Charlie HebdoOn Wednesday, three masked gunmen murdered 12 people, ostensibly in response to satirical cartoons published of the prophet Mohammed.

It is a sad comment on our society that on hearing this, my first thought was of how long it would take for the massacre to become the fault of the victims. It is sadder still that my curiosity should be so quickly satisfied – less than a day.

As always they do, the apologists begin their defence with something akin to, “It’s terribly sad, but…” What follows wastes no time in explaining how those slaughtered were the architects of their own demise.

In anticipating this reaction, I recalled the words of George Galloway before an audience in New York in September 2005. He said: “You may think that those aeroplanes in this city on 9/11 came out of a clear blue sky. I believe they emerged out of a swamp of hatred created by us.”

However, on the day of the most unashamed attack on free speech in recent memory, I dared to hope that the loathsome MP for Bradford West might hold his tongue. My hopes were, of course, soon dashed.

In a post on his Facebook page, the admirer of the late Saddam Hussein condemns the murders, before explaining that the French government has been “facilitating” such carnage, daily, in Syria. This from a man who said Syria was “lucky” to have Bashar al-Assad, the Ghouta gas murderer, as her president.

The cartoons of Mohammed “cannot possibly” justify the murders, he continues, but then Charlie Hebdo was guilty of “provocative actions” in publishing them.

The real victims, he says, are the beleaguered Muslims of racist France. Never mind the 12 families whose loved ones will never come home, what intolerance have they suffered?

Reaching his predictable conclusion, he argues The West is fixated on confrontation with the Muslim world. Perhaps NATO stepping down its activity in the Middle East was a provocation, ay George?

Arguments like Galloway’s are not without precedent. When a bounty was put on Salman Rushdie’s head in 1989 for the crime of writing a novel, many prominent figures who enjoy the freedoms of liberal society excused their reticence about the fatwa with attacks on the author.

Noted feminist Germaine Greer refused a petition in support of Rushdie, saying (as if it were a bad thing) that he was “an Englishman with dark skin.” Late historian Hugh Trevor-Roper said he “would not shed a tear” if the author were waylaid in a dark street and thus caused to “control his pen.”

Assume the worst of an artist and the worst of their work. Does the production of such work – be it novel, cartoon, essay, whatever – thus become a crime, much less a capital offence?

There is a grim tendency amongst people who think of themselves as forward-thinking to try and rationalise terrorists actions’ as merely reactions; their wrongs as responses to wrongs.

In an Oxford Union debate in 2013, Mehdi Hasan – the former politics lead at New Statesman and The Huffington Post – proclaimed: “There is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism or any of the world’s religions.”

Quoting Robert Pape of the University of Chicago, he continued: “What nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.”

Maybe Mr Pape knows the motives of those claiming divine inspiration better than they do. In any case, this attempt to divorce suicide attacks from their religious rationale was received sympathetically by the learned audience.

In the same way, Mr Hasan has already dismissed any notion that the Charlie Hebdo murderers were inspired by their faith, citing as evidence a news report which says a lead suspect was “not religious” as of 2005. Part of the same news report which says the culprits shouted “allahu akbar” he ignores.

For Mr Hasan, the blame lies – as it must – with The West, for its actions in the Middle East. He highlights his news report again, which says the suspects were sympathetic with Iraqi ‘insurgents.’

I’ve yet to see it satisfactorily explained how the murder of satirists based 2,400 miles from Baghdad is a result of the Iraq War.

To my mind, the staff of Charlie Hebdo were citizens of a democratic country exercising their right to free expression. Yet already their eulogies are being poisoned with the suggestion of blame.

Responsibility for Islamic terrorism lies only with those committing it. We cannot tackle those who would destroy free speech until we forgive ourselves for using it.

Je Suis Charlie.

  1. equinoxio21 says:

    Couldn’t agree more!
    Vive Charlie Hebdo!

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