Charlie Hebdo: Two Years Later, What Have We Learned?
Yesterday, 7 January, marked the two-year anniversary of the massacre shooting of twelve French satirical journalists and cartoonists in the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France.
It was the first major terrorist attack that would be followed by a long line of other others across France, Germany, Belgium, and the United States over the next two years that would send right wing parties ascending as France tumbling into a state of emergency, motivate Brexiteers in a successful campaign in which was seen the beginnings of the European Union’s fragmentation, and the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. To be fair, these events were influenced by a mix of multiple and complicated factors, but one group in particular of the intertwined factors of terrorism, Islam, and freedom of speech (all of which found themselves brought to the forefront after the Charlie Hebdo shooting) set the stage for the cultural and political battles we have since been fighting.
The West has since had its victories and losses, but let us begin on a positive note with the victories.
In America, we have seen the rise and election of Donald Trump.
The President-Elect is a complicated figure that, like any leader, has much they can be criticized for. Yet, he must be praised for at least one thing: He has shattered the barriers of political correctness the political class has long upheld. Soon to be ushered out of office is President Obama, a man who has lead an administration that has refused to call the acts of violence against the nation’s citizens committed by individuals motivated by Islamic doctrine and teachings, radical Islamic terrorism. In refusing to accept what the problem is, we as a nation had not been able to come close to addressing the issue. Yet, then came Donald Trump, a man with many faults for sure. But a man not afraid to address the aggressive attacks against Americans, like the Pulse nightclub shooting, for what they were: Attacks motivated by the “violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology”, radical Islam. Now, even if Trump does nothing as President to solve the problem Islam poses to our liberal society, he would have, at least, named the beast, and just like Voldemort, once you can speak the name of evil, you begin to take its power.
Then, across the Atlantic, in Europe, where attacks on free speech and terrorism are all too common, we have seen rays of hope.
The British people voted in their June referendum to throw off the yoke of the European Union. The institution that has through its Court of Human Rights stifled dissenters as hate speakers, and through its porous borders and lax common asylum policy imported many of the perpetrators of the recent attacks across the continent. Their vote to leave the Union has largely been seen by spectators across Europe and around the globe as a vote of no confidence in the inept institution.
In Germany, we saw a similar rejection of the failed European policies during the 2016 state elections.
Chancellor Merkel, the head cheerleader among Europe’s heads of state and government for the European Project, and her party, the Christian Democratic Union, saw their standing in Germany crumble away, significantly even in Merkel’s own home state, where they lost parliamentary seat after parliamentary seat to the populist Alternative For Deutschland. While the AFD is a party with its own issues to be criticized, their victory has sent a clear message: The Germans no longer wish to tolerate Islamic terror or the suppression of free speech (a perennial issue for right wing advocates since the fall of the Nazi regime).
These are the battles won; yet, the war is far from over.
In the United States, the Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, has tried to use her power in the last years of the Obama administration to prosecute and investigate those who have proclaimed “anti-Muslim” stances.
In the Netherlands, in late 2016, Dutch parliamentarian, free speech advocate, and Islamic critic Geert Wilders was found guilty of hate speech, after his comments on immigration pertaining to largely Islamic Moroccans.
In Germany, before this year’s federal election, fearful of populist uprisings further emboldened by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, a new branch of the Interior Ministry that’s sole focus is to combat and sensor “fake news”, will be launched. Something that is too eerily close to being an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth”.
So, overall, in the years since Charile Hebdo sparked the now-raging debate over Islamic terrorism, immigration, and free speech, the outcome has been a mixed bag of surprises. Some have only buried their heads further in the sand after refusing to see the problems before their eyes, while others have finally awakened and decided to fight back. Now, because of these two factions that have arisen in the two years since the attack, 2017 will be yet another year of battle over the ideological and cultural direction the West will take in the future to come.
I am still Charlie, as should we all be.