The January 7th massacre at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in Paris leveled a damaging hit to the very core of free inquiry and critique. The satirical publication is a pillar of reason in France and, in a way that can’t be understood by intolerant people, is also a crucial component of tolerance.
It is a part of western media and political narrative that the plight of the jihadist is of course understood. The jihadist hates westerners. But this narrative is at best flawed. Really it serves the agendas of western states. But however little we understand about the mindset of the perpetrators of this attack, it is hard to imagine a place they could have done more damage.
What leads an individual to beliefs of violence and intolerance is a complicated matter, but it is a sad irony that those individuals would probably have found more understanding and compassion in the editorial meeting they attacked than in many places elsewhere. As much as Charlie Hebdo would critique the very ideology that led to the deaths of so many of their staff, they would also critique the violent imperialism that probably has more to answer for than any other factor here.
It is hard not to think of the sentiment among tolerant people after the September 11th attacks of 2001. It didn’t demand much imagination to predict that such a violent event would be followed by a fallout so severe that it would take this issue into new eras.
It might have been hard, though, to predict how extreme and unrestrained that reaction would be. At that moment it couldn’t have been known that so many children of another generation in the Arab world would grow up in poverty, oppression and violence as their natural resources benefited only a privileged few. And the very country who benefited the most would periodically be back to drop bombs on them, paid for in part by the very wealth gained at their expense.
Innocent Muslims were soon being persecuted in the U.S. and it wasn’t long before the intense fear generated by the attack was being recast as the justification for more violence. What would ultimately be an unforgivingly collateral-heavy conflict in a resource-rich region that has been ravaged by imperial powers for longer than living memory.
Even conservative estimates place the civilian death toll in Afghanistan since 2001 at over 18,000. U.S. air strikes have killed vast numbers of innocent men, women and children. People who had never supported the Taliban (formerly the U.S.-funded Mujahideen) were seeing innocent people killed or maimed by more foreign forces. What kind of reaction is this supposed to inspire?
That the response to such tyranny can be resold in the west as reasons to commit more violence against the very same people is a toxic logic. It is propaganda that serves state interests to control domestic populations, to fight an enemy they have created, and to justify further enrichment of an elite minority at any cost.
How would the Arab world look now if it wasn’t for outside interference? Of all the ways we might deal with dangerous ideology, or with people who seek retribution for loved ones illegally killed by foreign powers, violently ravaging those regions into the middle of yet another decade leaves the notion of progress lost to the hysteria of the mob.