This morning, French journalists at Charlie Hebdo — a satirical outlet renowned for its disgust with political correctness — were working at their desks. Then three gunmen entered their office and murdered at least ten of them. Seven others were wounded. Two police officers were also shot dead.
Though many details are obviously still unclear, it seems near certain that this was a jihadist attack. According to eyewitnesses, the gunmen described themselves as members of al-Qaeda. Video footage shows one terrorist shouting the Takbir — “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”).
Unfortunately, Charlie Hebdo has long been an Islamic terrorist target. But not because of Iraq, or Afghanistan, or drones, or French foreign policy. But because Islamic extremism — both Sunni and Shia — is at war with human freedom.
Believing their notion of God’s sovereignty is the unimpeachable source of existential purpose, Islamist extremists see Charlie Hebdo’s satire as a mortal sin. Enabled by insipid sympathizers in the West (behold this pathetic eulogy for freedom following the 2011 firebombing of Charlie Hebdo’s office), the fanatics have successfully cultivated the lie that some freedoms are more equal than others. Or, put another way, that their “freedom” is supreme while everyone else has the right to be a slave, or in the grave. In that sense, today’s atrocity at Charlie Hebdo isn’t just an attack against French society. It isn’t just an attack against free society everywhere. It’s an attack on our very souls as individuals — our right to free thought and creative spirit — our right not to be drones.
In the coming days, we must invigorate our commitment to freedom.
Nevertheless, France’s (and its international partners’) immediate challenge is to capture the suspects responsible. Having escaped the scene after brutally executing a wounded police officer on the street, French authorities rightly fear the attackers may strike again. Yet officials must also assume that other cells are also planning attacks. Correspondingly, France’s eminently capable counterterrorism services are likely to launch raids across the country to break terrorist suspects they’ve been monitoring. We should also expect tightened security measures in the U.K., which has its own significant terror threats.
The simple, undeniable reality is that much of Western Europe faces a profound terrorist threat. As I’ve explained before, the rise of the Islamic State and terrorist tourism has catalyzed this crisis. Yet in France, as Andrew Hussey notes in The French Intifada, the challenge is accentuated by the painful reverberations of French colonialism. Indeed, with some eyewitnesses suggesting the Charlie Hebdo murderers spoke fluent French; this may well have been a homegrown plot.
Regardless, our perspective must not pass from the basic reality of what has occurred today. Innocent men and women were murdered for the content of their speech. Innocent police officers were murdered for attempting to save lives. There is no moral complexity to what has occurred. This is terrorism in the cause of ideological tyranny. And equivocation — however veiled — deserves no intellectual quarter in the civic debate that must now follow.