On Jan. 7, 2015, two gunmen stormed into the headquarters of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people. During the attack, the gunmen yelled “the Prophet is avenged.”
As most of the world by now knows, this cowardly attack was due to the various depictions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad by the magazine — a trend that has incurred outrage and violence for the magazine before.
This is an attack against free speech, plain and simple, and — though there is a valuable debate budding throughout the world of journalism about the value of Hebdo’s oftentimes offensive speech — most agree that these individuals died as martyrs for free speech. So before launching into the editorial proper, we would, as many fellow publications have already done, like to express our solidarity with Paris and Charlie Hebdo.
When there is a sudden and senseless attack, such as the one described above, by a government or singular organization, it is easy for us to direct our animus toward a singular source: the agencies that commit them. The attacks in Paris are different; they are perpetrated by singular individuals under a creed, but not necessarily a singular force or organization — other than a potential ISIS affiliation. They commit atrocities in the name of a radical ideal.
This is amorphous; this is abstract. It doesn’t seem quite right to simply direct our indignation to the perpetrators alone. They are not simply lone gunmen with a craving for attention or a mental illness; they profess a dogma, but the idea of radical Islam is both evasive and invasive. It is difficult to understand and harder to control.
After terrorist attacks on soil that is supposed to be a safe haven, people will always search for something to demonstrably blame, but blaming a pernicious idea does not provide the proper target for definitive action. Unfortunately, this means that many French, European and Americans will find all of Islam’s billions of practitioners to partly be to blame.
It has already begun: three training grenades were thrown at a mosque in Le Mans, gunshots were fired at a mosque in Port-la-Nouvelle and a boar’s head and entrails were placed at an Islamic prayer center in Corsica with a menacing note that read, “next time it will be one of your heads.”
Across Europe, the growing Islamic immigration rates — as many seek asylum from their war-torn homelands — have been a great source of irritation and ire among European natives. In France, an estimated 7.5 percent of the population is Islamic, via the Pew Research Center; in Sweden 17 percent of its population is foreign born, with a large chunk being made up of Muslim immigrants making use of Sweden’s liberal asylum policies.
According to “Stockholm Syndrome,” an article published in Foreign Affairs in May 2014, 85 percent of citizens within Husby, a Stockholm suburb, are foreign born or have two foreign-born parents. Unemployment hovers at around 16 percent for foreign-born Swedes, twice as high as the rate for natives.
Sweden’s trouble with immigrants reflects well the conundrum the rest of Europe is facing — particularly in France, Germany, Italy and Britain — the foreign-born population, specifically the Muslim population, is not assimilating well. Countries like Sweden and France are accusing Muslims of sapping their benefits and damaging their economy, as well as refusing to assimilate within the culture of the country. As a direct result, xenophobic and far right groups, such as the Sweden Democrats and the French’s National Front, are gaining increasing traction in parliamentary elections.
The truth of the matter is more complex than either radical side seems willing to perceive — boiling down to a clash of cultures with fundamentally dissimilar value systems and a propensity to accuse the opposing side for their refusal to cooperate or understand. But what does all this have to do with these horrific attacks on Charlie Hebdo?
If there was an anti-Islamic sentiment among the native people of Europe already, these attacks will not throw just kindling on the fire but gasoline. Certainly these attacks have proven that there is a radical Islamic presence in Europe, and it is likely growing. What percentage of the Islamic population of Europe is radical? That is a hard number to grasp, but there is no doubt it is rather small — even smaller when you consider which among them would be willing to act on extremist sentiments. Still the people of Europe feel unsafe in their own cities and all they know is that the blame lies on a few Muslims.
Unfortunately, in many citizens’ minds, two Islamic terrorists make all Muslims potential terrorists. In this fear, they don’t want politicians explaining that the majority of their Muslim population is moderate and peaceful; they want action — they want the action radical parties can promise.
What some Europeans do not realize is that taking up the mantra of the radical political parties is what the terrorists truly do want. They want Muslim children living and growing up in slums surrounded by a Western world that has nothing but spite for them for reasons they could not possibly control. They want to be the heroes to these children — taking them under their wing and helping them fight oppression. This strategy of appealing to lost and disillusioned children who want the power to act upon an insane and unfair world has been a winning strategy in the Middle East with ISIS, why not in Europe?
The European far right parties are correct — there is an assimilation problem, but the way to deal with this problem is not to further isolate those who have issues assimilating. Even if they were to close the borders to further immigrants, the actions they propose to take — many of which show obvious prejudice in their execution — would not save France from the immigrant scourge, but further polarize and radicalize each side of the argument.
Paris is grieving; the world is grieving; an act of brutal and sudden chaos fell upon a typically peaceful and civilized world. It was an event that struck such a sharp dichotomy with the traditional values of the Western world that it is impossible not to feel some outrage. But this is not the time for impulsive action in an attempt to squash a threat whose parameters are not well understood. There are more victims to be had out of this tragedy among both the Islamic and native European population if the so-called Western world turns to xenophobia as a solution.