Is Charlie Hebdo the French 9/11?

The slaughter of the Charlie Hebdo journalists in France is going to create the same conditions as those that prevailed after 9/11 in the United States. There will be a backlash against Muslims for the actions of people that have no basis in Islamic teachings, embolden racist rightwing parties, and raise questions about what exactly constitutes free speech.

France’s response to this undoubted outrage, which saw it galvanize world leaders into a show of solidarity against terrorism on Paris’ streets, has to be understood in terms of its culture. There is a much higher tolerance in France, in contrast to other Western nations, for the kind of extreme satire produced by the Charlie Hebdo publication.

Whether these groups call themselves Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, ISIS or al-Qaeda, they are all motivated by the same takfirist beliefs

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

As the American writer David Brooks points out in his New York Times article, “I am not Charlie Hebdo,” the United States is not exactly a haven for freedom of speech. Brooks argues that the very magazine everyone’s now supporting, would have been shut down for hate speech if it tried to publish in the U.S.


Holding a country’s passport and speaking its language does not make a person automatically part of its society. What qualifies one for citizenship of a nation such as France is the ability to understand the culture, respect differences of opinion and allow a measure of assimilation. In terms of this perspective, we cannot consider the Kouachi brothers, who have family origins in Algeria, as French, even if they were citizens and fluent in the language.

These two men follow in the footsteps of others who justify their acts of violence on the basis that they have exclusive access to the truth. In the name of Islam, just last week, these killers murdered hundreds of people in Nigeria, dozens of military school students in Yemen, and three Saudi soldiers on the border with Iraq.

Whether these groups call themselves Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, ISIS or al-Qaeda, they are all motivated by the same takfirist beliefs, which declare other people non-believers. Their actions allow Islamophobia to flourish even though right-thinking people know that shouting “Allahu Akbar” does not make them Muslims.

These extremists are intellectually and morally bankrupt, they are only able to counter arguments with terror and force. The war against terrorism is against this type of thinking, whatever the name of the organization that springs up today or tomorrow.

Paying a high price

Like in the U.S. after 9/11, Muslims will pay a high price for these attacks. Perhaps it was coincidental that the novel Soumission (Submission) was published on the same day of the attack on Charlie Hebdo. The novelist Michel Houellebecq, who envisions France being ruled by a Muslim president in 2022, is now under police protection at a secret location. The country is on high alert, with increased scrutiny of Muslims.

These attacks will embolden and empower the rightwing French parties whose members despise foreigners living among them. They will use Muslims as the bogeyman to gain more votes, marginalizing and drowning out rational and moderate voices. A sad reality is that these terrorists do not understand they are fostering more extremism against the very people they are claiming to defend.

This article was first published in Arab News on January 14, 2015.


Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992. You can follow him on Twitter here: @mfalharthi

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:44 - GMT 06:44
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