Charlie Hebdo: Killed For a Cartoon

By Matthew Hutchings on January 16, 2015

image courtesy

January 7th dawned over Paris’ 11th district as a grey, rainy Wednesday much like any other. At about noon this illusion was shattered by two men in black balaclavas as they rushed into the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, assault rifles drawn. On this particular Wednesday the staff of the paper were having an editorial meeting, the only time that the entire staff is present in the office.

The attackers shot as many as they could, before fleeing into the street and letting loose at a police officer. As he lay writhing in agony on the ground, begging for mercy, they shot him again in the head. The attackers then fled the scene, shouting Allah Akbar. Hours later another member of the cell shot a jogger in Fontenay-aux-Roses. This accomplice shot a police officer the following day, while the manhunt for the Charlie Hebdo attackers was ongoing, and concluded his spree on the 9th by taking hostages in a kosher supermarket.

Meanwhile the first two terrorists had occupied the offices of a signage production company. The French police forces formed a cordon around both locations. No innocents were harmed during the retaking of the signage offices, but several were killed or wounded when GIGN, RAID, BRI, and other elements of the French police stormed the supermarket.

image courtesy Sky News – one of the shooters shouts “We have killed Charlie Hebdo, God is great!”

Within France some are calling this event “our 9/11″. The attack has brought the issue of Islamist extremism to the forefront of the conversation.

It also prompts serious questions about how far European societies should go in accommodating the growing Muslim minorities that live within their borders. The United States has a culture of not just welcoming, but assimilating immigrants which reaches back to before the founding of the republic, and even we have trouble with homegrown Islamic terrorists. In Europe on the other hand, Muslims often do not assimilate into their host societies for a variety of reasons, some of which are beyond their control.

As a result a great many have become part of the poverty-stricken underclass of Europe. Poverty breeds isolation and anger, emotions which seek an outlet like lightning seeks the tallest building. Occasionally bubbles of violence will rise up from this group and burst in the public consciousness, such as the occasion Michael Rigby, an off-duty soldier and father of a 2-year old child, was hacked to death and then beheaded in broad daylight in London as revenge for the British presence in Afghanistan.

It is undeniable that the tremendous upheaval caused by the Bush Administration’s ill-planned wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is feeding into the phenomenon of Muslim poverty and disenfranchisement in European countries to create deadly violence. It is also undeniable that racism and an attitude of alienation have contributed to this poverty. I think we can all agree that it is a new age, and that western countries must stick to their values and remain tolerant and welcoming and accepting. Only through welcoming diverse cultures can our nations continue to stay competitive and remain leaders of the world.We must strive to stomp out discrimination and racism as best we can. All human beings have potential for goodness and greatness, regardless of their religion or gender or skin color, and societies that embrace that ideal will do better than societies that do not.

But there is another side of the story, and I think that side is best expressed by the mayor of Rotterdam, an ethnically diverse city in South Holland. Mayor Aboutaleb took office in 2008 over protests from the right that he was a Moroccan-born Muslim and had dual citizenship with that country. Despite this he won the election. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, he delivered a message to Islamists that closely mirrors my own feelings on the subject:

“It is incomprehensible that you can turn against freedom… if you don’t like freedom, for heaven’s sake pack your bags and leave.”

“There may be a place in the world where you can be yourself, be honest with yourself and do not go and kill innocent journalists. And if you do not like it here because humorists you do not like make a newspaper, may I then say you can fuck off.”


“This is stupid, this so incomprehensible. Vanish from the Netherlands if you cannot find your place here. All those well-meaning Muslims here will now be stared at.”


image courtesy LiveLeak – Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam


This was not the politically correct thing to say, but it was the correct thing to say.

The other side to this story is that when people decide they do not like our societies, to the point that they will commit or encourage others to commit violence against that society, then they should not be allowed to stay. If you disagree with the actions of France or the US or the UK, you can vote to change the government, speak out, or leave. If you decide to pick up a gun and murder people, or chop an innocent persons’ head off, then there is no place for you in western society, and you made a mistake in coming here. If you think you agree with the moral or religious basis for the shootings, then ask yourself, what have they achieved? Despite losing almost all of it’s staff, Charlie Hebdo is still in print. In fact, this weeks issue will feature yet another depiction of Muhammad. Instead of the usual circulation of tens of thousands of copies, this newest edition has a print run of millions.

We in the west pride ourselves on our progressiveness. On our forward thinking nature. On our tolerance. Our prosperity. Our freedom.

But if we take those things to mean we should do nothing in the face of this tribalistic violence, then we will lose all of those things.

As a student of history, I do not buy the clash of civilizations model. As romantic as it might be, I think at our core most humans want to live together in peace, and most humans really don’t give a damn what god their neighbor prays to as long as he keeps his parties quiet and returns the things he borrows. However I also think that there are certain individuals that will never live in peace with the rest of us, and we should not tolerate them, regardless of the ideology they hide behind. It would be a grave mistake to assume our multicultural values mean that we cannot draw the line somewhere. There is nothing- no legacy of oppression, no religious principle, no amount of suffering, that could ever possibly justify these cold-blooded murders. The killers are the second lowest form of human beings. The worst kind of human beings are the people who find excuses for what they did, because in seeking to defend what they see as persecuted individuals seeking righteous payback, they are undermining the very foundation of what allows us to be a prosperous, thriving, multicultural, free and tolerant society in the first place. These terrorists did not attack soldiers. They did not attack politicians. They did not blow up a weapons factory or a barracks- they shot up an office full of cartoonists, because one of them drew something they thought was insulting.

We must insist that freedom of speech take precedence over protecting the feelings of the religious. Why? Because the freedom of speech is definite and concrete and solid. We can easily agree on it’s definition. Meanwhile, sentiments can change, and if we decide that not offending the religious is more important than free speech, it gives the religious license to decide what they define as offensive, thus giving them legal authority to censor an entire nation. We are not going back to that. Humanity lived that way for thousands of years, and that time is over.


UC Santa Cruz seems to nurture, among other things, a particular flavor of leftism that enjoys hearing the victim narrative and sympathizing with the downtrodden, even when that narrative doesn’t accurately describe the events it is applying it to. The story of the colonialism is told over and over again like a gospel: oppression against those of color and those who practice non-western traditions, destruction of their societies, rape, pillaging, murder, subjugation and etcetera. This is supposed to justify current terrorist attacks as the west getting its comeuppance for centuries of evil deeds. Ask these same people if they think “an eye for an eye” is a good creed to live by and most of them will give you an emphatic no without experiencing any sense of irony whatsoever. A friend of mine is taking a course entitled “Feminism and the Global South”, and recently heard Professor Arondekar make the argument that the reason attacks like these take place is because of the imperialist actions taken by the US and it’s allies in the wake of 9/11.


Once again, the implication is that we deserve these attacks. That they are somehow just repayment.


I wonder what the families of the dead would think about that hypothesis.


The bottom line is this: if an immigrant comes to the west and finds that he or she cannot handle living in a society that holds freedom of expression as a basic right, the answer is not to maim and murder, the answer is to buy a plane ticket and go home.
I'm a transfer student, an aspiring writer, and a banana slug. I like to slide around among the leaf litter because it keeps me cool and moist. My favorite sport is global politics, and I always stay up on how my teams are doing. If I'm not at the burrito place or walking in the woods you can catch me staring at news feeds and hitting F5 like it was the treat dispenser button.

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