Twelve people were killed in a senseless attack on the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris. Masked gunmen entered the offices of the magazine and opened fire. Those killed included three well-known cartoonists along with the magazine's editor Stephane Charbonnier. I met Charbonnier a couple of times in France. The last time was in Paris, fall 2002, at the Museum of History where I was participating in a group exhibition. The theme of the show focused on cartoons that illustrated our post 9-11 world. We had an engaging conversation about cartoons and our changing world with the destruction of the World Trade towers.
Charlie Hebdo drew multiple threats for publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. In 2012, the magazine published a cartoon showing the Prophet in pornographic poses, which led to worldwide protests. Charlie Hebdo, stated in a press release that it published the cartoons to defend, "free expression and against religious extremism." Speaking at the scene of this week's attack, French President François Hollande said, "Barbaric people had carried out an attack on free speech."
These recent events illustrate a lost battle within the ongoing war between two forms of fundamentalism. On one side are the Islamic fundamentalists targeting agents of free speech; and on the other side, secular fundamentalists enraging people of faith. Nothing justifies the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Offensive cartoons could have been thwarted easily with succinct editorials -- either written or drawn. This sort of butchery, starting with the fatwa on Salman Rushdie, progressing over the years to threats against Ayaan Hirsi, and the murder of Theo Van Gogh are unacceptable.
Fundamentalist behavior has fueled Islamophobia in many parts of Europe. Last week there were huge demonstrations in Germany led by right-wing groups chanting Germany has become Islamized. It was only a few years ago German Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to present a Press Freedom Award to Kurt Westergaard -- the Danish cartoonist whose original drawing of the Prophet Mohammed ignited violence around the world. Merkel in her speech said, "It is irrelevant whether Westergaard's caricatures are tasteless or not, whether he thinks they are necessary or helpful, or not. Is he allowed to do that? Yes, he can." Fundamentalists cleverly leverage Koranic verses to their advantage channeling disparate and confusing stories into a single narrative of hate and violence. They strike out at anyone. An old friend of mine, whose father (the late Governor of Punjab) was assassinated by an extremist in 2011 for vocally opposing the Pakistan's blasphemy laws, posted an insightful comment on Facebook. He wrote, on the Charlie Hebdo killings, "The birthplace of revolution attacked by the ultimate forces of counter-revolution."
Charlie Hebdo exaggerates and offends. We all know, that what offends is not necessarily factual. No one has the right to kill those who offend. Anyone who claims this right deserves to be the object of withering satire and criticism. But what offends, ironically, needs be safeguarded. For this is what gives us a frame-of-reference -- empowering the silent majority to confront violence and hatemongers. The time has come for Islam's faithful to stop hiding behind an institutional hatred towards Western intemperance and arrogance and unequivocally take responsibility of their own.