By Mohammad Homaeefar

Charlie Hebdo and the making of terrorists

September 4, 2020 - 18:55

TEHRAN — In a reckless, provocative move, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday republished the same cartoons about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that prompted a deadly attack on the magazine in 2015.

The cartoons were republished so as to mark the start of the terrorism trial of people accused as accomplices in the attack. The magazine posted the cartoons online on Tuesday and they appeared in print on Wednesday.

“We will never lie down. We will never give up,” director Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau wrote in an editorial to go with the cartoons in the latest edition, France 24 reported.

“The hatred that struck us is still there and, since 2015, it has taken the time to mutate, to change its appearance, to go unnoticed and to quietly continue its ruthless crusade,” he said.

Twelve people, including some of France’s most famous cartoonists, were killed on January 7, 2015, when two French-born brothers of Algerian descent, Said and Cherif Kouachi, went on a gun rampage at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris.

The brothers identified themselves as belonging to the terrorist group al-Qaeda and cited “avenging the prophet” as their reason for the attack. The attack touched off a wave of killings claimed by Daesh (ISIS) terrorist group across Europe.

On January 9, 2015, Said and Cherif’s friend, Amedy Coulibaly, took hostages and killed four people at a kosher supermarket in Paris. Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers, who were in contact during the attack, were killed in standoffs with the police.

10 months later, in November 2015, a group of Daesh gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people and injured more than 400 at multiple sites across Paris, which became the deadliest of the attacks.

On Wednesday (Sept. 2), 13 men and a woman accused of providing the attackers with weapons and logistics went on trial on charges of terrorism.

Throughout the world, many Muslims see the publication of the cartoons as a renewed provocation by Charlie Hebdo, which has a history of publishing material considered racist and anti-Muslim.

Tehran on Thursday strongly condemned the French magazine, saying any insult against the prophet of Islam and other divine prophets is not acceptable at all.

“The French magazine’s offensive move, which has been repeated on the pretext of freedom of speech, has hurt the feelings of the world’s monotheists, is a provocative move and an insult to the Islamic values and beliefs of over one billion Muslims in the world,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.

Khatibzadeh defended freedom of speech but also suggested that the issue regarding the Charlie Hebdo controversy is not about free speech but it’s about an attack against the “peaceful coexistence of human beings”.

“Unlike the offensive move made by the magazine, freedom of speech is a great value which must be used in a constructive way in line with the peaceful coexistence of human beings and further understanding among religions,” the spokesman said, according to the Foreign Ministry website.

What is usually ignored

The wave of attacks in Europe prompted a heated worldwide debate about the limits of freedom of expression and whether offending the sacred values of the followers of a religious minority counts as one.

One point should be made clear: There’s no question that acts of terrorism are condemned, and in fact, Muslims and Islamic leaders across the world vehemently do so.

However, many missed the big questions, such as: “What makes people terrorists?” and “what countries and cultures turn people into terrorists?” 

For decades, anthropologist Scott Atran has studied the roots of terrorism committed in the name of Islam. He has interviewed numerous terrorists across the world, especially in West Asia. 

To put it in a nutshell, Atran has come to the conclusion that terrorism is a culture of mostly young men who are willing to kill and die for each other, rather than for a cause or a religion.

“Terrorists, for the most part, are not nihilists but extreme moralists—altruists fastened to a hope gone haywire,” Atran argues in his book “Talking to the Enemy: Religion, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists”.

He has also drawn a comparison between the socio-economic status of Muslims living in Western Europe with that of African-Americans in the United States.

“Unlike the United States, where immigrants achieve average socioeconomic status and education within a generation, in Europe even after three generations, depending on the country, they’re 5–19 times more likely to be poor or less educated,” he told Scientific American in the aftermath of the November 2015 Paris attacks.

“France has about 7.5% Muslims and [they make] up to 60–75% of the prison population,” he said, arguing, “It’s a very similar situation to black youth in the United States.”

Atran, who is Research Professor of Public Policy and Psychology at the University of Michigan, has maintained that many draw the wrong inference from these figures, namely that Islam encourages criminal behavior.

In his book, he has explained that the predictive factors for Muslims entering European prisons are pretty much the same as for African Americans entering U.S. prisons, namely lack of employment, schooling, political representation, and so forth.

“Foreign-born Muslims are five to seven times more likely to be poor than non-Muslims in Britain, France, and Germany and nearly ten times more likely to be poor in Spain,” he said.

Terrorism in the name of Islam in Europe has other mostly ignored roots as well, one of which is the history of Muslims suffering under European countries’ colonial rule.

In 1834, France annexed Algeria which had an estimated Muslim population of about two million. It also split Morocco with Spain in 1904. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, France received a League of Nations mandate, under which Lebanon and Syria were handed over to the French.

Britain also seized Aden on the Arabian Peninsula in 1839, and occupied Egypt in 1882. The League of Nations ratified Britain’s right to maintain its armies in the area and to rule Transjordan and Iraq after World War I.

With Lord Balfour’s Declaration in 1917, Britain gave Jews a homeland in Palestine, which in turn led to what has been described as “the mother of all problems”.

“The roots of the current confessional and territorial conflicts in the region emanate from these divisions,” Atran argued in his book.

Clash of cultures is yet another significant issue that needs to be studied in order to understand terrorism in the name of Islam. That France, which has an intolerant culture toward religion in general and Islam in particular, has turned into a radicalizing center for young Muslims should not be neglected.

France has for long tried to impose its own secular culture on its Muslim population, but this has disastrously backfired.

With this regard, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that the West’s imposition of its culture on others is a form of “silent violence” against those people, saying that terrorist groups such as Daesh are the result of such cultural invasion.

“I do not deny the importance and value of cultural interaction,” Ayatollah Khamenei wrote in an open letter to the youth in Western countries after the November 2015 attacks. 

“Whenever these interactions are conducted in natural circumstances and with respect for the receiving culture, they result in growth, development and richness. On the contrary, inharmonious interactions have been unsuccessful and harmful impositions.”

“Vile groups such as Daesh are the spawn of such ill-fated pairings with imported cultures,” he added.

Ayatollah Khamenei maintained that if the issue of terrorism was simply theological, “we would have had to witness such phenomena before the colonialist era, yet history shows the contrary.”

“Historical records clearly show how colonialist confluence of extremist and rejected thoughts in the heart of a Bedouin tribe, planted the seed of extremism in this region,” he said

“How then is it possible that such garbage as Daesh comes out of one of the most ethical and humane religious schools which as part of its inner core, includes the notion that taking the life of one human being is equivalent to killing the whole of humanity?” Ayatollah Khamenei noted.


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