They rushed to the third floor gripping their Kalashnikov automatic rifles and entered the room where the editorial board had gathered to meet. The rifles fired, innocent lives were destroyed and lost, and then they left. Outside, they entered a car to flee but not before shooting multiple times at police vehicles. Before finally leaving, they stopped to execute a wounded officer.
"We have avenged the prophet," they proclaimed.
Then they disappeared in the streets leaving 12 dead behind them. This was not Baghdad, not Kabul, not Alep, but Paris, France, on January 7, 2015.
"Charlie Hebdo" often published cartoons that were extremely irreverent and disrespectful, sometimes pornographic, always against religion, and often targeting Islam. Whether one likes the newspaper or the cartoons doesn’t matter. What matters is freedom of speech. The foundation of the Western world: freedom. That is why this terrorist attack goes beyond the "Charlie Hebdo" newspaper. This was a declaration of war against freedom.
"If you can kill an unbeliever, whether American or European – especially the dirty and wicked French people—or an Australian or a Canadian, or a citizen from a country that entered the anti-Islamic State coalition, then trust Allah and kill him in any manner." That was the call of Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, spokesman of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The call has been heard and now targets are no longer countries, but citizens and their freedom.
"Charlie Hebdo" was not the first time that this call has been answered in my country:
• Fall 2014: Several terrorist attacks were stopped in France. At the time the news did not go public, but was later confirmed by President Hollande.
• December 20, in Joué-lès-Tours, 250 km south of Paris: A man shouting "Allahu Akbar" entered a police station and injured 3 policemen with a knife.
• December 22, in Dijon, 200 km East of Paris: A man shouting "Allahu Akbar" threw his car in the crowd injuring 13 people.
• December 22, in Nantes, 250 km West of Paris: A man drove his van into a crowded Christmas market, injuring 10 people and killing one.
• January 8, in Montrouge, a suburb of Paris: A policewoman was killed and a city employee was injured by a man heavily armed.
• January 9, Dammartin, 80km North of Paris: Hostage taking by the two terrorists who attacked "Charlie Hebdo."
• January 9, Paris: Shootings at one of the gates of the city and hostage taking.
This ongoing frightful schedule of events has French citizens shocked. But can we say that we are surprised? No. Most people knew this would happen. For many years the French government has tried to hide and minimize the threat from Islamic terrorists. The enemy was to be free trade and free markets; the solution was to create a peaceful world led by collectivist, egalitarian, and multicultural ideals.
But the "feel good" speeches and cultural relativism—all coated by political correctness of an "elite" leadership disconnected from the real world—were blown up by the "Charlie Hebdo" attack. The reality is that the divide in Europe is wide and deep.
Distrust towards Islam in the European population is growing. In April 2013, a poll revealed that 73 percent of the French had a negative opinion of Islam. In Germany, "Die Zeit," a leading newspaper, released a poll in November 2014 stating that 57 percent of Germans considered Islam a threat, while 61 percent think Islam cannot adapt to Western values. Further, 40 percent of Germans reported feeling like strangers in their own country and 24 percent want Muslim immigration to be forbidden. Right or wrong, these opinions are growing among Europeans.
While distrust is growing in Europe, radical Islam is spreading dramatically. In France, prisons and suburbs have growing numbers of radicals. These new numbers endeavor to convert young people. A large number of young "French" Islamists went to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS. Some of them came back to France where they recruited other young men. Radical Islam is no longer only in the Middle East; it has spread to Europe: A caliphate on the Champs-Elysées.
The social situation that European democracies are facing is that the assimilation of non-European immigrants has partly failed. The reality is that Islamist terrorists attacking France are technically all French citizens. Yet they obviously don’t believe in freedom. It takes more than a title of "citizen" to be French, a European, an American, a Westerner. It takes more than good feelings and political correctness to convince some people that freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly are essential freedoms to mankind.
Conviction comes from strength and respect. Unfortunately, it does not seem that European democracies are strong enough and respected enough. Indeed, radical Islamists despise anything that looks like the West, and now many Europeans distrust their own government that failed to ensure their physical security.
In such a context, it is near impossible for a European country to appear as a beacon of freedom. And freedom is what this is all about. Europe is becoming a battlefield and Paris is in the front line.