine covers fairly entertaining.
I think to call this an attack on free speech is wrong. I think this not because terrorists are ok with free speech, they most definitely are not. I say this because there is no free speech in France. It is against the law to speak freely about anyone’s religion in France or to make fun of anyone’s religion. That is classified as “hate speech”. An anti-Semitic French comedian is facing 7 years in jail and a fine for post he made on Facebook in favor of the terrorist act. For words…Jail. There is no free speech in France. These people who claim that, “they hate us for our freedom”, don’t understand that it’s not our freedom that they hate, it’s what we do with it.
The people like Ron Paul, who are blaming French and American imperialism and interference in Islamic affairs, “blowback”, are wrong too. The argument here goes something like, all the western imperialism has caused a lot of people to hate us and therefore created a deep pool of terror minded people and we shouldn’t be surprised when they attack us. This, I feel, misses a couple points. First, the attackers were French, born and raised. Second, the magazine they attacked was anti-war, anti-torture, pro-immigration, and pro-Palestinian. What this means is that the terrorists were attacking the specific message of this magazine, not general feelings of Ill will toward the French government. I assume these “Blame Bush” people would also follow some notion of “blowback”. Honestly, they sound so ridiculous that it’s not worth responding.
So what did cause this terror attack? Simply put, the direction modern Islam is going is just not compatible with civilized society. Sure there are peaceful Muslims, more than a billion of them. Peaceful Muslims are not controlling that religion. There is a worldwide jihad on our behavior. Right now 20-25% of Muslims identify with radical elements of the religion and are in firmly in the driver’s seat of Islam. If you look you will find that Charlie Hebdo insulted Christianity and Judaism with just as much abandon as Islam, yet no mass murder, no bombing of the building. There was a time in history when both of these religions might have acted in a similar manner as the terrorists, as per the Old Testament, but they have grown out of it as society moves forward. Islamic radicals have done both of those things to Charlie Hebdo, on separate occasions. These are people who subjugate their women, teach children to hate Jews, abide by medieval code of justice and think everyone else is evil. They don’t see things like freedom of speech and expression as noble, they see them as a license to blaspheme. In the Muslim world it is illegal to portray Muhammad in print, especially in a negative light and apparently the price is death for lawbreakers. This law is similar to one of the 10 commandments, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image”, and there was a time when the church forbade images of God, but that time has long past.
It seems that Islam is a modern religion living 1000 years ago. The people most killed by the driving force behind Islam are moderate Muslims. Maybe that’s why they hide in the shadows when things like this happens. I think it is, however, a very good sign that countries like Egypt, Indonesia and Turkey with majority Islamic citizenry have condemned the attacks. Many Islamic organizations around the world have condemned the attacks which is another good sign. I want to make it clear that while I feel like Islam in not in a good place right now, I don’t think it has to be that way. The 75-80% of Muslims that are being marginalized can rise up and self-police. The bottom line is that eventually it will have to happen, one way or another. Moderate Muslims do not have to sink into the western lifestyle to get along, they just need to stop the radical elements from killing people who disagree.
The good news is that Charlie Hebdo went right back to its old tricks and put Muhammad right back on the cover of its magazine in a playfully distasteful way. The bad news is that France doubled down on “hate speech” crimes. It’s hard to believe the lesson France seemed to learn here. Instead of realizing that offensive speech is not a crime, and overblown gun laws are dangerous, France seems to be under the impression that strengthening “hate speech” laws are a way to keep the peace. What the world can learn is to protect speech, not inhibit it. Legally forcing people to candy coat their true opinions causes more problems than it solves and inhibits informed debate. It’s time that other countries learn the lessons that France won’t.