Politics & Policy

The Charlie Hebdo Massacre

Jyllands-Posten’s Mohammed cartoon from 2005 (left) and Charlie Hebdo’s 2011 cover.

Twelve people were killed today at the Paris office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for mocking Islam and the Prophet Mohammed and thereby offending their murderers. Let us therefore begin by considering blasphemy and other offenses. Someone who kills another human being for blasphemy grievously offends his own God. God will respond to insults in His own good time and in His own ways, which may sometimes surprise us when we know them. But people of faith can be reasonably sure that He will be harsher toward those who murder in His Name than toward those who insult Him.

A religion that commands murder as the punishment for blasphemy offends the God it professes to worship. In reality, it worships the Devil. And by such deeds as the half-random murders of innocent people ye shall know that truth.

Is Islam that religion? For most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, it is not. They follow the precepts of the Koran and seek to live harmoniously alongside their infidel neighbors, and where two Koranic interpretations clash, they choose to believe the one that conforms more to the civil laws and social customs of their societies. Most of the time they don’t ponder much on religious texts but get on with the daily business of living.

That is not so, however, for a large minority of Muslims — maybe hundreds of millions worldwide — who cleave to interpretations of their faith that enjoin murder, rape, torture, and cruelty as pious, even mandatory, acts. They take their diabolic faith seriously, and the result is what we saw in Paris today.

Thus, there are in practical terms two Islams — a religion, if not of peace, then of peaceful accommodation, and a religion of death.

Western political leaders try to dismiss this second death cult as a perverted or false Islam, or even as nothing to do with Islam at all. That dismissal is false and, worse, completely unpersuasive. The death cult has learned imams and sophisticated theologians among its adherents. They can quote Islamic texts in support of their revolting doctrines — and do so far more convincingly than President Obama, David Cameron, or Tony Blair do in support of their own. Their scholarship strengthens the faith of the suicide bombers and child soldiers. And because they justify murder and issue fatwas mandating it, they exercise some intimidation even over the leaders of the other Islam.

Muslim political leaders are far more aware of this than those in the West, and increasingly prepared to fight the death cult. On the eve of the Paris murders, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attended the Coptic Christmas Mass in Cairo — the first Egyptian president to do so — and reached out to these infidels in the clearest terms: “We will build our country together. We will accommodate each other. We will love each other.”

Ä week before, on New Year’s Day, Sisi, in the course of an address to leading Muslim theologians, had called for a revolution in Muslim “thinking” to abandon its commitment to texts and ideas that justified killing infidels:

It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing, and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!

That thinking — I am not saying “religion” but “thinking” — that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the centuries, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants — that is 7 billion — so that they themselves may live? Impossible!

I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema — Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.

All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.

This speech was not only candid, forceful, necessary, and true; it was also brave. By his bold condemnation of the ideas and theology that underpin jihadism, Sisi has put himself into the same kind of Islamist firing line as the one that murdered his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, and that murdered twelve French satirical journalists today. All decent people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, are in his debt.

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Compare Sisi’s brave promulgation of vital truths with the shifty, dishonest, and appeasing State Department video, endorsed by President Obama and Secretary Clinton, that explained the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in Islamist terms. Yes, it acknowledged, jihadists had assaulted the embassy because the Prophet had been attacked, but only by some obscure pornographer, not by the U.S. government. Even if that had been true (it wasn’t), it effectively conceded that infidel criticism of the Prophet had justified a terrorist attack, except unfortunately the attack went to the wrong address.

Where then does that leave the murders in Paris? No one can argue that the attack went to the wrong address. Charlie Hebdo had indeed published insulting criticisms of the Prophet — and had done so repeatedly since the controversy over the Danish Mohammed cartoons in 2005–06. It did so, moreover, from principle. Though its satirical barbs have been directed at virtually every faction and belief known to man, it was particularly determined not to refrain from mocking the one set of beliefs whose believers had frightened everyone else into silence about them. As Mark Steyn argued, in advance of this particular atrocity (but following many others), about a Brit arrested for burning the Koran:

If you’re not free to buy a book and light it up — whether by Mohammed or Mark Steyn — then in a certain hypothetical sense you’re not free at all. If you’re free to burn every book except one, then you’re not free in a far more profound and far-reaching way.

Most of the Western world has been not-free in this way since the publication of the Danish cartoons in Jyllands-Posten — indeed, since even before then, because its editor had commissioned them as a defiant declaration of free speech after cartoonists told him that Danish publishers were self-censoring their publications. Jihadists threats worked then and continue to work — supplemented by the occasional murder of free-speech refuseniks — despite brave statements of principle.

Even though the Danish cartoon controversy was a major international affair, very few newspapers and magazines republished the cartoons, and governments, including the French government, strongly discouraged them from doing so. The most abject case of such servility was the decision of Yale University Press to publish a large scholarly study of the cartoon controversy without including the actual cartoons. But there was a great deal of competition between governments, the media, and international bodies over who could appease the jihadist terrorists most timidly. Those few brave souls who resisted this appeasement came under attack from various quarters, including the courts and the police, which — outside the United States and beyond the protection of the First Amendment — began to treat “offensive” free speech as a threat to public order from which potential murderers had to be protected. Of course, rather than removing their “grievances,” this encouraged the potential murderers to believe that they were justified in seeking to impose their own religious censorship, and that society would always yield to their demands. Charlie Hebdo’s jokesters — irreverent, vulgar, and brave — have paid a heavy price for this official cowardice.

What now? The last thing we need is windy, pompous, implausible declarations by leaders like Hollande, Cameron, Merkel, and Obama of their determination to defend free speech and hunt down the murderers. Those things should be done, of course, but quietly, effectively, and relentlessly. After such weakness, bombast spreads doubt rather than public confidence. We also need to carry out a wide range of reforms affecting social cohesion and public order: strengthening free speech in law; retraining the police and legal authorities; winding down multiculturalism and encouraging patriotic assimilation; closing down the jihadist “no-go” areas in London and Paris; looking closely at the kind of special religious treatment Muslim prisoners receive (and which organizations provide it); and ensuring that schools, including “faith schools,” conform to such national democratic values as education in science for both sexes. And much else.

Maybe, however, the media can mount the strongest response to the murders of Charlie Hebdo’s satirists, at least in the immediate aftermath of the crime. We should jointly make clear in the most unqualified way that anyone has a right to offend others over politics, religion, race, or anything else. They have a right to blaspheme against the God of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any other religion. Not that we favor blasphemy and promiscuous offense-giving (we abhor both in most circumstances), but they are essential as rights against other people’s certainties — and that in both directions. The right to be offended is a guarantee of intellectual challenge and a promise of liberation from the prison of unconsidered opinion. Paradoxical though it may sound, blasphemous or offensive speech is a God-given right.

But that point needs to be made, rather than simply stated. And there is a very simple and obvious way to make it: Newspapers, magazines, webzines, blogs, and visual media should all publish not only the cartoons that originally appeared in Charlie Hebdo, but also those that appeared in Jyllands-Posten. In other words, the murderers of today would achieve the opposite of their intention: They would resurrect the earlier “blasphemies” they believed they had effectively killed.

And Charlie Hebdo would draw blood as well as shedding it.

Meanwhile, we pray for the satirists and their families. They died for the least celebrated but most important of human rights: the right to make jokes.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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