Je suis Charlie!
French for "I am Charlie," it has become the rallying cry du jour to honor those massacred by radical Islamic terrorists at the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris.
The problem is, unless you’re a fan of the Viet Cong, "I am Charlie" doesn’t actually mean anything. What should have been a call to action for people, and especially media outlets, around the civilized world is instead, not surprisingly, simply a feel-good, flash-in-the-pan catchphrase. And in a week or two, the righteous indignation of so many leaders railing against heinous acts of terror will go by the wayside. In doing so, they will be handing the enemy yet another victory.
Let’s look at the French attack, and the changes we can expect:
1.) Sure, newspapers around the globe printed cartoons in response to the Charlie Hebdo attack, with some knocking radical Islam pretty hard. But how many reprinted the Hebdo cartoons satirically portraying the prophet Mohammed that led to the terror attack in the first place? Almost none.
Every paper on the planet, but especially in Europe, should have done so, whether or not they agreed with the cartoon’s message. That, and only that, would have sent a clear message that the world was unified — unwaveringly — in its fight against radical terrorists. But they didn’t. Instead, most papers wimped out, content in letting someone else do the heavy lifting, an "I’m behind you … way behind you" mentality. The Financial Times typified this attitude when it editorialized that the Hebdo cartoons were "editorial foolishness" and that the paper had "just been stupid" to provoke Muslims with controversial cartoons.
You can clamor about freedom of speech all day long, and sound really good doing it, but it rings hollow if you don’t walk the walk. The irony is that there was no better time for thousands of papers to run the cartoons than right after the attack, since none could have been singled out. Not that true journalistic enterprises should ever need "political cover," as it is akin to cowardice, but nonetheless cover would have been afforded.
2.) That’s not to say there wouldn’t be risk, as there certainly would be, despite precautions. And it would be perfectly acceptable to be afraid. But that’s where courage comes into play. As Mark Twain said, "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear."
Bottom line: Don’t say you are standing up for freedom of expression and honoring fallen comrades if you don’t put your money where your mouth is. Otherwise, the bad guys win by default. If those in the media allow their fear to trump courage, they need to find a different profession.
3.) Charlie Hebdo is a satirical publication. It is neither racist nor bigoted. Satire has been a cornerstone of Western civilization for centuries, and, by its nature, agitates and antagonizes. And it is precisely that approach that has led to significant social change, almost always for the betterment of society.
There is a difference between being satirical and mean-spirited. The latter is counter-productive, the last thing the Hebdo staff wanted. Hebdo isn’t anti-Islam, nor do they dislike Muslims. Quite the opposite, Hebdo believes that the radical elements must be called on the carpet in order to win liberty and freedom of expression for all Muslims. One of the ways it does that is to poke fun at the more ludicrous beliefs of the radicals, which, by the way, are at odds with the true interpretation of Islam. Hebdo has the guts to publicly expose what all civilized people know, but too few have the guts to say.
Satire is supposed to offend; it’s not meant to be taken personally. The fact that radicals attacked Hebdo validates everything Charlie Hebdo has been advocating all these years.
4.) Did we know the attack was imminent? If not, why not?
One of two things is true:
A.) The National Security Agency (in addition to Europe’s intelligence agencies) missed all the warning signs leading up to the attack. If that’s the case, it once again shows that no amount of technology will protect us in the absence of common sense.
How is it that the NSA sees more value in reading emails and monitoring phone calls of millions who pose zero threat than it does honing in on those with a proven track record of terrorism (or at least terrorist sympathies)? One of the two Hebdo attackers had been convicted of terrorism in France; yes, convicted! And both were well known in intelligence circles (as were the Boston bombers), including being on America’s Terror Watch and No-Fly lists. If those things don’t qualify as red flags, nothing does. So if they weren’t being tracked and closely monitored, why not? If that turns out to be the case, the NSA, given failure after failure, should close up shop.
B.) The NSA did know, and pulled a "Pearl Harbor" strategy. History strongly suggests some Allied and even American leaders knew an attack was imminent, and, needing a reason to get a reluctant America into the war, allowed it to occur. It’s the "a thousand may die so that a million may live" mentality. Agree with it or not, it’s happened throughout history.
Perhaps some in the intelligence community felt that the only way to awaken a deep-slumbering Europe being overrun by, and capitulating to, radical fundamentalists was to allow such barbarism to unfold. While Europe’s follow-through remains to be seen, the sight of 3 million French filling the streets of Paris in protest (and similar gatherings throughout the continent) would never have occurred prior to the attacks.
5.) The big question is how the West proceeds from here. Will it jettison political correctness and take the necessary steps to combat a ruthless enemy, such as profiling, renunciation of Sharia law in the West, and an aggressive, pull-no-punches approach to rooting out terrorism (while pulling troops out of the Middle East)? Or will the tough rhetoric fall by the wayside as the policy of placation seeps back into the picture?
Once thing is certain. Endless conferences, symposiums, summits and blue-ribbon commissions on combatting terrorism are a complete waste of time and resources. Incessant talking won’t solve the problem. What is needed is decisiveness, common sense — and an iron will to see it through.
The solution to effectively fighting terrorism is simple; it’s just not easy. It’s time the West rolls up its sleeves and gets the job done, once and for all.
Only then can we all legitimately say, "Je suis libertie."
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday, and ocasionally on Friday. He can be reached at [email protected].