The world is reacting to the shootings at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo yesterday when 12 people, including editors and cartoonists, were killed and 11 others wounded. One suspect in the attack surrendered to police yesterday, and there is a widespread search for the other two suspects as of the time of this writing. France, and particularly Paris, remains on the highest alert for terror attacks.
Charlie Hebdo is a popular satirical journal in France that has a long track record of taking strong stances on politics and other issues of the world. That has included religion, particularly Islam, and it was the focal point of a heated debate years ago when it published controversial cartoons that many Muslims took exception to. The offices were firebombed in 2011 for publishing a cartoon of the magazine’s “guest editor,” the Prophet Muhammad, that was captioned with a promise of 100 lashes for anyone who did not laugh. In the most recent issue, Charlie Hebdo focused on Submission, a controversial book by author Michel Houellebecq that depicts France essentially being taken over by an Islamic party, and banning women from working.
Reactions in France itself were predominantly uniform. French president François Hollande condemned the attacks, and stated that no such acts would ever kill freedom of the press in France. Gerard Biard, the editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo, said that he did not understand how anyone could attack a newspaper with heavy weapons, since newspapers are not a weapon of war. Mohammed Moussaoui, the president of the Union of French Mosques, condemned the attack, and called on both Christians and Muslims to band together and strengthen the dialogue in the country in order to present a strong, unified front against terrorism. Thousands came out to the Place de la Republique yesterday, near where the tragedy took place, to show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. Earlier today, the bells of the Notre Dame cathedral sounded to honor the victims, and a minute of silence was observed across the country.
Not all reactions were peaceful. Several mosques were attacked throughout France since the attack, apparently for revenge. This has sparked fears that already high anti-Islamic tensions not only in France, but all across Europe, may escalate in the near future following this latest incident.
Reactions by world leaders to the Charlie Hebdo shootings were generally quite uniform in condemning the attacks. President Obama reminded Americans in a statement that France is the oldest ally of the U.S., and that the nation stands in solidarity with the French people following these attacks. He also mentioned that this attack on journalists was symbolic, and that terrorists fear freedom of the press. British Prime Minister David Cameron said that he was sickened by the attacks, and declared that the British would stand with France in the fight against terrorism, as did Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Jean-Claude Junker, the President of the European Union, stated that he was shocked by the attacks, which he called barbaric. Europe would stand united with France, he suggested. German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that this attack was despicable.
Pope Francis weighed in on the attack of the offices of Charlie Hebdo as well, explaining that acts of homicide such as this are never justified, regardless of the motives. Despite some recent tensions with the European Union, of which France is a member, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that this attack was cynical. He affirmed Russia’s readiness to cooperate with France in efforts to counter terrorism.
Some others to react included artists who have themselves been threatened by Islamic extremists in the past. This includes Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist who lives under police protection as a result of threats to his life after drawing images of the Prophet Muhammad. He suggested that this attack would create fear on a level not seen before, although he also praised Charlie Hebdo for going farther than most were willing to go. Salmon Rushdie was the author of The Satanic Verses, and was forced to hide for years because a price was put on his head because of the publication of his controversial book. He said that everyone needed to stand with Charlie Hebdo, and that respect for religion does not mean fear of religion. He suggested that religions, like all ideas, were worthy of being critiqued and even disrespected.
Not everyone has been unconditionally supportive of Charlie Hebdo, however. The president of the Catholic League in the United States, Bill Donohue, wrote in a statement that Muslims had a right to be angry, given the history of the publication provoking them. While he condemned the attacks themselves, he also blasted what he called the intolerant provocation of these attacks by Charlie Hebdo.
There was reaction across the Islamic world as well to the Charlie Hebdo shootings. There was widespread condemnation of the attack by governments and others throughout the Middle East, although some of this was more conditional than it was in the west. Marzieh Afkham, Iran’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, criticized abuses of freedom of speech and essentially insults to religion via caricatures and character assassination. Tamer Amin, a pro-government television personality for the Rotana channel in Egypt, took it one step further, suggesting that the attack in France was only the first such attack, and that other countries could expect similar attacks in the future. The head of Turkey’s religious affairs directorate, Mehmet Gormez, was critical of the attack, but also condemned the victims for provoking the attack. Yeni Akit, a pro-Islamist Turkish newspaper, likened the attack to September 11, and suggested that this attack would be used as justification for future western political and military involvement in the region. One fighter for ISIS in Syria, Abu Massab, was interviewed from Syria, and outright praised the attacks, suggesting that this was the first drop of a rainfall to come.
By Charles Bordeau
Photo by Yves Tennevin – Flickr License