“We’ll always have Paris,” Humphrey Bogart said to Ingrid Bergman in the 1942 movie classic. After the response, so far, to the murder of ten Charlie Hebdo journalists and two policemen by Islamic gunmen on January 7, maybe not.
There’s plenty of sadness and rage in France, but the response by world leaders and in establishment media recalled the “blah, blah, blah” made famous by Charlie Brown’s teacher in “Peanuts” cartoons.
Our president said that “France, and the great city of Paris where the outrageous attack took place, offer the world a timeless example that will endure beyond the hateful vision of these killers.” Say what? It doesn’t help that President Obama also said that “those who carry out senseless attacks against innocent civilians, ultimately they will be forgotten.”
Why call the attack on Charlie Hebdo “senseless”? It was a well-planned act of war and likely makes a great deal of sense to those Islamists who hope to destroy or subjugate what’s left of the West.
The satirical French newspaper published cartoons, as a piece in The New Yorker pointed out, “blatantly, roughly sexual and not designed to endear them to Jews or Christians.” One depicted retired Pope Benedict XVI in an amorous embrace with a Vatican guard, another showed an Orthodox Jew kissing a Nazi soldier. The Vatican did not dispatch a squad of its Swiss guard to the seek revenge and the Mossad showed no interest in rectifying yet another blood libel.
But cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad are reported to have provoked the slaughter. Different strokes for different religions? Or, was the response triggered only among “extremists” but not within the majority of tolerant and peace-loving Muslims?
Salman Rushdie, whose “Satanic Verses” propelled Iran’s Ayatollah to issue a fatwa on him in 1989, understands the significance of Islamic response and the absence of Christian and Jewish ones to the French magazine’s irreverence:
“Religion, a medieval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. Respect for religion has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religion, like all other ideas, deserves criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”
You wish a leader in the West had issued a statement like that. Instead, we get the responses like the one in the January 8 New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof. After listing examples of systematic terrorism in the Islamic world, against Christians and women, he blithely concedes “So, sure, there’s a strain of Islamic intolerance and extremism that is the backdrop to the attack on Charlie Hebdo.”
Some “strain.” And maybe it’s more than just a “backdrop.” Kristof is right when he writes that “the vast majority of Muslims of course have nothing to do with the insanity of such attacks…” But they are bystanders, approving or disapproving, to them. And let us remember how we judged the majority of Germans who were bystanders to the attacks on Jews in the late 1930s, before that “strain” of “intolerance” grew and turned into destruction of millions of lives.
The response to Paris must compel the Islamic world to reduce and erase that ugly strain. It must come from within Islam. To avoid “religious profiling” in the West, as Kristof urges, won’t do it. Self-flagellation, he should be reminded, is a stupid habit.