Twelve people have been confirmed dead in a shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical publication. Armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, the gunmen forced their way into the building by coercing a mother with her child to give the key code. They then went from office to office, asking for staff members by name, before gunning down each in turn. The attackers are reported to have shouted things like “Allahu Akbar!” and claimed to have been members of al-Qaeda. They then fled the scene in a stolen car, dumping it in the vicinity of Pantin, an impoverished African and South Asian neighborhood in the suburbs of Paris – where, incidentally, I spent New Years one year with an ex-girlfriend – and then hijacked another car before fleeing from the city. As of now, they are still at large.
The natural question most people ask in reaction to these sorts of events is “why?” Why did these three people decide to kill all these other people, over a cartoon? Answers always fall into four categories: their fault, our fault, nobody’s fault, and squid ink. As you might expect, the distribution of responses breaks down fairly neatly along ideological lines.
1. Their fault puts the blame on “radical Islam,” Islamists, terrorists, or sometimes just “Islam” plain and simple. This article from National Review Online argues that Islam is against freedom of expression at its core. Another article, also from NRO, seems to intimate that this is the beginning of some sort of clash of civilizations. CNN lists responses from the journalistic profession, all of which express solidarity against the “forces of unreason” that are on the warpath and have “corrupted the heart of Islam”
2. Our fault puts the blame on our collective intolerance of others, or on our governments’ foreign policy. We in general, or the victims in particular, somehow have it coming to us. This article by Slate does not overtly state that the employees of Charlie Hebdo asked to be murdered, but the author asserts that they have a “long history of courting controversy.” This cyclical from AP states similar claims. If we, or at least Charlie Hebdo, should have expected this, what is the implication?
3. Nobody’s fault straddles the line, asserting that such a colossal crime is the result of nothing in particular. Crazy people warped the tenets of their faith to justify their evil actions, and only they can be blamed, not the social environment that produced them, nor their creed, nor the laxity of Western society, nor any other sort of causal explanation. It just “happened.” I have not yet found an example of this in the media, but I am sure it will be offered sometime between when Europe goes to sleep mourning this tragedy, and America wakes up to ponder it.
4. Squid ink is the attempt to divert blame from targets that the speaker or author believes will likely be blamed. This article from Salon attempts to divert blame from an assumed target, Islam, by diverting it onto the onerous figure of Richard Dawkins. This article, also from Salon, has nothing to do with the current controversy, but by framing other articles on the front page of the site, acts as an implicit tu quoque: Christians are murderers too! Islamic murder isn’t that bad!
It’s always popular to say that the truth lies somewhere in between, or beyond, the options the media offers us. And so I too will follow convention. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in a combination. It is undoubtedly true that there is a great deal of resentment in the Islamic world over Western policy over time, and I don’t doubt that this played some role in the minds of the murderers. I also don’t doubt that the reactions of Westerners to increased immigration to their countries has also factored in. Resentment against the encroachments of a foreign group on one’s territory is always resented, leading to friction between the natives and the implants. In France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, car burnings in immigrant neighborhoods are a frequent occurrence.
Personally, I think that, like all things, this is merely a struggle for power. The governments of the West have allowed large numbers of immigrants from poor countries with inimical social systems to immigrate to their countries, often for legitimate reasons. The Belgian government, for example, entered into an agreement with the Moroccan government to allow vast numbers of Moroccan citizens to immigrate to Belgium for work purposes, as the country lacked the amount of labor it needed. However, when any new population comes to an area that is already populated, there are many ways to deal with that population. Assimilation was the dominant strategy in the United States for some time: “if a Pole is made into an American with American habits and American values, great!” In Europe, however, there was precious little done to assimilate the immigrant populations, so that they instead formed large communities of their own folk that did not interact with the natives. In Germany, for example, many Turks have lived there for decades without being naturalized, and as Germany follows jus sanguinis, none of their children are citizens either, despite having no immediate connection to Turkey except on paper.
As these immigrant populations have grown in size, many of the younger generations have learned the local tongue, assimilated into the social patterns of their host nations, and fanned out into the country as a whole. One of my friends, a Belgian of Moroccan ancestry, speaks little Berber but perfect French, and has much more affinity for the country of his birth than the country of his ancestors. Many have also become more entrenched in their immigrant communities, and have agitated for special rights and privileges for their people; not only the social services they are always alleged to be parasites on, but also special zones for sharia, halal meals in schools and prisons, the right to not view objectionable material such as cartoons they do not like, and so forth. As they grow in size, they also grow in power, and like all people will assert that power to mold their environment in the ways that they choose – ways that are not compatible with Western society. What we are seeing is, I think, the latest installment in the slow bleed of the West, its slow transformation into a multicultural, and finally a non-cultural, entity.
Or, I could be full of it. Such is a consequence of immediate reactions and thinking out loud. Dear reader, please let me know thy thoughts in the comments.