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Charlie Hebdo: Let us stand up for tolerance

by Anna Triandafyllidou
Director Cultural Pluralism, Global Governance Programme

8 January 2015


Twelve people were killed yesterday, 7 January 2015, at the editorial headquarters of a small but influential French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Two gunmen forced their way into the building and basically killed the whole editorial committee of the magazine including the main editor and several of its most well known cartoonists. The killers acted in cold blood and seem to have argued that they wanted to teach a lesson to people who do not respect Allah and who practice too much freedom of expression. The victims belong to the long time left wing intelligentsia of France.

The killing prompted sharp reactions by major leaders around the world who all unequivocally condemned the attack. European leaders spoke about the need to defend and stand by our principles of democracy and freedom of expression. Arab leaders emphasised that terrorism is to be condemned in all its forms and that these killings are an affront to the Islamic faith and have nothing to do with Islamic religious values. Nonetheless it is highly probable that the peaceful and candle-lit sit-ins of last night and of today (8 January) will soon give way to incendiary rhetoric about the imminent threat that Muslims pose to “our way of life”.

In the wake of the Pegida demonstrations (even if with admittedly not many participants) across Germany against the “threat Europe’s Islamisation”, the Charlie Hebdo killings risk disorienting a constructive debate started by the left wing counter-demonstrations against Islamophobia. Let us not conflate millions of moderate Muslims with a handful of religiously and politically motivated terrorists; nor to come up with facile conclusions that Islam is incompatible with liberal democracy. We also should be careful not to conflate second or third generation European Muslims and their grievances as citizens or long term residents who face discrimination and prejudice, with the different issue of managing flows of economic migrants or asylum seekers originating from Muslim countries. We should be wary of debates that risk concluding that excluding Muslims from European societies is the answer to acts of terrorism.

Terrorism is a crime and cannot be justified by any ideology or religion. But it is prejudice, fear, suspicion, exclusion against our fellow citizens that poses the most important threat to European democracies today, not a handful of terrorists.


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