Was the reaction among the majority in the Arab and Muslim world to the massacre that occurred at the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo one of condemnation, or would it be more aptly characterized as one of justification, or even approval?
Maybe this question has been posed too simply and directly, but perhaps it will eventually yield an answer. What is clear is that this incident, in which the staff of a newspaper were murdered in cold blood and in broad daylight, is one of many that has brought to the fore once again this catastrophic situation. The people who carried out these attacks were Muslims, who claimed they had perpetrated this crime out of revenge for their religion being targeted. It is true that three criminals are alone responsible for the crime they committed, but it is also true that we are responsible for our reaction to the crime and the direction we will take from here.
There is no accurate way for us to gauge public opinion in the entire Arab and Muslim worlds, but we can take some indication of what this could be like from the press coverage of the events in Paris by outlets from these regions. We saw it in headlines, opinion columns, televised debates, and even in social media outlets. There exists a clear tendency among some people to attempt to justify and make excuses for this crime, even to attack the freedoms which France and the West practice, among them the unbridled freedom of expression that includes the right to satirize and ridicule.
Finding outright condemnation is difficult, because for many people, their condemnation of these crimes is often appended with an insidious and justificatory “but . . .” The fact is that twelve people were murdered in cold blood. And yet they are the ones condemned and criticized and cursed. And often this is followed by denials such as “But we are not the ones who killed them.”
France and others in the West are now once again debating the question of the integration of Muslim immigrants into their societies, a debate that has legitimized once again a number of related questions about immigration in general and the systems these countries use to manage it, as well as other questions such as how Western values can be protected from the threat of extremism. On the other hand, there is a keen desire to not generalize the problem and blame all Muslims for what happened.
These debates are complex and multifaceted. So what about the debates we are currently conducting following these events? We are still at square one. The questions still revolve around whether the incident is to be condemned totally, or whether it should also be accompanied with a “but . . . ” to round it off. We can also remind ourselves of the many incidents that followed the publications of these notorious cartoons back in 2012, among them numerous marches and protests, some of which resulted in the loss of life. And we see not one demonstration or march in the Arab or Muslim worlds condemning what the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is doing in the name of Islam.
Don’t all these events now going on around us and committed in our name require us to break the fear barrier and begin to question our region and our societies, especially the ideas being trafficked there that have led us to this awful stage where we are tearing one at another’s throats—to mention nothing of what as a result also happens beyond our region?
You won’t get anything out of those individual, and rather shy, voices that come out and try to absolve Islam of these crimes while also talking of the effects of colonialism and criticizing the West and its many freedoms that we clearly cannot stomach. There is no doubt the West has its responsibilities regarding this issue. But we too have ours, ones we have attempted to airbrush out of existence until we have fallen into this never-ending crucible of death.
The murder of the Charlie Hebdo journalists was a terrible crime. We will not have any real progress in our region if we do not realize this once and for all.