The world watched in support and sympathy on Sunday, January 11, as nearly four million people took the streets of Paris by storm, linked arm-in-arm in the largest anti-terrorism demonstration the world has ever seen.
My heart was initially warmed by this reaction to the display of evil recently enacted by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists against the Paris headquarters of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo; but during the past 24 hours or so I’ve been figuratively scratching my head over it. I mean, ISIS has been terrorizing Iraq and Syria for at least a year and no one has lifted a finger to stop them – let alone linked an arm or two – until now.
So I find myself asking: Why now? What is it about the attack on Charlie Hebdo that has made the world stand up and proclaim that something needs to be done?
Why has the world not previously linked arms and stormed the streets of Europe (or anywhere else in the world) in protest at ISIS’s eviction of families from their homes, sawing off people’s heads (and in some cases mounting them on poles), burying children alive, selling three-year-old girls into slavery, torturing and murdering parents before their children’s eyes? Why has no one from the international community launched an aggressive hunt for the hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls – mostly Christian – who were kidnapped by Boko Haram and forced to abandon their Christian faith? Why has the world stood by until now and mutely allowed the rampages of ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, and others to run unchecked, met not with parades but with resounding shrugs?
I’ve had a few thoughts as potential answers – none of which I enjoy having and all of which I devoutly hope are wrong.
The first thing I thought of was location, location, location. Have militant Islamist groups been allowed to perpetrate its evil until now because it was mainly confined to the Middle East – but when its evil crosses geographical boundaries and begins to permeate Europe, the line is drawn? Is there a perception in the West that the people of the Middle East don’t matter? Have the heirs of western civilization begun to believe the darkness that most think but dare not speak: “They’ve been killing each other for centuries over there and they’re going to keep doing it, so let’s leave them alone”?
The second thing I thought of was the vicious war of ideology that has polarized not only the United States but the entire world. Granted, I am not familiar with Charlie Hebdo – I had never even heard of it before this tragedy – but from what I now understand, it is a magazine that often goes far beyond irreverent social commentary and crosses a line into what might, at least on occasion, be viewed as hate speech toward several religions. In fact, according to the Washington Post online, a cartoonist was fired from the magazine for publishing displays of anti-Semitism in 2008. Christianity and Islam however, have apparently remained on the menu of religions acceptable to offend.
In the same Washington Post article cited above, Catholic League president Bill Donohue makes some indefensible remarks to the effect that Charlie Hebdo “provoked” al-Qaeda’s wrath by its offensive portrayal of Islam and of Islam’s founder and prophet, Mohammad. Donohue is off-the-charts out of line with these comments. Is Charlie Hebdo disgustingly offensive? No question. But there are sane and sound ways in which to counter that. The only thing that “provokes” actions such as al-Qaeda sympathizers performed in slaughtering 12 unarmed civilians is being in the grip of the Evil One to begin with.
This being said: I can’t help but think – and I pray to God that I’m wrong and it’s just the jaded cynic in me talking – is that the world in large part agrees with what Charlie Hebdo portrays about religion, especially regarding Christianity. In other words, as long as it was predominantly Christians being slaughtered and sold into slavery and separated from their homes, no one cared. There is a prevailing sentiment in the world that Christians deserve to be mistreated due to past centuries of Christian empires mistreating non-Christian populations. Arguments that attitudes and practices towards Christians in many parts of the world today compare legitimately to similar attitudes and practices displayed towards Jews and non-ethnic Germans during the Third Reich fall on deaf ears because today, so many people around the world view Christians as the new Nazis.
So I can’t help but think that while no one was outraged as long as the focus of militant Islamism was on Christians, when their attacks fell upon those with whom the world agrees, it was time for Hands Around Paris.
As far as I’m concerned, al-Qaeda and all others of their ilk need to be stopped regardless of what the world takes as motivation. But I’ll never stop wondering what that motivation is.
(Edited on 1/14/15)