The recent carnage committed in the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo has been condemned by leaders around the world as “unacceptable,” “unjustifiable,” “cowardly,” and “barbaric.” Moderate Muslims have rightly distanced themselves from such extremism that they know has nothing to do with their religion. Yet as horrific and despicable as these acts of violence are, we must also put them in their larger historical and political context.
We have heard that this week’s assassinations were an “attack against free speech,” a clash of cultures, one tolerant, the other intolerant. But in our rush to defend our Western principles, let us not forget that the staff of Charlie Hebdo was chosen because they were soft targets in what many Muslims see as a global struggle for dignity.
The daily struggle that Muslims face, those living in the Middle East and the West, is one of dignity. In the Middle East, many suffer the indignity of living under Western (especially US) military occupation ; the indignity of living under harsh and dictatorial regimes propped up by Western dollars and weaponry ; the indignity of living under the random mayhem of US drone warfare. In the West, the indignity of living under poverty, unemployment, and ethnic hatred ; the indignity of living under what many Muslims feel is a double standard, in which islamophobia is tolerated, even defended, while hate speech against other more established ethnic minorities is condemned.
After 9-11 we were told, “They did this because they hate our freedom.” Yes, there are some who view the West as decadent, as corrupting the purity of their religion. But, no, most Muslims do not hate our freedom. They want our freedom deperately. The freedom to live under a fair and just government ; the freedom of self-determination; the freedom to speak their minds and to protest ; the freedom to raise their children in peace without fear of being bombed in their sleep ; the freedom to find employment and adequate healthcare; and ultimately, the freedom from us. Ironically, the only place they can seem to find a measure of that freedom is among us.
One of the suspects admitted that he was radicalized after seeing reports of American atrocities committed against Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. While each human being is responsible for his or her own actions, the US and its allies must bear much of the responsibility for engendering such violence.
It has been said that violence is the language of the unheard. This week’s bloody events are a clear illustration of the tragic price of stopping our ears.