Saturday, 10 January 2015

How Do We React to the Charlie Hebdo killings?

by Dom Baker

More than three million people took part in unity rallies across France
(source: BBC)
The news of the tragic killings of 12 Parisian cartoonists and employees of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, as well as two police officers, has been inescapable for the past 36 hours.  Three Islamist gunmen opened fire inside the magazine’s headquarters Wesdnesday morning, before fleeing the city and sparking a manhunt for the main suspects – brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi.

Naturally the incident has provoked a flood of reactions from the internet. A message of solidarity in the face of Islamic extremism and violence has spread quickly through the use of the hashtag ‘#jesuisCharlie’, as people have banded together to denounce and condemn these aforementioned barbaric actions. Importantly, any ignorant and insensitive individuals that have since used these attacks as a platform to promote their own views or attempt to twist the narrative to something more fitting to their  ridiculous agenda have received their deserved criticism.

Of course, an attack like this will prompt a number of responses on more than one issue. Above anything, it is important to mourn the loss of those who were killed and send messages of strength and support to both their work colleagues and families. To my mind, this attack on the freedom of speech and expression has absolutely no justification – for people to commit brutal murders in reaction to a piece of satire, which they have chosen to let offend them, is unforgivable and nearly (if it were not for the reality of the situation) unbelievable.  These freedoms are basic and vital to a liberal democracy and we are absolutely within our rights to be outraged, as is Charlie Hebdo completely within its rights, and credit to the magazine, to continue to publish.

My concern surrounding these killings has arisen from its religious aspect. Clearly, this was a politically motivated, fundamentalist, terrorist attack and should be dealt with properly in the eyes of the law. I’m worried however, that the situation may only serve to spark a new wave of Islamaphobia which is beneficial to absolutely no one and would also be based on flawed logic. 

I’ll explain by using the example of the Sydney hostage situation that arose around a month ago.  It’s widely agreed that the attack by gunman Man Haron Monis wasn’t a ‘terrorist attack’, rather the actions of a mentally ill and dangerous sociopath. However, speaking in a press conference soon after the situation erupted, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot described the event as ‘attack of politically motivated violence’. To me, this is extremely damaging behaviour from a person in a position of great responsibility. It is not productive to link an attack like this (a single man, or, in the case of Paris, a small group of extremists) to a whole religion which suffers from the stigma attached to its fundamentalist wing. Importantly, this faction makes up less than 1% of all Muslims; it is not representative of Islam. Furthermore Islam continues to denounce extremist actions carried by Muslim fundamentalists. If an apolitical attack in Sydney can be completely misconstrued in this way, we need to make sure that the Paris attack does not spiral into Islamaphobia.

Of course, the killings in Paris have clear political motivation behind them, and are being met with the serious attitude they deserve. I’m just wary that more bigoted members of society may be quick to use this as a way of inciting more hatred and racism. This affects us on a national and international level. In our country, immigration is hot topic in the run-up to the election and inflammatory comments towards migrants and people of other ethnicities can only be damaging and hurtful. Internationally, the fight (preferably figurative rather than literal) against ISIS must continue, but we must ensure that it remains a campaign against unjustified killing, oppression and terror, and not against a religion whose teachings of peace and love and tolerance tend to be ignored. 


  1. jadon Buckeridge10 January 2015 at 18:00

    Really interesting article Dom, although I have one query: you suggest the Australian Pm acted irresponsibly when he declared the act was 'politically motivated', and you've expressed concern that behaviour of this kind should concern us because of its propensity to incite Islamophobic attitudes. In my eyes you're argument that he is conflating terrorist ideologies with Islamic ideologies is unjust. The terrorist in question stated his motives to be 'lobbying against the government ' as a ' self styled Muslim cleric'. From what you have said the Australian PM made no accusations against the Islamic faith, and was correct to describe the attack as politically motivated. I think it's quite dangerous to pretend Islamic fundamemtalists don't represent any organised political movement, because it's self evident that they do, even if that movement is totally separate from the views of most Muslims.

    1. I think you said it yourself, he identifies as a 'self styled Muslim cleric' and what is to be avoided is a suggestion that it was anything more. There is a danger that from this event conclusions can be drawn that suggest some sort of Muslim network that's out to get us as might be seen with then recent comments from Steven Emerson about the Muslim population in Birmingham and London. The worry is that if someone with power and influence like the Australian PM speaks about an attack and says something that may suggest an event like this is a 'terrorist attack' it can easily be misinterpreted. This causes people to believe that this religion or at least a sizable percentage are terrorists. I do not disagree that many fundamentalist Muslims are part of an organised political movement but I would say that it is something that needs to be approached carefully as to not make the problem worse than it already is.

  2. Tony Abbot is right. Its POLITICALLY motivated if they are indeed Al Queda linked. Isis broke away from Al Qaeda and so Al Qaeda are trying to distract from events in Syria where their organisation (The Al Nusra Front) has been in disarray. The issue here is that the underlying problem in france is that there has been a lack of integration of immigrants into mainstream french society. This causes disaffection of immigrants and their families and muslims in france are disproportionately likely to be immigrants in comparison to other religions groups. The terrorism is caused by a disaffected body of people some of which become radicalised and are then increasing the likelihood of a terrorist attack are of course geo political issues in the middle east especially such as a very small minority european muslims going off to fight in syria or iraq (some for moderate forces admittedly but generally for Isis) and coming home having learned skills with heavy weaponry and being able to pass these on to other radicalised youth .


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