Why the Attack on Free Speech

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I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.


Jan. 11, 2014 (San Diego) The Charlie Hebdo magazine was attacked once again in Paris, this time people died. They were first fire bombed in 2011. The origins come from a conflict between the western Enlightenment tradition of free speech, and the feelings from religious minorities that they are under attack.

Cartoon Charlie Hebdo ran hours before the attack

Cartoon Charlie Hebdo ran hours before the attack

This attack on Charlie Hebdo did not occur in a vacuum, and analysts have pointed out that some French Laws, such as the now infamous “Burqa Law” that requires Muslim women to remove head coverings when entering government buildings is discrimination and prevents women from practicing their religion. To be fair, the French have also banned all overt religious symbols from state run schools, which are strictly secular.

This law has not only become a point of contention for Muslims and Jews alike, but a point of unity. Muslim women brought the “Burqa” law to the European Human Rights Commission in 2013, and the commision found in early 2014 that France was not violating their human rights.

There are other reasons, including the fact that France has had a very difficult time incorporating immigrants into the whole of French society. Unlike the United States, which has a much easier time with this, partly because we have been at it for a couple of hundred years.

The bottom line though is that this is a conflict between the western ways of free speech, and extremist views in other areas of the world. Poverty has also radicalized many youth in not just France, but it is feared in the United States.

The best-known example of this radicalization in the United States was Anwar al-Awlaki, an American born cleric that not just moved to Yemen, but was central to al-Qaida in Yemen. Among other things, he was the man behind “Inspire” Magazine, which has high production values. It was the same magazine where the Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev allegedly found the recipe for the improvised explosive that were used during the Boston Marathon.

Al-Awlaki was killed by a drone strike authorized by President Barack Obama in 2011, but his influence still lives in the Internet. There are many videos of his speeches in YouTube, and Inspire still runs regularly. The magazine is still a very important recruitment and radicalization source.

The other source of this radicalization comes from Saudi Arabia, and Wahhabi religion. This brand of Islam is the source of power for the Saudi Royal Family and it can be radical and militant. It is a radical ideology that has been exported across the world, and the source for many youth to find meaning in their lives.

There is an effort, according to Al-Monitor, for the Saudi Government to distance itself from radical Wahhabis. There is also an effort from the government to distance itself from The Islamic State. They also have made the careful distinctions between their brand of Islam and other groups within it. One group that the Saudi say is the source of the modern brand or radicalism is Kharijism.

This sect emerged during the Civil War after the death of the Prophet Mohamed. The sect has been at odds with the rest of the faith, at times declaring those outside their belief system to be outside the faith.

Bader al- Rashed writes:

In debates about terrorism and extremism in Saudi Arabia, extremism is repeatedly attributed to the era of Juhayman Ibn Muhammad ibn Sayf al-Otaybi, who in 1979 led extremists to take over the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The government at the time met the radicals’ demands and allowed them to implement their brand of conservatism through the media, education and other forms of public life. This era in Saudi history is called the Awakening, and Wahhabism at the time was not described as a source of extremism. Today, however, because of IS, there are discussions on the connection between Sunni jihadist extremism and Wahhabism inside and outside Saudi Arabia. This might eventually change the way Saudis see themselves.

These elements are important as we look into the events in France. We have several sources of radicalism, and they put things in a different context. While Western governments have an issue with radicalism, so do the Saudis.

Time will tell. As far as the attack on Charlie Hebdo is concerned, their satirical cartoons equally lampoon all. It does not matter whether these cartoons were of Muslims, Jews, Christians or other minorities. We might want to discuss whether the cartoons were racists, and some might very well be. Voltaire put it best though. Limits to free speech cannot be accepted. If we allow that, then the two brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, will achieve what they wanted. That is to silence people in their criticism of radicalism. This is not just a Western discussion, but is now alive and well in Saudi Arabia as well.

Amedy Coulibaly attacked the kosher deli and is suspected of killing a policewoman. His goal was to attack Jews for the sake of attacking Jews. This war between radical Islam and the world also includes virulent anti-Semitic.

We at Reporting San Diego expect calls for censorship. Silence is consent. We are also aware that the people responsible for these horrific acts are a very small minority, of a minority. Western Governments, which includes the United States, have to figure out why young people feel so alienated from their society that they are willing to pick up arms.

Twitter: @nadinbrzezinski

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The story has been updated to correct an error in a word noticed today.

Categories: CharlieHebdo, terrorism

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