Over-reacting would let Charlie Hebdo terrorists win
The slaughter by radical Islamists in the Parisian offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper on January 7, has generated international condemnation and raised disturbing questions, writes Dr Emmanuel Martin.
Freedom of speech in democracies enables people to joke with religious figures such as the prophet Mohammed. Radical Islamists fail to see the humour. Charlie Hebdo was firebombed in 2011 after satirising the prophet and Islam. This week 12 people were shot in what was made clear was revenge in the name of the prophet.
But why is there such religious hatred in France when the two brothers, of Algerian descent, identified as carrying out the murders, grew up in Paris?
The economic situation could, indirectly, be a factor, especially for the young growing up in suburban areas which look and feel like ghettoes. A heavily regulated business climate makes it harder for young people to access economic opportunities leaving a quarter unemployed.
Desperation is fertile ground to recruit radical terrorists. This provides a better sense of the urgency to reform France.
Another reason could be failure in the judicial system itself. These brothers were involved in a jihadist recruitment network and one was jailed on terrorism charges in 2008. Jails have become a major recruiting channel for jihadists.
The French government should probably spend more on what should be its first mission - restoring order within the rule of law, instead of spending money on dubious projects, multiple agencies and layers of administration.
The murderers’ weapons were probably an unintended consequence of foreign policy. Entire arms dumps in Libya were used to give weapons to what turned out to be terrorists in Syria.
The consequences for freedom of this slaughter should be taken seriously. And care must be taken to ensure other jihadists do not use this outrage as an example to follow.
But somewhat paradoxically, the threat might also come from the policy response in terms of increased levels of security and surveillance.
French President Francois Hollande called for national unity. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy - a former Interior Minister - was clear he would support any kind of ‘strong measures against terrorism’ and he met President Hollande after the attack. These sound like appropriate words at a time of collective grief - and there must be a response. But this could turn into an open door for measures which could infringe our liberty on the basis of the ‘either you’re with us or against us’ type seen in a previous war on terror.
The decree to apply a new ‘military programming’ law was issued on December 24. It gives vast powers of surveillance to the French government. Many uncertainties remain over the interpretation of what is and is not allowed. If terrorism is used as a convenient pretext for more state surveillance this would be very bad news. In that case, the terrorists would have won twice.
The potential for positive fallout for the populist right-wing National Front is another factor. Islamophobia has been its stock in trade for years.
It would be very bad news if more French turned to this protectionist, populist, anti-capitalist, anti-immigration party. If they do, the terrorists would have won again.