In the aftermath of the January 7 attacks by Said and Cherif Kouachi on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris; the subsequent manhunt, and the attack on a kosher supermarket by Amedy Coulibaly, there has been an avalanche of news. But we haven’t learned that much information, and many important questions are not being answered. Yes, we learned that Al Qaeda in Yemen claims responsibility, just as we learned one of the murderers claimed to have done it for ISIS. We have learned that Mr. Coulibaly had a long road to his hateful end, converting to Islam in prison where he befriended one of the Kouachis. His common law wife (or girlfriend in some reports) 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, is considered a person of interest, even though she was not present for his murder of policewoman Clarissa Jean-Philippe on January 8. In some ways the story that has emerged is of a closely linked group that, as Jeannette Bougrab, the partner of editor Stéphane ‘Charb’ Charbonnier, claimed on TV “it could have been avoided” and that the terrorists were known to police and allowed to pass back and forth to Yemen to train.
But here are some other thoughts:
1) “Is it time to curtail free speech,” asked several debates on BBC. BBC had already refused to show images of the execution of Ahmed Merabet, the 40-year-old French policeman, that was on the cover of many newspapers. For some reason showing the actual images of what terrorists do is “offensive”, just as BBC deemed it “offensive” to show the images of the Hebdo cartoons. Douglas Murray, the Associate Director at the Henry Jackson Society, said on a BBC World Have Your Say, that the imposition of Islamic blasphemy laws was already happening de facto because of the events. But the very fact that the discussion after the attacks was “perhaps speech should be curtailed” was extraordinary.
Why is it that the fact that a small group of people are willing to kill over something means that there is a reason to debate whether that small group is somehow correct. Murray got this right when he noted that although those willing to kill over being “offended” is quite small, the number of people who implicitly accept their agenda is quite large. The media’s cowardice in not showing the true face of the murders and not being willing to show what supposedly “enraged” people enough to kill is not helping anyone. It is like pretending that images of any great human rights crime are beyond being shown, lest they “hurt the senses,” whether it is images of lynchings or the Holocaust. In the opposite one needs to see the images.
2) The “small group of extremists” is one of the claims we often hear when it comes to explaining why we mustn’t ask too many questions about where those extremists come from, who they are, the milieu in which they fester, or the affect they have on society. But “small groups of extremists” and people “willing to die for their beliefs” have been main drivers of the world. How many members of the KKK engaged in lynching? A few hundred over 100 years? I mean, the actual numbers of extremists in the KKK who did the killing was relatively small. Yet they had an immense affect. One lynching sends a message to millions of people. Very few people were actually lynched, but that doesn’t mean we disregard the KKK or that society pretended “let’s concentrate on all the good people in the US South.” The KKK wasn’t defeated by being ignored, it was defeated by a multi-generational cultural struggle against the swamp in which it festered, the underpinning cultural motifs that gave birth to it and coddled it. The same is true of homophobia. Very few people actually engaged in homophobic hate crimes. However the harm done to the gay community was massive and only when society began to confront these hate crimes did events like Pride Parades and such become normal and accepted.
And the KKK is just one of many examples. The Nazis were primarily just a “small group of extremists,” the Communists who birthed Stalinism, the actual people involved in the inquisition. Throughout history it is the “small group” that commits the heinous acts that lay down the rules of society. How many people served in the East German Stasi? Not many. How many people served the Stasi as informers? Many more. How many led placid lives and accepted the situation? Most. And that’s the case in all these stories. The vast majority allow the tiny minority to exist. Not many Irish actually joined the IRA; not many joined the 1920s independence struggle either. Very people do anything. The “tiny group” does most things.
Yet with Islamist terror we always have suspend disbelief and concentrate on the 99% and not the 1%. It’s like after a lynching in the US South, having to talk about the “good 99% of white people who don’t lynch.” That’s nonsensical. You can’t always reduce the terrorists to just a “tiny unrepresentative group” or “not real Muslims.” Sure, the Nazis or KKK weren’t “real Christians,” ok…so what? Acknowledging that their deeds are not “representative” doesn’t help change anything; in fact it accepts a worldview in which they exist, in which the 1% will always exist and wherein we are so afraid to discuss their actions we give them a seal of approval.
3) “It fuels the far right and Islamophobia.” The major narrative coming out of the massacre in Paris is the immediate transference from the victims to a larger “narrative.” This was common also with the Australia Sydney attacks. Even as the gunmen were still roaming Paris and Coulibaly was packing his weapons with ammunition to kill Jews, the media was saying how the “real victors today are the far right and racists.” Really? Are those the “real victors”? And concomitant to that we were hearing the “real victims are Muslims.” In fact there were actual Muslim victims, such as the policeman and an Algerian born copyeditor Mustapha Ourrad. But what was meant by the “real victims” narrative was that “French Muslims will pay a price now.” That was the theme of a Latuff cartoon that showed the gunmen shooting at Charlie Hebdo and hitting a mosque. Except that ignores the real victims.
And let’s be honest about this. If it was another group that carried out this attack would we have to have this conversation? Were the “real victims” of the IRA, the Irish and Catholics because their “reputation” was harmed or because “IRA attacks will increase stigmatization of Irish people”? No. The real victims of the attacks were the victims, who sometimes happened to be Irish and Catholic also. The real victims of terrorism are the victims of terrorism. It isn’t like the “real victims” of the KKK was the reputation of Southern white people who were “subjected to southernaphobia.” Was the reputation of US southerners harmed by the KKK? Yes. They were perceived as racists and backwards. Well, that’s why getting rid of the KKK was all the more important. But the real victims of the Nazis were not “ordinary Germans who suffered from Germanophobia and stereotypes after.”
The theory of “real victims of terrorism are Muslims” might work better if there was a passionate hateful disdain for these groups from most Muslim communities. The fact is that the real victims of much Islamist inspired terror are Muslims, in Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and other places. But the terrorism not only continues, it has gotten worse and worse in the last decade. The willful suspension of disbelief that takes place everytime there is a terrorist attack, such as in Australia or Kenya, when non-Muslims are separated and butchered, and then we all have to discuss how “they are not Muslims” and “now in Kenya, many Muslims feel stigmatized.” Well, who feels more stigmatized, the Muslims in Kenya, or the men and women separated on the bus for being non-Muslim and then murdered? Who is more stigmatized in France, Muslims or the Jewish people who just wanted to shop at a kosher supermarket and were targeted by Mr. Coulibaly?
4) “Celebrate free speech by denying the Holocaust too.” In 2006, in “response” to the publication of cartoons by Jyllands-Posten mocking Mohammed in Denmark, Iran decided to host a Holocaust cartoon competition to illustrate “western hypocrisy on free speech.” Similarly the response of some on the radical left in the wake of Charlie Hebdo was to attack Jews once again and encourage publication of anti-semitic cartoons as a “balance” somehow.
This is one of the new paradigms of terrorism and debates on free speech. Increasingly Islamist terrorism often attacks Jewish targets. Note, these are not Israeli targets, these are Jewish targets, so don’t get bogged down in the idea that they are “attacking Israelis” as if it is “part of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.” Coulibaly’s first thought was to kill Jews. Just as Iran’s reaction to cartoons in Denmark was to bash the Holocaust, the idea was that the best way to “show allegiance” with his friends, was to attack French Jews. Also during the Mumbai massacre, the Chabad house was targeted. Why was it targeted? We are not supposed to ask that question. But the Pakistan trained and guided Jihadists and the phone transcripts show that killing Jews was a major component of the operation. Consider that logic; in an Islamist and Pakistan-backed war against India, a country with a billion people, the Pakistanis felt it was important to murder Jews, of which there are a few thousand in India. It wasn’t that they were striking at Israel, they could have attacked the Israeli embassy or an Israeli target; no, they choose Jews. That shows the worldview of the Islamists, it is obsessed with murdering Jews.
And yet, we are not supposed to discuss that. Why was the kosher supermarket, “target number 2.” Why was the Jihadist in Toulouse also choosing to target Jews as “target number 2” after killing French soldiers? And just as in Denmark and then in Paris, the excuse in Toulouse was that killing Jewish children at a school was “revenge.” The radical left counterpunch noted “Killing Afghan children to avenge buddies, or Jewish children to avenge Palestinian children, is part of the same cycle. No human impulse is more glorified in the arts than revenge, and none is more destructive.” The author almost revels in the killings, “a helmeted gunman approached a Jewish school and coolly shot dead a rabbi and three children.” It was “cool”, as the radical left now has it. Would it have been “cooly” if it was the KKK lynching a black person, or Mathew Shepard being murdered? Only when it comes to Jews is there always an excuse. You have a world of 500 million Europeans, and 1.4 billion Muslims, and when a cartoonist in Europe mocks Mohammed, then the reaction is to impugn Jews, deny the Holocaust, and attack Jewish people. If it was ANY OTHER group there would be a major media debate about why. If the “reaction” to the killings at Charlie Hebdo was for the radical left like The Intercept’s choice to publish anti-semitic cartoons, to publish anti-gay cartoons, everyone would wonder why.
If Coulibaly had run into a Sikh temple and held people hostage or attacked a gay bar, the media would be discussing it and asking why homophobia is the reaction to Charlie Hebdo. If the radical left, in the wake of Charlie Hebdo, encouraged publication of anti-black cartoons to “celebrate” free speech, we would say “what went wrong with the radical left that they use this as an excuse to bash other minorities.
But the world has become inured to the murder of Jews. The radical left and the Islamist extremists work together against the Jewish minority. The media won’t discuss this; because it has become “normal” for Jews to be targets, from Mumbai to Toulouse to Kansas and Paris; from Iran to wherever.
One final note: And of course, when Iran or others in the media attack Jews with anti-semitic cartoons, there are no extremist Jews who go and shoot up the offices of those who publish them. If an extremist Jewish fundamentalist group went and killed a blogger for publishing anti-semitic cartoons, would the media say “the real victims of Jews”? Would the narrative be “there are only a few extremist Jews”? No. It would be: Confront Jewish terror.