I agree with Charlotte that the Western World must do more than just echo the slogan "Je suis Charlie.” I appreciate the show of solidarity, but that can't be the end of it. And we have to be clear about what this terrorist attack meant and what our response means.
One would think that the meaning of this attack would be obvious, but there are some prominent writers who want to obscure what's going on in the name of a thinly-disguised, tired bow to political correctness. Take Ezra Klein at Vox:
Yes, Charlie Hebdo was a magazine that delighted in controversy and provocation. Yes, it skewered religion and took joy in giving offense. Yes, the magazine knowingly antagonized extremists — Charlie Hebdo's web site had been hacked and its offices firebombed before today; French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had asked of its cartoons, "Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?" And yes, Charlie Hebdo's editor said in 2012, prophetically, that "I prefer to die than live like a rat."
But this isn't about Charlie Hebdo's cartoons, any more than a rape is about what the victim is wearing, or a murder is about where the victim was walking.
What happened today, according to current reports, is that two men went on a killing spree. Their killing spree, like most killing sprees, will have some thin rationale. Even the worst villains believe themselves to be heroes. But in truth, it was unprovoked slaughter. The fault lies with no one but them and their accomplices. Their crime isn't explained by cartoons or religion.
Klein is dead wrong: The correct comparison isn't with “rape being about what the victim is wearing.” The real comparison is with terrorists who attack girls going to school in Afghanistan. It's different than the average attack on an innocent victim, because it is meant to also send a message to others: We don't believe girls deserve an education and we will make you pay if you try to go to school.
That's a difference that we need to linger on as we consider the lasting impact of the events in Paris.
When people hear about violence, they naturally consider what actions they can take to prevent themselves and their loved ones from being the next victims. Typically that means we avoid, when we can, neighborhoods with high crime; we lock our doors and take other precautions. When a madman opens fire in a street or building, we are horrified and frightened and wonder what went wrong, but we also know that there is only so much we can do to avoid future random acts of such violence. We can't, or aren't willing to, entirely close ourselves off: We keep going to school, to the mall, to the movies, and hope and assume that lightning won't strike there.
That's not they case when the attack has such a clear message as “girl shouldn't go to school” or “don't insult the Prophet.” We know what we are being told to do to avoid a repeat; Afghan families are being told keep your daughters locked inside; writers and cartoonists, Mohammad and Islam are out-of-bounds.
Surely the Western world—especialy good liberals like Ezra Klein!–recognize how extremely problematic the first case is: We would never allow our society to internalize the message that girls don't belong in school.
But what about a prohibition against making fun of Islam? That's not so hard–most of us wouldn't anyway–but isn't this the beginning of something incredibly dangerous and damaging? And given the realities we know about what's happening in Paris more broadly, the real message of the attack seems even larger and more disturbing: Our way of life—our bedrock freedoms, such as the freedom of expression—are not safe. Obey their rules or else.
We need to understand that this was the message if we hope to prevent this attack from succeeding in changing our society permanently.
Fortunately, there are some brave people making this case–and walking the walk of standing up to such intimidation–like the IWF's recent Woman of Valour honoree, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. We need more people like that—and more to understand and respect their true bravery—rather than avoid acknowledging the real evil we face.