Thursday, 8 January 2015

Different reactions to the Charlie Hebdo assassinations

On the first Wednesday of 2015 the world witnessed the boldest display of Islamist barbarity in the history of the French nation, in which 12 people were killed by masked gunmen with parts of the assault caught on CCTV cameras and broadcast across the world.

The target of the attacks was the office of a Paris based magazine called Charlie Hebdo that few outside of France had ever even heard of. The magazine staff were murdered in cold blood for the supposed "crime" of committing satire. For those who don't know, Charlie Hebdo is a satirical left-wing anti-religious newspaper featuring comment and cartoons (a little bit like a cross between Viz and Private Eye). The reason they were attacked by Islamist fanatics is that they had published several satirical cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.

Aside from eight members of the magazine staff, two police officers, a guy who was in the building to do some maintenance work and a visitor to the office were also gunned down in cold blood and a mother and five year old child were held at gunpoint in order to elicit the security code for the building.

My reaction

Regular readers will already be familiar with my advocacy of non-violence, my strong opposition to all forms of absolutism and my tendency toward moderation rather than extremism, but to spell it out in the clearest terms possible for the avoidance of doubt I'll say this: The perpetrators of this barbaric attack are evil fanatics who have done a huge amount of damage to the freedoms that Europeans hold dear, because this attack on freedom of speech is not only an attack on freedom within itself, it's also yet more ammunition for right-wing authoritarians like Theresa May and her Tory party colleagues, who delight in using the actions of deranged fanatics like these to undermine and dismantle the freedoms and liberties that so many of our ancestors fought to achieve and died to maintain.

The target of these Islamist fanatics may have been the freedom of expression that Europeans hold so dear, but these deranged extremists have clearly done far more damage to the Islamic faith (that they falsely claim to represent) than they have to the rights of Europeans to express ourselves. Every time an Islamist fanatic commits an atrocity like this, they severely damage Islam because they foster ever more hostility towards Islam and Muslims from people who are unwilling or unable to differentiate between the actions of a minority of dangerous Islamist fanatics, and the entire concept of Islam.

Muslim reactions

European Muslims have been vociferous in their condemnation of this atrocity. The Union des Organisations Islamiques de France were unequivocal in their condemnation of the attack calling it "barbarous" and "unacceptable". They called for French Muslims to demonstrate their solidarity with the victims by attending memorial events and protests against Islamist extremism.

The Muslim Council of Britain were also swift to condemn the attacks with a clear and concise statement that "The Muslim Council of Britain condemns this attack. Whomever the attackers are, and whatever the cause may be, nothing justifies the taking of life".

Al-Azhar University (which is the most importance centre for Arabic literature and Sunni Islamic learning in the world) released a statement criticising the Paris attack as un-Islamic and denouncing the use of violence.

The Arab League condemned the attacks, as did many specific Islamic states including Saudi Arabia. When even the brutal totalitarian Saudi regime is criticising their barbarity, it's absolutely clear that these fanatics are at the very edge of the violent extremist fringe.

Islamist reactions

Whilst the vast majority of Muslims condemn this kind of atrocity because it goes against the teachings of the Qar'an (which prohibits murder, the killing of non-combatants and sneak attacks), a few Islamist extremists celebrated the attack as if it was some kind of triumphant victory, rather than a bunch of heavily armed cowards wearing masks to hide their identities as they assassinated unarmed civilians in cold blood.

The gloating and jeering of Islamist extremists on Twitter is absolutely disgusting, and those joyfully declaring that "Europeans will never live in safety again" because of this are both delusional and un-Islamic. They're delusional because they seem totally unaware that France (and most of mainland Europe) survived, and recovered from, years of Nazi occupation (which was far worse than anything a bunch of Islamist extremists could ever dream of inflicting), and they're un-Islamic because the Qar'an repeatedly instructs Muslims to live in peace, and not to go around killing innocent people and trying to make people live in fear.

The "leftie-liberal media"

Many on the extreme right try to paint "lefties" and "liberals" as the culprits for acts of Islamist barbarism, because, according to extreme-right doctrine, the liberal left and the Islamist fanatics love each other unconditionally. The sheer idiocy of this stance is illustrated by the fact that Charlie Hebdo is an unashamedly left-wing and liberal publication, making them a very odd choice of target if the extreme-right orthodoxy is to be believed, and an odd choice of publication for the extreme-right to suddenly begin championing too.

In my view the "leftie-liberal media" (as embodied in the UK by the Guardian) did a pretty good job of covering the story. I agree with the idea that we should not give in to fear, and should continue to satirise the Islamist extremists, and I also agree that it is vitally important to draw a clear line between the disgusting fanatics who committed this atrocity and the billion plus innocent and peaceful Muslims in the world.


For me the most moving tributes to the victims of this atrocity came from satirists and cartoonists across the world.

I was particularly moved by images from the Australian cartoonist David Pope and the Brazilian cartoonist Latuff (see image).

As a left-wing writer who has tried his hand at satire on occasion, I'm not going to let the actions of these evil fanatics intimidate me, and it fills me with inspiration to see countless other much more high profile writers and cartoonists bravely standing in solidarity with the victims and refusing to be intimidated too. 

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins was quick to use this barbaric attack as an excuse to attack the whole of Islam as inherently more violent than other religions. It's bad enough that he uses his massive media profile to spread the work of extreme-right Islamophobes like Geert Wilders and Pat Condell, but opportunistically jumping on this tragedy in order to spread his own hatred of Islam is shameless stuff indeed.

Nigel Farage

Like Dawkins, Nigel Farage also took the opportunistic approach to the Charlie Hebdo assassinations by using the atrocity to wheel out a fearmongering "clash of civilisations" narrative in which he appeared to describe Muslims living in Europe as a "fifth column", openly blamed "multiculturalism" for the attacks and then went on a prolonged tangential rant about the free movement of people within the European Union.

To my ears, the using of this tragedy to harp on about his opposition to the European Union was a shockingly insensitive piece of political opportunism, but I'm sure that tribalist Ukippers will have literally lapped it up because he threw in plenty of the buzzwords and phrases they love to hear like blaming "multiculturalism" for absolutely everything and harping on endlessly about "immigration".

Britain First

If you think that the reactions of Richard Dawkins and Nigel Farage were brazenly opportunistic, you won't believe the disgusting opportunism of Britain First. This extreme-right BNP splinter group are such a revoltingly opportunistic bunch that they used a video clip of the cold blooded murder of the French policeman Ahmed Merabet as an advert for their online shop!

Not only did they try to cash in on the tragedy by using this harrowing murder video as an advert for their extreme-right tat shop, they also pinned the advert to the top of their Facebook page too.

If the general public thought that Sainsbury's using a dramatisation of the the 1914 WWI Christmas football match to advertise their shop was in bad taste, what must ordinary people think of the use of a graphic video clip of an actual murder to raise funds for an extreme-right hate group?

Theresa May

The Home Secretary Theresa May has yet to make a public statement on the Charlie Hebdo assassinations, but it seems only a matter of time before she begins using this horrific incident as further justification for her plans to further undermine our freedoms and liberties.

The plans she announced at the Tory conference in 2014 include a scheme to revoke freedom of speech and freedom of assembly from people who have committed no crime whatever, the legislation of "thought crime" into British law, further attacks on the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" and even plans to compel nursery schools to spy on the toddlers they care for in order to make sure they're not potential terrorists!

The people who committed this attack are murderous extremists, but I refuse to be afraid of them, because if we give in to their violence, then we're letting them win. The extremists I'm really afraid of are powerful people like Theresa May and her right-wing authoritarian Tory colleagues, who are desperate to use terrorist attacks like this one to justify their agenda of undermining and destroying the legal rights and protections that our ancestors fought so hard to achieve.

If we allow Theresa May and her ilk to use terrorist atrocities like this as an excuse to revoke our historic rights and liberties, and to force nursery staff and hospital workers to work as spies for the state like some kind of East German nightmare, then we'd be letting the terrorists win by default wouldn't we?

Rupert Murdoch

One of the most outlandish responses to the atrocity was Rupert Murdoch's Twitter declaration that all Muslims, even peaceful ones should be "held responsible" for the killings.

The hypocrisy of this stance is incredible. Here's a man who has flatly refused to take responsibility for the widespread criminality at his newspapers that included bribing the police and hacking into the mobile phone of a dead school girl to spy on her messages, saying that every single Muslim in the world (Shia, Sunni, Sufi, Ahmadiyya, Ibadi, whichever denomination) should be held accountable for the actions of these crazed gunmen.

By Rupert Murdoch's twisted logic, adherents of all Christian sects (Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Quaker, Orthodox, etc) should have been held collectively accountable for the actions of Anders Breivik (a Christian who killed 77 people in Norway) and Timothy McVeigh (a Christian who killed 168 people in Oklahoma City).

This comment was particularly concerning because it's obvious that the concept of collective responsibility is only a tiny step away from collective punishment. 

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