By Debayan Roy, Kolkata

Legal Practitioner; Law Graduate, AKK New Law Academy, University of Pune (2009 – 2014)

Deciphering a few “why’s?” of the Charlie Hebdo attack……

Enough has been written, pondered upon and deliberated. Amidst the failing hope and aspirations of the French public rallying in huge numbers, it is indeed the perfect time to let open the Pandora’s Box of reasons and years of discrimination which has ultimately led to such a ghastly attack. Any attack in any form on human life cannot be justified under the garb of incitement. But it is necessary to apprehend growing tension before the volcano bursts out the lava. Few heavily armed gunmen storm the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris and painted the picture of bloodshed in a few hours, alas! They claim to have avenged the Prophet.  

Now, the question arises: Was the attack only because of the controversial depictions of Muhammad or was it the usual violent philosophy practiced by radical Islam or was it an outburst to the years of humiliation suffered at the cost of ‘social problems’ in Europe? Undoubtedly, amidst the tragic events in the international arena including the Peshawar attack, Boko Haram massacre, 9/11 tragedy, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it would be an usual presumption to portray the attack as the intolerant methodology adopted by the bearers of radical Islam, or the fighters who become martyrs in the name of Global Jihad. But it is imperative on our part to understand the origin of this attack and how vehemently it is different from the perception of false martyrdom of Global Jihad.

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Let us travel down the bloodied memory lane to better understand what helps develop this infrequent view. Colonialism in the 18th century sounded the death knell of the forthcoming generations. When Alistair Horne, the famous historian, penned down the painful history of the Algerian Struggle as a ‘savage war of peace’ little did he realize that the repercussions would be marching so late yet ghastly. An odyssey of bloodshed, bomb scares, murder and exploitation by the National Liberation Front lay scattered all over the pages. The South of the Mediterranean countryside bled profusely with the suppression of the Islamic segments of Algiers. Even the members of the common French public who were shocked at the methods employed to keep Algeria under the French control were not spared.

Amidst all the recent media uproar against a Religion, what was missed was a little peek-a-boo in the history. For absolutely nothing happens without having a past. Few years ago, The Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said, “Colonisation brought the genocide of our identity, of our history, of our language, of our traditions,”(1). After the anti-colonial struggle, the Algerians were again governed by officials who were hand in gloves with the former atrocious colonizer. If Turkey, Iran and some parts of the Arabian Peninsula is left alone, the apathy of the Modern Muslim era is not different. Spanning from Algeria, Senegal to Morocco and Indonesia, all have been subjected to the communal mutilations carried out by the European rule. The intense gashes inflicted by foreign ascendancy can take generations to heal or forget.

The French government and its attitude towards Islam has been a source of concern for many years, without any probable reason to be so. The sudden ban on the Burqa or the Niqab was a glaring example of such unreasonable atrocities. In June, 2013, a twenty one year old pregnant Muslim woman donning the traditional attire was attacked in the Northern part of Paris. Indeed, she was admitted to lose the baby later at a hospital, but not before shouting distasteful racist slogans. The cartoons which attracted a few satirical smiles across the ‘French Elites’, stirred the hornets’ nest for the people who believed Global Jihad to be the only reason behind the universal apathies.

Europe has faced public consternation with regard to the place of Islam in the country. France having the largest Muslim population in the Europe, it has been a principal point of some of the most heated debates – which includes the 2004 ban of Religious symbols in Public Schools, denials of citizenship to ‘traditionalist’ Muslims, and the recent ban on burqa in public places. These surprising rules led one to wonder the essential characteristics of the French Identity, the ingredients of citizenship, and the definition of the French Liberty and Equality. Although framed on the meaning of laïcité and French republicanism, major issues are involved as Europe apprehends its impending battle with Islam, in particular, and with faith, in general.

But what needs to be deliberated upon is why the country so inconsistent in its interpretation of Equality or The Freedom of Speech and expression. Why did the French government turning a blind eye towards such legislations which stigmatizes the entire Muslim populace of the country? The justification was nevertheless camouflaged behind the probability of attacks by women completely covered and the difficulty in recognizing the culprits. So, when in broad daylight, the gunmen stormed such a heavily secure office in Central Paris to carry out the attacks, were they clad in burqa or Niqab? The security lapse which vehemently led to the massacre cannot be ignored and also murders the lame justifications of the government favoring such legislations.

In one of the world renowned case, ‘Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc., v. City of Hialeah’ (2), the Court ruled that laws that are not neutral or of general application and that burden a religious practice must undergo the most rigorous scrutiny: they “must be justified by a compelling governmental interest and must be narrowly tailored to advance that interest.” Perhaps, in introducing such incoherent legislations the government did not take the International judicial view into account.

The glaring hypocrisy comes to light when France the home of ‘Equality’, ‘Liberty’ and ‘fraternity’, is the one selling weaponry and ammunition worth billions of dollars to nations who completely oppose the basic values of the French society such as the Assad family in Syria. A survey published in the Paris-based newspaper Le Monde on January 24 found that 74% of French citizens view Islam as “intolerant” and “incompatible” with French values (3). The survey, conducted by Ipsos, also found that 70% of respondents said there are too many foreigners in France, and 67% said they no longer feel at home in France (4).

Anti-Religious hate speech has become increasingly common in France, or may I address it as the Modern France, as it is allowed to spread at the cost of manipulative political gains. The convicted racist and the founder of the National Front, Le Pen’ family regularly stigmatizes Muslims and other minority communities. The racial immigration policy followed by the country also has severed hateful undertones which creates an atmosphere of suspicion and hostility towards the Muslims in France.

Scholars and laymen alike have been constantly worried about the phenomena of ‘Global Jihad’. Prior to September 11, the threat posed by Islamic Terrorism was mostly viewed as local or regional phenomena, even when the media covered vivid images of the 1972 Munich Olympic carnage, the 1998 bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya or onset of Tanzania in the Global stage. But the immense media coverage of a specific event certainly led to the blurring down of lines between the true jihadist philosophies and the emergence of Radical Islam. The obnoxious principles followed by the Islamic State or the violent organizations such as the Al Qaeda are far from the principles enunciated by a true jihadist. These frivolous and cowardly attacks by such organizations are only to avenge personal motives or political currencies. Years of suppression and subjugation of the dominated Muslim population under the veil of social problems in Europe has to be demystified.

After France, Germany has an approximate population of 4.3 million Muslims. The pathetic condition of treatment of minority there is a painful subject. In 2010, Thilo Sarrazin, published a book whose as translated was “Germany Is Deconstructing itself,” in which the statement made was that Muslim immigration has been “a gigantic mistake.” Though he had been shunned still his book has sold 2 million copies

The controversial cover of the Charlie Hebdo magazine where a Muslim man was depicted kissing a secular Frenchman gives rise to a lot of interesting interpretation which perhaps even the creator couldn’t have dreamt of. The rising tide of the French Islamophobia also has certain elements from the principles of Neo Liberalism. Both the concepts have certain glaring similarities, such as the focus on the concentration of wealth, both opposes the democratic process; both drew their strength from igniting war and chaos. These two terms are in fact a great level of intimacy in the Modern contemporary era.

Enough has been deliberated on the social problems, it’s time I focus on certain incident based revelations. The attitude of the impugned magazine towards religious beliefs lays down something about the tensions. The magazine can be traced back to the Left-Wing, republican, anti-clerical system that believes all faith are originated from the sectarian wing of the human freedom. The cartoons portrayed were not always Anti- Islamic but also against Catholics and at times against Jewish. The primary goal of those Mohammed cartoons was to create a mockery of the faith to that extent till it becomes as immune as other prevalent faiths which attract no special protection by the political spectrum or something so much killed by satire that it no more incites extremism. But the satire can never be funny for those who worship it. On one hand one may perceive it as a joke and the other as a blasphemous content, and this severe decline of faith in the European society and random secularization of cultural values make the conflict more and more appalling.

Radical Islam today has paved a path which is on par with Radical Capitalism, using a philosophy that it is only Violence that shocks us the most, because it was the socially constructed problem of France which unleashed the violence supported so long in the name of Global Jihad and making it morally and politically invisible to the public with human level of intellectualism. Why is it that the Muslim population is in the news only when they are donning the demonic cloak? It is indeed the continuing social stigmas which led to such a barbaric act, but it is time that not only France but the entire European Union deliberates on the issue of Equality and Freedom of Expression. Violence cannot perpetuate when there are no violent or terrorizing policies to attack. If only we realized at the fag end that as humans, the only faith we should have adhered is to respect another human, sigh! The world would have been a much safer and better place to live in.

End Notes:

(1)‘Algeria Leader in French Hospital’; BBC News, 20th April, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa.stm

(2) Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520, 531–32 (1993).

Also Referred: Ioanna Tourkochoriti, The Burka Ban: Divergent Approaches to Freedom of Religion in France and in the U.S.A., 20 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 799 (2012), http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/wmborj/vol20/ iss3/4

(3)  La religion musulmane fait l’objet d’un profond rejet de la part des Français; By Par Stéphanie Le Bars; Le Monde; 24th January, 2013; http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2013/01/24/la-religion-musulmane-fait-l-objet-d-un-profond-rejet-de-la-part-des-francais_1821698_3224.html

(4) http://www.ipsos.fr/decrypter-societe/2013-01-24-france-2013-nouvelles-fractures

Articles:

Charlie Hebdo: Paris attack brothers’ campaign of terror can be traced back to Algeria in 1954-Algeria is the post-colonial wound that still bleeds in France; Robert Fisk, 9 January 2015- The Independent

 Books:

(a) A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – October 10, 2006; by Alistair Horne (Author)

(b) The Evolution of the Global Terrorist Threat- From 9/11 to Osama bin Laden’s Death; Edited by Bruce Hoffman and Fernando Reinares; E-Book – October 2014

(c) Islamic Radicalism and Global Jihad; By: Devin R. Springer, James L. Regens, and David N. Edger; Kindle Edition – January 2009

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