As reported in today’s New York Times, “masked gunmen burst into the Paris offices of a French satirical newspaper (Charlie Hebdo) and killed 12 people, including top journalists and two police officers.”
A cry of “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great” — was heard among the gunshots.
The article goes on to note that “there was no immediate claim of responsibility, but several websites and Twitter accounts associated with extremist groups applauded the violence, calling it revenge for the newspaper’s satirical treatment of Islam and its prophet.”
The “satirical treatment” consists mainly of images of the prophet Muhammad posted in a humorous context.
Clearly, the shooting is an act of terrorism. I hope we can all agree that condemning this act does not make one Islamophobic or anti-Muslim or racist. These shootings have no justification. We would be condemning it just as strongly if the action had been taken by Christians, Jews, or any other group that falsely cited religion as justification.
Still, while it is all but certain that a majority of Muslims condemn this act, it also appears true that members of subsets of the religion praise it.
I know some people want to claim that such extremist groups are not “true” Muslims because they don’t represent the majority of the religion. I reject that idea. Otherwise it would be accurate to say that Hassidic Jews are not “true” Jews or Christian Scientists are not “true” Christians. At the same time, I recognize that it is not appropriate to paint the mainstream of a religion with the conflicting beliefs of an extremist sect.
Similarly, a significant, possibly majority, segment of the Muslim religion opposes the depiction of Muhammad in almost any context. This has led to the unfortunate result of numerous non-Muslim organizations self-censoring themselves and removing (even respectful) images of the prophet from their publications, displays etc. I say “unfortunate” because I believe that the removals were done primarily out of a fear of violence. At the same time, I recognize that most Muslim opposition does not threaten violence as potential retaliation for a refusal to comply.
Life is complicated and usually doesn’t divide into easy black and white distinctions.
One thing should be certain however: There should be no sympathy for those who murder a dozen people because of words or images published in a newspaper. If there are sects, Muslim or otherwise, that officially praise such actions or claim such actions are justified or even use silence to convey tacit approval, then we should similarly oppose those sects.