Monday, January 12, 2015

Charlie Hebdo

The really big headline is the attack on the satirical French publication, Charlie Hebdo. Two gunmen, brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, stormed the offices, killing ten staff and two police officers on January 7th. Over the next two days, their cell was uprooted and five more French citizens were killed before the Kouachi brothers and another terrorist, Amedy Coulibaly, were trapped in two separate locations in northern France.

The police stormed those locations simultaneously and all three terrorists were killed.

People inside and outside of France have taken the phrase "Je suis Charlie" as a rallying cry of support for the magazine. Approximately 100,000 people across France came out to demonstrate in the streets over the following days, showing their support for the magazine.

And yet the story is more complex than that. The riots that took place in France back in 2005 were over the deaths of two Muslim teens fleeing police pursuit. In 2013, there were riots over police enforcement of a national ban on Muslim face veils. In 2014, pro-Palestinian demonstrations were banned because of anti-Semitic violence or concerns over anti-Semitic violence. 

With 5 million Muslims, France has the largest Muslim populace in Europe (out of 66 million people total). For a historically white Christian nation that's leaning towards atheism and also houses Europe's largest Jewish population, the friction there is old hat.

In fact, some have calmly recounted that while Charlie Hebdo's satire is to be praised, their content often bordered on racist, bigoted stereotypes, not just of Muslims, but the Jewish, blacks, and other French minorities. It's in recognition of France's growing ethnic tensions and Hebdo's history that some have used the phrase "Je suis Ahmed," to show their anger over the terrorist action. 

Ahmed Merabet was a Muslim police officer who was shot dead in the terrorist action. An eight-year veteran of the force, he was on the verge of making detective and gave his life to protect the cartoonists who had very little regard for his religion and culture.

Far from a slight to the intended victims of this attack, it reminds France, and everyone looking at France in the wake of the Hebdo shootings, that Muslims are members of French society, they are victims of these attacks, and their religion is as fundamentally compatible with civilized society as Christianity or Judaism. That's especially important considering that anti-Muslim attacks are on the rise in the country (as is anti-Semitism).

Also important to remember is Lassana Bathily, a Muslim who worked at Hyper Cacher. Hyper Cacher is a kosher grocery store where the third terrorist, Coulibaly, shot four people before taking the remainder hostage before being shot dead by police.

Bathily herded several customers to a downstairs freezer. He then turned off the light, sealed the unit and returned to the upper floor with the gunman, never telling him of the shoppers hidden downstairs. It's still not clear how many people he might have saved.

He was, of course, arrested by police and held for over an hour on suspicion of being another terrorist.

Like any real event, the Charlie Hebdo shootings are messy. Life doesn't offer any clear simple lessons, good guys, bad guys, or clear messages from the gods. Really, the only people looking for those have more in common with the terrorists than the victims and heroes of these events.

What can I say? Terrorism is bad. Courage is good. Muslims are people too. Violence, hate, and discrimination only benefit people who want to drive wedges instead of building bridges. 

Maybe I'll just put up that Craig Ferguson video again.

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