How Arab World Media Responded to Charlie Hebdo Attack

From rage at perpetrators to fear that deadly attack will boost racism in France, Arab journalists present stances that Western media neglects.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A sign with a reproduction of a Charlie Hebdo front page during a rally to show solidarity for the victims of the attack on the offices of France's satirical weekly, Brazil, January 7, 2015.
A sign with a reproduction of a Charlie Hebdo front page during a rally to show solidarity for the victims of the attack on the offices of France's satirical weekly, Brazil, January 7, 2015.Credit: AFP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

A sharpened pencil forced into the twisted barrel of a Kalashnikov rifle — that is the image with which Lebanese cartoonist Armand Homsi of the Al-Nahar daily expressed his rage over the murders at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.

Al-Nahar’s founding editor-in-chief, Gebran Tueni, and its star columnist, Samir Kassir, were assassinated in 2005 by Syrian agents.

In its editorial on Thursday the newspaper said: “All the murdered journalists are a torch lighting the way for other journalists. No matter how hard they try to silence the media, the written word will remain a ticking bomb that will one day blow up in the faces of terrorism and the terrorists.”

More than 60 journalists were killed while on the job in 2014, some on the battlefield and others slaughtered by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. While dying in a war zone is accepted as an occupational hazard, murder by Islamist organizations is seen as part of radical Islam’s culture war with the West.

“What happened in Paris is a French attack on France,” Lebanese columnist Amar Mohsen tried to explain the murder cause. The murderers are French citizens who grew up in a culture that couldn’t contain them and excluded them. It is not necessary to agree with this explanation, although one of the suspects, Cherif Kouachi, was sentenced to three years in prison in France in 2008 for his part in sending volunteer combatants to Iraq. He was released after 18 months and two years later he was arrested again on suspicion of smuggling the Algerian Islamist Ismail Belkacem out of prison. Belkacem was serving a life term for his part in attacking a Paris Metro station in 1995.

Kouachi and his brother Said should have been under the watchful eye of the French intelligence services all along. Now they are symbols of a radical Islam that foments what used to be called “global jihad,” as though it were a divine force, unlike the “ordinary” terror organizations that spring up in every state.

The global jihad theory failed to generate an effective response strategy. The war in Afghanistan and then the occupation of Iraq produced hundreds of militias and organizations that ostensibly sought to avenge the West’s attacks but mainly killed tens of thousands of Muslim and Arab civilians. Even the fear that these organizations will export terror to the West has not been realized. Most of the attacks in European states were carried out by their own citizens.

If these organizations exported anything to Europe it was the hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees who fled from the horrors of the terrorists’ attacks in their own countries. But unlike the European states’ indifference to the attacks and killing of Muslim civilians in Muslim states, every attack on a European civilian, abroad or at home, immediately produces a Pavlovian response against “Islam.”

Muslims killing Muslims is normal. Muslims killing Europeans is “a clash of civilizations.” Islamic movements, like Christian and Jewish movements, have generated terror organizations and terror regimes. But nobody in Europe sees Ratko Mladic, who was responsible for the massacre of some 8,000 Muslims in Bosnia, as representing Christians or Christianity. It is just as wrong to see the two French terrorists, even if they are Muslim, as representatives of Islam.

“This murder is the most precious gift that terror has given racism in France,” Moroccan columnist Hamid Zid wrote Thursday. “Those murders killed not only the journalists, but the millions of Muslims who live in France, and have also justified Islam’s murderous image. They have plunged a knife into the heart of Islam and Muslims worldwide.”

Liberal, secular and religious Muslims again find themselves on the defense, as though they were responsible for creating an environment inducive to terror. Their voices usually go unheard. They do not appear on talk shows, and television series on Islam are not interested in them. They represent that which is self-evident and allow their homelands, in Europe or the Middle East, to boast of multiculturalism.

We’d rather have two-bit interpreters of religious law who shout “death to the West” or preachers encouraging the killing of infidels are preferable. No “ordinary” Muslims can create a storm that could match the decapitations carried out by Islamic State, but they are the overwhelming majority of Muslims both in Europe and in Muslim-majority states.

Not only “Western civilization” is mobilizing against Islamic terror organizations. The “Islamic civilization” is doing the same, viewing extreme terrorism as a danger to its culture and its reputation.

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