I HAVE never read Charlie Hebdo. Indeed, it is fair to say that even though I work around Edinburgh, London and Toulouse I was unaware of the left-wing satirical magazine.
Nevertheless, once I knew of the terrorist atrocity that cost the lives of ten journalists or cartoonists and two policemen I immediately understood what it was about.
Imagine a front page of Private Eye that has so regularly lampooned not just political figures but royalty and celebrity – imagine a magazine that has also chosen to question Jesus, Vishnu, Mohammed, God or other dieties – just as it has probably satirised the late Rev Ian Paisley, Billy Graham or other religious figures. How much might that offend you? Enough to kill?
Kill real people, not drawings or their ideas, and with justification from those that live by moral relativism where anything can be excused?
Imagine the mindset of someone who thinks that such offence is justification for walking into editorial offices, reading out the names of particular people for what they have written or drawn and then executing them. Is there a place for that in western societies, or at least a place for excusing it?
If Western society means anything – and if we from Edinburgh, a city of the Enlightenment that has in the past taken a pride in rational thought and the questioning of religious certainties, have anything to say – we must surely argue robustly and coherently that being offensive is no reason, no excuse for taking life.
Surely if any ideology, any religion, is worth anything, it is able through the arguments of its adherents to convert disciples to its cause? But how can any organised belief system continue to exist without support from its own followers, even when they are disgraced by those who take some of the creed to extremes?
Imagine then the mindset of someone who believes it is right to shoot and kill another person who disagrees with a particular tenet of faith – and that in a land like France or Britain, or indeed Europe, which does not allow the public execution of those who have killed others in plain sight. Remember, Hindley and Brady were not executed for their heinous crimes against innocent children that offended everyone of whatever religion or ideology.
The plain truth that the Charlie Hebdo atrocity reveals – and it can be given no other description than an atrocity – is that the murderous barbarism of the Islamist extremists will continue until we of other faiths and no faith begin to hear the unconditional condemnation of all Muslims that this is not their faith.
Let us not pretend that vile, murderous deeds were not done in the name of Christianity in the past. Of course they were. But they are in the past. Christianity has gone through its own reformation and enlightenment and has then had to contend with a liberalism, humanism, agnosticism and athiesm that has in our democratic times recognised the individual rights of man and ensured our open society has accepted all men are treated equal before God – or indeed a number of gods, or no god at all.
But for all Christianity’s blood-stained past, recorded as often against competing sects as against heathens, Christians are not going around targeting cartoonists with bullets and bombs. We have all learned to live under the rule of law that treats us all as equals – and that’s as it should be.
So how do we tackle the muderers of Charlie Hebdo and the worldwide phenomenon it represents?
Well firstly we dump the lazy assertion that what we face is because the West invaded Iraq.
The Iraq war was not a religious war, it was a war against an atheist tyrant who actually subjugated and killed Muslims by the tens of thousands and (allegedly) then began to threaten the West. That war came after the Twin Towers atrocity, not before it.
We should also recognise that since the time of the so-called Arab Spring, when democracy was meant to be born in various north African and Arab countries, what we have seen is the rise of even greater murder and persecution. Spring? It has turned into an Arab winter and it is the prosecution of Islamic Jihad that has corrupted it.
The common denominator in all of this has been the growth of a form of Islam that wishes to impose its own beliefs on others – such as enforcing religious Sharia law even where Muslims are a minority.
To deal with the greater threat we must expound freedom of speech – including cartoons or tweets – at every opportunity and then be big enough to have the debate about whether or not our ideas or religions are able to withstand the reasoning or ridicule that would tear our beliefs down.
But just as importantly we in Britain must hear from the wider world of Islam that I have worked and supped with that this Jihad is an abomination of their faith – and if not then they must have their own reformation to denounce it.
The French policeman executed by the gunmen was Muslim. How many more Muslims must die at the hands of random terrorists or ISIL before Muslims deal with the cancer within?