As the manhunt for the two men who committed the Charlie Hebdo murders continues and the world mourns the loss of some of France’s most talented satirists, I feel it is a good time to reinforce the importance of the idea of tolerance. Despite our completely justified moral outrage at a cowardly act of terror, we must also take a step back and remind ourselves of the probable aims of these men and take careful measures not to allow these to occur.
I wrote previously on the special place in society that we bizarrely still allow to religion and how this unwillingness to deride can breed a sort of twisted superiority complex that can allow this sort of attack to happen. I firmly believe that the special treatment allowed to religion in general has permitted it to spawn a certain cancerous element, which, as Salman Rushdie noted, when combined with 21st century weaponry, can make for disastrous results.
I stand by what I wrote wholeheartedly, but it is not a point I want to further here. For, despite the relatively unchallenged position of religion in our society being an instigating factor in allowing an attitude of divinely inspired retribution to be nurtured, we must remember that no individuals are responsible for the crime other than the two, or possibly three, who entered the building and fired the shots.
The stated aim of these men was, as they put it, to ‘avenge the prophet’ and ‘kill Charlie Hebdo’. If that seems too simplistic in its viciousness it is because it is. They cannot have imagined that this would do their religion’s cause any good, they must have realised that it would do nothing more than promote a backlash of writings against their actions and draw even more attention to the publication on an international stage. Even the most basic understanding of the technology of the modern age must have led them to this conclusion.
What, then,can their aim have been? I suspect it has to do with a more celestial understanding of the consequences of their actions than some are realising. Yes, they may have known that their actions would cause a backlash against the average Muslim family, and I believe this was actually part of their strategy. As in the aftermath of 9/11, people would again look upon those of a different culture with more suspicion, perhaps a mosque would be attacked, and people with ‘foreign names’ discriminated against. And whilst their brothers in the faith were oppressed through no fault of their own, it would only serve to increase the friction in an already fractured community, and accelerate any potential global conflict for which they might be pushing.
I would imagine that, sadly, this was the second prong of their double strategy, and we simply cannot allow it to happen. While religion should not be put on a pedestal, neither should its adherents be punished for their beliefs, and certainly not for their culture. The average Muslim is no more to blame for these events than the average Catholic is to blame for the paedophilia scandals that rocked the church in the last decade and we must be mindful of this fact, despite our pain. What needs to change is society’s attitude to religions themselves and the way we deal with them them, not how its devotees are treated. Now is not the time to cast unwarranted blame, but rather to bring the individuals involved to justice.
The perpetrators of this horrific crime have already failed in one of their fights; Charlie Hebdo has risen from the ashes of the crime scene, thanks to admirable support from many publications that have reprinted its cartoons, and in doing so has become a global symbol for the fight for freedom of speech. Let us now let them have no victory on their other goal, now is the time to stand together in mutual mourning, not to point fingers at individuals or communities that had nothing to do with this act of terror.