Satirical French publication Charlie Hebdo is coming under fire for an English-language editorial that seems to at least partly blame practicing, and peaceful, Muslims for terrorist attacks. A little more than a week after 35 people were killed in Brussels, the newspaper wonders, “How did we end up here?”* The newspaper that suffered a terrorist attack of its own last year says that “the attacks are merely the visible part of a very large iceberg indeed. They are the last phase of a process of cowing and silencing long in motion and on the widest possible scale.”
To make its point, Charlie Hebdo uses three examples: Tariq Ramadan, an Islamic scholar; a nameless woman in a burqa; and a baker who is a Muslim. Ramadan, who, incidentally condemned the attack against Charlie, has devoted his life to defending Islam. “His task, under cover of debate, is to dissuade people criticizing his religion in any way,” notes the editorial. He effectively makes “little dent[s]” in secularism by imposing “a fear of criticising lest they appear Islamophobic.” The editorial then goes on to sarcastically dismiss concerns that a woman wearing a burqa may be hiding a bomb. And finally there is the baker who stops selling ham, and everyone simply shrugs and accepts it because “there are plenty of other options on offer.”
The editorial then goes on to mention the Brussels attackers, noting that while no one in the three examples really did anything wrong, the terrorist attack can’t happen “without everyone’s contribution.” The enforced silence to not criticize someone who is different or holds different beliefs means that “it is secularism which is being forced into retreat.” The editorial concludes:
The first task of the guilty is to blame the innocent. It’s an almost perfect inversion of culpability. From the bakery that forbids you to eat what you like, to the woman who forbids you to admit that you are troubled by her veil, we are submerged in guilt for permitting ourselves such thoughts. And that is where and when fear has started its sapping, undermining work. And the way is marked for all that will follow.
Writer Teju Cole took to Facebook to write what is perhaps the most extensive, and reasoned, criticism of the editorial, saying “the people of Charlie … finally step away from the mask of ‘it’s satire and you don’t get it’ to state clearly that Muslims, all of them, no matter how integrated, are the enemy.” Charlie seems to want to defend “the wish to discriminate freely against Muslims without having to be called out on it” and somehow characterizing the whole exercise as brave and speaking truth to power. “This is precisely the logic also of the masses who praise Trump for his ‘honesty’—as though only ugliness could be honest, as though moral incontinence were any more noble than physical incontinence,” writes Cole.
Charlie had already come under fire this past week for its front page about the Brussels attacks.
*Correction, April 3, 2016: This post originally misstated the number of people killed in the Brussels terrorist attack on March 22.