Charlie Hebdo: No excuses – just murder

Those who use violence to silence those with who they disagree should never be appeased by the democratically-minded.

Those who use violence to silence those with whom they disagree should never be appeased

While undoubtedly a cliché, the saying that Islamic extremists ‘hate our freedom’ was never as silly as some people liked to pretend. Today we see why. There really are some who refuse to accept the basic premises of a liberal society and who are willing to impose their idea of virtue, however ruinously, upon the rest of us.

To blame Islam or Muslims for the murder of four of the best-known French cartoonists (along with as many as eight other innocents) would be to miss the point. Violent totalitarianism comes in many forms, and simply requires a belief, set out in Arthur Koestler’s dystopian novel Darkness at Noon, that wrong ideas are crimes committed against future generations – which must therefore be punished like other crimes.

Once you accept the idea of the perfect society almost any atrocity becomes theoretically possible in the name of the cause. But as the 20th century ought to have demonstrated, such ideas are not confined to the pious, although they may at times manifest themselves in that way.

In this respect, those who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris today, killing at least 12 people in the process, will have believed that what they were doing was good and proper. Indeed, in the perpetrators’ minds the barbaric actions were undoubtedly justified because they extinguished the perceived evil perpetrated by blasphemous French satirists. Notwithstanding pure power worship, that is how totalitarianism justifies itself.

And thus it would be a grave mistake to find a ‘root cause’ for today’s attacks in supposedly ‘offensive’ cartoons. Once you start down that road there really is no telling where you could end up. Indeed, if the problem is ‘provocative’ cartoons then it is also the existence of women and the LGBT community – because the killers probably don’t like those things either.

How do you compromise with that?

French President Francois Hollande put it best earlier today when he described France as “a country of liberty”, adding that “because of that we receive threats”. Quite. Or to put it another way, outpourings of totalitarian brutality are one of the prices we must occasionally pay for a free and open society.

We would all prefer the quiet life; no one wants to believe that they have in some way fuelled the actions of the fanatics. But be very uncomfortable with the notion, which we will no doubt hear in the coming days, that the carnage in Paris was in some sense ‘provoked’ by those who draw cartoons for a living. Satire uses mockery as a tool; but those it ‘provokes’ have willfully chosen their response: it is they who have reacted violently and it is with them – and only with them – that responsibility lies.

Remove the right to ridicule and satirise authority – religious authority in this instance – and everything else is detail, including the right of ordinary Muslims to satirise and ridicule their own despotic rulers. Those who use violence to silence those with whom they disagree should never be appeased by the democratically-minded. There are no excuses; today’s tragedy was cold-blooded murder, pure and simple.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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