This is one entry in a series on the murders at Charlie Hebdo. Find more articles on the issue in the right column (or on the bottom for mobile or tablet readers).
If you have lived in France any time in the past 50 years, you knew at least Cabu and Wolinski, two of the cartoonists and journalists killed in cold blood, as well as you know a French baguette or a cup of café noir. They and Charlie Hebdo, joined later by a second generation, embodied the spirit of a liberal, irreverent 1968 era. Most of their drawings attacked church bigotry, traditional conservatism, and macho postures (they invented the nickname “les beaufs” to that purpose). Bernard Maris, an economist also killed in the attack, was an active challenger of conventional economic thoughts. Those who killed them and anybody standing in the way, including policemen on Paris streets, may not have had the right address for the newspaper, but they knew and recognized French cultural identity well. One is suddenly reminded that the killer of the Brussels Jewish museum last year, also a foot soldier for the self-named Islamic State (IS), reportedly sang “douce France”, Charles Trenet’s timeless song about his country, to the French hostages held in Syria.
Those who will try to describe the victims as provocateurs or as anti-Islam, or who will argue that perhaps French society – or European ills – have brought on us this plague, miss the point entirely. Social inequality, discrimination based on genre, religion, and even race are serious issues that affect Europe – but certainly not more, and in fact far less, than just about any region of the world. We have built the safest and fairest societies on earth, which millions dream to join, and our main problem is to keep these societies sustainable. Instead we must open our eyes to the monstrosities that are spawning in the name of Islam all over the world, from Peshawar where more than a hundred school children were murdered recently in one blow, to Mumbai, or Syrakistan where IS epitomizes the rise of gangland barbarianism, to North Africa and Madrid, now to France. These are but a small few of the mass murders that accumulate, from the Twin Towers of 9/11 to the murderous car bombs used in the Middle East.
This time, the violence came to Paris. The people that the terrorists have chosen to kill were not the enforcers of any order, they were a symbol of free thinking and freedom generally. It is the terrorists and their abetters who are leading the conflict. France is a target because it has the largest Muslim community in Europe, and because some have kept up the tradition of popular free thinking. Nothing more, nothing less.
Let’s not chant the defeatist mantra that all these attacks are only designed to provoke overreaction – and that there should therefore be no reaction apart from wringing of hands and self-accusations. These extremists mean what they say. They want war and they declare it. There is no middle ground and one of the hardest battles is going to be to force a reform of Islam, because the truth is that it is used as a hotbed for barbarousness. Admittedly, once more, this barbarousness is in our midst. The links between modernity, globalization, and brutality have been well identified. Almost a century ago, Fritz Lang’s movies illustrated the connection, and Olivier Roy has recently shown how much radical Islam’s roots have to do with the fault-lines in Western culture. Still, Romas – the most discriminated group in Europe – don’t murder, nor do the unemployed. Radical Islam does, and all over the world.
Let’s not hide behind the conveniently liberal thought that Islam needs more protection in Europe, or that we should commit even further to communitarianism. This path does not lead to any solution, and is perceived only as weakness. The clerics and organizations that abound in Islam should now be put under pressure to reform and police themselves, and they should not only accept but proclaim that they will live by European rules – those of an open and free society – not along a lighter version of sharia and terrorism.
Some will argue that calling the wolf a wolf actually benefits our far right parties, who have often cried wolf. This is not true. What benefits the far right is the denial of a problem which is in plain view. The task ahead is to make Muslims living in Europe – including refugees fresh from the Syrian disaster – conscious that they must make an overt, self-conscious choice to stand unabashedly against an interpretation of Islam that is incompatible with free thinking.
To say this is not to discriminate against Muslims. It is if nothing is done, including by prominent Muslims, that we will see a groundswell of rejection in our continent.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.