Slaughtered For Satire, Ctd

After their accomplice turned himself in, “reportedly after he saw his name circulating on social media,” the gunmen have been identified – but they remain at large. Their affiliation with terrorist organizations, if any, remains unclear:

On at least one jihadist website, the group calling itself the Islamic State, but more widely known as ISIS or Da’esh, appeared to claim responsibility for the shooting, which also injured 11 people, four of them seriously. But many jihadist groups have grievances against France because of its leadership in the war against them in Mali, its participation in the coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq, its laws imposing secularism in public offices and schools, and the ban on full-face veils, known as niqabs or burqas, on Muslim women.

The Kouachi brothers may be linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the branch of the organization active in Yemen. Noah Feldman thinks through the implications:

If indeed the Paris attack is the work of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the franchise that includes Yemen, then its purpose is almost certainly to regain public attention from Islamic State and remind the world, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, that the old jihadi terrorist paradigm is still effective. France has no troops in the Middle East right now, so the attack needed another excuse. A satirical magazine that has made fun of the Prophet was just a convenient reason to get the al-Qaeda approach back in the headlines.

Of course, it’s possible that an Islamic State connection may still be found to this attack. If it is, that would be evidence that the group wanted capture the traditional al-Qaeda terrorism market for its own brand. That would be important and interesting, because it would mean Islamic State was trying to monopolize the global terrorism franchise.

Josh Rogin points to a recent ISIS video that urged followers to attack targets in France:

“If you are unable to come to Syria or Iraq, then pledge allegiance in your place — pledge allegiance in France,” a French jihadi identified as Abu Salman al-Faranci says in the video. “Operate within France. Terrorize them and do not allow them to sleep due to fear and horror.” He then offers more practical advice, implying that there were IS assets already in place to aid in such attacks. “There are weapons and cars available and targets ready to be hit,” he said. “Even poison is available, so poison the water and food of at least one of the enemies of Allah. Kill them and spit in their faces and run over them with your cars.”

But it’s not clear whether the Kouachi brothers were acting on specific orders from above or on their own, but Allahpundit finds it hard to believe that an attack this well-executed was the work of lone wolves:

It’s possible, I guess, that two French Muslim amateur terrorists fancied themselves members of the group in spirit, if not in fact, and wanted to do something sensational to earn their jihadi stripes. In that case, though, why didn’t they go to Syria to fight with ISIS as so many budding western mujahedeen do? And if they’re amateurs, they’re awfully precocious — taking time to learn the Hebdo publication schedule and keeping cool while executing staff members, all the while knowing that police could descend on the building at any moment, demonstrates a degree of poise you wouldn’t expect to find in a rookie. …

These two degenerates not only assassinated their targets individually, like ISIS does in lining up Shiites and noncompliant Sunnis to be shot, they had the balls and skills to leave the building and get away. When was the last time there was a major terror in the west that didn’t end up with the perpetrators splattered on the ground when it was over? And where exactly did these guys get AKs and a rocket launcher?

Juan Cole notes how the brothers were radicalized:

[I]n early 2003 at the age of 20, Sharif Kouashi and his brother Said started attending the al-Dawa Mosque in the Stalingrad quarter. They had showed up with long hair, smoking, and lots of bad habits. The mosque gave them a sense of purpose. Sharif told his later lawyer, “Before, I was a delinquent.”

One member of the congregation at the al-Dawa Mosque was Farid Benyettou. He was only a year older than Sharif, but was learned in Muslim texts, and taught informal classes at his apartment after prayers at the mosque. The boys began spending time with Benyettou. They stopped smoking, stopped getting high. At his apartment, Benyettou took them on the internet, and showed them images from Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. Sharif said, “It was everything I saw on the television, the torture at Abu Ghraib prison, all that, which motivated me.” …

Without Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, it is not at all clear that Sharif Kouachi would have gotten involved in fundamentalist vigilanteism. And if he hadn’t, he would not have gone on to be a point man in murdering out the staff of Charlie Hebdo along with two policemen.

Joshua Keating points out that “recent days have also seen a series of smaller attacks in France”:

On Dec. 20, French police shot dead a man who had shouted “Allahu Akbar” while stabbing three officers in a police station near the city of Tours. Just before Christmas, the country saw two attacks, one in Nantes and another in Dijon, involving cars hitting pedestrians, which fit a pattern of similar recent attacks around the world. In the car attacks, prosecutors specifically said the men were mentally unbalanced and that these were not instances of political or religious terrorism, though that definition seems a little hard to parse given that the Dijon driver was a recent convert to Islam who was reportedly upset over the treatment of Chechen children.

And today, there was another shooting in Paris, this time of a policewoman, which authorities believe may be linked to yesterday’s slaughter:

Officials described Thursday’s shooting as another terrorist attack. Paris Deputy Mayor Patrick Klugman said they were braced for a “wave” of terrorism. “It’s probably not the end,” he said. “We are ready to face it. We will fight.” Heavily armored commando units were deployed at the southern edge of Paris as a second major manhunt got underway on what was supposed to be an official day of mourning. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who rushed out of an emergency cabinet meeting about the previous attack, arrived in the suburb of Malakoff to say that the gunman had escaped. Three armed killers are now at large.

Follow all Dish coverage of the terrorism in France here.

Slaughtered For Satire, Ctd

A reader writes:

I’m a former Muslim who grew up in Saudi Arabia as the daughter of Pakistani expatriates. I left everything to come to the US and created a wonderful life that has involved practicing as an 10899542_1531240417130999_737500267_nattorney. Several years ago, I worked out my Islamic demons via a blog focusing on my apostasy – still a capital crime in Saudi Arabia – but Islam has become largely irrelevant to my life in recent years. That is, until something like the Charlie Hebdo attack happens.

I found myself thinking that I don’t want them to win, and they win so much, everyday. I grew up in a country that bans philosophy books because they might encourage free thought. When people are killed for speech, speech is silenced. I can‘t stand the thought that fewer people might draw silly cartoons because of Islamism.

So I created, which will post drawings, cartoons and sketches sent in by anyone who has anything to say about Islam and Muhammad. I’m hoping it will generate enough material that the best of it can be published in a book that Saudi Arabia will have to ban.

I was one of your earliest readers, back in Saudi as a teenager. Thank you for your honesty about Islam. I’m a socialist-level liberal, and I find the liberal cowardice around speaking out about Islamism disgusting. Here’s to speaking the truth, even if it’s in the form of satirical cartoons.

Another counters Chait:

“One cannot defend the right without defending the practice.” I’m sorry – what? As an atheist who personally has no problem with blasphemy, I still don’t think this statement makes any sense.

In a liberal society, we routinely “defend the right” to express all sorts of awful opinions – racist, homophobic, etc. My guess is that Chait would defend the rights of groups like the Westboro Baptist Church or even the Klan to express their vile views. Does that mean that he also defends the practice? That there is no room to say that such views have no place in a civilized society, but that at the same time we will allow people to express them? (And in fact that we must allow them to, or risk repression of vital and valuable discourse as well.)

I am not familiar enough with Charlie Hebdo to know whether their publications warrant the same sort of public contempt as those of hate groups. My guess is that they do not. It could well be that I would defend their practices as well as their rights. But it’s a question of degree, and it does not follow from defending their right to publish that we must also defend their practices.

Another isn’t alone:

I’m missing Hitch. His voice is needed regarding France. His words regarding Denmark will have to make the point:

Hitch’s words – about how religious fundamentalists of all stripes defend each other when it comes to secular free speech – prove prescient:

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a U.S. organization that “defends the rights of Catholics,” issued a statement [yesterday] titled “Muslims are right to be angry.” In it, Donohue criticized the publication’s history of offending the world’s religiously devout, including non-Muslims. The murdered Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier “didn’t understand the role he played in his [own] tragic death,” the statement reads. “Had [Charbonnier] not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive,” Donohue says, in what must be one of the more offensive and insensitive comments made on this tragic day.

Another reader flags a much longer video from Hitch on free speech. Another shifts gears and wildly speculates about the motives of the massacre:

In thinking about the horrible attack today, the typically dormant conspiracy theorist part of me wondered if this really was an act of Islamic Fundamentalist terror, or if it was only intended to look like one. You posted a snippet of Juan Cole’s message, saying that that this played into the hands of both Al-Qaeda and the “Islamophobic French Right wing.”  Why are we so sure it wasn’t some hardcore nationalists who wanted to create the very kind of backlash the attack is likely to create?

Now, obviously the likeliest scenario is that it was, in fact, perpetrated by three (including the driver) Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists, but two things have made me question it apart from the multiple parties who had motive.

First, the terrorists told the woman opening the door for them that they were Al-Qaeda, in unaccented French, and then they started screaming Allahu Akbar as they perpetrated their assault.  It all seemed too stereotypically like Islamic Fundamentalist terror.  Of course, maybe that’s a stereotype because that’s how it happens, but it made me question things a bit. Second, and this is very tenuous, the skin of the attackers under their masks look very white.  (Yes, there are obviously also light-skinned and/or white Islamic Fundamentalists).

Anyway, that’s my conspiracy theory for the year.  I wish it had to do with something far less sad and horrible.

Follow all Dish coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attack here. Update from a reader:

The discussion around the attack has focused around freedom of speech, and whether or not we should lionize the magazine despite its baiting tactics. Some voices emphasize the need to defend freedom of speech at all costs. The others say that Charlie Hebdo was a little over the top – their cartoons weren’t critiques so much as racist slurs. The problem with both stances is they still limit this attack to an attack on free speech. And while I think that’s a part of this cultural tension, I don’t think it’s the whole story, or even the central one.

Maybe Charlie Hebdo wasn’t attacked because of its cartoons but instead because of larger political forces at work. Maybe people don’t become radicalized because of ideas or teachers, but rather because of living conditions and/or identity politics.  Few commentators have mentioned how European Muslims are statistically poorer and less culturally integrated than Muslim Americans. I haven’t seen any of the write ups discuss the 2010 banning of face coverings, the strict anti-immigration policies that are common throughout Europe, or the lack of Muslim representation in European governments.

Do crazies pick up guns and shoot people sometimes? Of course. But if this is terrorism (and not simply a killing spree), we can not stick our heads in the sand and retreat to cliches like “They hate us for our freedom.” Not only is that an oversimplified approach, it also prevents us from healing the wounds that continue to haunt us. Political violence cannot exist in a vacuum. Talking about this awful crime like it’s simply the product of a few cartoons is unproductive, and leads to deeper lines drawn in the sand.

(Illustration details here)

Quote For The Day


“I am not afraid of retaliation. I have no kids, no wife, no car, no credit. It perhaps sounds a bit pompous, but I prefer to die standing than living on my knees,” – Stephane Charbonnier, the publishing director of Charlie Hebdo, killed this morning alongside 11 others.

(Photo: Candles, a rose and a sign that reads in French “I am Charlie” are placed on the ground as people hold a candle lit vigil at the Old Harbour in Marseille, on January 7, 2015, following an attack by unknown gunmen on the offices of the satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo. France’s Muslim leadership sharply condemned the shooting that left at least 12 people dead as a “barbaric” attack and an assault on press freedom and democracy. By Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images)

Houellebecq’s Nightmare

Charlie-Hebdo-Secondary2-320The massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo this morning coincided with the publication of controversial author Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel, Submission, which today’s Charlie either lampoons or praises (or both) in the cover seen to the right. Today’s attack was so clearly planned and premeditated that it likely wasn’t a response to Houellebecq’s book or Charlie‘s cover thereof, but there are plenty of parallels between Submission, which critics have derided as an anti-Muslim screed, and the offensive material that made the satirical weekly a target for Islamic fundamentalists. Ishaan Tharoor explains what the book is about:

“Submission” tells the story of France in the near future — 2022 — where a Muslim wins a presidential election against a far-right candidate and presides over the Islamization of French society. Persian Gulf monarchies pump in funds into new Islamic schools; teachers at the Sorbonne are compelled to convert to Islam; women slowly disappear from the workplace; polygamy becomes legally permissible. …

Houellebecq says his book leaves “unresolved” the question of “what we are meant to be afraid of” — Islamists or nativists. Ironically, the rule of a Muslim president in his book leads to stability and an improved economic outlook for France. But the premise certainly feeds into an already overheated conversation in Europe and sketches the disturbing end point for a polarization already taking place, even if its predicted outcome is completely implausible.

Bershidsky discusses how Houellebecq’s paranoid vision of the future, which far-right leader Marine Le Pen called “a fiction that could one day become reality”, fits into France’s ongoing culture war:

The point “Submission” makes isn’t so much political as cultural. It turns the integration debate on its head. Many in Europe want Muslim immigrants to merge into the host society on its terms. This is especially pronounced in France: the country has a profound shortage of mosques, and it bans wearing of Muslim face-covering scarves in public. What, the novel asks, if the French were told to integrate with the Muslims on the latter’s terms? What if the traditional parties had to join a coalition with an Islamic element? And what if ordinary people had to accept some Muslim traditions as part of living in a Muslim-run society — adopt polygamy, for example, bar women from working or convert to Islam to be able to teach school or college? Houellebecq posits that the French would submit. Why not, if unemployment among men is eliminated in the process and men could have three wives instead of resorting to prostitutes? …

No wonder the European far right portrays integration as a zero-sum game, in which one side must submit to the other — after all, isn’t that what the Muslims are after?

Submission is currently number one on’s bestseller list, and today’s events aren’t likely to hurt sales. But Houellebecq also faces some harsh criticism for what his detractors are calling a contribution to the wave of right-wing nationalist xenophobia currently making European Muslims nervous:

One German newspaper critic warned the novel could be seized on by anti-Islam protesters in Dresden as proof they are right to voice concern. Laurent Joffrin, editor-in-chief of left-leaning French newspaper Libération, argued that the novel “will mark the date in history when the ideas of the far-right made a grand return to serious French literature”.

“This is a book that ennobles the ideas of the Front National,” he added. Alain Jakubovitch, president of the anti-racism group LICRA, said: “This is the best Christmas present Marine Le Pen could wish for.” Houellebecq retorted that he could “see no novel that has changed the course of history” and that besides, “Marine Le Pen doesn’t need this. Things are working pretty well for her already.”

But Jonathon Sturgeon notes that Houellebecq, who once called Islam “the most stupid religion” and the Koran “badly written”, has softened his anti-Muslim edge of late:

More recently, Houellebecq appears to have shed his own atheism and disdain for religion, including Islam. In a recent interview with The Paris Review, the novelist admits that his atheism hasn’t “survived” in recent years, and, against a statement he made about the Koran thirteen years ago, he concedes:

…the Koran turns out to be much better than I thought, now that I’ve reread it—or rather, read it. The most obvious conclusion is that the jihadists are bad Muslims.

Although the new novel won’t be released in the US for some time, it’s clear that Houellebecq doesn’t consider it an affront to Islam. On the contrary, he sees it as a thought experiment meant to reflect the absence of political representation for Muslims in France. … With no present English translation, it’s impossible to tell whether Houellebecq’s new novel is a skilled experiment in political modality, or a thinly veiled attack on religion disguised as a mea culpa. In either case, Houellebecq may have seriously misjudged the power of novels to affect history.

Face Of The Day

Global Reaction To The Terrorist Attack On French Newspaper Charlie Hebdo

A cartoon lies on the ground while people gather at a vigil in front of the French Embassy in Berlin, Germany following the terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris on January 7, 2015. By Carsten Koall/Getty Images. A voxplanation of the edition seen above:

In 2011, the magazine published an article “guest edited by Mohammed,” calling him “Charia Hebdo.” On the cover, a grinning, bearded figure promised “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter.”

After that issue was published, the magazine’s office was firebombed and its website was hacked. The attackers posted a notice on the hacked site that read, “You keep abusing Islam’s almighty Prophet with disgusting and disgraceful cartoons using excuses of freedom of speech. Be God’s curse upon you!”

Rather than capitulating to the violence, the magazine lampooned it.

Slaughtered For Satire, Ctd

Tony Barber’s reaction to the massacre at Charlie Hebdo has been criticised for seeming to blame the victim:

Charlie Hebdo is a bastion of the French tradition of hard-hitting satire. It has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling Muslims. Two years ago the magazine published a 65-page strip cartoon book portraying the Prophet’s life. And this week it gave special coverage to Soumission (“Submission”), a new novel by Michel Houellebecq, the idiosyncratic author, which depicts France in the grip of an Islamic regime led by a Muslim president. This is not in the slightest to condone the murderers, who must be caught and punished, or to suggest that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion. It is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo, and Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims.

This is a toned-down version of Barber’s original post, which called Charlie “not the most convincing champion of the principle of freedom of speech” and accused it of “editorial foolishness”. Chait follows that line of argument to its logical conclusion, which he finds dangerous:

On the one hand, religious extremists should not threaten people who offend their beliefs. On the other hand, nobody should offend their beliefs. The right to blasphemy should exist but only in theory.

They do not believe religious extremists should be able to impose censorship by issuing threats, but given the existence of those threats, the rest of us should have the good sense not to risk triggering them.

The line separating these two positions is perilously thin. The Muslim radical argues that the ban on blasphemy is morally right and should be followed; the Western liberal insists it is morally wrong but should be followed. Theoretical distinctions aside, both positions yield an identical outcome. The right to blaspheme religion is one of the most elemental exercises of political liberalism. One cannot defend the right without defending the practice.

Jesse Walker puts it more bluntly:

If there is an unconvincing champion here, it is not Charlie Hebdo. It’s Mr. Barber, a man who seems to think “the principle of freedom of speech” is best represented by speakers with views so inoffensive that no one would want to censor them in the first place.

Ezra cautions against framing this atrocity in terms of the magazine’s editorial choices or how offensive they are to Muslims:

What happened today, according to current reports, is that two men went on a killing spree. Their killing spree, like most killing sprees, will have some thin rationale. Even the worst villains believe themselves to be heroes. But in truth, it was unprovoked slaughter. The fault lies with no one but them and their accomplices. Their crime isn’t explained by cartoons or religion. Plenty of people read Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons and managed to avoid responding with mass murder. Plenty of people follow all sorts of religions and somehow get through the day without racking up a body count. The answers to what happened today won’t be found in Charlie Hebdo’s pages. They can only be found in the murderers’ sick minds.

Juan Cole posits that an anti-Islam backlash is exactly what the terrorists who carried out the attack are hoping to produce:

Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination. …

The operatives who carried out this attack exhibit signs of professional training. They spoke unaccented French, and so certainly know that they are playing into the hands of Marine LePen and the Islamophobic French Right wing. They may have been French, but they appear to have been battle hardened. This horrific murder was not a pious protest against the defamation of a religious icon. It was an attempt to provoke European society into pogroms against French Muslims, at which point al-Qaeda recruitment would suddenly exhibit some successes instead of faltering in the face of lively Beur youth culture (French Arabs playfully call themselves by this anagram). Ironically, there are reports that one of the two policemen they killed was a Muslim.

Poniewozik fears that this incident, like the threats surrounding the release of The Interview, will only further encourage self-censorship:

Terrorism, by definition, is never just aimed at its direct victims. The slaughter in Paris was aimed at every news organization that now has to decide whether to show the cartoons. It’s aimed at anyone who reports the next story like this. The Sony hack was aimed at anyone considering another movie that might offend radicals. (Already, one thriller about North Korea has been cancelled in advance.) It’s all aimed at any media corporation that looks at the headlines of shootings and hacking, thinks of the danger, however remote—not to mention the potential legal liability—and decides, you know what, not worth the trouble.

And it works. That’s not the inspiring, uplifting thing I want to say right now. But unless all of us reject the kowtowing and the playing-it-safe, it absolutely has worked and will work again.

Alyssa also sees parallels with The Interview, and meditates on what these incidents tell us about the price of free expression – and why it’s worth paying:

These are difficult equations of governance and freedom; how to express respect for the beliefs of others without sanctioning attacks on those who offend those beliefs; how to exhort private individuals and companies to courage while also protecting anyone who might suffer as a result of their actions. And as we experiment with our calculations, we reach different and unpredictable results. In the United States, “The Interview” has inadvertently become an advertisement for a new model of movie development, netting $31 million in online sales and rental fees. It’s as much a lesson about commerce as about courage. But in France, at least twelve people are dead.

In the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the hack of Sony Pictures, we see the costs of making provocative art and protecting the people who make and distribute it. But we shouldn’t let these consequences blind us to the very high price we would pay for backing away from such a defense: a grayer, duller, smaller society, in which much milder challenges to orthodoxy and taste are met with ugliness and violence.

Last but not least, Slate reprints Hitchens’ reaction to the Prophet Muhammad cartoon controversy from 2006:

Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.

I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice, which as it happens I chance to find “offensive.”

France’s South Park

A reader writes:

enhanced-27032-1420647847-2Here’s something I’d like to contribute re: the massacre. First, I went to high school with the daughter of one of the victims, a long time ago but still. I met him and knew him – a very nice and funny guy. So it’s shocking on a personal level.

Second, these things do not usually happen in France. Especially the part where a commando uses automatic weapons (AK-47). It’s very hard to procure AK-47s in France. It’s not on sale at Walmart, like here. So this means these are organized criminals (obviously).

Charlie Hebdo is an institution. Its humor was always very corrosive and harsh. The writers and illustrators have been active in one form or another since the late ’60s, making fun of everybody and angering everybody since then.

Its first incarnation, aptly called “Hara-Kiri” was the most scandalous weekly magazine you could find.

The week after the General de Gaulle died, they came out with the title: “Tragic ball at Colombey: one dead.” (Colombey-Les-Deux-Eglises was the village where the General’s private residence was located). After the scandal, they were forbidden to print and had to start another weekly under a new name.

enhanced-22753-1420647659-17Charlie was always committed to intellectual anarchism, virulently anti-clerical and anti-religion and resolutely left wing. But always in a hilarious manner. There is no 40-year-old French person of all political persuasion who has not read and laughed along with Charlie’s weekly delivery of caricatures.

More recently, Charlie been printing lots of cartoons making fun of Islamists and their Prophet. They were already the target of a bombing a couple of years ago. So everybody is thinking what I am thinking. If it turns out to be the doing of an Islamist cell, this is almost like France’s 9/11. On a much smaller scale, but France is a much smaller country. To assassinate the comedians and the satirists is as big, if not bigger thing. It is a direct impact on France’s most cherished cultural trait: the active, public, vocal disrespect and skepticism towards any form of authority, political or religious.

I am crestfallen and scared. This is a very dark moment.

Amy Davidson adds:

Recently, the magazine had mocked the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. Its last tweet before the attack was of a cartoon making fun of the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. That is not recklessness; it’s how one knows that ISIS has not won, and never will. There Charlie-Hebdo-Secondary2-320ought to be more such tweets. (Whether ISIS in particular had a role in this attack is a question that can’t be answered at this stage; its members are, sadly, not the only ones in the terrorism business.)

The current issue of Charlie Hebdo, published the day of the shooting, featured a caricature of the novelist Michel Houellebecq on the cover. Houellebecq’s new novel, “Submission,” also out Wednesday, according to the Times, “predicts a future France run by Muslims, in which women forsake Western dress and polygamy is introduced.” The drawing of Houellebecq, accompanied by a joke about Ramadan, is not flattering. The French police have added the protection of Houellebecq to their list of priorities on what is, by all accounts, a traumatic and disorienting day for the entire country.

Update from a reader:

I have to ask, does your reader who states:

Especially the part where a commando uses automatic weapons (AK-47). It’s very hard to procure AK-47s in France. It’s not on sale at Walmart, like here.

… understand that automatic weapons are not on sale at Wal-Mart? Granted, something of the point may stand – it’s not as if illegal firearms play no role in crime in the US – but it makes me question someone’s ability to expound on a topic of they’re willing to throw out factual inaccurate remarks in the process.

(Top cover translates to “Love: Stronger than hate.” Middle cover depicts Catholic bishops discussing how to get away with pedophilia. Bottom cover is the aforementioned one featuring a caricature of the Houellebecq.)

Slaughtered For Satire

The Paris offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which has in the past been condemned and firebombed for its satirical depictions of the prophet Muhammad, were ambushed this morning by two gunmen, who killed 12 people before fleeing the scene. A massive manhunt is now underway throughout the French capital:

Visiting the scene of the country’s worst atrocity in decades, the French president, François Hollande, described it as “a terrorist attack, without a doubt”. Hollande said the assault, which happened at about 11.30am on Wednesday after the magazine’s staff had gathered for their weekly editorial meeting, was “an act of exceptional barbarism”. Warning that several other attacks had been foiled in recent weeks, the president called for national unity and convened an emergency cabinet meeting. The French government raised the terror alert level in the greater Paris region to the highest level possible. …

A spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor’s office, Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre, confirmed that 12 people had been killed in the attack. Police said three attackers were involved, two who entered the building and a third who drove a car to the scene, in rue Nicolas Appert in the 11th arrondissement in eastern Paris. The gunmen escaped in the car before abandoning it in the 19th arrondissement, where they hijacked another car, ordering the motorist out.

The Guardian is live-blogging. As of this writing, the gunmen have not been identified or apprehended, and no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, though ISIS had previously threatened to target France. Katie Zavadski speaks with a terrorism expert on what made this attack unusual:

That the attackers sped away instead of fighting to the death, however, means that Wednesday’s attack is different in style from the suicide attacks often deployed by terror organizations. Mia Bloom, a professor of security studies at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, tells Daily Intelligencer that the highly-trained gunmen may have been too valuable to waste on such a mission — especially given that a suicide attack would have only required one bomber. “This is a far more dangerous kind of attacker because the terrorist group invests heavily in their training and preparation, and will be able to have a second or even a third strike if they want to really spread terror and panic beyond the magazine and the 11th arrondissement,” she said, referring to the area of Paris where the attack occurred.

Max Fisher stands up for Charlie Hebdo’s dedication to pushing Islamists’ buttons:

The magazine was not just criticized by Islamist extremists. At different points, even France’s devoutly secular politicians have questioned whether the magazine went too far; French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius once asked of its cartoons, “Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?”

It is, actually. Part of Charlie Hebdo’s point was that respecting the taboos strengthens their censorial power. Worse, allowing extremists to set the limits of conversation validates and entrenches the extremists’ premises: that free speech and religion are inherently at odds (they are not), and that there is some civilizational conflict between Islam and the West (there isn’t). These are also arguments, by the way, made by Islamophobes and racists, particularly in France, where hatred of Muslim immigrants from north and west Africa is a serious problem.

Michael Rubin comes to a similar conclusion:

Satire and ridicule are like carnival caricatures. They may exaggerate, but they strike a chord because their basis in fact resonates with a wide audience. Such is the case also with satire. Islamists cannot handle free thinking at the best of times, but ridicule is their kryptonite, for it shows that the would-be caliphs have no clothes.

Free speech can be a powerful tool, and so Western liberals should rally around Charlie Hebdo. To suggest that the satirical outlet brought violence upon itself is to suggest women wearing bikinis invite rape. Do not blame the victims, but rather the perpetrators. Recognize that free speech is under assault, and that it is a value worth protecting. Let us hope that no government or publisher responds to today’s violence with self-censorship, as some commentators and journalists have counseled under similar circumstances. If they do, the Islamists have won and all man’s progress since the Enlightenment is at peril.

But Massie despairs of the aftermath of this attack:

Doubtless some will still, even now, find a way to blame the victims. Doubtless some will do anything they can to avoid looking reality squarely in the face. Doubtless some will pretend that reality can be wished away or that responsibility can be transferred to someone, anyone, other than the perpetrators. Shame on those people. Shame. 

Doubtless, too, there will be the usual calls on all Muslims everywhere to condemn these attacks as though they bear some inchoate communal responsibility for the barbarous actions of their co-religionists. This too will be drearily predictable and familiar and, most of all, desperately unfair. Their Islam has nothing to do with this even if it is also true that other subscribers to the faith do not share their views. The platitudinous suggestion Islam is a religion of peace is evidently, abundantly, true for the vast majority of Muslims while being utterly untrue for some. And so what? Where does that leave us? Only in a state of dread that’s matched only by its inadequacy.