Several days ago, a Parisian satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, was taken under siege by two masked gunmen now known to be brothers, Cherif and Said Kouchachi. The men made their way into the offices, asked for editor Stephane Charbonnie, and then opened fire, killing him, his police bodyguard, 7 other journalists, and a guest who was attending a meeting. This is cited as the worst security crisis France has seen in decades. In the following days of pursuit, more were killed and wounded. In total, 12 died in these attacks.
Witnesses noted hearing the gunmen shout about having avenged the prophet Muhammed and then yelling the editors’ names. It was clear their motive was fueled by the magazine’s consistent mocking of Islamic tradition.
As has been the case with many events recently, social media set a fire for their beliefs, trending the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie. People were standing next to those who died for their freedom of speech. But can we take a moment to differentiate freedom of speech and slander?
Let me make myself completely clear by saying that I, in no way, condone nor validate the actions of the gunmen. I absolutely believe that what they did was evil. I do not tolerate man-on-man violence, and I do not believe that the people of Charlie Hebdo deserved this. That being said, I do not want to sit back and romanticize people who did and said awful, hurtful things only because they died in an awful way.
Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for that matter, has run rampant throughout Europe (as well as most of the world) for an obscene amount of time. Countries have taken away certain options from these people groups, such as offering alternatives to pork in school lunches (France) or constructing mosques (Britain), because of their “alleged backwardness, fanaticism and unwillingness to integrate.” In short, “You don’t look like us, sound like us, or act like us, and we don’t like it.”
This xenophobia has caused great grief on both sides. There is an irrational fear of attacks from Muslims for other people groups, and, consequently, there is an unfortunately justified fear for Muslims of prejudice, profiling, and being blamed/held accountable for things that they had nothing to do with. It is an unhappy — and frankly, dangerous — world that lives in fear.
J. K. Rowling recently made headlines in her response to an insular tweet from Australian business magnate Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch insinuated that all Muslims were responsible for the recent shootings, saying, “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” Rowling then applied this logic to her own life, saying, “I was born Christian. If that makes me responsible for Rupert Murdoch, I’ll auto-excommunicate.” Should the reality of the Crusades simply remain a question on history tests, then?
The biggest takeaway I urge you to gain, whether large or small scale, is that there are ramifications for every action. A joke at someone else’s expense is never innocent, and revenge is as costly as the original offense. A pendulum that swings from one extreme side to the other cannot settle until the motion completely ceases. Please, let’s learn to treat each other right.