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Charlie Hebdo and the hobgoblin of little minds.

“A FOOLISH CONSISTENCY,” wrote Emerson, “is the hobgoblin of little minds.”  And we’ve seen plenty of foolish consistency spouted about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, much of it from the “little statesmen” who run our countries, as well as from the “philosophers and divines” who populate the media.

Even as I type French police are trying to extricate the murderers and a hostage from a printing business north of Paris. God knows how that will end but I think we all expect more bloodshed. The spilling of blood is the one undeniable consistency throughout this and all the other atrocities. [It has paused within the past few minutes. — Ed.]

So what is this hobgoblin bedevilling the minds of our betters? It’s easy: acts of terror committed in the name of Islam by Muslims who justify their acts in the name of Islam, sometimes with quotations from Islamic scripture, have nothing to do with Islam.

The corollary is that to think otherwise it to be a racist, a bigot, an Islamophobe,  a right-winger, a nazi, or  whatever supposedly good people consider bad.

Charlie H.The Charlie Hebdo attack has provoked a bigger response than previous ones because it has made it clearer to us one of the things terrorists want, ie, the suppression of free speech, and a complete carte blanche for whoever shouts loudest in the Muslim world to silence the rest of us if they wish.

What follows is a brief and disorganised trawl through the media responses, mainly within the first twelve hours of the attack.

WE MAY AS well start with Salman Rushdie, since he can speak as someone with first hand experience of Islamic aggression. In a press release to PEN he says:

Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.

The core of the problem is one religion alone — Islam, and calling this terrorism the product of a “deadly mutation” of Islam is simply to fall in line with the politicians and media, whose constant agenda is to avoid confronting the fact.

It may seem churlish to point out that to talk about “religion” is to avoid the problem, a suitably liberal way of doing so, at that, and who can blame Rushdie for not wanting to spend any more time in hiding? But to say “religion” implies any or all religions, which, as we know (and Rushdie half-heartedly acknowledges) is not the case. The core of the problem is one religion alone — Islam, and calling this terrorism the product of a “deadly mutation” of Islam is simply to fall in line with the politicians and media, whose constant agenda is to avoid confronting the fact.

The Telegraph seems either conflicted or broad minded, take it as you wish. On the one hand, Padraig Ready, former senior writer with Index on Censorship, says that we shouldn’t make the mistake of believing these attacks “are reactions, only ever brought about by provocation from the West.” “Provocation,” he writes “is beside the point. Jihadists kill because that is what they do…Provocation is merely an excuse used by bullies to justify their actions, while ensuring the world bows to their will.” Rushdie, for example, tried to calm the ayatollahs down by apologising for having caused any offence. It was pointless. Bullies are only encouraged by grovelling.

Tim Stanley, however, prefers to draw attention to the historical context of France’s problems with Islam, namely its former colonialism in Algeria. For him it’s “just the latest chapter in a long history of violence between Muslim revolutionaries and the French state,” a process which will be made worse by people insisting on us making a choice between “modernity and faith”. I don’t see how France can be reaping the fruits of its Algerian occupation (it decisively quit the country back in 1962) and the argument smacks a little too much of the cliche that everything is just a reaction to the imperialist west.

Stanley is a committed Christian and rightfully sticks to his beliefs that we should not abandon the ideas of civility and turning the other cheek in working out how to react. But given that turning the other cheek will only ever be interpreted as cowardice, I don’t hold out much hope for that approach.

AS FOR OTHER European satirists, Vice magazine asked a number them for their reactions: Stefania Rumor of the Italian magazine, Linus, finds what happened “totally incomprehensible,” while others are speechless. Dr Mathias Wedel, Editor-in-Chief of Eulenspiegel, sees no purpose in printing material that would not provoke their readers, “only Islamists,” especially since “there are more effective ways of fighting Islamism than with a caricature in a satire magazine.” He has a point there, but you could end up waiting a long time before you could open your mouth again.

Will Self, as you’d expect, proves to be pretty illiberal, in the way that leftists usually are:

This is in no way to condone the shooting of the journalists, which is evil, pure and simple, but our society makes a fetish of ‘the right to free speech’ without ever questioning what sort of responsibilities are implied by this right.

It’s that “but” gives it away, along with the straw man argument about responsibilities, as if being hacked off with some rude cartoons justifies gunning down twelve people, including two who had nothing to with it. And if we are talking about responsibility, who does Will Self think has acted most irresponsibly – the publishers of the cartoons or the men who slaughtered them?

Ian Hislop, Editor of Britain’s satirical magazine, Private Eye, is duly “appalled and shocked,” but says nothing else of note. “It’s a murderous attack on freedom of speech,” he says. Well done, Ian, I think we had worked that one out for ourselves.

The establishment and the far left are in agreement on not allowing this attack to be used to whip up the backlash we’ve all been promised for the last decade. “Islamophobes, racists and fascists are on the offensive across Europe,” intones The Socialist Worker, “racists and right wingers are trying to use Wednesday’s horrific killings in Paris to divide working people, justify imperialist intervention and whip up Islamophobia.”

And in the Guardian Jessica Reed fears “the National Front will try to capitalise on the tragedy, especially in a European context where religious and racial tensions are growing by the day: Ukip’s surge at the polls in Britain, the anti-Muslim marches organised by Pegida in Germany, and Golden Dawn’s influence in Greece all testify to it.”

Right-wingers, Ukip, the Front National, Golden Dawn, Pegida: it’s not as if the establishment left doesn’t deal in cliches and generalisations of its own, is it?

Owen Jones also harps on the same theme: “This is a dangerous moment. Anti-Muslim prejudice is rampant in Europe. The favoured target of Europe’s far-right – like France’s Front National, which currently leads in the opinion polls – is Muslims.” Jones conjures up the bloody ogre that is Breivik as an example of someone wanting to stir up “Islamophobia”. Norway’s response was the right one, he says: no “retribution, revenge, clampdowns.”

The Norwegians, oddly enough, just like the citizens of Britain and France, etc, turned out not to be these easily-led, frothing fascists eager to turn on their Muslim neighbours, which rather gives the lie to hysterical claims about “rampant” prejudice.

Cheap political point-scoring is par for the course for an election year, even about these dreadful events. The more sanctimonious you are the better. Nigel Farage talked of a “fifth column” of people in Europe, “holding our passports”, who hate us. You’d have thought that after July 7th, after the murder of Lee Rigby and the attacks in France over the last couple of years, etc, that this would seem a perfectly logical conclusion to draw.

Not so for Cameron, Clegg and the political establishment. They saw the opportunity to score some political points of their own by accusing Farage of being “irresponsible” (Theresa May) and of making “sickening comments” (Tessa Jowell). “The cause of this terrorism,” said Cameron, “is the terrorists themselves,” as if there were no religious or political context to their actions at all. Clegg obediently contributed his twopence worth of canting consistency by referring to “individuals who have perverted the cause of Islam to their own bloody ends.”

Brave words, but as we know, empty, as Melanie Phillips reminds us:

…there has been no free media expression about Islam ever since the 1989 Iranian fatwa calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie over his book, The Satanic Verses.

That was when the West sold the pass. In Britain, people supporting Rushdie’s murder were never prosecuted.

As his book was burned on British streets, establishment figures turned on the author for having offended Islam.

It’s a point reiterated by Douglas Murray, who pricks the bubble of self-flattery within which the media live:

For all its historic traditions, its self back-slapping for its alleged ‘bravery’ and so on, there are only a couple of tiny outcrops of freedom. The rest of the vast, powerful, fearless, outspoken tradition that is the Western press is too intimidated to publish a single cartoon that might conceivably provoke a Muslim.

As for all those who have hashtagged #JeSuisCharlie in their tweets and Facebook posts, we’ll have to see how brave they will be in a couple of weeks about causing offence.

Nick Cohen (who really ought to give up the last remnants of his sentimental attachment to the left) offers us “10 truths that should be self-evident”, that a religion is not a race, for instance, and that criticism of religion is a “defence against oppressive power”. He’s also more honest than most about the specific enemy we are facing: “In our time, the most oppressive religious movements are variants on radical Islam. That may change…But for the present we must fight the enemies in front of us.”

In The Netherlands Geert Wilders, a man who knows even more about being under permanent protection than Rushdie, says that Europe needs to “de-Islamise.”  He’s more forthright than anyone else dares to be:

We have to close our borders, reinstate border controls, get rid of political correctness, introduce administrative detention, and stop immigration from Islamic countries. We must defend ourselves. Enough is enough.

That may seem a draconian response, and alien to the majority of Europeans at the moment, but I daresay it’s a view that will gain in popularity in the coming years after more atrocities, because nothing is more certain than that there will be more.

And just as certain is the knowledge that the official responses will consist of the same predictable foolish consistencies.

Michael Blackburn.

Note: Altered subsequent to publication to correct an editing error.

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