More on that in a second. For those who are unfamiliar with the recent attack in France, Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine that has been around since the late 20th century. It’s the kind of magazine that inspires a lot of controversy, namely because the staff are as fearless as they are ruthless. No topic matter is safe around them — although they focus on satirizing characteristically right-wing institutions, including different religions, politics and cultures. While often offensive, Charlie Hebdo’s publications are unarguably an exercise of free speech. It may even be said that they’re more; by tackling extreme issues with humor, the staff of Charlie Hebdo is able to take power away from the taboo of violating “acceptable” topics. With their graphic cartoons and hyperbolic wit, Charlie Hebdo is able to undermine the censorial power awarded to topics otherwise deemed too politically incorrect to handle. Some people disagree with this ideology. “Why pour oil on the fire?” they ask. I think that this attitude is exactly why magazines like Charlie Hebdo need to exist, but I do understand why not all appreciate the images Hebdo puts forth.
Over the years, Charlie Hebdo has issued a number of publications featuring graphical representations of Prophet Muhammad. Needless to say, these representations have never been particularly flattering, and there have been threats issued from Islamic extremist groups to Charlie Hebdo in response.
On Jan. 7, these threats were put into action. Two gunmen stormed Hebdo’s headquarters, killing a total of 12 people. Eleven more were wounded — four seriously. The people harmed include four of Hebdo’s greatest cartoonists, two police officers and a visiting professor — because apparently it isn’t enough to kill those who draw. To truly eradicate free speech you also have to needlessly murder those surrounding artists, in the blind hope that by getting rid of people you will get rid of the offense they can cause you.
But that’s not what I want to talk about today. What I want to talk about is why terrorism is such a difficult concept to grapple with.
Back to my opening statement: “Ahmed Merabet’s eulogy is the most important thing you’ll read on Charlie Hebdo.”
Honestly, it was one of them. Ahmed Merabet was a police officer the gunmen encountered when fleeing the scene. He was shot, and killed and his brother made this statement in response to Ahmed’s death: “My brother was a Muslim, and he was killed by people pretending to be Muslims. They are terrorists. That’s it.”
I’m going to be honest: this statement blew my mind a little bit. Not because it isn’t something I’ve acknowledged before; I’ve always held the firm belief that there is a vast difference between being Muslim and being a terrorist. In my opinion, anyone who lumps the two together is grossly ignorant. The reason this statement struck me so much is because it allowed me to contextualize the fear and opposition we experience when dealing with extremist groups — especially Islamic ones.
There have been multiple retaliatory attacks in France since the Hebdo tragedy. Small-scale comparatively, nevertheless, extremely worrying for the French-Islam community. Some examples include gunshots fired at mosques, training grenades thrown through mosque windows, and while none have been seriously injured, the intent is disturbing. This knee-jerk reaction to terrorist attacks is nothing new (after 9/11 America experienced a series of attacks on mosques, and many of Middle-Eastern descent were personally targeted), and that isn’t to say it’s excusable or that it helps matters in any way, but I can’t say I’m surprised. When you attempt to lash out, you try to do so in a quantifiable manner — that is to say you want to directly hurt those who have, in turn, hurt you. The problem in the case of Islamic radicals is they do awful acts in the name of a God they share with millions of other peaceful Islamic members, who often share the blame in the eyes of misinformed justice-seekers.
The problem with acts of terrorism is that they’re coldly effective: they do exactly what they’re defined to, which is to “create and maintain a state of extreme fear and distress.” This fear is toxic — mix it with grief and you start to create some very dangerous emotions. We grasp at the straw of racism in the hopes it will lead us to some answers; we want to give terrorism a face, we don’t want these feelings of fear to belong to us anymore so we expel them in any way we can and, unfortunately, people of a peaceful religion are scapegoated.
Malek Merabet summed it up: “They are terrorists. Nothing more.” This is a concept hard for us to understand because nothing about Western culture is that extreme; I am a student, a writer, a democrat, a woman — what hope do I have against one who follows only one path, whose only goal is to eradicate ideals I stand for in the name of their God? These are people willing to kill for their beliefs — what can we do to combat that? Some attempt to fight terrorism by lumping the majority of the Muslim community in with their more radical counterparts, but terrorism doesn’t have a color or a face; terrorism can’t be quantified or diagnosed. That’s why terrorism is so effective — it’s terrifying.
Malek Merabet: “My brother … was killed by people pretending to be Muslim.” Ahmed Merabet was not killed by Muslims. Ahmed Merabet was killed by terrorists. All those people were killed by terrorists, nothing more.
Alyssa Evans doesn’t know how we can fight terrorism, but she does know that the staff of Charlie Hebdo must keep drawing.