Over the last few weeks, the U.S. literary community has had an intense, divisive debate about a magazine that, until this year, almost no one in the English-speaking world had ever heard of, let alone read. The shouting match started after the PEN American Center decided to give the Freedom of Expression Courage Award to French weekly Charlie Hebdo, which suffered a terrorist attack on January 7 that left twelve dead.
Two recent events—the spectacle of Garry Trudeau, the Doonesbury creator, attacking a group of murdered cartoonists for offending his sensibilities, and the protest organized by a group of bien-pensant writers against the PEN American Center for planning to honor those cartoonists tonight in New York—has brought the Charlie Hebdo controversy back to public consciousness. So has the failed attack Sunday in Texas on a group of anti-Islam militants staging a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest, though, unlike Charlie Hebdo, the organization that sponsored the Texas event is run by an actual anti-Muslim extremist who, I'm proud to say, is a personal nemesis of mine.
In March of 2012, three off-duty French soldiers were assassinated in southern France, the first in Toulouse, the others, four days later, as they withdrew money from an ATM outside their base in Montauban. All were Arabs; a black soldier was paralyzed in the second attack. A weekend passed, and on the following Monday, a man armed with two automatic handguns parked his motor scooter outside a Jewish primary school and began to fire. He killed a young rabbi and the man's two sons, aged 3 and 6. In the courtyard of the school, he held an eight-year-old girl by her hair while he changed his Uzi pistol, which had jammed, for a Colt .45. Her name was Myriam Monsonégo, and he shot her in the head.
Around 2 a.m. on December 12, four students approached the apartment of Omar Mahmood, a Muslim student at the University of Michigan, who had recently published a column in a school newspaper about his perspective as a minority on campus. The students, who were recorded on a building surveillance camera wearing baggy hooded sweatshirts to hide their identity, littered Mahmood’s doorway with copies of his column, scrawled with messages like “You scum embarrass us,” “Shut the fuck up,” and “DO YOU EVEN GO HERE?! LEAVE!!” They posted a picture of a demon and splattered eggs. This might appear to be the sort of episode that would stoke the moral conscience of students on a progressive campus like Ann Arbor, and it was quickly agreed that an act of biased intimidation had taken place.
Even as the horrific terror attack in France was unfolding, the spotlight of blame was being placed on the religion of Islam. This blame has been severely misplaced. As a liberal atheist, I sincerely believe that religion has the ability to bring about personal and societal harm; but if we think we can excavate the entire problem of terrorism into the light of day by blaming it solely on religion, Indiana Jones would tell us that we’re digging in the wrong place. I’d argue that terrorism — and religious fundamentalism generally — arises primarily out of a preoccupation with power. Not power in the sense of brute physical dominance over others, which acts of terrorism surely are, but power as the basic psychological drive of the human animal.
Everyone worried that al Qaeda’s deadliest affiliate would try to take down a plane. Then came the slaughter at Charlie Hebdo. For more than five years, U.S. intelligence agencies, counterterrorism operators, and the military have been intensely focused on trying to stop al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen branch of the global terrorist network, from sneaking hard-to-detect bombs onto airplanes and slaughtering hundreds of people. What they got last week was Paris—a completely different kind of attack.
Pop Quiz: What’s the difference between Al Qaeda and ISIL? Answer: Less than you might think. Many questions persist about the attacks in Paris last week, not least the relationship of the attackers with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State group (ISIL). In truth, both organizations encourage jihadi attacks; on that issue, their commonality is more important than their differences. It now seems clear that one or both of the brothers who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, had some years ago traveled to Yemen for training from the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
This morning, a militant in a white robe and a graying beard, a spokesman for the terror group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, released a video in which he said that his group was responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attack, having picked the target and the attackers. It's early, but the analysts quoted in this morning's news stories mostly said the claim appears credible, particularly since the Kouachi brothers had shouted, while inside the magazine's offices, that they were there on Al Qaeda's behalf and since, too, there are reports that Said Kouachi traveled to Yemen in 2011. (Left unresolved is the matter of why AQAP would have waited a week to claim responsibility; perhaps this was a loose affiliation.
For two Mondays in a row, Dresden was the scene of massive protests against the growing number of Muslims living in Germany. The first, attracting about 18,000 supporters, happened two days before the attack in Paris on Charlie Hebdo, and the second was this week. The anti-immigration protesters, who call themselves PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), were claiming they had gathered to promote nationalism and call for the protection of German culture. But waving German flags and brandishing posters that demanded "Homeland Protection Not Islamization," the demonstrators in Dresden slammed asylum-seekers from Muslim regions for abusing Germany's welcoming policies toward refugees and for tainting the culture of Germany.
Leon Poliakov, a remarkable scholar of anti-Semitism, was born in St. Petersburg, fled the Bolshevik Revolution with his family for Berlin, and, sensing the rise there of official hatred of the Jewish people, moved to France in 1924. He died, in 1997, in Paris. When he was asked why he had devoted his energies to exploring the bloody unreason of anti-Semitism, he said, “I wanted to find out why certain people had it in for me.” Poliakov’s multi-volume chronicle, “The History of Anti-Semitism,” is one of the most scrupulous scholarly enterprises of the postwar era. It is also one of the most sickening—and it concludes its narrative in 1933, five years before Kristallnacht.
After the deaths of 17 people in attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris, and then the deaths of the three Islamist gunmen who carried out the attacks, France's president addresses the nation
The Charlie Hebdo atrocity has ended in more terror and more blood. Even before the killers and hostage-takers met their end, voices were raised to warn against the danger of an anti-Muslim “backlash.” Lately, these warnings have been issued even before the completion of the terror attack that might supposedly provoke such a backlash. Australian bus riders were tweeting "I’ll ride with you” this past December even as a gunman held 17 people hostage in a chocolate shop. The New York Times posted its warning as the Charlie Hebdo killers still roamed northern France and their apparent confederates murdered a policewoman and seized Jewish women and children in a kosher supermarket on the eve of Shabbat.
We can blame religion in general, and we can blame Islam. (We can hem and haw around, Bill Maher-style, and say that we’re not blaming absolutely all Muslims but only some of them, perhaps most. Or we can go full Fox News and blame the whole damn religion.) We can blame free speech carried to irresponsible and obnoxious extremes, and we can blame the pantywaist spinelessness of liberalism. We can blame the cultural arrogance, racism and Islamophobia of French society, and we can turn around and blame its overly lax immigration policies, the residue of colonial guilt.
Twelve people were massacred in Paris on Wednesday merely for expressing their opinion through art. Many might not like the art that prompted the carnage. They may consider it obscene and even an attack on their faith. But in the 21st, 15th or 57th century - whatever your religion, calendar, or country - there is no excuse or justification for responding to art with murder. But there is a clear and frightening explanation for this violence, one that demands not merely outrage at the act itself, but at the system that has made it both predictable and inevitable. The problem is that this system is hundreds of years old, implicates most everyone, and has only become more entrenched in the last several decades as the world has become ever more globalised.
French police have stormed two hostage sites in the Paris area, killing three hostage takers. Two brothers who attacked Charlie Hebdo magazine on Wednesday were killed at a warehouse where they had held a hostage north of Paris. In the second incident, in eastern Paris, anti-terrorist forces stormed a kosher supermarket where hostages were being held by a gunman with reported links to the brothers. The gunman and four hostages died.
One of the two brothers who killed 12 in a massacre at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this week has said he received financing by al Qaeda preacher Anwar al Awlaki in Yemen. Cherif Kouachi, who was killed along with his older brother by police on Friday after a siege at a printing works in north France following a three-day manhunt, made the assertion to BFM-TV before his death while holed up inside the building.
We like to say—we who work with pens (or pixels)—that the pen (or pixel) is mightier than the sword. Then someone brings a sword (or Kalashnikov) to test the claim, and we’re not so sure. The French cartoonist Stéphane (Charb) Charbonnier liked to say, when jihadis repeatedly threatened to silence him, that he’d rather be dead than live on his knees or live like a rat, so he kept right on drawing and publishing his loud, lewd, provocative, blasphemous caricatures of theocratic bullies. And now he’s dead—he and nine of his colleagues at Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine he edited in Paris—massacred by masked gunmen, who came for them in broad daylight, shouting “Allahu Akbar,” and also killed two policemen before fleeing with a cry, “The prophet Muhammad is avenged.”
Two hooded men bearing Kalashnikovs burst into the Paris headquarters of the famed French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo yesterday and assassinated 12 people, including four cartoonists. As they committed their act of savagery, they shouted, “Allahu Akbar!” and “We have avenged the Prophet!” (surely for Charlie Hebdo’s repeated satire of Islam). The men fled the scene — as of first thing this morning, one suspect was in custody and police were searching for two others. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has raised Vigipirate, the country’s national security alert system, to its highest level in the Île-de-France region encompassing Paris, which means stepped-up police and military patrols.
French anti-terrorism police converged on an area northeast of Paris on Thursday after two brothers suspected of being behind an attack on a satirical newspaper were spotted at a gasoline station in the region. France's prime minister said on Thursday he feared the Islamist militants who killed 12 people could strike again as a manhunt for two men widened across the country.
One of the suspects in the Paris attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine has been killed and the two others are in custody, two senior U.S. counterterrorism officials told NBC News. Authorities identified the three men as Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, both French and in their early 30s, and 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, whose nationality wasn't immediately clear. One of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the investigation, told The Associated Press that the men were linked to a Yemeni terrorist network. And Cherif Kouachi was convicted in 2008 of terrorism charges for helping funnel fighters to Iraq's insurgency and sentenced to 18 months in prison.