I write this during dark days when the world stands aghast once more at the barbarity of extremist elements. The media, both social and commercial, are lit up with support and eulogies for those murdered at the Charlie Hebdo offices. The main sway of opinion seems to be that this awful crime shows once more how uniquely terrible Islam is, how its a direct attack on free speech and – from a few commentators – how its symptomatic of fundamental flaws in “multiculturalism.”
This widespread view is something I cannot help but wonder about. I would dearly love a world where no-one killed in the name of Islam, and am as glad as any that the murderers have not escaped; but that should not stop us from questioning these perceptions. Christianity is a convenient example for illustrative purposes, it is both familiar to those of us in the West and in our minds currently a benign religion. However atrocities are committed in its name. Anders Breivik, a Christian Fundamentalist killed 92 people in Norway and called for a Christian led war. The LRA in Africa and NLFT in India, both Christian groups, have carried out many acts of terrorism, murder and forced conversions. Make no mistake; the problem with radicalised Islam is a very real one that has to be dealt with but equally it is not alone in inspiring such barbarity.
A great deal of passion has been poured into how this is an attack on free speech with many people adopting the Mohammed cartoon from Charlie Hebdo as their online “avatar.” Apart from wondering quite how this helps, there are ways of expressing defiance other than disseminating an image also found offensive by a number of people who do not kill because of it, I personally wonder whether the oppression of free speech was really the core motive? It is certainly the hook that the attack has been hung on and will undoubtedly be trotted out as such by all sides. If we look at the recent history of the militant Islamist’s actions though there is a less clear cut agenda. The majority of victims from such atrocities are selected by chance, instead the scale and social impact are key. New York, London, Bali, etc – there was no-one specifically targeted. The only cause is literally “terror”, the ultimate aim being to create a culture where conflict is promoted through fear, anger and marginalisation. The hoped for endgame is an atmosphere of antagonism that could spark inter-faith war. With such an overarching remit it is difficult to believe that any such attack does not have this as the primary aim, the secondary aim being the publically accepted one which serves to promote a personal sense of engagement for members of the society under threat and a sense of validation for those who support the terrorists.
With regard to multiculturalism it is difficult to see how the actions of three men amongst nearly 5 million Muslims in France prove anything. What also of the French Jews, Sikhs and Buddhists? Must their way of life be oppressed because of the actions of these three criminals? Surely if Charlie Hebdo stands for anything it is that you cannot discriminate along such lines. The reason they continued to publish the cartoons is that they are a satirical magazine with a belief that there should be no barriers to expression. If you believe in that level of freedom, and believe it to the point where you accept the threat of mortal danger, then enforced assimilation must be anathema.
I don’t know what the solution to all this is, but I do know what I hope for and how I shall express my own defiance. Whatever happens I will not rail against Islam, I will not be afraid or suspicious of someone because their skin is a different colour, I will not hate someone because their views are different to mine, I will not be complicit in the creation of an aggressively fractured society – I will not dance to the terrorist’s tune.