Charlie Hebdo on Brussels bombings: “the first task of the guilty is to blame the innocent”

The online Charlie Hebdo posted an editorial about the Brussels bombings, “How did we end up here?” They’re not much bothered to single out a cause, even one involving religion, merely noting that everyone will choose their favorite provocation. Instead, the editorial points out the not-so-subtle ways that Islam is discouraging criticism of itself. Take Swiss Islam-apologist Tariq Ramadan—please:

All the while, no one notices what’s going on in Saint-German-en-Laye. Last week, Sciences-Po* welcomed Tariq Ramadan. He’s a teacher, so it’s not inappropriate. He came to speak of his specialist subject, Islam, which is also his religion. Rather like lecture by a Professor of Pies who is also a pie-maker. Thus judge and contestant both.

No matter, Tariq Ramadan has done nothing wrong. He will never do anything wrong. He lectures about Islam, he writes about Islam, he broadcasts about Islam. He puts himself forward as a man of dialogue, someone open to a debate. A debate about secularism which, according to him, needs to adapt itself to the new place taken by religion in Western democracy. A secularism and a democracy which must also accept those traditions imported by minority communities. Nothing bad in that. Tariq Ramadan is never going to grab a Kalashnikov with which to shoot journalists at an editorial meeting. Nor will he ever cook up a bomb to be used in an airport concourse. Others will be doing all that kind of stuff. It will not be his role. His task, under cover of debate, is to dissuade people from criticising his religion in any way. The political science students who listened to him last week will, once they have become journalists or local officials, not even dare to write nor say anything negative about Islam. The little dent in their secularism made that day will bear fruit in a fear of criticising lest they appear Islamophobic. That is Tariq Ramadan’s task.

We’re all too familiar with intimidation of this sort, which only works for Islam because of fear of retribution. The editorial gives more examples of Taria-ism (sadly, neither Glenn Greenwald nor Reza Aslan are mentioned), and then the writer affixes some blame for terrorism on its victims:

And yet, none of what is about to happen in the airport or metro of Brussels can really happen without everyone’s contribution. Because the incidence of all of it is informed by some version of the same dread or fear. The fear of contradiction or objection. The aversion to causing controversy. The dread of being treated as an Islamophobe or being called racist. Really, a kind of terror. And that thing which is just about to happen when the taxi-ride ends [the ride of the three bombers to the Brussels airport] is but a last step in a journey of rising anxiety. It’s not easy to get some proper terrorism going without a preceding atmosphere of mute and general apprehension.

Umm. . . I’m not so sure about that. It all has to begin somewhere, before there is fear, and the modern spate of Islamist terrorism preceded the fear of criticizing it. After all, you don’t become shy of criticizing a religion until people have killed in its name.

And the peroration:

The first task of the guilty is to blame the innocent. It’s an almost perfect inversion of culpability. From the bakery that forbids you to eat what you like, to the woman who forbids you to admit that you are troubled by her veil, we are submerged in guilt for permitting ourselves such thoughts. And that is where and when fear has started its sapping, undermining work. And the way is marked for all that will follow.

Presumably, the point is to inform us of the terrorists’ message: violence will stop as soon as we stop criticizing Islam—or pointing out some of its incompatibilities with Enlightenment-informed democracies.

Charlie Hebdo is right that we should never, ever, stop criticizing irrationality, even if it puts us in danger. But even if we did, would that stop the terrorism, as the editorial implies? I don’t think so. The beef of Islamist terrorists isn’t criticism of their faith, but the incompatibility they see between their religion and modern secular society.

h/t: Jószef

39 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    “ake Swiss Islam-apologist Tariq Ramadan—please:”

    I see what you did there

  3. Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I have to relate something on blame the victim.

    In one of our local school districts, St. Paul, MN, a teacher was assaulted by high school student and received serious injuries, including head trauma requiring hospitalization.

    He has sued the district for failure to provide a safe work environment. (He may never be able to work again.)

    The school district has counter-sued claiming the injuries were the teacher’s fault(!). They are also claiming that teachers assume the risk of being injured by students in assaults by accepting the job. [Lots of luck getting people to teach high school and middle school!]

    This should be read against a background of the district more or less letting the kids run wild to avoid “bad numbers” for suspensions and expulsions of kids “of color”.

    • jay
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      St Paul has a serious situation (I’ve read a bit about it) is a sadly classic case of ideology over reality.

      The feds declared that because more minority kids were getting into trouble than others, it MUST be a matter of racial discrimination on the part of the schools.

      Hence disciplinary numbers were forced to line up with population percentages. This has been done by minimizing or eliminating discipline for even serious issues (often offenders are just sent for a brief session with a ‘behavior counselor’). And the school system has become serious hell for all the deserving students and teachers.

      People who question these policies have been officially denounced as racist (ignoring, unfortunately the large number of deserving minority students as well as minority teachers who are suffering under these policies as well.)

      • Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        That summarizes it pretty well.

    • Filippo
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      “The school district has counter-sued claiming the injuries were the teacher’s fault(!). They are also claiming that teachers assume the risk of being injured by students in assaults by accepting the job.”

      Hey, I’ve never seen such sentiments expressed in college/school of education glossy literature.

      Do these omniscient (what is THEIR “in loco parentis” legal responsibility?) expect a 5’5″ 130lb female teacher to break up a fight between two 6-ft-plus/200 lb-plus male adolescent human primates?

      I wonder what the employment contract says, and what if any case law says about such matters.

      The administration and school board need go in undercover as (substitute) teachers and see how they bear up. Teaching a bit ought to be a requirement to qualify for their positions.

      I know of a teacher pushed down a concrete stairwell by a student. Permanently disabled.

      • Somer
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:26 am | Permalink

        Appalling – regressive left insanity threatening some institutions versus right wing nuttery in other areas. Identity politics gone mad. And identity politics is basically – tribal righteousness and contempt for assessing what is in the longer term the best outcome in humane terms, and being motivated by that rather than context free absolutes where the idea rather than a more humane/less inhumane outcome is what is valued. Humane values of freedom from serious material want/physical privation, provision of at least basic level of health services, access to opportunities for growth (e.g. education) and minimal/no subordination or exploitation. These can only be implemented or not harmed where proper attention is paid to each Specific Context of Constraints and they are not abstracted into a Righteous Idealogical or Religious Ideal – whereapon they are likely to eventually morph into other values that value hierarchical social structure, rigid and unchanging social rules, sharp division of gender roles, maximisation of population at all times, or at least of the peoples power over other cultures/religions etc.

      • somer
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:07 am | Permalink

        Re your last sentence about the teacher – very sorry to hear indeed. I wonder if the student had any serious remorse for what they did given the legal atmosphere. It punishes teachers and people trying to do the right thing and ultimately, sadly, it reinforces community divisions

  4. fjordaniv
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    “A secularism and a democracy which must also accept those traditions imported by minority communities. Nothing bad in that.”

    That would depend on the traditions, wouldn’t it?

    • Posted April 5, 2016 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      Exactly. People seem to have this fairy-tale view of multiculturalism where us Westerners assume that everyone all over the world, at some fundamental level, share our values of peace, freedom of speech, democracy, etc. However, there are aspects of other cultures that simply don’t lend themselves to integration. Some cultures are misogynistic, homophobic, and more violent. These are just facts.

      If all we’re talking about when we say “culture” or “tradition” are the secular aspects of a religion devoid of belief, such as secular Jews keeping Kosher, or secular Muslims fasting for Ramadan, then OK. But these are cherry picked harmless bits of culture and tradition. When we talk about valuing other people’s cultures and traditions we must, as you mention, ask what those traditions are before we agree to respect them. Some aspects of culture and tradition simply have no place in modern society, and we need to be fearless in speaking out against them.

  5. Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Here’s a link to Hitchens debate Tariq Ramadan, in case anyone is interested.

    Also for readers of German, there’s a good short article from a member of the ex-Muslim Foundation of Germany.

    https://causa.tagesspiegel.de/religion-war-und-ist-ein-zundstoff.html

  6. Kevin
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Moderate muslims. The onerous is on you and for the most part, you are world wide failing. Do not look to people like Reza as a standard for courage and rationality.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:59 am | Permalink

      And it’s a very onerous onus…

  7. rickflick
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Somehow the writer brings out in me a sense of bravery (perhaps a foolish kind). A willingness to take risks to defend free speech. I recently re-viewed the debate: “Lawrence Krauss totaly Destorys Hamza Tzortzis”, and was reminded of the psychotic nature of Islamist thinking. Krauss was well prepared and did not give an inch. His bravery is immense.

  8. Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    The beef of Islamist terrorists isn’t criticism of their faith, but the incompatibility they see between their religion and modern secular society.

    I dont think it has anything to do with Europe being a secular society. If Europe was a Christian theocracy they’d be murdering people because they werent Muslim ( although Europe wouldnt be allowing immigration in that case) If Europe was a Shiite theocracy they’d be murdering people because they werent Sunnis( as they are in the ME) and if Europe was a Sunni theocracy they’d be murdering people over subtle differences in the interpretation of specific passages of the Koran.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Yes. One of the common human values which seems to be the easiest to go off the rails: purity.

      Everyone can think of times when purity is a virtue, with “corruption” being the problem. But let any ideology get hold of “purity” and hold it high as the ideal and watch out. Add in supernatural essences and religious passions and now the real world is measured against an impossible utopia and standard of obedience. It’s sometimes easy to forget those most victims of radical Muslims are other Muslims.

  9. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Reza Aslan’s wildly tendentious book on Jesus (few books on Jesus are not) was widely discredited, but he still is touted as an expert on Islam, although he has told all sorts of lies about the history of genital mutilation and slavery, etc. etc.

  10. Randy Schenck
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Another word for religion would be intimidation. And another word for Islamist must be intimidation.

  11. Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    “A secularism and a democracy which must also accept those traditions imported by minority communities. Nothing bad in that.”

    Yes, there is something bad in that. Secular freedom has been won over many decades and it is not time to give it up to superstition now.

    Good punch line, Jerry.

  12. Matt
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Well if you are Jewish or Christian you can shut up, know your place, and pose no threat to Islam, and by doing so earn yourself the title of “innocent” according to the Quran. If we all do that, presumably they will have to stop bombing us. It’s in their rule book.

    But if you’re a pagan or an atheist, you may as well keep criticizing Islam because even if you shut up you are still not innocent according to the Quran. Your head may be cut off to please God.

    • Posted April 4, 2016 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but the legions of authoritarian left atheists who insist that large-scale Muslim immigration must continue at any cost have not studied the Koran in such detail, or they are in denial.

  13. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Not all, but some Islamist organizations have repeatedly said that their goal is to spread their variety of Islam through the world, well beyond the limits of the hallowed caliphate.
    I suggest that as in many things, we take their word for it.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      The problem isn’t any particular group wanting to spread their ideology or make it the world standard. Frankly, I’d be delighted if humanism became universal. The problem is the method.

      If even the ‘extremist’ Muslims wanted to spread their variety of Islam through the world through open dialogues, fair discussions, and honest debates — they’re welcome to try. They’ll lose. Their case isn’t convincing on its merits once they’re no longer dealing with those who are already convinced or easily convinced.

      That’s why people of faith tend to want to de-emphasize the rational basis as soon as the going gets rough. Suddenly everyone already “knows” the truth and the doubters are devils who must be purged. On the whole, the presence of apologetics is actually a good sign. They’re at least going through the motions of making a persuasive argument to presumed equals.

      • Randy Schenck
        Posted April 4, 2016 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        But isn’t it true that the extremest push their agenda and silence the opposing views in the same ways of the Mafia or the dictator. Along the way they get assistance from the apologist and others of the naive order. They could get their play book from Hitler, except he probably got it from them.

        • Sastra
          Posted April 4, 2016 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          Yes, it’s true that extremists use extreme methods, since that’s their defining trait. I guess I’m just a bit bothered with the tendency to castigate Muslims as dangerous specifically because ‘they want their views to spread throughout the world.’ So do Christians, so do atheists, so do advocates for human rights, science, and the environment. It just seems like such a “so what?” accusation.

          I’m bothered as hell though about Muslims or anyone else wanting to impose their views around the world — through violence, conquest, intimidation, and indoctrination backed up with force and law (which the extremists, being extremists, do.)

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted April 4, 2016 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

            +1

            cr

  14. Cindy
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Presumably, the point is to inform us of the terrorists’ message: violence will stop as soon as we stop criticizing Islam—or pointing out some of its incompatibilities with Enlightenment-informed democracies.

    So when we allow unfettered immigration, it’s best that we don’t criticize them when they commit crimes in the name of their God, as that will hurt their feelz and only serve us right if they take action and kill us in retaliation. Best to just let them take over in the manner of their choosing. That’s the only way to be culturally sensitive.

  15. Posted April 4, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    There is an obnoxious comment on this editorial by Teju Cole, a novelist who was at the forefront of the PEN backlash against an award they gave to Hebdo last year. He goes postal on Hebdo’s reasonable editorial comparing it to (duh, you know). I’m shocked that someone like Cole can find so much bile within him to so meanly diss Hebdo!

    • somer
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

      Im sure he’s very hip to many people. Slot into the underlying assumptions of the abstractionist lot of crap that is POMO/Crit theory (no need to understand the philosophy as such)and voila – you’re a “progressive”. The tragedy is it took a non Caucasian, non Christian person to call them out for what they are – Regressives who really think the middle ages were better worldwide than today

  16. eric
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    But even if we did, would that stop the terrorism, as the editorial implies? I don’t think so.

    I think you’re absolutely right. It’s worth pointing out that Osama Bin Ladin’s first big media splash was his Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places, which was published in 1996.* Almost twenty years ago. The new atheist movement and criticism of religion is much younger than this. Claiming 21st century criticism of religion caused Islamic extremism is putting the cart before the horse.

    *And he probably published stuff on the same theme even earlier than this. This is just the first case of one of his publications making it into the mainstream media that I could find.

  17. Posted April 4, 2016 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Are we interested primarily in fixing the blame, or in fixing the problem? I vote to prioritize the latter.

    • GBJames
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      It is hard to fix problems if you can’t identify what is responsible.

  18. Somer
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    + 1 So agree.

    Tariq Ramadan is the nephew of one of the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood and he lives in Switzerland. He keeps promoting a soft peddled Islam and insisting Sharia is really terribly flexible and subject to interpretation but is of course always vague on specifics. He’s the same guy that persuaded the former Archbishop of Canterbury (leading cleric of the world Anglican Church)
    Rowan Williams that supporting some formal recognition of sharia would be a good thing for Britain. Rowan Williams position was undermined due to massive public outcry at his speech to a gathering of 1,000 lawyers and legal professionals mentioning sharia.
    It was a long speech in somewhat obscure language but concluded thus

    “In conclusion, it seems that if we are to think intelligently about the relations between Islam and British law, we need a fair amount of ‘deconstruction’ of crude oppositions and mythologies, whether of the nature of sharia or the nature of the Enlightenment. ,…. If the paradoxical idea which I have sketched is true – that universal law and universal right are a way of recognising what is least fathomable and controllable in the human subject – theology still waits for us around the corner of these debates, however hard our culture may try to keep it out. And, as you can imagine, I am not going to complain about that.”
    (Rowan Williams 2008 Civil and Religious Law in England: a religious perspective, The full text of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s lecture in London, part two, Reproduced in * guardian.co.uk, Thursday 7 February 2008 18.32 GMT
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/feb/07/religion.world3 accessed 9 June 2010]

    Elsewhere the Archbishop suggested that the West could consider Al Qaeda a “conversation partner”, arguing that terrorists “can have serious moral goals”: and that “We have something of the freedom to consider whether or not we turn to violence, and so, in virtue of that very fact, are rather different from those who experience their world as leaving no other option.”

    • Posted April 4, 2016 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

      A German commenter wrote on this blog (unfortunately, don’t remember exactly where) that German clergy was so unhappy about the widespread secularism in the country that welcomed the current wave of migrants with the rationale “better Muslims than non-believers”. I wonder whether the same argument would be extended to Aztecs, if their religion had survived.

      • somer
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:22 am | Permalink

        I agree there is some of that in Germany like in Republic of Ireland after the Gay marriage referendum was passed and a Catholic bishop there said that Ireland had become “worse than pagans”. I think in countries with direct experience of repelling (or freeing themselves from) Islamic invasion or conquest the attitude of the Catholic church is different (as in pronouncements of Hungarian Catholic clerics counteracting the Pope regarding Islam and Muslim people movements).

        I suspect also there’s a resentment of Western dominated EU telling these (Eastern European) countries what to do, as when Merkel castigated Hungary on various occasions. That said I think some Western countries could take more of the refugees – i just think it must be an ordered process from camps or embassy applications – one they can control the timing and number of without anyone including the UN or German leaders or the Pope – telling them what to do on what is ultimately a national security issue, because if it was left to these we would take all and any Muslim (or other) displaced people indefinitely.

        The Eastern European countries have this past plus communist oppression, centuries of invasion and actual survival issues into the modern era that Western Europe hasn’t had at least to the same degree, plus are poorer and more affected by economic downturn. So they are probably affected by identity politics to defend against western arrogance – wanting to turn to cultural symbols even if these can be a bit of double edged sword – like Ireland used to turn to Catholicism.

  19. Craw
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Oy veh. This is meshuggah. Imagine the tsuris.


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] Jerry Coyne has written on Charlie Hebdo‘s editorial, but he gives only very tepid support. He seems to think that the magazine’s heart is in the right place, while disagreeing about the specifics: […]

%d bloggers like this: