Berlin — The horrific Islamist-animated terrorist attack today in Paris resulted in the murders of twelve people. The Islamists could be heard on video yelling “Allahu Akbar!” as they fired their weapons. Their target: The editorial office of the French satirical comic weekly Charlie Hebdo, which was modeled on the U.S. cartoon character Charlie Brown. Charlie Hebdo poked fun at radical Islam’s intolerance.
The weekly’s office was firebombed in 2011 because of its polemical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Thankfully, there were no injuries. Now, the massacre of the weekly’s cartoonists, editors, and two police officers has created new counter-terrorism and freedom challenges for France.
The first journalistic response should be the publication of Charlie Hebdo cartoons lampooning radical Islam on the front pages of newspapers and websites. Young French journalists have embraced a moving form of protest. They assembled with posters saying “Je suis Charlie” and “Journalism students united.” One Journalist said, “Freedom is the very essence of journalism.”
The terrorist attack is fundamentally an effort to dismantle France’s liberty as a robust democracy. It is worth recalling that there has been a long and continuous string of radical-Islamic state and non-state attempts to gut European freedoms. Iran’s then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini infamously issued a religious fatwa — a religious order — to assassinate the British novelist Salman Rushdie because of his book The Satanic Verses. Iran’s fanatically anti-Western regime considered Rushdie’s book to have insulted Islam. He was forced to go into hiding.
In 2006, the German opera cancelled four performances of a modernized version of Mozart’s Idomeno because it included a severed head of the prophet Mohammed. There was no security threat but the post-9/11 climate created an anticipatory form of self-censorship.
The brave cartoonists and editors at Charlie Hebdo sought to counter the growing European atmosphere of fear.
The pressing takeaway is, the words of the great American social philosopher Sidney Hook still carry great weight: “Freedom is a fighting word.”
— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter at @BenWeinthal