Paris Terror Harms France, Islam, and The World
by Stephen Suleyman Schwartz
[Please note: The present version of this article has been updated from its presentation in The Huffington Post, which appears here.]
On January 8, Stéphane Charbonnier, editor of the Paris satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, with seven of his journalist colleagues and two policemen, a maintenance worker, and a visitor, were assassinated in an Islamist terror raid.
Three more people were injured. The brutal atrocity came only days after an eloquent appeal by German Christian Democratic chancellor Angela Merkel, Western Europe's most credible politician and a committed conservative, cautioning her fellow-citizens against anti-immigrant demonstrations centered in Dresden, in the former East Germany.
Three suspects were named in the Charlie Hebdo incident, according to Reuters. They were identified as two brothers, Saīd Kouachi, born in 1980, and Chéerif Kouachi, born in 1982, assisted by Hamyd Mourad, born in 1996. By Thursday morning, Mourad had surrendered to police, as reported by BBC News. On Friday, the Kouachi brothers were killed in northern France, while in a separate crisis in eastern Paris, a terrorist and four hostages were slain. According to euronews, the Kouachis and the eastern Paris attacker coordinated their demise.
Aside from shouts of "Allahu Akbar!" [God is the Greatest!] and cries that the killers had "avenged" Muhammad, who had been caricatured in Charlie Hebdo, one of the violent intruders at the magazine office was said to have yelled that they represented "Al-Qaida in Yemen."
Reuters described Chérif Kouachi as having served 18 months in prison. He was charged with involvement in a terrorist enterprise in 2005, when he participated in an Islamist group that recruited French nationals to fight against the U.S. in Iraq. But he was arrested before he could leave for the latter country.
Although planned apparently in detail, over a substantial period of time, the assault on Charlie Hebdo by Islamist fanatics could be seen as a perverse response to the positive initiatives toward Muslim immigrants taken by Merkel and other non-Muslims. On January 1, the German leader was quoted in The Guardian, stipulating in a televised address, "all those who go to [anti-Islam] demonstrations: do not follow those who have called the rallies. Because all too often they have prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts."
Her speech was followed on Tuesday, January 6, by competing assemblies in Germany. Supporters of the anti-Islam "Pegida" (a German-language acronym for "Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West") were, except in Dresden, overwhelmed numerically, in Berlin, Köln, and Stuttgart, by defenders of Muslims. In Köln, thousands of counter-demonstrators faced about 250 Pegida backers, the BBC observed. Lights were turned off at the Köln Cathedral and elsewhere around the city, to communicate official disapproval of the anti-Islam events.
The morning of January 6 had seen the front page of Bild, Germany's largest newspaper, publish an anti-Pegida manifesto signed by 80 prominent national figures, including the current foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, and Christian Democrat finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Bild is traditionally oriented rightward and was long a target for the radical left in Germany.
In Sweden, meanwhile, where at least two and possibly three mosques were firebombed in recent weeks, mass mobilizations took place standing by Muslims.
And then came the news from France. Pegida representatives, for their part, argued that the bloodshed at Charlie Hebdo justified their anti-Islam stance. On its Facebook page, as pointed out by Newsweek, Pegida declared, "The Islamists, against whom PEGIDA has been warning over the last 12 weeks, showed in France today that they are not capable of (practicing) democracy but instead see violence and death as the solution."
Angela Merkel herself said, in a statement carried by Reuters, "This abominable act is not only an attack on the lives of French citizens and their security. It is also an attack on freedom of speech and the press, core elements of our free democratic culture."
Unfortunately, the onslaught against Charlie Hebdo demonstrated something moderate Muslims have known for a very long time, and that was hardly discovered by Pegida. That is that Islamist radicals, anywhere in the world, do not seek justice, but bloodletting and chaos. The viciousness displayed in Paris followed a Taliban attack on an elite school in Pakistan, in December, that left 153 teachers and students dead.
Further, the invasion of Iraq by the so-called "Islamic State" or Daesh (in Arabic) killed 8,500 civilians in the second half of 2014, as recorded by the United Nations.
Where conflict exists, Islamist extremists will seek to worsen it to their benefit. Where it does not exist, they will seek to provoke it.
As cited by Al-Arabiya, the reformist Saudi television network located in Dubai, the moderate leadership of French Islam, known as the French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM), condemned the terrorist carnage. "This extremely grave barbaric action is also an attack against democracy and the freedom of the press," the CFCM said.
The CFCM, which is known for its defense of French secularism, appealed for calm and for Muslims to avoid radical agitation. "In this tense international climate stoked by the madness of terrorist groups unjustly claiming to represent Islam, we call on all those attached to the republic's values and to democracy to avoid provocation," CFCM emphasized.
The homicidal zealots who devastated Charlie Hebdo may have thought, as they fled French justice temporarily, that they had won a victory for Islam. But the effect of their action is the opposite – they have contributed powerfully to antagonism against Muslims. In their ideological delirium, that is doubtless what they want. Their ferocity, however, undermines the civility and security of France and the world, and endangers the future of Islam. Regardless of feelings about parodies of Muhammad, moderate Muslims should join their neighbors in protesting the crime against Charlie Hebdo. If we believe in our religion as Muslims, cartoons do not hurt us. The CFCM's counsels are correct. We will suffer far more if we allow extremists from among us to exploit such pretexts in inciting hideous crimes.