January 31, 2015
There has been much discussion surrounding the recent attacks on Charlie Hebdo, with reactions ranging from unwavering support for the humor magazine’s staff, to condemning the content of the publication. The focus of the conversation should shift away from concentrating on hate speech and freedom of speech. Instead, we should concern ourselves with the ease with which terrorist attacks can be carried out today, and the global context that Europe and North America has created that means these attacks will continue to happen.
I believe the magazine was within its freedom-of-speech rights to publish cartoons of Mohammed. If The Spectator decided to publish an explicit cartoon of Jesus and the Apostles, I would expect the Christian community on the Hill to voice their outrage, express condemnation for the depiction and even request funding to be rescinded from our publication. But it would not be illegal; no libel, slander, hate speech or defamation laws would be broken, because Jesus, just like Mohammed, is not a person to whom those laws apply. Nevertheless, being a publication, there are standards of decency and good taste that should be followed, but do not legally have to be respected.
What I find more worrying is that people are concentrating on whether we should express solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, given that their content could be misconstrued as offensive. When we doubt unconditional support for the victims of terrorism we are effectively on the road to considering acts of terrorism as valid criticism. Judging the work of assassinated cartoonists to determine to what extent we should mourn them is not just odious or petty, it goes against our intrinsic sense of human solidarity. It is this basic human instinct of fraternity that a battlefield doctor would use when treating injured enemy combatants.
There is also a generalized problem regarding the Western depiction of Mohammed, and a bigoted ignorance of the nuanced spectrum of Islam. For example, the AHI publication Enquiry recently stated in its latest leading article that “[it’s] become harder to ignore Islam’s penchant for horrendous acts of violence.” This is characterizing the problem of terrorism entirely within the realm of Islam, which is roughly similar to judging all Christians based on the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church. Worryingly, Americans seem to take the view that the radicalism that has propelled recent terrorist attacks is an inherent problem of Islam. Instead, we should be recognizing the profound role the United States has played in the formation of Islamist terrorism; from the near-sighted and reckless funding of the Mujahideen in 1980s Afghanistan, to the catatonic and hypocritical amity we still maintain with Saudi Arabia, which is one of the most intolerant regimes in the world that continues to fund radical and extremist groups.
Furthermore, we should concentrate on the ways Europe should integrate the large influx of Muslim immigrants. As Brendon Kaufmann ’15 suggested last week, the solution does not lie with banning the burqa in French public schools, or other similarly anti-Muslim actions. Instead, French public schools should begin teaching Arabic, for example, just like American public schools offer Spanish classes, partly in an attempt to bridge the divide between Hispanic immigrants and the rest of Americans. It may be hard for some Europeans to digest this diagrammatic shift in their culture, but unless they expect to have more children from now on, they will have to accept the fact that Muslim immigrants will ultimately form the majority of Europe’s growth in the not-too-distant future.
But what can we do here on the Hill? The topic of terrorism is one that concerns us all, not only as residents of the United States, but as we join the rank and file of the next generation of diplomats, politicians, businesspeople, activists and cartoonists. The Hamilton community should focus more on the US-related causes of terrorism, because if you have ever talked to anyone from the Middle East, you quickly realize that the causes are much closer to home than we originally thought. Perhaps instead of sending countless drones that haunt the lives of innocents in our quest to eliminate “terror,” we should reconsider the role the US and Europe play in the formation of extremism. From our misguided Middle Eastern diplomacy, to the failure of the US and European countries’ institutions to salvage unprivileged youths from the attraction of radicalism, the onus rests squarely on us to start the conversation, spark debate, and think of solutions we have the power to influence. Rather than question the extent to which we support martyred creators, we should be instead creating the circumstances to prevent such an attack from ever happening again.