With Daniel Falcone. My time in Paris was a beautiful and amazing experience. I climbed the Eiffel Tower, saw the Louvre, and the majestic arches of Notre Dame. Even so, there exists an overtone of a focus on security in the city. As I walked down the escalator on the Métro, I encountered a member of the Police Nationale, who happened to be carrying a very large rifle. As a nervous American, I asked “is the Métro open?” in timid French, and the only response I got was “oui.” Still, the recent events in Paris make it evident why the French created a powerful domestic security force. Ever since 9/11, when the Eiffel Tower was on Al-Qaeda’s hit list, the French have become wary of Islamic extremism, like much of the Western World, and yesterday, the French’s worst fears became reality. The once sonorous bells in the city of love were horribly interrupted by an AK-47 rifle.
At 11:30am local time on Wednesday, January 7th, two hooded gunmen stormed into the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper, gunning down 12 and injuring two. Among the dead are cartoonists Jean Cabut, Bernard Verlhac, Georges Wolinski, and Stephane Charbonnier, the chief editor of Charlie Hebdo, as well as French economist Bernard Maris and two police officers assigned to protect the satirist and editor.
The French National Police have identified the suspects to be brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, and have apprehended an 18-year-old suspect who surrendered to the police. Authorities are still unsure if the shooters were acting alone or if they were carrying out the orders of a larger organization. With an estimated 1000 Frenchmen having either returned or currently returning from fighting for the Islamic State, the latter is certainly a possibility.
The shooters were heavily armed, wielding AK-47s. After entering the second-floor newsroom and shooting the journalists while they were in a meeting, the two men fled in a black Citeron. While fleeing, they crashed into another car, and made their escape by commandeering a bystander’s vehicle. As the shooters were running through the streets, they were heard yelling, “Allahu Akbar” and “The Prophet is avenged.” The French police have organized a massive manhunt, and President Francois Hollande stated, “…We have to protect all public places” in order to prevent any further attacks on French soil.
This is not the first attack that has been carried out against the newspaper. In November 2011, the office was firebombed and hacked. The attack was in response to an edition of Charlie Hebdo entitled “Charia Hebdo,” which listed the Prophet Muhammad as editor-in-chief. Recently, officers had been assigned to protect the office as a result of previous threats against Charbonnier.
Earlier, in 2006, Charlie Hebdo came under fire for reprinting twelve cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, originally produced by Dutch satirical newspaper Jyllands-Posten, under a cover image of a bawling Muhammad saying, “it’s hard being loved by jerks.” The French newspaper then became wrapped up in several lawsuits from Islamic groups under the accusation that Charlie Hebdo had published the cartoons in an attempt to purposefully incite hatred against Muslims .
This shooting is the deadliest attack that has occurred in France in over 50 years. As expected, the French public is outraged at the actions of the extremists. President Hollande has declared a day of mourning along with a moment of silence at noon, and thousands held a silent vigil in the Place de la Republique in Paris for the victims, holding signs saying, “je suis Charlie,” meaning “I am Charlie,” a hashtag that was trending on Twitter.
Leaders around the world have expressed their support for the victims. President Obama stated that the United States would, “provide any assistance needed to help bring these terrorists to justice.” Across the pond, British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted his support for the French people, declaring that Britain and Germany would stand with the people of France. Muslims around the world have also condemned the attacks, saying that it is in no way representative of Islam. As fear spreads, Jyllands-Posten has boosted security concerned of suffering a similar attack.
The Charlie Hebdo shooting will only add to the tension between Non-Muslim and Muslim populations across the European continent, which will bolster support for anti-immigration campaigns. Some believe that Islamists are incapable of adapting to democracy, and instead will react violently to Western ideals. This event will only give cadence to the discriminatory voices calling for xenophobic immigration reform. This presents a conflict between the notions that Islamists should not be allowed in Europe because they pose a threat to the freedom of speech and that not allowing Muslims into Europe undermines religious tolerance. Dutch politician and founder of the Party for Freedom Geert Wilders tweeted, “This is war.” Unless the radical passions of both sides are quelled, this conflict threatens to plunge Europe into a war over tolerance in relation to freedom.
Terroism is a bona fide threat for much of the world, and is especially in the Middle East and South Asia. Since the 1970s, the world has been in a wave of terrorism underpinned by Islamic extremists. Due to this, the Muslim community has received plenty of flack, and we have seen a rise of Islamaphobia throughout much of the western world. Of course, it is vital to remember that most Muslims are not terrorists, and actually follow a very peaceful interpretation of the Koran. Even so, Islamic terrorists do exist, often found in groups such as Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, and ISIS. These groups have marred the name of Islam, and provide a threat to the entire civilized world.
Terrorism can be and is defined in a variety of ways – in fact one of the greatest semantical battles is over the idea of “who is a terrorist.” Some terrorists may be labeled as such, but are in fact a dissident faction in a single-party system or an insurgent group. A good working definition for a terrorist can be stated as “Premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience” (Paul R. Pillar, Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution Press 2001, p. 13). In basic terms, terrorists use violence to get a point across. These smaller groups often cannot declare war on a nation-state, and thus attack asymmetrically in order to lower morale and cause pain in a nation. The latest attack on Charlie Hebdo is only one reminder of this.
Check back tomorrow when we will post an analysis of the Charlie Hebdo attacks from a human rights perspective.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.