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Essay on French Protests Regarding Terrorism

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The recent news would seem to indicate that the focus of the global struggle against terrorism at the present moment is not in the United States but rather the nation of France.This sample politics essay explores the current protests against terrorism in France.

The Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack

Charlie Hebdo is a French magazine that is known for its strong satire of all aspects of culture in the modern world. This has included cartoons of the Islamic prophet Mohammed that have portrayed him in a negative light. Aside from the fact that the portrayals were negative, the very fact that there have been portrayals at all has been interpreted by many Muslims as deeply offensive to their faith.

It would seem that bans on the portrayal of Mohammed began as a way of staving of idol worship: the early Muslims were afraid that if Mohammed were to be portrayed, then they (like the Christians) would "fall into the trap" of identifying their leading prophet as God Himself. As Burke has pointed out, though, a twisted irony has emerged in modern times:

"the sometimes violent attacks against portrayals of the prophet are kind of reverse idol-worship, revering—and killing for—the absence of an image" (paragraph 8).

Seriousness of banning Muslim satire and allowing satirical comments

At a certain level, it could be suggested that fundamentalist Muslims take the ban on portrayals of Mohammed even more seriously than (for example) Christians may take actual portrayals of Jesus. In any event, this context is necessary for understanding the tragedy of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo. The Editors of the BBC have provided a chilling summary of the events that took place: once the two Islamic terrorists gained access to the magazine's office on the 7th of January:

"the men opened fire and killed the editor's police bodyguard, Frank Brinsolaro, before asking for editor Stephane Charbonnier...and four other cartoonists by name and killing them, along with three other editorial staff and a guest attending the meeting. Witnesses said they heard the gunmen shouting 'We have avenged the Prophet Muhammed' and God is Great'" (paragraphs 5-6).

Clearly, then, the terrorist attack on the magazine must be understood as a vendetta launched by Islamic fundamentalists in response to what they perceived to be a mortal offense against their faith.

The Editors of the BBC have also provided a good description of the immediate events that followed after the attack. This involved a manhunt that led the police to lay siege to a printing facility at the outskirts of Paris, as well as a second problem that opened up in Paris itself when affiliates of the terrorists killed a policewoman and then took hostages at a kosher supermarket.

The two brothers at the first location (who were the ones responsible for the actual Charlie Hebdo shooting) were killed by the police, as was the primary gunman at the supermarket. His partner is still wanted by the police, although it is hypothesized that she has left the country. These events lasted for a total of three days, from the initial terrorist attack to the sieges of the printing facility and supermarket.

Anti-terrorism protests in France

The Charlie Hebdo attack provoked widespread sympathy within France and beyond for the murdered staff members of the magazine. As Fantz has plainly reported:

"At least 3.7 million people, including world leaders, marched, in anti-terrorism rallies in Paris and elsewhere in France on Sunday, French officials said, calling the massive gathering in the nation's capital the largest in France's history. The day was emotional and peaceful, a gesture of unity jut days after Islamic extremists slaughtered 17 people. World leaders joined the French President Francois Hollande" (paragraphs 1-3).

Truly impressive images of the gathering have been posted by Adams; the streets quite literally look like a sea of people. Obama was notably absent, which has been interpreted in ambivalent ways. On the one hand, it would seem to indicate a lack of display of solidarity between the United States and France.

On the other, though, Obama's absence clearly made it impossible for the Islamic world to reduce the anti-terrorism protest to the United States; the absence made it clear that combatting terrorism and national security is a global priority for all civilized nations.

Charlie Hebdo's survivor issue

Another aspect of the anti-terrorist protest in France can be seen in the actions of Charlie Hebdo itself. As Cava has indicated, the "survivor's issue" of the magazine (i.e. the one published after the terrorist attack) prominently featured an image of Mohammed on its cover: the prophet can be seen with a tear in his eye and a bubble declaring: "I am Charlie." This was also the motto of the anti-terrorist protests in Paris (see Fantz). Clearly, this was intended as an act of outright defiance.

In a context in which the staff members of the magazine were killed directly because of their controversial portrayals of Mohammed, printing another image of the prophet on the cover of the magazine immediately after the attacks could only be meant as a message that Charlie Hebdo (and by extension, the entire Western world) will not be intimidated into silence by terrorist thugs. Within the historical situation, then, the magazine's decision to continue portraying Mohammed must be read as an act of protest.

Moreover, this would seem to be precisely how the action has been interpreted by the Western public: the sales of Charlie Hebdo's survivors' issue outstripped anything previously achieved by the magazine by an incredible factor. Essentially, people in Western nations seem to have adopted a unified worldview of Islam and accepted the idea that supporting Charlie Hebdo now would be more or less the same thing as opposing Islamic terrorism on the planet.

Aftermath of French protests

The defiance that has been shown by Charlie Hebdo in particular and the Western world has not been without consequences. In particular, Islamic fundamentalists have, predictably, continued to become angrier. For example, the anti-terrorism protests in France have given rise to anti-French protests in the Middle East. As Colchester and Hinshaw have written:

"Protests in Niger left 10 people dead as rioters torched churches, wrecked bars and blocked several major roads during two days of demonstrations against a French magazine cover depicting the prophet Mohammed" (paragraph 1).

This actually refers to the second portrayal of Mohammed in the survivors' issue of Charlie Hebdo, and not to the initial portrayals that inspired the terrorists to murder on the 7th of January. The impression one gets, then, is something of a demonic spiral.

Going about business as usual in France

On the one hand, France and the Western world feels compelled to continue with business as usual because to do anything else would lead to the perception that the terrorists have won. On the other hand, the intentions of the terrorists would seem to continue wreaking violence killing people insofar as this is the attitude that the modern world chooses to adopt the tenets and principles of Islamic fundamentalism.

There is, then, a kind of political stalemate, here. The modern world is not willing to curb its free speech in the face of terrorist threats; and for their parts, the terrorists are willing to continue with their violent agenda unless and until the modern world does agree to curb its free speech (in this case, regarding the founding prophet of the Islamic religion). This dynamic clearly creates a volatile situation that would seem to almost resemble the game "chicken".

There are two stakeholders who are each absolutely committed to their own values; the two sets of values are mutually incompatible; and ultimately, one or the other would have to "give". For example, either the modern world would have to decide that it is worth giving up free speech regarding Mohammed in order to prevent violence; or, the Islamic fundamentalists would need to abandon their commitment to violence on behalf of their prophet. It is quite unclear how the present situation will develop over the coming times.

Reflection on the French protest and ethical outcomes

Morally speaking, the protests against terrorism in France can be understood as driven by a kind of moral universalism. That is, it is categorically rejected by the protesters that the staff members of Charlie Hebdo should be obligated to "respect" the cultural values of the Islamic fundamentalists; rather, the basic assumption is that free speech is a universal value, and that insofar as group of people reject this value, they are exemplifying not their own culture but rather their basic lack of any and all culture.

Moral and ethical philosophies

This perspective is at strong odds with the philosophical doctrine of moral relativism, which insists that values must be evaluated within the context of their own cultures and that there can be no values that are binding on all human beings, independent of cultural specificity (see Gowans). The struggle against terrorism is not framed as a conflict of two different but equally legitimate value systems; rather, it is framed as a conflict between those who have risen to the level of universal humanity, versus those who have not.

In this context, it becomes easier to understand why the conflict between the modern world and Islamic fundamentalism is such an intractable one. Essentially, what is occurring is, in a very real sense, a conflict of civilizations. The modern worldview in which nothing is inherently sacred is fundamentally incompatible with a more archaic worldview in which it is acceptable to kill "blasphemers" in the name of one's God. Ultimately, neither the modern world nor the fundamentalist terrorists can back down from their own positions without substantially compromising their own visions of the world.

The modern assumption is that the fundamentalists need to just grow up, while the fundamentalist assumption is that modern people must surrender to their God. Both of these visions are essentially universalist; and indeed, even the idea of cultural relativism (or a philosophy of "live and let live") would essentially belong to the modern world; clearly, such a principle has no place in the fundamentalist worldview.


In summary, this essay has discussed the recent anti-terrorism protests in the nation of France. It began with a description of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, proceeded to discuss the protests and the aftermath of the protest, and finally reflected on the relevant moral implications. A key conclusion that has been reached here is that modern people who protest Islamic terrorist attacks operate on the basis of moral and philosophical premises that are radically at odds with those of the Islamic fundamentalists who perpetrated the attack. At the level of theory, there is an essential incompatibility between these two worldviews. One can only hope that there are at least possibilities for cooperation and dialogue at the level of practice.

Works Cited

Adams, T. Becket. "13 Stunning Photos from Paris' Massive Anti-Terror Rally." Washington Examiner. 11 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/13-stunning-photos-from-paris-massive-anti-terror-rally/article/2558499.

Burke, Daniel. "Why Islam Forbids Images of Mohammed." CNN. 8 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/07/living/islam-prophet-images/.

Cava, Marco della. "New 'Hebdo' Cover Continues to Roil Muslim World." USA Today. 18 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/01/17/charlie-hebdo-cover-reaction/21934033/.

Colchester, Max, and Drew Hinshaw. "Anti-French Protests in Niger Kill 10 as Rallies Hit Africa, Middle East." Wall Street Journal. 18 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. http://www.wsj.com/articles/anti-french-protests-in-niger-kill-5-as-rallies-hit-africa-middle-east-asia-1421531073.

Editors. "Charlie Hebdo Attack: Three Days of Terror." BBC. 14 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30708237.

Fantz, Ashley. "Array of World Leaders Joins 3.7 Million in France to Defy Terrorism." CNN. 12 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/11/world/charlie-hebdo- paris-march/.

Gowans, Chris. "Moral Relativism." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2008. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-relativism/.



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