As much as some would like to pretend that religious extremism is more or less same across all faiths, this is simply not the case. In the year 2015, Islam is at the root of the vast majority of the world’s religiously-motivated violence. On Wednesday, the soldiers of Islam set their sights on the Parisian weekly, Charlie Hebdo, whose offices had been firebombed in 2011 the day it was to publish a cartoon of the “prophet” Muhammad. According to French officials, three gunmen stormed the offices of the satirical publication and murdered 12 people and injured seven.
Among the dead are editor and cartoonist Stéphane Charbonnier, who since the firebombing had been traveling with police protection because some Muslims so detested what he published, that they felt he should die for it. They have finally gotten their wish. Three other cartoonists and two police officers were also killed in the attack, which was launched during the publication’s daily editorial meeting. According to witnesses, the gunmen shouted, “Allahu Akbar,” and “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.”
Avenged him they have, and in a manner that has become all too familiar to those who question, challenge, criticize, and mock Islam and its prophet. Say what you will about regressive yokel Christian extremists who wish to infuse politics and law with biblical morality. They’ve never killed someone for drawing a picture of Jesus — at least not since the Enlightenment, which by the way, Islam desperately needs. A tour of the blasphemy laws on the books around the world will make this clear enough. The harshest ones are in Muslim-majority countries.
This is hardly the first attack on Westerners for daring to exercise their rights to freedom of expression in way that’s ruffled Islamist feathers.
In 2010, South Park creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone were the target of death threats over a forthcoming episode in which Muhammad was to be depicted. Comedy Central relented and censored itself.
Later in 2010, Stockholm endured two explosions in part because the perpetrator objected to a Swedish cartoon of Muhammad with the body of a dog.
In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against writer Salman Rushdie after his novel The Satanic Verses, was deemed blasphemous against Islam. Rushdie has since needed to be accompanied by security.
Of course, these paled in comparison to what occurred in 2006, when numerous European embassies around the world came under siege after the Danish publication Jyllands-Posten published a series of cartoons of Muhammad implying he inspires violence. Millions of Muslims were outraged, and in a response whose irony was apparently lost on them, several European embassies were set ablaze. In Damascus, rioters set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies. The Danish embassy in Beirut was also set alight. In Benghazi, the Italian consulate was torched as well. In Nigeria, 11 churches were burned and 16 people were killed.
In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was shot and stabbed to death for the crime of making a movie critical of Islam called Submission. Impaled on his body was a death threat against van Gogh’s film collaborator Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who to do this day must travel with security. Van Gogh’s last words to his assailant were reportedly, “Surely, we can talk about this.”
Surely, we can’t. In Islam, insulting the prophet is a grave offense, and drawing him is considered idolatry. And while it’s tempting to view such extreme acts and beliefs as indicative of a genuine die-hard fervor, collectively they reek of a certain tenuousness. That such mortal zealots feel it their duty to protect the all-powerful Allah from fleeting earthly slights doesn’t say much for Allah’s ability to withstand mockery, let alone scrutiny.
Those who carry out such attacks must learn as quickly as possibly that in the West, their peculiar sensitivities are not grounds for censorship or violence. Whatever judicial and extrajudicial sanctions they dream of imposing on us for daring to exercise our right to free expression will remain just that: a dream. Seventh century Arabian morality might be good enough for ISIS or the mobs in Pakistan who pounce on and murder the latest unfortunate soul accused of blasphemy, but it has no business here or in any other civilized society.