Ideas matter. Little else governs the world.
From the rubble of the Second World War, we struggled to build a better Europe. The European Union sought to curb the destructive power of the rampant nationalism that had divided us for centuries. The European Convention on Human Rights established a framework to protect the basic dignity of each individual. Our new ethos was meant to promote tolerance and to safeguard the freedom of expression, especially for minorities and intellectual dissidents.
On January 7th, Islamist extremists in Paris struck at the very heart of the values that define us. The brave cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, who had dedicated their lives to fighting the xenophobia of the far-right, were mercilessly gunned down because they dared to challenge an idea. The police officers paid the ultimate price for upholding the rule of law, the basic right which allows us to feel secure in our persons. And the Jews were massacred because their very existence was repulsive to their executioners.
While it is now virtually certain that we will fight many battles with bullets and bombs, we can only win the war through the strength of our ideas. Unfortunately, unlike our enemies, we have lost the sense of what we stand for. Their message is clear. Either everyone embraces their ideology, or they barely scrape by in the shadows as second class citizens. Gays will be thrown off buildings to the roar of cheering crowds. Christians will be burned alive inside their churches. And women will exist solely for the pleasure of men.
Most people will find such ideas to be utterly repulsive. Their propagators know that all too well, which is why they can only enforce them at the barrel of a Kalashnikov. Sadly, we cannot take a principled stand against them because our moral compass has been grossly distorted by political correctness and apologism.
Our intellectual elites are telling us that the attacks were our fault, that our killers are actually our helpless victims. If the cartoonists had not drawn, then no one would have felt the urge to kill them. If the shooters had better living conditions in the French suburbs, they would not have resorted to terrorism. And if it was not for the State of Israel, the Jews would obviously never face discrimination.
The attempts to justify the Paris shooting are so outrageous that even a laughable explanation is now put forth as just another valid perspective. One thing needs to be clear. We will not win the current war of ideas by placing the blame on ourselves, even as we bury more of our people into the ground.
We need to unequivocally establish that our commitment to life, love, and liberty will not be silenced by a pair of AK-47s. We need to speak up. It is no coincidence that the first target of the extremists was the editorial meeting of a left-wing newspaper.
You do not need to kill your enemy to annihilate him. You just have to strike so much fear in his heart, that he forgets who he is, forgets his own ideas. Fear becomes his master. Terror is not the means to an end, terror is the end itself. Regrettably, we fear the rampant character assassination of the self-appointed politically correct police as much as we fear the bullets of the extremists.
To defeat the fear-based ideology that the terrorists want to impose on us, we must preserve our open society. This necessitates the free exchange of ideas, even those that may challenge deeply held religious principles.
Islam, like any other religion, is an idea and it should not be immune to criticism. Muslims regularly mock the beliefs of those they disagree with. The polytheism of the Hindus, the Christian Holy Trinity, and the claim that Mirza Ghulam was a prophet of God have all been fair game.
Visual depictions and criticism of Muhammed are highly offensive to those who believe in the infallibility of his message. However, should non-Muslims abide by this as well? If the faithful don’t like publications that do such things, they don’t have to buy them. I doubt that Mormons are the biggest fans of the Broadway show that lampoons their beliefs.
Sadly, as soon as someone puts Islam under the microscope, he is immediately derided as a racist. Any critical examination of the religion’s doctrines has to start with a preface where the person explains that his motivations aren’t motivated by Islamophobia. Why is it perfectly acceptable to satirize Catholicism in light of the sex-scandals that rocked the Church, but social suicide to say that we disagree with a teaching that subordinates women to men?
We need to stop censoring ourselves. Every time there is a bloodbath by fanatics shouting Allahu Akhbar we are ordered not to link the violence to the religious teachings. There are only two permissible explanations. We are either told that the Jihadists are not real Muslims or that they are only a small minority within the wider Islamic world.
Both statements are clearly nonsensical. While many Muslims may want to distance themselves from the extremists in their ranks, it is irrelevant what we non-believers think that Islam is. It is patronizing and ignorant of us to tell someone who recites the Shahada, and who is willing to give up his life to establish a state governed by the Quran and Hadith, that he is not a real Muslim.
The small minority claim doesn’t hold much water either. While those willing to carry out violence may be few, they have the tacit approval of many. 74% of Egyptians, a country of 82 million, believe that Sharia should be the law of the land and of those, 86% support the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim faith. The Iranian state issued an order for the killing of Salman Rushdie because one of his novels made fun of an Islamic teaching. Raif Badawi will be getting 50 lashes a week for 20 weeks for promoting secular liberalism in Saudi Arabia, while women there are banned from driving cars.
Our response so far has been highly inadequate. The world mourned the deaths in Paris, but few tears have been shed for the 2000 lifeless bodies left behind by Boko Haram’s rampage in Nigeria. In the same week, Al Qaeda carried out numerous deadly attacks against Shia Muslims in Yemen. And while I am writing this, Christian and Yazidi women are being bought and sold in Iraqi markets for the pleasure of ISIS Jihadists.
If we don’t have the courage to stand on the strength of our convictions, then we should do it for our own safety. The Paris attacks were masterminded in Yemen. Al Qaeda got its training in Afghanistan before it became a multinational terrorist enterprise. Today Boko Haram terrorizes villages in Nigeria, but tomorrow they could carry out attacks in London and New York.
Ultimately, moral condemnation shouldn’t stop at the borders of the Western World. While the ideals that the extremists tried to silence in Paris are those of the French Revolution, they are not exclusively French or European values. Nor are they the artificial Western constructs that post-colonialist pseudo-intellectuals claim them to be. Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood are universals and they belong to both Charlie and Muhammed.