On January 7, two armed gunmen forcefully entered Charlie Hebdo’s Paris office, killing ten employees and two policemen. The Daily editorial board wholeheartedly condemns these brutal murders. At the same time, it is crucial to question the media framing of these attacks. The media coverage has largely ignored the Islamophobic content of the cartoons, and has thereby reinforced the Islamophobic context in which they were produced.
Many media outlets have presented this situation as one of freedom of speech versus religion, falsely implying a mutual exclusivity of the concepts. Further, in denouncing the attacks as an assault on free speech, such rhetoric tends to ignore the often racist content of Charlie Hebdo’s satire: many of the cartoons contained overt hatred. Good satire is most effective when punching up and critiquing groups in power, not when punching down and endangering people who already find themselves marginalized in France. The hypocrisy in framing of this kind of satire as an exercise in freedom of speech can easily be contrasted to the French law that prohibits women from wearing religious garments such as burqas.
France has already seen fresh instances of Islamophobia since the attacks, with multiple instances of mosques vandalized with “Je suis Charlie” graffiti. Shots were fired at several mosques, and percussion grenades were thrown into the courtyard of a mosque in the west of Paris. What’s more, Islamophobia is not restricted to fear of Islam, but also fuels the assumption that people, independent of their religion, are suspicious simply because of their ethnic background. All of this occurs against the backdrop of the growing political clout of France’s National Front, a right-wing, anti-immigrant party gaining major traction in the polls. Similar dynamics are repeated across Europe, as can be seen by the recent anti-immigrant march in Dresden on January 12, which saw 25,000 attendees. Furthermore, the U.S. and Canada have been using this prevalent Islamophobic sentiment as a political tool for fear-mongering and ostracization, in order to create an ‘us versus them’ narrative that legitimizes invasions and exploitation.
The constant association of Islam and certain ethnic backgrounds with terms like ‘terrorism’ feed into underlying currents of Islamophobia in the West, which actively harms Muslim communities, putting them at greater risk for backlash after such attacks. Muslim people should not be associated with crimes that were done in their name without their consent, and should not be asked to defend their religion on the premise of someone else’s wrongful actions. It is crucial to condemn the murders and mourn the victims while still opening a broader discussion on Islamophobia.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board