Charlie Hebdo, terrorism, and the attempted assassination of political satire


This was Stéphane Charbonnier, better known as Charb. He was a political cartoonist, and the editor-in-chief of the French satire publication Charlie Hebdo. Today, he was murdered in Paris by masked gunmen along with 11 others, including cartoonists Cabu, Wolinski and Tignous. The men who perpetrated the attack have yet to be found, but evidence would seem to indicate that they were Islamic extremists who had taken offense at the newspaper’s repeated, unflattering characterizations of Muhammad. (Witnesses claim to have heard the gunmen shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Great”) and “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.”)

“They were cartoonists and editors and humorists. People whose job in life was to point at hypocrisy and laugh at it; to ridicule hate; to make us all try to see our own failings as humans,” said Joe Randazzo, former editor of the Onion. “And they were killed for it.” The following comes from Randazzo’s MSNBC editorial.

I admit: it scares me. This is radical ideology taken to an abhorrent new low. The footage and photographs that have so far emerged depict several armed men, dressed in tactical black. It looks like a highly organized attack, but an attack, ultimately, on what? An idea? You cannot kill an idea by murdering innocent people – though you can nudge it toward suicide.

That is the real threat: that we’ll allow our fear, or our anger, to kill ourselves.

This will be framed by many as the latest salvo in an ongoing war between the West and Islam, when what this really amounts to is the slaughter of innocent people. These murderers don’t represent anyone but themselves, their own twisted view of reality. They don’t stand for an entire religion anymore than the Westboro Baptist Church stands for an entire religion or the Ku Klux Klan stands for an entire race.

If it turns out that members of Al Qaeda or some other radical “Islamic” sect carried out this attack, the saddest, most profoundly ironic thing about it will have been that the satire worked. It did its job. It so threatened its target, cut so deeply at the truth, that it resorted to the most cowardly, most offensive and despicable form of lashing out.

Satire must always accompany any free society. It is an absolute necessity. Even in the most repressive medieval kingdoms, they understood the need for the court jester, the one soul allowed to tell the truth through laughter. It is, in many ways, the most powerful form of free speech because it is aimed at those in power, or those whose ideas would spread hate. It is the canary in the coalmine, a cultural thermometer, and it always has to push, push, push the boundaries of society to see how much it’s grown.

Charb and his fellow satirists knew this was a risk that they were taking, as evidenced by the quote at the top of this post. Their offices had been firebombed in 2011 (after publishing a cartoon naming Muhammad their new editor-in-chief), and there had been repeated death threats. But they kept doing what they were doing. I will never know that kind of courage. I can’t even begin to fathom it… Just a few days ago, they printed the following. It would be Charb’s last published drawing.


“Still no terror attacks in France,” it says across the top. The then terrorist responds, “Hang on, we still have until the end of January to give our New Year wishes.”

Now, just half a day since the murders took place, I’m already beginning to see something of a backlash. At first, from what I saw, everyone was rallying behind these murdered satirists. People condemned the act, and held Charb and his fellow cartoonists up as heroes who died for the principled stand they’d taken against tyrannical fundamentalism. Now, though, it seems to me that the tides are turning a bit. A friend in academia just shared a link to an article deriding the paper as “orientalist titillation,” and referring to the outpouring of support that they’ve been receiving from free-speech enthusiasts around the world as “craven solidarity.” Both sides, they seem to be saying, are wrong… there are no heroes here… and it’s not black and white. As someone who has never read an issue of Charlie Hebdo, I can’t speak to the quality of their work. From what little I’ve seen online this evening, however, it seems as though they were more than just a Muslim hate rag, fanning the flames of racial hatred. In addition to going after Muslims, it would seem, they’ve also spent a good deal of time going after Christians and Jews, as well as a good number of politicians, including those on the far right. So, while I certainly value the opinion that nothing’s as clearcut as we might like to believe, I think I’m OK with craven solidarity in this instance.

People should be able to say what they want as long as they’re not inciting people to violence, and that’s the end of it.

Censorship never wins. In the end, information wants to be free. You cannot hide from knowledge. And when you try to kill things, you just make them stronger. The Streisand effect, simply put, is real. And, as a result of today’s cowardly actions, more people than ever before will see images of Muhammed passionately kissing a male cartoonist. If I weren’t so sad, I’m sure I’d find some humor in that fact.

Because we’re living in 2015, everything you could possibly want to see is at your fingertips, and it will be there forever… from the Charlie Hebdo drawings that likely spurred today’s murders to the horribly upsetting footage of these gunmen executing a police officer on their way from the scene. (It’s being reported now, by the way, that the officer was himself Muslim.) I’ve been through it all, and I cannot stop crying. Every time I follow another link, it starts up again. Most recently, my tears were brought on while flipping though cartoons drawn by other artists today, in response to these murders, like this one by David Pope, which really gets to the heart of it. I’m just finding it all absolutely heartbreaking.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 5.43.23 PM

I don’t have anything clever to say. I’ve got nothing to add. I just felt like writing. It’s easier than going downstairs and talking with my kids about this, telling them that they live in a world where religious cowards with guns are terrified by funny men armed with only wit and pencils… The good news, though, is that we will eventually win, as long as we don’t give in to fear, succumb to Islamophobia, and become that which we despise. My thoughts tonight are with the people of France as they make their way through this.


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  1. Kevin
    Posted January 7, 2015 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    This tragedy will be red meat for the burgeoning neo-fascist right in France, which is now increasingly younger and bold. The acts themselves are horrific, but France has a serious Islamophobia problem. Coupled with recession and deflation, this is a portentous time.

  2. Posted January 8, 2015 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    I used to read Charlie Hebdo; I haven’t seen it in a while. It satirizes current events, not just religion. I read it to keep up with European politics.

    Wolinski and Cabu, in particular, were grand old men of comics: Wolinski was 80 and Cabu was 76. I have some of their books, and reread them today. I’m still in shock.

  3. Bob
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    They couldn’t take out that Dilbert guy?

  4. Jcp2
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    This is terrible, but not as simple as live and let live.

  5. Mr. Y
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    A friend who lived for quite a while in Paris shared the same article, Jcp2. Here are his accompanying comments.

    “No. I disagree. This article misinterprets the cartoons. French people misinterpret some particulars of American race relations as well. Another problem is that people of different political orientations have very different senses of what is funny. Here’s something to chew on: Things that Rush Limbaugh says every day would get him dragged into court if he said it in France for hate speech, and he would lose. Charlie Hebdo has weathered decades of court cases because they know their readership and the laws. I am not saying that France does’t have big issues in Race and immigration. I am saying that this article reads Charlie wrong. In every issue of Charlie, the far right, and especially the National Front, are ripped to shreds.”

  6. Posted January 8, 2015 at 7:05 am | Permalink


    Certainly, the cartoons can be considered racist. However, I would be just as disturbed to learn that someone had firebombed a KKK office for spreading hate propaganda.

    Racists deserve public condemnation and ridicule. They don’t deserve to be firebombed or shot for merely saying incendiary bullshit.

  7. Mr. Y
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    The other side, as articulated by a friend of a friend on Facebook.

    “I’m french. Of course i’m absolutly devastated by the fact that someone can slaughter journalist. But i’m a little …. i don’t have the english words…disapointed/dismay for the number of people who suddenly think that this paper was a symbol of free speech… come on! Charlie hebdo it’s sexism racism, homophobia, violence against sex workers. Charlie hebdo is the Free speech of the white cisgenre heterosexual mâle able and rich. I’m not afraid. This voice is still loud…. Two mosquees this morning. One gun shot. One fire. Islamophobia nourished by papers like Charlie hebdo… only a begining…. hate against islam is so strong in france. My muslim friend are afraid. I understand. I’m so sad. Mourning/griving cure by hate and racism…. my own country make me Sick.”

  8. Robert Davis
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Credit to ED CHIARINI:

    When trying to understand what is really going on?

    It’s easy to write a script for the actors to follow especially since it is their family that has been writing the script since day one. So my advice to you is to do what I do when I am working an event. Don’t allow yourself to get hung up in the words they are saying. What they are talking about is a relevant as if they were discussion why Wyliee coyote can strap a rocket to his back and rollerskating to his feet and zoom down the street but when you try it you end up in the hospital, so it must be a conspiracy right? blah blah blah , all the words are meaningless. So take a step back from allowing your emotions to get sucked into the plot of the script and look at who they are as an actor. if you spot one in a production then you can KNOW for fact its a scripted out made for TV drama. At that point I typically lose interest in the story and will move on and say case closed lets do another one.

    For me to stay and try to figure out who the rest of the cast and crew are is really useless unless you have some particular connection to the story and want to hold them accountable since they might of caused you or your loved on harm. That I can understand why you would want to devote time to identifying them all and working on tit further, but as for me, I generally take the position that there are many more events to debunk and once I prove one is a phony then I simply move on to the next and rarely look back at it.

    Remember business is business, and these folks are using their media assets to manipulate the perception of reality and they can use that to boost the public trust of a company which in turns brings value to that business. but you bottom line it and it always comes down to profit above all else. They will not collapse an economy because their corporations rely on us the people shopping and spending out money in their stores and online. SO if you are in power and making billions each year the only change you want to see take place is your percent of the pie increase. but that’s it. they wont allow anyone to damage the economy unless they are profiting from it or they would be all over the officials who they paid for their campaign.

    Good Luck.

  9. Robert Davis
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    This goes for ANY of the BS Events we see everyday.

  10. Demetrius
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    The great paradox of modern, liberal, multiculturalism is that it only works if everyone agrees with its basic philosophy of “live and let live.”

    It seems to me that the problem with this philosophy (when it comes to religious extremists) is that many want to have all the advantages of living in a tolerant, pluralistic society — while at the same time declaring open war on its very foundations: reason, science, equality, personal autonomy, freedom of speech, etc.

    In saying this, I’m not necessarily talking just about Islamic extremists, such those who perpetrated the Paris massacre, but religious zealots of all stripes … including many in our own country who would bomb women’s health clinics, and gladly bring back stoning as a punishment for adultery, homosexuality, etc.

    At this point, it seems fairly clear that an escalating battle between religious extremism and liberal, secular values is going to be a defining feature of the 21st Century … and will likely be fought in many ways, on many fronts, all around the world.

  11. Anonymous
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Robert, are you suggesting that yesterday’s events in Paris did not take place, and that these cartoonists are still alive? Or are you suggesting that these cartoonists never existed in the first place, that they were created several decades ago as characters with this purpose in mind?

  12. Meta
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Jon Stewart: Comedy should have to be an act of courage

  13. Dan Blakeney
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    The problem is there are too many people who like killing people.

  14. Thom Elliott
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    I for one was not shocked by this crime. The techno-permanent footage of the Muslim cop begging for his life as the gunman takes a head shot without breaking stride is horrifying, these are clearly the most dangerous kind of people, and should be stopped ect. However there is nothing surprising about a business who exists to publish racist cartoon images of semetic people as big nosed terrorists/mocking images of the prophet (pbuh) getting attacked by extremists. This ‘satire’ actively incites hatred against a particular group of people at a time when that hatred is becoming dangerously faddish in the EU, and some of those people targeted for ridicule are becoming increasingly violent/reactionary/’radicalized’. I find no socially redeeming value for these disgusting Charlie Hebdo racialist ‘satire’ comics, they were attempting to provoke just these kind of people who committed this crime. To some extent, they knew what they were doing and for the purposes of racial stereotypes/incitement they continueously upped the ante. No amount of racist comic images/laughing at stereotype images of semites will decrease the civilizational hostility between the West and wahhabism in any way, and in fact it makes it worse. These gunmen have no right to murder people, and the artists have no right to be racists.

  15. site admin
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 8:08 am | Permalink


  16. Mr. Y
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 8:20 am | Permalink

  17. Robert Davis
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Did you see it on the tv? Then yes it was a staged drill. Of course it was a magazine company just part of the media co conglomerate that gets free advertising because of it

  18. Robert Davis
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    There are usually several factors in play at these scripted staged events; but money and profit is the bottom line, at the core. It’s easy to pull of for decades and centuries, when you own everything.

  19. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I find linked Al Javieer article disturbing if it represents the view of many. Free Speech is not a mere abstract notion, as he stupidly suggests, it is a concrete policy which is necessary for democracy. Free speech is not the shallow rallying cry of cowards it is the courageous demand and willingness to fight for the rights of others to express their beliefs and opinions (even if the people trying to speak are your enemy). If free speech enthusiasts are so cowardly then why are we so willing to fight against people who try to silence us? Insofar as they knew their lives were threatened by participating in the satire, the victims are real heroes, even though I find their cartoons to be inappropriately irreverent, racist, and sexist.

  20. Robert Davis
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Just like clockwork, META shows up with the National Feed of some type, to toss into this local grassroots blog. Classic. Who’s payroll is META on to make sure?

  21. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Thom, As a matter of legitimate fact they obviously have the right to be racist.

  22. Meta
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Attacks on mosques reported in France.

    Several training grenades were thrown into the courtyard of a mosque in the French city of Le Mans. One of the grenades exploded, but no injuries were reported.

    Four training grenades were thrown onto the property overnight Thursday, the local French daily Ouest-France reports. Three of the unexploded grenades were discovered by police. Police have cordoned off the mosque and so far no arrests have been made.

    A gunshot was also reported overnight, with the bullet hitting the mosque.

    French police have noted several attacks against mosques since Wednesday, when gunmen opened fire on the Paris office of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

    Read more:

  23. Thom Elliott
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    As far as protecting free speech/’humanism’ goes; should Der Stürmer (the Nazi party tabloid) have been vigorously defended by white liberals to have the ‘freedom of speech’ to print roughly the same kind of vitriolic anti-semetic cartoons? If a group of ‘radicalized’ Jews attacked Der Stürmer’s editorial board, would that have been an attack on free speech everywhere that everyone should rally behind? Why should the malicious ‘comedy’ designed to provoke the insane people of a certain religious/ethnic group and insult the rest for the satisfaction of a white oppressor class be sacrosanct? Why should I do anything more than condemn this kind of terroristic violence and, at the same time, this racist cartooning? Why should I have solidarity with this kind of propaganda?

  24. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Thom, nobody is asking you to have solidarity with propaganda you don’t believe in. You should argue against ideas that you do not agree with.

  25. EOS
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    My tax dollars were used for a traveling art exhibit that included a crucifix in a jar of urine and a picture of Mary, the mother of Jesus, smeared with elephant dung. I objected that I had to pay for it, and thought it an inappropriate use of Federal Tax dollars, but readily concede they had every right to have such a despicable exhibit. If our freedoms don’t protect the right of opinions that we strongly disagree with, then, in reality, we have no freedom.

  26. Thom Elliott
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    “As a matter of legitimate fact they obviously have the right to be racist.” You see, I dont think so, no such ‘right’ to hold a malicious racial/cultural supremacist ideology exists. This ideology in fact is the correct target for deconstruction, or the decentering of white phallogocentrism. What would the ground of such a ‘right’ be? Do I have the ‘right’ to hold/act on a racist ideology from God? Does the state give me such a right? To me, protecting the ‘freedom’ of reactionaries to spew race/class hate intellectual pollution is counter productive to free speech/functioning democracy. How can one have a real debate/redress of problems with this kind of shameless racist iconography as the popular image of your people? Here I definately depart from Chomsky, I don’t follow the familiar (and worthless) addage of; ‘you have a right to your opinion’, you dont, you have no such ‘right’ to believe in bullshit because it makes you feel artifically superior.

  27. Demetrius
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    @ Thom

    In fact, people DO have a right to be racist.

    But people also have a right to disagree with, condemn, refute, and sometimes even disrupt messages they find repugnant.

    What people don’t have is a right to kill people simply for expressing ideas they disapprove.

    “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

    – Justice Louis D. Brandeis
    (1856-1941) U.S. Supreme Court Justice

  28. Thom Elliott
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    “…then, in reality, we have no freedom.” This is probably closest to the truth of the matter; we are not free, we do not want to be free.

  29. Thom Elliott
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    “In fact, people DO have a right to be racist.” How? Instead of simply repeating your assertion; how do people have the ‘right’ to hold racial supremacist ideology? What is the ground of this ‘right’?
    “But people also have the right to disagree with…messages they find repugnant.” Some pretty cold comfort when you live in a racist society that maliciously ridicules your faith/race in vociferously defended racist newspapers/comics, organizes popularly against you, and passes discriminatory laws. But at least I can…disagree.
    “What people dont have is a right to kill people…expressing ideas they disapprove.” You had better tell that to the US government, CIA, and POTUS Obama, who do it regularly, from the sky, with robots.

  30. Demetrius
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    @ Thom

    So if some ideas/beliefs/expressions are acceptable … and others are not … who, in your view, gets to decide?

    What is deemed acceptable, normal, or even mainstream changes dramatically over time. That’s why I believe we should strive to allow the utmost freedom of speech, thought, expression possible … which is *not* the same thing as tolerating actions that may emanate from that speech.

    In other words … what I’m saying is that I believe people should have a right to have (and express) opinions that are racist, sexist, homophobic, whatever … but should not, necessarily, have a right to follow through (with actions) on those beliefs.

  31. Posted January 8, 2015 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    ““In fact, people DO have a right to be racist.”

    People don’t have a right to be racist. They either are or aren’t.

    People do, however, have a right to be free of legal persecution for being racist. People don’t have a right to be free of legal persecution for doing racist things which infringe on others.

  32. Kjc
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    The humanism hashtag is killing me.

  33. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 10:46 am | Permalink


    Legal right to hold racist thoughts in France is a fact.

    I am curious if there are other people out there that agree with the statement: “The right to think our thoughts does not exist”.

    We are all at various distances from the truth. It is a journey from babe to wise man. Are you saying we don’t have the right to be working our way toward wisdom? Maybe you already there. How did you get there? I don’t see how silencing one side of a debate helps us on our journey to gain wisdom…

  34. XXX
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    As for the Streisand Effect, maybe they know. Maybe they’re counting on it. Maybe they want these images everywhere. Maybe they want to backlash. Maybe that’s all part of the plan. Maybe they want the French to crack down on Muslims so that more of them go radical. Maybe they want more people drawing photos of Mohammed with a dick for a nose. Maybe that’s the plan.

  35. Anoonymous
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    The Times of India is reporting that new issue of Charlie will be coming out on Wednesday.

  36. Mr. X
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I just read a great quote. It comes from the father of Malala Yousafzai, the girl from Pakistan who got shot in the head by the Taliban. He was speaking about The Satanic Verses and the uproar surrounding it.

    “First, let’s read the book and then why not respond with our own book. Is Islam such a weak religion that it cannot tolerate a book written against it? Not my Islam!”

  37. Thom Elliott
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    “We are all at various distances from the truth.” Reactionary racists are not just a distance from ‘the truth’, they are ‘wrong’. They live in error, nescience, and cognitive dissonance. White supremacy is more like a pathology than a coherent ideology one could ‘correctk with critique of ideology..
    “I dont see how silencing one side of the debate helps…” Racialism vs nonracialism isn’t a debate in the same way creationism vs biology isn’t a debate, only one side of the ‘debate’ has a theory with predictive power, the other ‘side’ will only ever be raving lunacy. “The right to think our thoughts does not exist.” Where does it say your thoughts are yours? Where do your rights come from?

  38. anonymous
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    To all those asking where the moderate Muslim voices are condemning this attack (like my relatives), you aren’t paying attention.

  39. Posted January 8, 2015 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I would agree that white supremacism is a pathology.

    It is most certainly not at a “distance from the truth.”

  40. EOS
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Our rights are inalienable. They come from God and governments are instituted by men to protect our God-given rights. I certainly claim the right to think.

  41. Posted January 8, 2015 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    You don’t seem to do it very often. I guess you should at least cherish the right.

  42. Posted January 8, 2015 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    For the record: “Charlie Hebdo” was not all white men, its main target was not Islam, and it was mostly interested in ridiculing conservative politicians. Many of its writers and cartoonists were old ’60s radicals; the paper often seemed to me almost an anachronism, the last underground paper, with all the pros and cons of that.

    The 12 who were killed have been identified:

  43. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 1:56 pm | Permalink


    If you want to know where rights come from why don’t you run an experiment. Figure out what the people in your community hold in strong conviction to be their rights. Next go around trying to violate their rights. You will have your answer soon enough. In the aftermath of your experiment you will have plenty of time to playfully contemplate the idea that rights really do not have a metaphysical grounding in something permanent. But at least you will feel what a right is in your bones–just like the rest of us.

  44. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    ….except for the sociopaths and misguided philosophers.

  45. Mr. X
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Doug Skinner.

  46. Mr. X
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Google is donating close to $300,000 to CH:

    “Google is donating €250,000 ($296,000) to Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine whose offices were attacked by armed gunmen on Wednesday, leaving 12 dead.

    The search engine’s donation comes from its “press innovation fund,” the Guardian reports, and is part of a massive outpouring of support for the magazine. French publishers are donating another €250,000, and the remaining staff are promising that next week’s edition will have a print run of 1 million. The normal circulation of Charlie Hebdo is 60,000.”

  47. Posted January 9, 2015 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    People are seeing this as an attack on press freedom. What they miss is that, like 9/11, it is a political act likely designed to solidify support within groups who hold anti-Western views.

    They could care less about the paper. It’s all in the politics.

  48. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 9, 2015 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand the point you are trying to make, Peter. Are you saying that freedom of press is only one of many problems people with anti western views have with the west?

  49. Kit
    Posted January 9, 2015 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    You weren’t kidding about the tide turning fast on Charlie. My inbox today is full of “I’m not Charlie” articles. Depressing.

  50. Meta
    Posted January 9, 2015 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Juan Cole agrees with you, XXX.

    The horrific murder of the editor, cartoonists and other staff of the irreverent satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, along with two policemen, by terrorists in Paris was in my view a strategic strike, aiming at polarizing the French and European public.

    The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam. France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai. In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.

    Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.

    This tactic is similar to the one used by Stalinists in the early 20th century. Decades ago I read an account by the philosopher Karl Popper of how he flirted with Marxism for about 6 months in 1919 when he was auditing classes at the University of Vienna. He left the group in disgust when he discovered that they were attempting to use false flag operations to provoke militant confrontations. In one of them police killed 8 socialist youth at Hörlgasse on 15 June 1919. For the unscrupulous among Bolsheviks–who would later be Stalinists– the fact that most students and workers don’t want to overthrow the business class is inconvenient, and so it seemed desirable to some of them to “sharpen the contradictions” between labor and capital.

    Read more:

  51. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 9, 2015 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I live sort a sheltered life so I really appreciate this blog for keeping me somewhat in touch with things that are happening. Mark has a knack for identifying trends in thought. I have told a few friends about the anti-Charlie sentiment and they almost didn’t believe me that such a thing is happening or having any traction whatsoever. I found the Al Javieer article helpful. Could someone link more anti-Charlie articles they are receiving? I would like to read the logic behind the trend…

  52. Pocket Beaver
    Posted January 9, 2015 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Frosted Flakes, here’s another one an academic friend of mine posted:

    I personally find the article gutless, pedantic, and self-congratulatory, among other things. I tend to agree with the Ross Douthat from the NYT:

    “. . . liberalism doesn’t depend on everyone offending everyone else all the time, and it’s okay to prefer a society where offense for its own sake is limited rather than pervasive. But when offenses are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed.”


    “The right to blaspheme religion is one of the most elemental exercises of political liberalism.”

  53. Scott T.
    Posted January 9, 2015 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    The Juan Cole link Meta shared is great.

    This horrific murder was not a pious protest against the defamation of a religious icon. It was an attempt to provoke European society into pogroms against French Muslims, at which point al-Qaeda recruitment would suddenly exhibit some successes…

    The only effective response to this manipulative strategy … is to resist the impulse to blame an entire group for the actions of a few and to refuse to carry out identity-politics reprisals.

  54. Jcp2
    Posted January 9, 2015 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Agent provocateur is a French phrase that seems appropriate.

  55. Anonymous
    Posted January 9, 2015 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Frosted Flakes, David Brooks had an “I am not CH” column today. Most of them are the same. They say that it was horrible what happened, but that we shouldn’t praise CH.”

  56. Anonymous
    Posted January 9, 2015 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    The only article I’ve seen to actually say that the victims deserved it was in USA Today, written by an Iman in England.

  57. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 9, 2015 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the reading suggestions. I will check those articles out.

  58. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 9, 2015 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    Juan Cole’s theory seems odd to me and unnecessary. Unnecessary because Even without his theory of the strategic causes behind the attack, his prescriptive advice is very good, solid, and firmly stands on it’s own as advice–Of course we must resist the temptation to stereotype Muslim people!!!

    Why not discuss cultural differences? I have had deep relationships with Muslim people and I can say with certainty that Muslim people take acts of disrespect to Allah very seriously. I don’t want to speak for Muslim people in general but my experience is that even a light hearted jab against Allah hurts them genuinely and deeply because it is all so sacred to them. I respect, what I take to be a Muslim insistence on maintaining this sense of sacredness in their religion. No doubt the cartoons would hurt most Muslims and some will feel anger. Provoke any group of people and eventually you will create a person or a group of people who want to exact violent revenge. It is only a matter of time not because Muslim’s are more easily provoked to violence, but because certain percentage of the population, across all cultures and religions, are predisposed to using violence as a way to “resolve” conflict. Is there a connection to AQ? Sounds like it, yes, but that does not mean that the NECESSARY agents (the murdererers) would have been capable of doing this without a predisposition to violence and the necessary provocation that is a result of real cultural differences. Apparently, the image of Allah is more sacred to the murderers than, (what many in the west, myself included) consider the sacredness of free speech….Why in the world would Cole minimize cultural differences by inserting an unnecessary theory that focuses on the possible benefits that AQ might reap and calling it all part of the grand strategic plan? I have other questions about Cole’s theory but finding it unnecessary seems good enough reason to not waste more time….

  59. Posted January 10, 2015 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    I really don’t like it when people talk about “Muslims” as a homogeneous group.

  60. Posted January 10, 2015 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    Juan Cole is correct. This was a political act, intended to bolster power among jihadists by inflaming xenophobia in Europe.

  61. Posted January 10, 2015 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    “I don’t understand the point you are trying to make, Peter. Are you saying that freedom of press is only one of many problems people with anti western views have with the west?”

    No, they could care less about freedom of the press or anything about us really.

    Jihadists want power and they claim power through creating chaos. An attack on a stupid newspaper in France is not an attack on western ideals. It is an attack a high profile target, chosen in a particular time where anti-Islam sentiment is at the highest it’s been in years in a particular country where there is massive popular resentment against Islamic immigrants and their children. The situation is so bad that it has the potential to turn violent at any moment. which is exactly what the jihadists seek.

    Chaos and violence provide jihadists with legitimacy.

  62. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 10, 2015 at 6:37 am | Permalink


    I don’t like it when people talk about groups of people as homogenous either but I don’t have a problem with it when someone tries to sensitively describe a tendency that is not even controversial….Muslim people have a long a consistent history of handling depictions of Muhammad, differently than say, Catholics handle depictions of Christ.

    For practical reasons I do not see why it is helpful to attempt to strip cultural difference and a lack of cross cultural understanding out of the equation when trying to explain the tensions between Muslim people and French people in general. The offices of CH were bombed before. Charlie H received hate mail, complaints, as well as pleas to stop their often hurtful and provocative depictions of Muhammad in the past. Are these past and numerous examples of outrage also just additional attempts at a purely political power grab? I don’t think it makes sense to theorize in such a way…Even if it is true that the pro jihad leaders and the greatest beneficiaries of jihadism are irreligious power seekers the dirty work will be carried out by radicalized extremists who have real but wildly distorted religious views and therefore it is counterprodipuctive, in terms of culture relations, to suggest the murdererer are not acting from a deep belief and rather conversely suggesting that they are merely self interested opportunists. The murder and even the prior threats to Charlie H ARE REAL attacks on the freedom of speech because it is attempt at coercive censorship….Part of the problem is that secular society does not understand what it means to be religious and it is frustrating to religious people. Stripping away the religious roots of the murderers , as twisted as they are, is offensive because it is another example of a secularist willfully refusing to recognize cultural differences in terms of what is and is not considered sacred….I hold free speech/ press as a sacred ideal. Ideally, everyone in France would view it is a sacred right to say anything they want but people would choose to not deliberately print images that many people find hurtful, offensive, outrageous, disrespectful, and or provoking of angry feelings…..

  63. Demetrius
    Posted January 10, 2015 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    A so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” was recently proposed in the Michigan Legislature (and will likely be re-introduced in the current session). Under the most extreme interpretation, it would essentially exempt individuals from complying with laws that don’t agree with their religious beliefs. Most reasonable people agree that this law, if passed, would essentially hobble the rule of law in our society — since nearly anyone could claim some “religious” reason to ignore or disobey virtually any laws or regulations.

    In the same way … I think that if we were to begin censoring, or even limiting, free speech and expression based on (extremist) Islamic religious sensitivities … I can’t imagine it would be long before other religious extremists — Christians, Jews, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, whatever — would also find cause to censor all kinds of ideas, images, or speech, simply because it offends their “religious” sensibilities.

  64. Posted January 10, 2015 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Jihadist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS would love to have every newspaper in the world produce inflammatory cartoons of the prophet. Actions like that provide them with political legitimacy since the the basis of their existence depends on an adversarial relationship with the west and western backed leaders in Islamic countries.

  65. Posted January 10, 2015 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Judging from the comments here, most people are more offended by the cartoons than by the murders.

    Here are two of the cartoons that outraged people: one by Cabu showed Mohammed covering his eyes in dismay, saying “It’s hard to be loved by idiots.” One by Charb showed a member of ISIS beheading Mohammed as he protested that he was the Prophet. The point of both, since I assume I have to explain it, is that Mohammed would disapprove of terrorism. Terrorists were offended by them; I assume Klansmen would be offended by a cartoon claiming they weren’t true Christians.

    “Charlie” often attacks religion because religious people often do evil things. They’ve gone after the Vatican for condoning child abuse, and for prohibiting condom use during an AIDS epidemic. I didn’t like everything I read in “Charlie,” but to call it stupid or white supremacist is not accurate.

  66. Posted January 10, 2015 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I’m pretty offended by the murders but since terror attacks occur here every few weeks or so, this event doesn’t offend me any more than any other terror event/

  67. Jcp2
    Posted January 10, 2015 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    But Peter, this happened in France! A modern western developed country! Those “terror” attacks happening near you is just expected criminal activity, amirite?

  68. Posted January 11, 2015 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    Perhaps you are joking. Perhaps, also, you are not familiar with terror attacks in Kenya.

    btw, the entry on 2014 is very incomplete.

  69. Jcp2
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Just summarizing the general feelings on this thread.

  70. Posted January 11, 2015 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    First, there were two, now there is one.

  71. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 11, 2015 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Doug Skinner–Not a single comment here has suggested that the the cartoons are more offensive than the murders.

    Jcp2–The comments generally follow the topic of Mark’s post: The terrorist attack against Charlie H. Why would you draw an inference from the fact that we are not discussing terrorist attacks in Kenya–or anywhere else? I don’t get your comment….

  72. Posted January 11, 2015 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    FF — Well, maybe so. There seems to be more reaction here against the cartoons than the murders, though. Mostly Thom and Peter, I guess. Who, I also guess, never read Charlie Hebdo.

    Many people are interpreting anti-racism cartoons as racist because they don’t know the context. And, of course, don’t read the French papers. Maybe this will help:

  73. Posted January 12, 2015 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    I will admit that I did not read CH, don’t read French, and understand that there is a context to both the cartoons themselves and the paper within the French media.

    The paper may or may not be racist, but what I have seen is of poor quality in my opinion. Others might like it, but I do not. Mostly, it seems rather infantile.

    As for being shocked by the attack, I admit that I am not any more shocked by this terror event than any other. Terror events are so common around the world, and particularly in Kenya, that it is rather difficult to be shocked at all anymore.

  74. Posted January 12, 2015 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    As with most things, it’s probably best not to make declarative statements one way or the other about things you have limited knowledge about. As Doug recently mentioned in an email to me, “People were particularly outraged at a cartoon showing a black minister as a monkey — without realizing that it referred to a photoshopped image circulated by the National Front.” Context is important.

  75. Posted January 12, 2015 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I made a statement based on the knowledge I had at the time. Upon receipt of new knowledge my opinion might change.

    I have more knowledge of CH than I did before, but my opinion hasn’t changed. I find it infantile. I don’t think that people should be killed for uninteresting work, but I don’t have to like it either.

    At least I can spell the name properly.

  76. Posted January 12, 2015 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I didn’t like everything i read in Charlie, but I liked keeping up with a leftist perspective on European events. Most of the paper is not cartoons. And I liked some of the cartoonists, although the covers were not my favorite. Here’s a selection of some more representative cartoons by Cabu, one of the murdered. I don’t like all of these, and I prefer some of Cabu’s other work, but I wouldn’t call them infantile.:

  77. anonymous
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    How is this massacre any more reprehensible than an American drone killing multiple adults and children in a wedding caravan in Yemen?

    To take it a step further: perhaps there is a correlation between relentless Western occupation and murder in the Middle East, and expressions of outrage and revenge by muslims.

  78. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    If part of the solution is winning the hearts and minds of extreme islamists before they become radicalized terrorists, then isn’t it counterproductive to liken the radicalized murderers to be like the drones of power hungry mercenaries? If you are someone who is offended by depictions of Muhammad can you imagine how insulting and dehumanizing it would be to hear that the murders at Charlie H were purely political? Talk about “Sharpening the Contrast” between non Muslim France and French Muslims…Can’t we be die hard supporters of free speech and simultaneously recognize that depictions of Muhammad (doing an assortment of things) is genuinely hurtful to a large number of people. Context matters. I think a history of prohibition of images of Muhammad (even if well intentioned) is significant…Dismissing real differences can be an aloof form of bigotry.

  79. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    I read the comment left by anonymous after I wrote my comment. My prior comment is not meant to be read as a response to anonymous. I do find it interesting that the murderers are by some reduced to being like drones…

  80. Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Skinner. Not I would not call these infantile, either.

    Mr. anonymous tries to draw an easy correlation but then fails to recognize that most terrorist attacks in the West and many in the middle east are committed by people who were either born or spent most of their lives in the West.

    The history of Islamic terrorism goes back much farther than drones. You might look back to the writings of the Egyptian writer Saayid Qutb, whose writings formed the basis for Al Qaeda’s key ideologies. Though writing in 1949, one would think that Bin Laden might have written it yesterday.

    To simply attribute Islamic terrorism to the tiny window of the past decade (or post Iraq) is to wholly miss the ways in which these movements arose organically as collection of individual disaffected by the West but in part products of the West itself. Reading Qutb, you get the idea that he had a really hard time making friends, and chose to take it out on a whole culture rather than simply admit he wasn’t likable. It sounds silly, but the possibility is there.

    It’s no accident that people like Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and the two individuals in the CH hit and even the members of ISIS are simply dorks. People who feel marginalized will sometimes turn to violence.

    It is awful that people have to die due to a few peoples’ sad insecurities. As silly of an analysis as that may be, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

  81. Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Flakes takes the “be respectful” route and attempts to shoulder blame for the acts of foolish people and, we can assume, recommends self-censorship.

    The reality is that many people might be offended by the cartoons, most do not kill other people for it.

    All religion is an open target for criticism and ridicule in a free society. I hope it never stops.

  82. Posted January 12, 2015 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    The “drone” argument also breaks down when you observe how little jihadists value the lives of residents of the areas they occupy and Muslims in general. Most people killed in terror attacks are Muslim and it would seem that the attacks occur without care or remorse.

    If jihadists truly valued people in the middle east, I would think that they wouldn’t kill them so often.

  83. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    The whole thing is way beyond my understanding, to be honest. I will have to think about it for awhile but I will admit a campaign that has as its motto: “Terrorists are simply dorks”, might actually be one of the better ideas out there. Who knows?

  84. Posted January 12, 2015 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Uh, nobody said that any massacre is more reprehensible than any other. Murder is murder. In France, millions grew up reading these cartoonists (comics are a larger part of French culture than they are here), and so have a more personal and emotional reaction. Cabu, in particular, was much loved, not the least for remaining progressive and engaged at 75.

    It’s worth mentioning that most Muslims don’t belong to the extremist sect that the murderers did, and don’t identify with them. It has little to do with mainstream Islam. By the way, Muslims are becoming more assimilated into French society; I read recently that intermarriage is more common than ever.

  85. Meta
    Posted January 12, 2015 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    The new issue’s cover has been released and it features the the Prophet Mohammed with a “Je Suis Charlie” sign.

  86. Meta
    Posted January 13, 2015 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    The backlash against the backlash.

    Many smart people are getting a flawed picture of Charlie Hebdo. They are concluding, based on simplistic and misleading analysis, that many of the magazine covers and cartoons promoted racist views. In fact, as I will show, some of the covers elaborately lampooned racist views of right wing parties, like Front National, by imitating some of their imagery, inserting snarky comments, and even posting mock party logos next to the images. Therefore, it would be clear to pretty much any French readers that they were making fun of these things. However, people unfamiliar with the details of this rather elaborate satirical humor are now pulling these images off the internet and claiming them as evidence that Charlie Hebdo promoted the very racist views that they were in fact lampooning. So, I think it is important that we set the record straight.

    To be clear, I am not giving Charlie Hebdo unqualified support for everything that have ever said (though I would defend their right to say it), but it does look like many of the cartoons are actually saying the exact opposite of the racist, sexist, and/or Islamophobic messages that people unfamiliar with the magazine are claiming.

    Here are a few things you may not know. I will start with a little bit of background information. Some people may think that information about people’s personal lives is irrelevant to this issue. I happen to disagree. I think knowing a little about the people involved matters. If you disagree, fine. You can take this for whatever it’s worth. First, the deceased editor, Charb, “was a Communist and his girlfriend’s parents were North African.” She is also chair of the French Equal Opportunities and Anti-Discrimination Commission.

    Read more:

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