© 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.
I believe that AK-47’s are illegal in France. How do you suppose that these perpetrators could have acquired them? If you make something against the law isn’t it supposed to just disappear? It’s a shame that none of those employees were allowed to carry concealed firearms. Oh well, C’est la vie. Seriously, you are taking a BIG chance writing what you did about Muhammad. You might want to consider buying a gun and getting your concealed carry permit.
I agree with you on this being an attack on civilization by barbarism and an assault on free speech (and I have long since feared that Mumbai-stlye attacks would be implimented in the West), I don’t know how you could turn this into a gun control opinion. If this were some lone wolf who bought his weapons legally then you might have a point, but these were organized terrorists using illegal fully automatic military weapons. While I’m against restrictions on law abiding citizens buying guns, I do agree that more could be done to keep legally aquired guns out of the hands of criminals or psychotics without registering civillian guns for future confiscation (which is not a paranoid conspiracy theory but in actual thing that has happened in other countries and is happening even in some US states) or limting the type of weapons that innocent people can buy, that being said I don’t think said restrictions apply to terrorists. I doubt weapons used in the Mumbai or Nairobi attacks by professional terrorists were legally aquired or even permitted in their respective countries, and the same probably applies here. Even the lone wolf shooting attack in France a few years ago was comitted by a criminal who presumably could not aquire weapons legally, and several weapons that I would guess are illegal in france were recovered from his home. Also “automatic weapons” are technically legal in the US (and you might be surprised, several other developed countries) but subject to restrictions that de facto limit them to rich collectors to such an extent that one of the only documented incidnets involving them was by a police officer (I’m talkign about legally registered ones, not black market ones) so they are not the problem, so the cheese picture isn’t entirely accurate, or at least not very nuanced.
This is an issue that touches upon gun control only because it is so much easier for terrorists to obtain automatic weapons domestically than it would be in France. I don’t think,that it is possible to completely prevent any group of crazies–Islamic, Christian, or secular–from getting weapons in the USA (there are so many guns out there already), but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do risk management measures (as you point out has been done in many other nations).
For example: closing the gun show loophole/online purchases or firearms, mandating background checks before purchases, restricting people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns (and no, this isn’t unconstitutional even according the Scalia).
Lawmaking is a statistical game, where you take into account the likely problems while leaving as few holes for novel situations to slip through the cracks as possible. Given the track record of the terrorists that we have had to deal with in the past, I see reasonable restriction of automatic weapons as sufficient to, at least, force some exposure on their part that could increase the likelihood of them getting caught before they can commit their crimes (do you know how many serial killers have been caught due to traffic violations or tickets).
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As you always do, great analysis. Why did I know Joe would crawl out of the woodwork?
A happy new year to you too!
I unerstand the problems with the gunshow loophole and lack of background checks (or at least the lack of some of prooof ceritfiying you’ve already passed a background check) but how is buying guns online somehow more dangerous? Banning online sales just seems ridiculous and arbitrary and almost tecnophobic, I’m not saying that anyone should be able to go to say Amazon.com and just have guns shipped to their house like books or DVDs, but that is not what happens currently. An online gun purchase involves the same regulations as any other purchase, the gun is sent to a federally licensed dealer who runs a background check on you which you have to pass to be able to pick it up. As long as you go through the same process as you would offline, I see no reason why online sales should be banned nor do I know if other countries with stricter gun controls than us necessarily ban them. I get your point about statistics, but I still don’t think this applies to autoamtic weapons which require an expensive registration process with the ATF and limit you to older ones which drives up the price by tens of thousands of dollars when you can easily obtain them on the black market cheaply and probably with less work with the right connections. Bloomberg just reported that France has a huge problem with illegal AKs which sell for about 1,000 give or take, the same as a normal high-quality civllian sporting rifle. How much more available and less expensive do you think it is for black market automatics in the US of al places? Terrorist would probably have a harder time obtaining legal automatic weapons here than they would building complicated bombs, even as lone wolves, and then of course this assuems they are able to afford them once they get federal permission which is a whole differnet story (not to mention there is a finite supply) I don’t think America is under any reasonable threat of terrorists with legal automatic weapons. The real issue is some domestic lone wolf exploiting gaps in our regulatory processes to obtain less dangerous weapons, or organized foreign terrorists bringing their own.
In all seriousness, Joe did raise a valid concern. You should probably turn down the Muhammad bashing. Because of the photos and information on this blog and your You Tube videos, Islamic extremists in the US could possibly manage to locate you if they really wanted to. Plus, you are Jewish. You may not be Benjamin Netanyahu, but your head might still be a valuable prize for a terrorist. I hope you have been practicing your martial arts. Be careful and good luck.