Thursday, 8 January 2015

But it’s not a perfect world.

Before we go any further, let me just re-iterate that what follows is MY opinion.  You may disagree, in fact, I already know that a few of my readers hold views exactly opposite to mine and that is their right.

In fact, that’s everyone’s right.  You believe what you want to believe, it’s not my place to judge and that goes for all of us.  That is, you have an inalienable right to believe what you want to right up until the point where your beliefs start impact on me or mine in a tangible way, then we’d have a problem.

Obviously, I’m talking about yesterday’s shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine.  At around 11:00 Paris time, men entered the office, armed with AK assault rifles and proceeded to kill eleven people and injure about the same again.  The reports are varied about the details and it’s way too early to figure out what actually happened and what is pure speculation. 

Some reports say that the gunmen asked for their targets by name and then executed them, others that they entered a meeting room during an editorial meeting and started indiscriminately shooting. (which is pretty much what the AK was designed for, they’re not known for their accuracy)  Upon leaving the building they were ‘challenged’ by two police officers in a car, one of whom, Ahmed Merabet (also a Muslim, not that it really matters in the grand scheme of things) was shot, then executed with a subsequent bullet to the head.  Remember his name and the fact that he leaves behind a wife, I’m going to refer to him again briefly in a minute.

Let’s get the knee-jerk stuff out of the way now shall we?

Are Said and Cherif Kouachi psychopaths? – Yes they are.

Did they believe what they were doing was a reply to Charlie Hebdo’s repeated attacks (as they saw them) against the Muslim way of life in general and Allah/the Prophet Mohammed in particular? – Yes

Has the institute of Charlie Hebdo (i.e. its buildings and staff) suffered from attacks and threats from Radical Islamists before yesterday? – Yes, the offices were firebombed in 2011 after listing the Prophet Mohammed as its Editor in Chief and using his image on the cover in a less than complimentary way.

Were any of the gunmen previously known to be radicals? – Yes, Cherif Kouachi has been on various watchlists for around ten years, after being arrested in 2005 and imprisoned for his part in a plot to send volunteers to Iraq to fight against the US forces.

Did the Editor, Stephane ‘Charb’ Charbonnier seriously think his life was at risk? – I don’t know if he did personally, but he was assigned a Police bodyguard because other people did.

Was his bodyguard killed? – One was, one was injured according to reports.

Was this an attack by the Muslim people on innocent Christians? – No, it really wasn’t. 

Let me explain… (Again, remember this is just my opinion)

Forget for a second about Paris, and Charlie Hebdo, and Muslims.  Instead, imagine… Oh, I don’t know… A crocodile, living in the mud, by the riverbank.  It’s not a hugely nice fairy-tale crocodile, it doesn’t ‘tick’, it’s real and it eats things alive.  But crocodiles do, don’t they? They’re known for it, it happens all the time.  In fact recently it happens more and more as global growth crushes us all together and we’re living in each other’s back yards.  So, one day, a group of kids hears about this crocodile and to prove to themselves how brave and clever and modern they are, (and in the back of their minds, how cowardly and stupid and prehistoric crocodiles are) decide to go and poke it with a stick. They poke it a few times, the poking gets harder over time and eventually, the crocodile snaps at them.  In fact it chases them back to the safety of their houses, where it sits, watching them all through the night.  In the morning it’s gone, but you can see that it had been walking around in their gardens and had lain outside their bedroom windows.

Shortly after that, the pokings start again.  In fact, the pokings become stabbings.  The old crocodile realises that chasing the kids and scaring them again is pointless, it doesn’t work.  So it waits until night-time and goes back to the children’s houses and eats them. But that’s not where it stops, it eats the other people asleep in the houses too, because they’re there and the crocodile is so caught up in the moment that it feels invincible and it’s convinced that this is the only way to cure the situation in the long-term.  But someone raises the alarm and people come to help, despite the fact that there’s nothing that can be done.  They get eaten too.

All that’s left is to hunt down the crocodile and kill it, because it’s got the ‘Maneater’ label, and everyone knows it’s much easier to eat someone once you’ve already done it once.

You get it right? – It’s an allegory.  It’s not meant to be flippant and I agree that there’s never any excuse for killing someone just because you think they deserve to die.  There’s the whole due process and not being a psychotic religious radical thing to consider first.


But… would the people at Charlie Hebdo still be alive today if they hadn’t continued to ‘poke’ at Radical Islam?

Do you agree that we’re living in a radically different world than we were ten years ago?

Should you broadcast an opinion that you don’t temper with common sense? (Remembering that we come down pretty hard on people we consider to be fascists, fundamentalists and Nazis because of the offence they cause to 'our' way of life)

And lastly, should Ahmed Merabet’s wife have to live the rest of her life alone because some educated men drew some pictures that someone else didn't think were funny?

My thoughts are with the families of Charlie Hebdo employees and contributors who stood up for what they believed in until the end. Elsa Cayat, Bernard Maris, Jean Cabut, Stephane Charbonnier, Philippe Honoré, Bernard Verlhac, and Georges Wolinski.

I do not think I would have done the same.

Also with the families of Frédéric Boisseau - the office’s janitor, Franck Brinsolaro – Charb’s bodyguard, Michel Renauld – a visitor to the office, and Ahmed Merabet – a police officer executed in the street, in front of the world’s press whilst trying to do his job.

All of whom were murdered through no fault of their own.


  • In a perfect world, you would be able to say what you wanted without fear of reprisal. (as long as you remembered that it works both ways)
  • In a perfect world, religious intolerance would be a fairy story, something you added to a bedtime story to prove to your children that things like that really don’t happen.
  • In a perfect world you wouldn’t have to tell yourself that you’re not afraid to leave the house because a fundamentalist of any religion might wander into your bus-queue and detonate himself just because he thinks that you’re an infidel or a heathen or an unbeliever.
  • In a perfect world, you could wave goodbye to your kids in the morning and be 100% sure that you’ll see them again in the afternoon.
  • In a perfect world, your blood wouldn’t run cold every time you heard a siren.

Now read the title of this post again.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting Rob. I'm glad you mentioned Ahmed. I've been reflecting on the irony of it.

    I saw an interview with Stephane ‘Charb’ Charbonnier in which he said that he would rather die that 'live like a rat' and not have freedom of speech. I think I've quoted him correctly - and I hope he meant it. And I hope he was also speaking for his team, the janitor, the Police Officers etc.

    Charlie's cartoons are deeply offensive. I find that. They know that. That is their intention, history - their 'raison d'etre'. They have wilfully and intentionally offended, humiliated and taunted ordinary Muslims - their fellow French citizens - for very many years. They overstepped the mark, over and over. They depict the Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) naked, in compromising positions - this, to a faith group who find ANY visual image of him greatly offensive. Charlie refused to comply with Police advice. They incited religious hatred. They poked the crocodile, in Rob's analogy. I would suggest that, in the UK, these cartoons would not have seen the light of day. And rightly so. In my opinion.

    None of this - in fact nothing at all - justifies this vile act of terrorism, of murder. Nothing. Ever.

    But, with 'freedom of speech' comes a certain level of 'responsibility'. Rights and responsibilities. That's the deal. Charlie claim to satirise everyone equally. But it's not equal, is it? Because when you target a minority group who are already marginalised and discriminated against, it's not the same as targeting the majority. It's not funny. It's not fair. It's bullying, taunting, humiliating, it's just plain wrong.

    Every time an act of terrorism is undertaken by some extremist criminals, the State use it as a cover to introduce draconian laws, limit our freedom, make us fearful and further control the population at large. Right-Wing parties use it to further their racist, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic agendas. Ordinary people turn against ordinary people - because of the colour of their skins, the clothes they wear, the method of their prayer. Ordinary people suffer - community cohesion suffers. And that makes me angry.

    This is not about Islam. These are not Muslims. These are terrorists, criminals, murderers. And we - people of all faiths and none - need to stand shoulder to shoulder against them. And, maybe we need to let our Muslim neighbours know that we will not allow our communities, our Country to be polarised.

    Are we living in a radically different world than we were 10 years ago? Probably not. The internet and social media makes it easy for disenfranchised, angry, young loners to hook up with others like them - distance being no object. You can be a radical from your bedroom, unbeknown to your family, friends and flat-mates. In our day, we had to get dressed and go out to a demo - chances are Mum would see us making our placards and word would get back to Dad anyway! Or, at least, that was my experience. Young people - young men - probably feel more marginalised, despondent over their futures, vulnerable. And there is, of course, the small matter of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Israel, Palestine, the Arab Spring (the www and twitter again!). But, given our cultural and religious mix and the (predominantly anti-Muslim) conflicts of recent years, it's a credit to our security forces, community leaders and population at large that we do get on so well together. In my opinion.