It Wasn’t About the Cartoons

Juan Cole has a must-read analysis of the Paris massacre that unfortunately will not be read by the people who need to read it.

The horrific murder of the editor, cartoonists and other staff of the irreverent satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, along with two policemen, by terrorists in Paris was in my view a strategic strike, aiming at polarizing the French and European public.

The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam. France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai. In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.

Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.

Do read the whole thing. Juan Cole also writes that the perps were radicalized by Bush’s Iraq War and the Abu Ghraib torture.

Without Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, it is not at all clear that Sharif Kouachi would have gotten involved in fundamentalist vigilanteism. And if he hadn’t, he would not have gone on to be a point man in murdering out the staff of Charlie Hebdo along with two policemen.

Iraq is a major Arab, Muslim country. Its capital, Baghdad, is special to Sunni Muslims because the Abbasid empire built it and ruled from it. Having American troops occupy it for 8 years, humiliate its citizens, shoot people at checkpoints, and torture people in military prisons was a very bad idea. Some people treated that way become touchy, and feel put down, and won’t take slights to their culture and civilization any longer. Maybe the staff at Charlie Hebdo would be alive if George W. Bush and Richard Bruce Cheney hadn’t modeled for the Kouashi brothers how you take what you want and rub out people who get in your way.

That last part is supposition, but it’s well-informed supposition. Just as the terrorist attacks of 9/11 triggered a massively wrong-footed reaction that served the cause of al Qaeda a lot more than it did national security, the Paris massacre was designed to cause a massively wrong-footed reaction that could radicalize Muslims in Europe. But you’ll never get a true Islamophobe to admit, or even see, that he’s being played.

See also “Muslims Around the World Condemn the Charlie Hebdo Attack” and “‘Religious Violence’ Isn’t Just Religious.”

7 thoughts on “It Wasn’t About the Cartoons

  1. Pingback: When Righteousness Kills – The Massacre in Paris | Rethinking Religion

  2. No, they won’t read it, so they won’t grok what Juan Cole’s (imo – valid) point is.

    Even though, to his credit – outside of his stupid “Crusade” comments – GWB didn’t go out of his way to criticize the Muslim religion – and was rather careful about what he said (or, what was written for him) – our conservatives think the only good Muslim, is a dead Muslim!

    So, to enhance recruitment, the various Middle Eastern terrorist organizations want to further divide people all across Europe, and so, one of them decided to attack this French humor magazine.
    The cartoons were the excuse.
    The goal of the attack was to get the cartoonish and easily excitable religious bigots in France to have a visceral and violent reaction against the mostly secular people with Muslim roots who live there.

    And so, the world continues to suffer the effects of “Dubya & Dick’s Follies.”

  3. I agree, ‘Gulag. I also feel that the press enables the “terrorists” to a large degree, and they also enable non Muslim groups that want to escalate the conflict. Don’t doubt for a minute there are non Muslim groups just itching for an excuse to wage total war on the Muslim religion.
    One thing the press could do is drop the terms “terrorists” and ” jihadists”. Psychopathic assholes, limp dicked scum bags, or dumb fuck ass hats are all better, more fitting terms. They could also identify religious affiliations of all criminals. A Florida man threw his 5 year old daughter off a bridge the night before last, no religious affiliation was mentioned. He also drove the wrong direction down the interstate after he murdered the child. Imagine if he was Muslim. In my opinion, he was not a terrorist, but he is a deranged asshole, I don’t doubt either God or Satan convinced him to do what he did.

  4. I find Juan Cole’s reasoning to be scary, but plausible.

    I do wonder if the Islamophobes realize that they’re being played, but figure they’ll “win” more than the Muslim extremists do. Or hell, is it an almost explicit partnership?

  5. “I also feel that the press enables the “terrorists””

    Yes but only when they kill Europeans are mericans (or a beloved journalist then it’s a story), there was a horrible terror attack on a school in Pakistan in early December killing 145 including 132 children, hardly a whisper about it here in this country, it was covered but lightly and not nearly to the level of the Charlie Hebdo thing? So I don’t take the media coverage seriously, as usual they are just selling soap and 132 dead brown children just don’t sell soap like 12 white cartoonists. So much for my new year’s resolution!

Comments are closed.