Aftermath of Charlie Hebdo attack in France: 5 top must-read articles

I still have trouble understanding how the public debate related to the Charlie Hebdo attacks slipped completely away from what it really was – a terrorist act in a religious war – to be weirdly depicted as a threat to freedom of speech.

In this blog dedicated to understanding each other better to make the world a better place, I want to promote 5 articles that I found brought smarter insights than others to the Charlie Hebdo attack’s situation.

OUR PRIORITY NOW SHOULD BE TO AVOID MORE ISLAMOPHOBIA

As early as the morning after the attack, Owen Jones of the Guardian reminded us that what the Charlie Hebdo terrorists wanted was “to provoke anti-Islam sentiment among the public”, because “vengeance and hatred directed at Muslims as a whole serves Islamic fundamentalists well”.

This analysis is clearly spot-on: if the purpose of the attack was just to get rid of those guilty of blasphemy, there was no need in making these crimes so big, so symbolic, so shocking. This was terrorism, and terrorism has ambitious objectives.

To my opinion, if we want the terrorists to fail, we have to do the exact opposite of what they want: have a detached reaction. Unfortunately, France, followed by a large part of the rest of the world, completely overreacted.

To read the full article of the Guardian, click here

THE ‘JE SUIS CHARLIE’ REACTION DID NOT REALLY SUPPORT FREEDOM OF SPEECH

The massive ‘Je Suis Charlie’ and ‘national unity’ speech of the French citizens, institutions and politicians, strangely replicates what happened in the USA right after the September Eleven attacks, as noticed by Ross Clark from The Spectator: “The ‘Je suis Charlie’ banners are effectively saying, to borrow the former US president’s slogan: you are either with us or you are with the terrorists.”

This quite Manichean consideration, which I find after all very Christian, leaves little room for alternative points of views; as such an absolutely contrary effect to what these millions marching in France were believing to defend: freedom of speech.

This has now led to the proliferation of those claiming that they are not Charlie…

To read the full article of the Spectator, click here.

ANYWAY, THE ‘JE SUIS CHARLIE’ BUZZ WAS NOT A FIGHT FOR FREEDOM OF SPEECH

A brilliant analysis of Russian journalist Grigory Revzin, translated to French in Le Courrier de Russie, demonstrates that the Charlie Hebdo attacks were “not a confrontation between medieval savagery and modern European freedom”, but “a confrontation between one Middle Age and one other Middle Age”.

One Middle-Age in which “it is possible and desirable to show your naked ass to the Lord”, and one other in which “it is better to die than admit an offense against God”.

He explains how the Charlie Hebdo caricatures are a typically French phenomenon inherited from the medieval Carnival tradition, and have nothing to do with freedom of speech – which to me stresses the incongruity of the massive worldwide Je Suis Charlie overreaction, as well as highlights that the cultural context in which Charlie Hebdo caricatures are OK is not universal.

To read the full article (in French), click here.

THIS BRINGS US TO THE QUESTION OF HOW FRANCE THINKS OF FREEDOM…

Politically, the French Republic always considers that its values must be protected at all costs – even at the cost of freedom if necessary. This explains the “complex cluster of laws regulating protected speech“, which are “alternately very free and highly restrictive” that Alexander Stille explores in The New Yorker to explain “why French laws treats Dieudonné and Charlie Hebdo differently”.

This article is a must-read for those who are tempted to accuse France of double standards (accepting anti-Muslim sentiment but not anti-Jewish), as it provides a clear understanding of the context: in France, blasphemy is not a crime, while provoking hatred towards a person or incitement to terrorism are.

What I find very interesting in this article is also the latent recognition that, while the French laws are non-ambiguous and perfectly consistent to the expert, they are also too complex, and probably somewhat outdated. I am not sure what the suggestions of the article are really worth (I find them very US-centric to be honest) but I do feel that, to avoid the rise of Islamophobia, a political debate is necessary in France, to question the expression of some of the Republic’s fundamental values.

To read the full article, click here.

…AND HOW IT TEACHES IT TO ITS CHILDREN

Not exactly a press article, the testimonies of French teachers published by the collective Aggiornamento are extremely insightful. They are spontaneous reactions of teachers all over the country about the discussions they had with their students the day(s) after the attacks.

The French ministry of education imposed a minute of silence in all French schools – it was reported that many students refused to participate. This refusal was interpreted by some as a threat to the national unity (see above the George W. Bush-like “you are either with us or you are with the terrorists”), whereas I rather see it as a demonstration of the malaise of a generation.

What we can read a lot in the testimonies of these teachers, is that

  • kids are terrified, fearing a new rise of anti-Muslim hatred
  • what is being said in social media has a huge impact on them, and they buy a lot into conspiracy theories
  • those who agree that the attacks were atrocious and should not happen again do it claiming more humanist or religious values than the true French Republican values

This all suggests that if it is urgent for France to re-think some of its sacrosanct values, this should be done together with the masses.

To read the full testimonies (in French), click here.

Have you come across a good article that also promotes an enriching point of view that may help avoid giving in to Islamophobia? Please share it!

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