The attack on the Charlie Hebdo office, by fanatic Muslims in Paris this week, rekindled briefly in me the transient emotions and impulses of a hack journalist. It was news, but more than that, the attack was on “us.” Something must be done, written, delivered, whatever – right away! Even before thinking.
In the offices of the satirical magazine itself, this response was muted. (I have put it the way their writers might have done.) Prominent staff, including the celebrated editor and four famous cartoonists, were all dead. But outside, tens of thousands filled the streets with “Je suis Charlie” [“I am Charlie”] signs, and other indications of passing solidarity.
So far as I can see, the fanatics scored their trifecta. Men they considered blasphemers were executed. All France stopped to consider the deed. And Muslims far beyond were cast as pariahs. All of these effects were intended.
Psychopaths they might be, but as anyone who has viewed the brief video clips of gunfire should have noticed, the assailants were well trained. This was not a “copy cat” operation, as other recent hits in France, when, e.g., unhinged Muslims drove cars into crowds.
The operation was well planned, disciplined, and an indication of what can be expected in future, as seasoned killers from “the caliphate” in Syria and Iraq return to their homes in Europe and America. They are ruthless, and they know we are not. This gives them an advantage beyond the choice of weapons.
A great deal of blather has been expended on “the defense of our values.” This plays right into the fanatics’ hands, for they know we don’t have any. They want to accentuate the contrast between believers and unbelievers; they want to persuade their fellow Muslims, especially the young, that blasphemy is our only defense, and that it can be defeated.
They want young Muslims, settled in the West, to feel isolated, too: to raise the stakes for them. They want to lead the police who pursue them right into the heart of the Muslim ghetto, where they will find themselves extremely unwelcome.
In France and around the world, moderate Muslim organizations, which plead for “live and let live,” were quick to condemn the attacks. They have learnt to be very quick about it. As well, they have learnt not to be ambiguous in their condemnations. If they happened to think Charlie Hebdo a tasteless magazine, that often and crassly mocked their Prophet, now was not the time to discuss it.
But this, too, has become an intended effect of violent attacks: to embarrass the “moderates.” The message to the young with testosterone is: “We get results, they get nothing.”
Perhaps the most discouraging thing, in our inaptly captioned “war on terror,” is the response that can be elicited from the West’s real fools: those who say “this is not about Islam,” when even they know perfectly well it is about Islam and nothing else.
By now, the politically correct allow no captions at all. They are trapped because they have no positive values to defend, and thus no way to understand the people who intend to annihilate them. They come pre-annihilated, and the Muslim fanatics know this, too. Indeed, they know far more about us than we know about them, thanks to our willful blindness.
Instead of positive, Christian values, which answer to the Muslim ones at every point (whether in agreement or disagreement), we now present a nothing. Our “freedom” is articulated in purely negative terms, as human “rights” to indulge any form of license, “so long as it doesn’t hurt anybody” in a narrowly immediate, material way.
Consider, for instance, a cover from Charlie Hebdo in 2010. The cartoon depicts Pope Benedict, holding a condom aloft and declaring, Ceci est mon corps. (“This is my body.”) It was typical of the magazine’s efforts to shock. It was a nice try. But it fell short of blasphemy because, in the modern West, blasphemy simply cannot be achieved.
We have no God who could be blasphemed, except to that minority which remains Christian, who for the most part understand that one has to be Christian in order to blaspheme.
When the French president, François Hollande, went round to the Charlie Hebdo office, after the massacre, all he could deliver was a bundle of clichés. It was like a social call, on the dead.
One may say, airily, that the free press can never be silenced; but it can, and it was, as events had just shown. It is also quite willing to silence itself, as we saw from the many media outlets which carefully pixelated Charlie Hebdo cartoons that “might be offensive to Muslims.”
Except when following a mob, the “free press” is usually gutless. My one (and only) reason for admiring the late editors and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo is that they weren’t cowards. They actually said, “you’ll have to kill us to shut us up,” and meant it. Their defiance of Muslim fanatics redoubled, after their office was firebombed in 2011.
In this, they set an example for us. And here I am thinking of us Catholics.
Islam is a positive force. Its followers believe things, and many will fight for them. The fanatics may be twisted, but their cause that is not selfishly personal. They fully intend to conquer Europe – unfinished business from the Seventh Century – and their tactics and strategy are hardly counter-productive.
With each new strike they win more deference, and inspire more support among young Muslims. Each punch they land sounds the hollow in the decadent Western chest. We will not even acknowledge that we are at war, so complete is our surrender.
But the real battle, as they understand, is not Islam versus an empty licentiousness. That is too easily won. It is instead Christ versus Mohammad: the only battle in which they can be thrown onto the defensive; in which their own children can be turned against them.