Terror strikes at free speech in France

Stephane Charbonnier, aka “Charb”, editor of Charlie Hebdo magazine

By now you will all have heard about the dreadful terrorist attack on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Wednesday morning. The attack differed from the usual kind of terror attack, where terrorists open fire randomly on their victims. In this attack the terrorists picked out their individual targets and knew the exact time to strike:

Eight journalists, a guest and two police officers were killed, said Paris prosecutor Francois Molins.

The two policemen among the 12 killed were named as Ahmed Merabet, 42, and Franck Brinsolaro, 49.  Brinsolaro was reportedly the police bodyguard of the paper’s editor Stephane Charbonnier, widely known by his pen name Charb, who was killed along with three other cartoonists in the attack; Jean Cabut, the lead cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo with the pen name Cabu, Bernard Velhac, pen name Tignous and Jewish cartoonist Georges Wolinski, pen name Wolinski.

Georges Wolinski, one of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack

Among the dead were also Bernard Maris, an economist who is a contributor to the newspaper and was heard regularly on French radio, and Michel Renaud, the guest and a friend of Cabut.

The identities of the remaining four victims were not yet released to the media.

The article provides a vivid description of the attack:

The staff was in an editorial meeting and the gunmen headed straight for Charbonnier, killing him and his police bodyguard first, said Christophe Crepin, a police union spokesman. Minutes later, two men strolled out to a black car waiting below, calmly firing on a police officer, with one gunman shooting him in the head as he writhed on the ground, according to video and a man who watched in fear from his home across the street.

The witness, who refused to allow his name to be used because he feared for his safety, said the attackers were so methodical he first mistook them for France’s elite anti-terrorism forces. Then they fired on the officer.

“They knew exactly what they had to do and exactly where to shoot. While one kept watch and checked that the traffic was good for them, the other one delivered the final coup de grace,” he said. “They ran back to the car. The moment they got in, the car drove off almost casually.”

The witness added: “I think they were extremely well-trained, and they knew exactly down to the centimeter and even to the second what they had to do.”

“Hey! We avenged the Prophet Muhammad! We killed Charlie Hebdo,” one of the men shouted in French, according to a video shot from a nearby building and broadcast on French TV. Another video showed two gunmen in black at a crossroads who appeared to fire down one of the streets. A cry of “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great”— could be heard among the gunshots.

The video showed the killers moving deliberately and calmly. One even bent over to toss a fallen shoe back into the small black car before it sped off. The car was later found abandoned in northern Paris, the prosecutor said, and they hijacked a Renault Clio. There were conflicting accounts initially of whether the manhunt was for two or three attackers.

Corinne Rey, the cartoonist who said she was forced to let the gunmen in, said the men spoke fluent French and claimed to be from al-Qaida. In an interview with the newspaper l’Humanite, she said the entire shooting lasted perhaps five minutes, and she hid under a desk.

This is the second time that the magazine has been targeted by extremist Muslims:

Charlie Hebdo has been repeatedly threatened for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad and other sketches. Its offices were firebombed in 2011 after an issue featured a caricature of the prophet on its cover. Nearly a year later, the publication again published Muhammad caricatures, drawing denunciations from the Muslim world because Islam prohibits the publication of drawings of its founder.

Another cartoon, released in this week’s issue and entitled “Still No Attacks in France,” had a caricature of a jihadi fighter saying “Just wait — we have until the end of January to present our New Year’s wishes.” Charb was the artist.

Daily Telegraph cartoon illustrates what political-correctness looks like

Naturally there have been many reactions and opinion pieces written over the day about this shocking attack. Several items from the Daily Telegraph caught my eye in that they illustrate two different points of view. Their editorial almost seemed to justify backing off in the face of terrorist threats:

Free speech offers latitude but not necessarily license. It does not follow that because many newspapers, such as this one, do not publish cartoons of Mohammed that somehow we have been intimidated into not speaking out. Any suggestion that a publication failing to follow Charlie Hebdo’s example is caving into terrorism is absurd: we all make editorial decisions to avoid offending people that have nothing to do with appeasing militant Islamists.

And yet most newspapers have no compunction in offending Christians and Jews.  A very pertinent tweet says it all:

It is only Muslims that the intelligentsia are careful of not offending, for reasons of “race relations” or political correctness. Another word would be cowardice.

Telegraph journalist Dan Hodges candidly admits his cowardice in not offending Muslims when he writes “Want to see what a threat to our freedom looks like? Turn on your TV“:

Switch on your TV. You will see and hear what an assault on freedom really looks like. I’m looking at it now. Two masked, blackclad figures, opening up on police with their guns in an otherwise quiet residential street.

And that’s only a partial view. The broadcasters are not showing the moment those figures run up to a wounded policeman, and shoot him dead at point-blank range. Nor do they have footage of the moment when the attackers burst into the Charlie Hebdo offices with their Kalashnikovs, reportedly called out staff members by name, and then gunned them down.

This is an actual assault on our freedom. The pre-meditated, cold-blooded murder of someone because they drew a cartoon. Or edited a magazine that published a cartoon. Or worked in the office of a magazine that publishes cartoons.

This time, because journalists were amongst the victims, the period of shock and horror may last a bit longer. Over the coming hours and days there will be many eloquent articles written about the massacre, (it will become a “tragedy” soon). Many of those articles will be on a similar theme. They will explain how, ultimately, the pen is mightier than the sword. How the terrorists will never win. Charlie Hebdo will emerge on the newsstands again, and it will be seen as a proud act of defiance.

And we will be deluding ourselves. The terrorists are winning. They wanted to murder the people who in their eyes were behind the publication of that cartoon. And they succeeded. I am sitting in my own living room. I am too scared to tweet a picture of that cartoon. The terrorists are winning. Hands down.

Policemen are being murdered in our streets. Cartoonists – cartoonists – are being murdered at their desks. And we will not stop the people who are doing this with reassuring editorials.

I wish we could. When I’d revealed I’d deleted my tweet containing that cartoon, a number of people responded by calling me a coward. “You’ve just given in to them”, someone said.

They’re right. I am a coward. I have given in. Before today I also believed the pen was mightier than the sword. But I was wrong.

Hodges may be right that he is a coward but he is also being too harsh on himself.  I fully understand his caution and his fear. It is a perfectly natural reaction to terrorism, and of course that is the ultimate intention of terrorism – to terrorize. Who of us Israelis did not have second thoughts about riding a bus or going to the mall during the Intifada? And who of us lately has not cautioned our children about hitching lifts, especially in Judea and Samaria?

One cannot blame individuals for “cowardice” or caution in the face of terrorism. The reaction ought to come at the governmental level, and should not be left to the individual. In this respect, a third piece from the Telegraph expressed my feelings well, as Padraig Reidy writes “We must stop blaming ourselves for Islamist terror“:

Underlying all this was a persistent assumption. Islamist attacks are only ever reactions, only ever brought about by provocation from the West. All the way back to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s contract on the head of Salman Rushdie in 1989, we have accepted the idea that it is up to authors, artists and cartoonists to justify themselves in the face of threats and real violence.

Rushdie himself even apologised for his supposed “insult” to Islam, in fear for his life.

If the rise of Isil has taught the world one thing, it is that the provocation is beside the point. Jihadists kill because that is what they do. It does not matter if you are a French cartoonist or a Yezidi child, or an aid worker or journalist: if you are not one of the chosen few, you are fair game. Provocation is merely an excuse used by bullies to justify their actions, while ensuring the world bows to their will.

In October last year, imprisoned Syrian journalist Mazen Darwish managed to smuggle a note from his Damascus cell to the free speech charity English PEN. Darwish had been singled out for an award by PEN and Salman Rushdie, and he took the opportunity to address Rushdie directly, writing:

“[W]e committed an unforgivable sin in the Arab world when we responded with indifference to the fatwas and calls for your death. So indifferent were we that we colluded – even if just by our silent complicity – in excluding and eliminating difference, while acting as if the whole thing had nothing to do with us. And so here we are today, paying the high, bloodsoaked price of that collusion, and finding ourselves the main victims of the obscurantist ideology now infiltrating our homes and our cities.

What a great shame that it has taken us all of this bloodshed to arrive at the belief that we are the ones who will pay the price for preventing those with whom we disagree from expressing their views – and that we will pay with our lives and our futures. What a shame this much blood has had to be spilled for us to realise, finally, that we are digging our own graves when we allow thought to be crushed by accusations of unbelief, calling people infidels, and when we allow opinion to be countered with violence.”

Today’s obscenity may shock us, but we must not be rendered speechless

An interesting omission in all of these articles, particularly in the international press, is the any mention of the ongoing terror against Jewish targets around France. The attacks take place on an almost daily basis, in fact another synagogue was firebombed today, yet press reaction has been muted, and more often than not the attacks have been contextualised as a reaction to Israel’s actions in the West Bank or Gaza or Jerusalem. Take your pick. Maybe if a stronger response had been taken against such antisemitic attacks the Charlie Hebdo terrorists would have had second thoughts before taking action today.

A Twitter post sums up the situation perfectly and succinctly:

And the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg makes an excellent, snarky point:

And of course, how could we get through an attack like this without someone blaming the Jews?

Since the attack the French police and intelligence have been very efficient and have already identified the three terrorists:

Police issued a document to forces across the region saying the three men were being sought for murder in relation to the Charlie Hebdo attack. The document, reviewed by a Reuters correspondent, named them as Said Kouachi, born in 1980, Cherif Kouachi, born in 1982, and Hamyd Mourad, born in 1996.

The police source said one of them had been identified by his identity card which had been left in the getaway car.

The Kouachi brothers were from the Paris region while Mourad was from the area of the northeastern city of Reims, the government source told Reuters.

Anti-terrorism police were preparing an operation in Reims, the police source said, declining to give more details.

The police source said one of the brothers had previously been tried on terrorism charges.

Cherif Kouachi was charged with criminal association related to a terrorist enterprise in 2005 after he had been arrested before leaving for Iraq to join Islamist militants. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2008, according to French media.

These terrorists appear at least on the surface to have a similar background to Mohammed Merah, the Toulouse terrorist who killed a Rabbi, 3 children and 3 French soldiers in 2012.

I’m sure you all join me in sending sincere condolences to the families of the victims from the Charlie Hebdo attack, wishes for a speedy recovery to all those injured, and in sending a message of support and strength to the people of France who are fighting this extremism in their midst.

The French have taken to the streets in protest:

While cartoonists have taken to their pens:

This entry was posted in Antisemitism, International relations, Media and journalism, Terrorism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Terror strikes at free speech in France

  1. Reality says:

    I have a horrible schadenfreude feeling going on here. Horrible ,because I don’t like feeling like this. The French very happily allowed together with Europe, for Hamas to be taken off the terrrorist list. Hamas ,Al Qaida, Isil etc are all one& the same & until the rest of the world wakes up these horrific attacks will continue. Therefore the schadenfreude feeling.They have also allowed the Palestinians to be accepted into the ICC. I guarantee you that even if Israel does a tit- for-tat & takes the Pals to court we would lose in another show of bending over backwards to the poor oppressed Palestinian people ,whereas worse atrocities done by same Pal. people to Israel will be apologised for or swept under the carpet.
    The fact too that even the telegraph in London are too scared to “offend” the Islamic religion but anything goes for Jews,Chrisitans proves that terror has won. If they won’t stand up for free speech everywhere then Europe is doomed. I read a great talkback. The French should plaster every billboard ,tree & space with any & every cartoon about Islam.This way it will desensitise the French from fear about freedom of speech except when its against a murderous religion. Quite right.
    I think G-d works in mysterious ways . -payback for not standing with Israel?

    • anneinpt says:

      I most definitely understand and identify with your mixed feelings. Yes, if they had stood up more forcefully to the anti-Jewish terror attacks, and if they hadn’t supported a Palestinian state, giving the terrorists the feeling that they can get away with murder, then this might not have happened.

      But no one deserves to die because of a cartoon.

      What a terrible situation.

  2. Pete says:

    It is another piece of the ongoing madness. Unfortunately, all of the hardline jihadists will see this terror attack as completely “successful” … because from their point of view it was. It is troubling that the attackers had a very specific execution list of people, and were absolutely ruthless about carrying it out. The jihadists will see this as divine vengeance from Allah, and it can only encourage more attacks in the future. That is really regrettable.

    It is still somewhat hard to see how these attackers are trained. The perpetrators have some experience with jihadi tactics, and yes – some training with terror squads (perhaps Yemeni, perhaps somewhere else). But the comments from the eye witnesses in France are disturbing. The attackers moved very deliberately and systematically, causing some witnesses to think they were actually counter-terror policemen. How exactly are these terror groups achieving such a high level of training with a group of volunteers – who are not exactly high-caliber? I don’t see anything exceptional about these guys Said and Cherif Kouachi. How do they suddenly become so skilled at murder? It remains a vexing question. The fact they are cold-blooded … yes I can understand that. But the fact that they can operate like policemen who have years of experience and training – it’s not so easy to understand.

    Prayers for all of the families who have gone through this nightmare.

    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      It’s not really a vexing question at all Pete. The theory, or presumption, is that these terrorists have had some kind of proper military training, whether in Afghanistan or Syria or Iran or with Hezbollah or somewhere else in the region. Remember that ISIS is now vrey well-equipped and well trained. Someone is training them.

      The Brussels Jewish Museum killer was also very precise and military-like in his murder. Then it turned out he had fought in Afghanistan – with the Jihadis but they were trained by Pakistan or Iran or I don’t know who.

      You’re right that the Jihadists will see this attack as successful, whether the perps are captured or not. And it looks like they’re about to go down, as I write. This is why the West has to be so much more forceful in fighting them both militarily and ideologically. There’s no point in trying to “understand” them and their “grievances”. Their problem is Islam and our refusal to convert. Period.

  3. Earl says:

    Quite possibly, ex-French armed forces, if not trained in the jihadist camps.

    Spengler today echoes my regrettable conclusion: wholesale incarceration, deportations, citizenship revocation and other limitations on French Muslims, to bring the remainder to heel. But with 10% of France’s population muslim, 851 ”no-go” zones and 60% of the French prison population muslim, I reckon it’s either a French caliphate or civil war.

    Too late, the French will realize “nous sommes tout les Juifs”, And this from the birthplace of the Enlightenment…

    • anneinpt says:

      Spengler is most likely correct. Will it happen? The French are teased for being “surrender monkeys,” but woe betide anyone once the French tiger awakes. I think matters might be coming to a head around now.

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