The deadly attack on the French satirical magazine’s headquarters that killed 12 people and later resulted in the deaths of several others who were taken hostage by one of the gunmen and an accomplice, is a horrific tragedy. Whether or not Charlie Hedbo magazine was overly offensive towards religious practices/customs is an irrelevant argument, because comedic satire should never result in death. The argument now is what should America, France, and the rest of the world should do about this growing threat, and yes, it is growing.
There is no doubt that this was a horrible act of terrorism. However, the definition of terrorism is subjective and has undergone vast semantic change over the past decade. In the dictionary, terrorism is still defined as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” In the United States, terrorism has come to mean “violence carried out by a Muslim(s) for a religious cause.” Terrorism is associated solely with Islam. It is a word that is used to promulgate anger and used as an excuse for enacting harsh policies against “them”. Many other nations and people have a very different concept of terrorism. Israel has been called a terrorist state. Cuba is on the United State’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list. When was the last time Cuba committed a terrorist act? So even trying to define what terrorism is tends to result in a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication. For better clarity, when I use the word terrorism, I will be referring to radical Islamic extremism. The Dirka Dirka, Muhammad jihad kind of terrorism. *Yes, this is racist. I’m aware. This is a satirical blog post and it’s a quote from a movie, as seen below*
After an attack like this, in which Islamic terrorists are responsible, many people ask: “Why don’t non-radical Muslims speak up and condemn this extremism?”. Well actually, a lot of them have, including the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF) and the French Muslim Council (CFCM), we just don’t listen/report on it because it doesn’t fit the narrative. You know, the narrative that Islam is a deadly religion and that all Muslims want to destroy America, i.e. Islam vs America. No Muslim should be obligated to apologize, every time there is a terrorist attack. Certainly, there is merit to the notion that condemnation from within the Muslim community can stamp out radical extremism from taking hold in the youth. There is value in preaching the right way to live within a community. That’s not what my argument is. What I ask is, how and why is every Muslim/Islamic citizen responsible for the acts of a few deranged individuals? Are all Jews responsible for Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 killed 29 and injured 125 Muslim worshipers at the Cave of the Patriarchs? Are all Christians responsible for Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 and injured over 300 people at the Workers’ Youth League (AUF) camp in Norway? Are all Christians responsible for the Oklahoma City Bombing that killed 168 people? Are all Catholics responsible for the 1 in 50 Catholic priests that have sexually assaulted little boys? Are all Christian’s to blame for Creed, aka the greatest band of all time? Of course not, this is a bigoted and discriminatory way of thinking. As Max Fisher, on Vox.com wrote: “This denunciation is a form of apology: an apology for Islam. The implication is that every Muslim is under suspicion of being sympathetic to terrorism unless he or she explicitly says otherwise. The implication is also that any crime committed by a Muslim is the responsibility of all Muslims simply by virtue of their shared religion.”
Adhering to this narrative is a dangerous line of thinking, as it exacerbates the “Us vs Them” mentality. Just like we here in the US perpetuate this narrative, so do radical Islamic groups. Extremists use this ideology for recruiting, as they want people to believe that this is truly a war between America and Islam. The narrative from their perspective is that America is an evil empire that wishes to rid the world of Islam and impose secular, capitalist democracy unwillingly onto nations with Islamic majority. This is why they wish to establish a global Islamic caliphate. They believe and maintain that Muslims will never be safe/happy in a world run by the West (and America/Israel). Their goals are as much political as they are religious. Their end-goal is an all-out war between the Islamic Caliphate and the West. The unfortunate twist is that by responding aggressively against Islam and Muslim extremism, we are adhering to the very same narrative that the terrorists use to expand/recruit, thus actually hindering our progress to rid the world of Islamic extremism.
So what should we do? Well, I don’t know. I’m just some guy who enjoys eating mint chocolate chip ice cream and writing shitty blog posts. Oh, and if you don’t like mint chocolate chip ice cream, you’re clearly a fucking terrorist. What I do know, is the notion that we can win the “War against Islam” by shooting/bombing Islamic jihadism to death is, quite simply, moronic. I also know that pretending that Islamic extremism isn’t actually a threat to the West and that we shouldn’t do anything is equally as stupid. We cannot afford to let extremists say, do and live whatever they want with complete immunity like they have been doing in nations like Pakistan. Although, after the Peshawar school attack, maybe that may change. Either way, we need to show solidarity. By we, I mean people of all religions and all countries, not just by world leaders staging an ostentatious photo-op for political points. When 1.6 million Parisians marched through Paris this week to support Charlie Hedbo, it was an impressive sign of unity. I just hope that it lasts. The US, in conjunction with other nations, needs to establish a more pragmatic plan for combating Islamic extremism. We need to defeat the narrative. Instead of trying to simply kill the messengers (Jihadists) whenever they pop up, we should be trying to kill the message (Islamic Jihadism).
As Commander Steven R. Thompson of the United States Navy has stated: “Countering the ideology of [this] narrative is the single most important objective to defeat violent Islamic extremism. Unfortunately, [this] narrative now enjoys a pervasive foothold in Islamic society” and Western society, I may add. He continues by stating that: “While eliminating key individual targets of strategic importance still holds merit, simply using kinetic means to destroy the various messengers will continue to prove difficult and costly. As a long term approach, several measures should be considered in a coalition strategy which leverages soft power. These measures include exposing the practice of takfir, improving public diplomacy efforts, and partnering with de-radicalized extremists to counter the Narrative.” The United States has been solely focused on gathering intelligence in order to conduct drone strikes. These strikes remain an important tactic in defeating extremism, but they only serve as a short-term solution. Other extremist leaders will take the deceased’s place. We need to stop radicalization before it ever occurs. Exposing the practice of Takfir is an important step in accomplishing this. Takfir is a Muslim who accuses another Muslim of apostasy. It’s the idea that any Muslim that does not partake in this Islamic caliphate is betraying his faith and deserves to be killed. This is something that extremist groups use to recruit. It’s similar to the method that Jewish grandmothers use to guilt their grandson’s into only marrying other Jews: “Ok, you don’t have to marry a nice Jewish girl, it’s just a thousand year old tradition. It’s fine, we’re just family, what do I know? I’ll just sit here in this sofa chair until I die. As long as you’re happy.” Now, the Quran does actually talk about apostates and states that they should be punished, but it does not explicitly say to kill them. Either way, those are just words, and its something that the vast majority of Muslims do not believe nor partake in. It’s not like the Bible or the Torah doesn’t say some questionable things.
There is no easy answer in defeating terrorism. There will always be violent, insane individuals that will kill people. All we can do is hope to limit it. However, we cannot let our fear alter our morality. In addition to fighting future terrorism, we need to reflect on the mistakes we made so that we and the rest of the West don’t repeat them. For instance, the War on Iraq. We went to war with a country that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, which wasted billions of dollars while countless US and Iraqi lives were lost (although no one would argue that Sadaam didn’t deserve to die). We destroyed the stability of Iraq, which provided a viable breeding ground for terrorist groups and destabilized the entire Middle East. Out of fear, we put hundreds into Guantanamo Bay and other black cell prisons for simply being suspected of terrorism while never giving them a trial. Not to mention the fact that these prisoners were tortured for months on end, which has proven to be an ineffective method. We have bombed homes and sent drone strikes across the world into countries that do not want us there (such as Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, etc…). We have allowed our government to warrantlessly spy on every and any individual without restraint nor accountability. Because of all of this, in the eyes of many foreign nations, we have lost our moral authority on human rights. We have allowed the fear of terrorism to distort our ideals. It is a dangerous path we are on, as we are conforming to a narrative that was entirely false to begin with. America is not at war with Islam. If we defeat this narrative, and we expose it for what it is, we have a chance of creating a more peaceful world.
PS: I want to give a little context as to why, in the Islamic faith, depictions of Muhammad are so offensive. Quite simply, paintings or portraits of Muhammad are prohibited by Islam because it is a form of idol worship. “A central tenet of Islam is that Mohammed was a man, not God, and that portraying him could lead to revering a human in lieu of Allah” (CNN), like Jesus in Christianity. Most mosques do not feature paintings or portraits, but quotes, for this very same reason. That being said, even if depicting Muhammad is considered blasphemy, murder should not and is not the appropriate response.