© Josh Sager – January 2015
Today, Paris was the target of what looks to be a terrorist attack by Muslim extremists.
At around 11:30AM local time (5:30EST), three masked men armed with AK-47 assault rifles stormed the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper, and shot a number of staff—currently, there are 12 confirmed dead (including two police officers outside the newspaper), and at least eight wounded, four of whom may die from their injuries. The assault took over five minutes and witnesses say that the shooters specifically targeted the editor of the paper, Stephane Charbonnier, and then fired indiscriminately at newspaper staff before leaving.
While they perpetrated the assault, the gunmen yelled “Allahu Akbar” and a video camera across the street from the assault caught one on tape yelling “We avenged the Prophet Muhammad!” in French while they exited the building.
Outside the newspaper, the gunmen were confronted by two Paris police officers, who they killed, before escaping in a stolen car. This car was found miles away in Northeastern Paris, and the gunmen are still at large and unidentified.
While it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that this attack could be faked to look like an Islamic terrorist attack (ex. to conceal a specific target while throwing off an investigation or to stir up anti-Muslim bias), the sensationalistic nature of the crime tend to point away from this remote possibility. The perpetrators yelled explicit Islamist rhetoric during the attack and the newspaper has previously faced violence from Islamists due to their choice to publish satiric cartoons on Islam and Islamic extremism. In 2006, their offices were picketed after choosing to republish the Danish cartoon with Muhammad wearing a bomb-turban and, in 2011, their offices were firebombed after they joked that Muhammad guest-edited their most recent edition.
This attack is not only a tragedy, but also an attack on free speech that threatens the ideals of the entire developed world. In a free society, speech is protected and individuals are not killed, jailed, or threatened simply for saying something that somebody finds offensive. This kind of attack threatens to dampen free speech and force people to self-censor to cater to savages who would kill them for saying something inconvenient.
The French authorities need to immediately find those responsible and to put them through the legal system. Instead of making the mistake made by the United States in relegating suspected terrorists to an extra-legal status, France must ensure justice while not compromising its values—they must bring down swift, by the book, justice that ensure that those responsible for this are held to account. Additionally we must all be careful not persecute all Muslims for the acts of a few extremists. Violence against the greater Muslim community in retaliation for this crime is absolutely unacceptable and must also be punished.
While anti-Muslim retaliation for this attack is unacceptable, there is a significant problem in modern Islam that must be addresses. Unacceptably large portions of the Muslim population, even in western nations, believe that people should be punished for insulting Islam or Muhammad. For example, 78% of British Muslims support prosecuting people who draw Muhammad, while 68% support prosecuting anybody who insults Islam. Put simply, there is no analogous demographic in other religions who believe in punishing mockery. This unique intolerance is something that must be dealt with on a societal level within the Muslim community and, while most Muslims don’t support this kind of violence (they prefer legal consequences), the fact remains that supporting punishments for speech on any level gives credibility to this kind of terrorism.
British Muslims during the protests over the Danish cartoon of Mohammad in 2006.
As to the shooters themselves: The simple fact that these extremists decided to use violence to fight in a war of ideas proves that they have no faith in their ability to argue their position. They have admitted that they are so insecure in their religion that they will kill people who oppose their “god” or prophet. Additionally, they have demonstrated their lack of faith in their supposed god, as any god that requires human lunatics to shield him from criticism isn’t godlike in the slightest.
Muhammad was a murderous, illiterate, warmongering, misogynist, pedophile (by his own biography) who either suffered from schizophrenia or was the unlikely recipient of some divine being’s message (given the lack of proof regarding the existence of such a being, I am virtually certain that he was the former rather than the latter). Regardless, his life is not above criticism and, if you truly believe in his divinity, you can leave him to punish those who insult him in the afterlife—there is no excuse to harm a single human being for insulting any other human being, for any reason, regardless of who the person being insulted is.
A Shift in Tactics
The Paris terrorist attack demonstrates the damage that even a relative few people can do with guns rather than bombs. Islamic terrorist attacks in the west since 9/11 have involved bombs, yet only killed relatively few people (with the exception of the Madrid subway bombings). This is because bombers have either made faulty bombs (the underwear bomber), failed to activate them properly (the shoe bomber couldn’t light a match properly), or used the wrong type of bomb (the Boston bombers used pressure cooker bombs, which have a primary failure point at the top, directing the explosion upward rather than outward into the crowd—this limited the number of people killed to three).
If terrorists were to start using guns to perpetrate this type of guerilla strike, rather than trying to make bombs (which they clearly aren’t good at), they could cause a great deal of harm in the west with relatively few people. As we know from Aurora and Newtown, one deranged shooter can kill dozens of people—I fear what could happen if there were multiple shooters working together in the same situations.
Put simply, we are vulnerable to this type of terrorism happening within our borders and our poor gun laws make us far more vulnerable than France. In the USA, any lunatic can buy a gun and the NRA has ensured that even suspected terrorists will not be prevented from buying guns.
While gun controls aren’t a magic bullet against this type of violence (after all France has decent gun controls), they reduce risk and could prevent this type of crime from being easy to commit.