Charlie Hebdo: Dismantling nine mistaken assumptions about the Paris atrocities

Tehmina Kazi of British Muslims for Secular Democracy looks at nine mistaken assumptions doing the rounds about the murders that took place at the offices of Charlie Hebdo yesterday.

Tehmina Kazi of British Muslims for Secular Democracy looks at nine mistaken assumptions doing the rounds about the murders that took place at the offices of Charlie Hebdo yesterday


False Assumption One

‘Charlie Hebdo magazine was needlessly provocative’

Manufacturers of outrage and assorted agitators do not need any kind of ‘provocation’ for their actions. When Jyllands-Posten published the Danish cartoons in September 2005, protests in Muslim-majority countries did not start until four months later.

Mona Eltahawy’s interview with Jytte Klausen, the Danish-born author of the Yale Press’s forthcoming book, Cartoons That Shook the World, recognised that lag. According to Yale Press’s Web site, she argues that Muslim reaction to the cartoons was not spontaneous but, rather, that it was orchestrated “first by those with vested interests in elections in Denmark and Egypt”, and later by “extremists seeking to destabilize governments in Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya, and Nigeria”.

Further, Quilliam Foundation director and Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate Maajid Nawaz re-tweeted a ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon on 12 January 2014. Most of the people who called for his de-selection – and helped to whip up the resultant furore – conveniently ignored his earlier mention of the cartoons on the BBC’s Big Questions programme. The broadcast itself attracted barely a whisper on social media.

False Assumption Two

‘The Left should defend all expressions of Islam at all costs’

Professor Karima Bennoune said it best in her article, ‘Why Bill Maher and Ben Affleck are both wrong‘:

“We do not need either stereotypical generalizations or minimising responses to fundamentalism, however well-intentioned.

“What we need is a principled, anti-racist critique of Muslim fundamentalism that pulls no punches, but that also distinguishes between Islam (the diverse religious tradition) and Islamism (an extreme right-wing political ideology). We need support, understanding and to have our existence recognised.”

False Assumption Three

‘The French hate Muslims, don’t they?’

From the Pew Global Attitudes survey 2014, which interviewed 7,022 citizens in seven European countries, 72 per cent of French citizens polled said they had a favourable opinion of Muslims in their country. This was higher than Italy, Greece, Poland, Spain, Germany, and even the UK.

False Assumption Four

‘Not in Our Name campaigns are helpful’

As well-intentioned as these undoubtedly are, the ‘Not in my name’ campaigns spearheaded by Muslims send out a problematic subliminal message to non-Muslims: that Muslims are unwilling to sort out the problems in their own back yard.

No-one is expecting us to eradicate all gender segregation in public events overnight, or to change the minds of all homophobic preachers in a few months, or to re-introduce music lessons in all Muslim-majority schools that have cancelled them. No-one is saying that we have to devote several years of our lives and careers doing this (as I have).

However, we are expected to make some effort to condemn obscurantism from all quarters, or as much as we are able to within our own circles of influence. Given that the Qu’ran takes such a strong line on humans challenging injustice wherever we find it, this shouldn’t be too difficult.

False Assumption Five

‘Religious minorities have less to gain from democratic freedoms than the majority’

The same legislation that promotes freedom of expression also protects freedom of religion – and from religion. Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion (unless state interference with these is shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim).

In a non-legal context, the culture of rights and freedoms we have in the UK leads to strong civil society projects that monitor anti-Muslim attacks, such as Tell MAMA.

False Assumption Six

‘Condemnation is sufficient’

Sombre press releases and widely-shared Facebook updates are better than nothing, but many of their authors have inadvertently contributed to the problem in the past.


By endorsing blasphemy laws, treating the words of Zakir Naik and Junaid Jamshed as gospel, or turning a blind eye when feminist or progressive Muslim activists (like Sara Khan of Inspire) are viciously attacked for their work on Twitter.

False Assumption Seven

‘It is always someone else’s fault’

Then there are those who won’t even condemn acts of violence and terrorism, but automatically paint the attacks as false-flag operations, with a cast of extras to rival ‘Titanic’. In my experience, attempting to reason with these people is a waste of time and energy. Better to leave them to their echo chambers.

False Assumption Eight

‘Beliefs deserve more protection than people’

Under the Equality Act 2010, beliefs are only protected insofar as they apply to the rights of individuals. For instance, it is unlawful for someone to discriminate against you because of your religion or belief (or because you have no religion or belief):

  • in any aspect of employment
  • when providing goods, facilities and services
  • when providing education
  • in using or disposing of premises, or
  • when exercising public functions.

False Assumption Nine

‘The way forward is to treat each event as a passing accident of horror’

Laissez-faire approaches like these have led us to the predicament we are in. These acts are neither passing nor accidental; they are part of one long atrocity continuum, compounded by mainstream society’s cowardice and unwillingness to champion unpopular causes.

Instead, campaigning groups that happily take on the far-right should challenge the Muslim right-wing with equal ferocity, rather than giving their behaviour a free pass.


Tehmina Kazi has been director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy since May 2009, and has worked on a number of human rights and citizenship projects

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88 Responses to “Charlie Hebdo: Dismantling nine mistaken assumptions about the Paris atrocities”

  1. Leon Wolfeson

    ‘The French hate Muslims, don’t they?’

    Most have very little idea about Muslims. Again, the French community is extraordinarily divided.

  2. Guest

    No surprise you take this chance to once more call millions of reguees Islamists, and to defend Assad.

    Your lies that people with your kind of views were/are allies of mine…well… Your prescription applies to you – I oppose you, as you’re an extremist.

  3. Guest

    In fact, of course, Assad’s done little against ISIL. Who fought the FSA and others, too. Keep trying to lump everyone together to justify the chlorine bombs, though.

    You are 100% a loathsome person in a Jihad against Liberals, as you make excuses for a genocidal Dear Leader and try and kill off millions of refugees as “Islamist”

    You do know plenty about Syria. you’ve just chosen to stand against the West, in one of several ways to do so.

  4. Paul J

    Oh goodness, you again. Leon Wolfo-something. Accusing me of wanting millions of refugees to die because they’re Islamists. Will you delete all your comments after you get bested in debate like last time?

  5. Guest

    No, stating the FACT that you have repeatedly calling millions of refugees Islamists, as you proclaim victory for your Dear Leader Assad.

  6. Guest

    But your stereotyping is of course fine.

    You completely misunderstand “Not In My Name”, of course.

  7. Leon Wolfeson

    The beacon where the Jews are being driven out? Yea, that beacon.

  8. Paul J

    “and try and kill off millions of refugees as “Islamist””

    From your comment above. You’re a fruitbat.

  9. Safiullah Khan

    Thank you for the reply Ms Kazii. Your point of view is adequate with your statements and with your analysis. I’m satisfied by this reply …for the moment. However, I have to analyze different points of view of different people before making a solid personal opinion.
    I’m just a student of 20 years for now, I hope to evolve quickly in this field and having the chance to communicate with persons like you is a chance.
    Once again Thank you and I hope to meet you again.

  10. JoeDM

    It is not racist to mock islam. Ritual superstitions and religious myths should be mocked regularly !!!

    Your comment is an obnoxious attempt to justify islamic terrorist murder.

  11. Simon Tucker

    Great article – the best I have seen on the subject.
    The problem of acquiescence started a long time ago: 1948 when the state of Israel was formed set the bedrock for Islamism. It was so blatantly unfair on the Muslim population of the region, having their lands stolen and given to a bunch of Europeans who had no right to that land – just the guilt of the nations that had oppressed them for their religion for centuries culminating in the Holocaust. The patchwork dismantling of colonialism with no thought to natural, tribal or population borders (hence the nonsense of a lack of a Kurdish homeland, despite them occupying a largely contiguous land mass) didn’t help.
    Afghanistan, when the West was so keen to support the Mujahedeen to topple the Soviet backed government in Kabul. The support for Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran, the failure to topple Hussein as a consequence of the invasion of Kuwait and his subsequent onslaught on his own people. The sucking up to the oil rich, ultra-orthodox Saudi’s and their ilk, from which much of the radicalism and money to sponsor these activities come all massively predate what is happening now but very effectively laid the groundwork for the harvest currently being reaped.

  12. Albatross

    I know and number7 person.. frustrating isn’t the word!

  13. Just Visiting

    you better tell the BBC then – there are hundreds of times where they use the phrase ‘Islamic militant’.

    Or better: why didn’t John try to fit into the real world and use words the way all the rest of us do ! (and be careful to avoid nuance and innuendo, as Hugo pointed out).

  14. Just Visiting

    they are the exception that prove the rule.

    Do the maths – how many terrorist groups quote from the words of Jesus: versus how many quote from the words of Mohammed.

    Somehow there is a question there: what is it about Islam that attracts % wise so many more of these violent people.

    ( Whether they are ‘true Muslims’ why do they call themselves Muslim? )

  15. Just Visiting

    Hi Safiullah: you make an interesting point – but I don’t think you have evidence for that view: unless you can quote sources showing just how many violent islamophobic attacks there are in France: and how many anti-semitic.

    Have you those numbers to hand?

  16. Just Visiting

    > 1948 when the state of Israel was formed set the bedrock for Islamism.

    Sadly wrong.

    In the 1930s, the Grand Mufti (Imam) of Egypt met with the Nazis in Germany to do a deal that the Nazis would help Muslims wipe out the Jews back home..

    Violence in the cause of Islam goes back longer again, to, well to Mohammed: who beheaded prisoners (ever since, a preferred killing method in Islam)

  17. Just Visiting

    I think many are finding the repetition of “Not In My Name” is a trick, to avoid getting a question on the table that needs full discussion and thinking:

    * What is it about islam that attracts such a high proportion of worldwide terrorism?

  18. Guest

    So because of YOUR views, you see me as insane.
    It’s you, pure plain and simple.

  19. Guest

    And the excuses start.

    YOUR religious violence is fine and dandy, after all!

  20. Guest

    He said he blames you, not he justifies you.

    And yes, of course you should be mocked, your myths about the poor etc., as you peddle your religion of hate…

  21. ForeignRedTory

    Don’t feed the troll.
    That;s all ‘guest’ is.
    Just a useless little troll.

    We might wish to investigate whether he is a Trotter-troll or a Liberal-troll, but, why bother? Guest is just a troll.

  22. Akshay Bakaya

    If the writer is not sure about where to put the ‘hamza al-Qat’ or glottal-stop apostrophe in the word Qur’an, she could just write Quran or Koran — both are perfectly acceptable in English — but not Qu’ran, please ! Note that Qur’an, from qara’a, ‘to read, or read out, recite’ literally means the ‘Reading’ or the ‘Recitation’.

  23. Akshay Bakaya

    If the writer is not sure about where to put the hamza al Qat or glottal-stop apostrophe in the word Qur’an, she could just write Quran or Koran — both are perfectly acceptable in English — but not Qu’ran, please! Note that Qur’an, from ‘qara’a’, ‘to read, read out, recite’ literally means the ‘Reading’ or the ‘Recitation’.

  24. Angela Horne

    Isllamism is already underway –

  25. JohnRich

    And there were all-islamic regiments of the SS within the German army operating on the eastern front.

  26. Simon Tucker

    Not wrong: Islam has always historically been violent, as has Christianity (the Crusades were not Middle East holidays). The clear catalyst for late 20th century terrorism and its continuance starts with the establishment of the state of Israel and the appalling treatment of the landowners and indigenous people of the area – that is unarguable unless you are American or Israeli (and therefore less likely to be objective or honest about it). That the Grand Mufti was an arsehole who sought to take advantage of Nazi fanaticism is a given but the fact is that Jews were safer in Palestine than they were in Europe throughout the 19th and early part of the 20th century.

  27. Just Visiting

    Hi Simon, that’s an illogical statement you’ve started with
    > Islam has always historically been violent, as has Christianity (the Crusades were not Middle East holidays)

    In debating terms, you’re making the ‘anecdotal evidence’ mistake.

    Specifically, you can’t support a claim for an ‘always’ by just pointing to one example of it.

    When you write:
    > Islam has always historically been violent, as has Christianity

    I wonder if what you really meant was that the religions founders (Jesus and Mohammed) were as violent as each other: and hence their followers were?

    Or if not that, are you saying that Jesus and Mohammed were not equally violent: just that their followers were?

  28. swat

    Je suis Charlie, too.
    All papers shpuld publish these cartoons and, make these islamofacists rot in hell.

  29. Simon Tucker

    My statement is totally logical. Neither Jesus nor Mohammed were their own religions: religions are their followers and both sets of followers have shown a propensity for violence pretty much from fay one. Whatever, they are all deluded: all religion is BS, used to control the masses by promising jam tomorrow and keeping the riches in this life for the favoured few. It is why religion requires brainwashing from as soon as a child is able to assimilate information. Islam is currently the worst offender in this regard whereas, thankfully, in most western cultures (except the increasingly fundamentalist USA) Christianity is in retreat because this brainwashing (what can you call praying multiple times per day but reinforcement via learned behaviours?) has largely disappeared – although some fundamentalist morons are trying to bring it back.

  30. Just Visiting

    > Islam has always historically been violent, as has Christianity

    s’funny: the history books i read show that the first few hundred years of Islam was expansion by war.
    Whereas Christianity …. not so much.

    So your use of ‘always’ was, err wrong.

  31. Just Visiting

    > all religion is BS

    That’s your worldview, and fine: but if you want to meaningfully take part in a debate that is not about ‘all religion’ but about Islam and Charles hebdo: then you need to put aside that worldview and be willing to be specific about Islam and this specific situation.

    > both sets of followers have shown a propensity for violence pretty much from day one.

    That is just your worldview preventing you from looking calmly at the evidence.

    Because from ‘day one’ – the first few centuries of Islam was spread by violence aka military battles.

    Whereas christianity, not so much.

  32. Simon Tucker

    Then you need to expand your reading to better histories. Violence both to and by Christians has attended the religion from the start. With regard to Charlie Hebdo, there are many points of discussion. The problem with one based on religion is that one is immediately looking at it from an irrational perspective: and that gives the killers a (distorted) rationale for justification.
    I don’t look at Charlie Hebdo from the perspective of the evil of Islamism but from the perspective that, for as long as people are brainwashed into accepting any religion, then they will have a basis for justifying their extremism. Simple as. if you cannot accept that premise then that is your problem. I will not reply again unless you show you have the intelligence to understand the valid point I am making.

  33. Just Visiting

    Woah, you’ve just changed tack substantially.

    > Islam has always historically been violent, as has Christianity

    > Violence both to and by Christians …

    Does this mean you withdraw your first statement?

  34. Bonkim

    All religions are superstitions. Why pick only on Islam?

  35. Guest

    Keep trying to mirror yourself onto others, as you try and kill millions of refugees.

    Nope, defending millions of civilians is “useless trolling”, right. No surprise you lash out at the left in the process – how many British must die, eh?

  36. Guest

    No surprise you’ll excuse anti-Semitism.

  37. isf

    this is good,by promoting the prophet maybe more poeple would do research now on the prophet(pbuh)

  38. Martha van der Pol

    Wonderful. People should be protected – not beliefs per se. Quite right. Anything else is superstition and not appropriate in a civilised modern democracy.

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