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Charlie Hebdo Cover January 7
Image: B. Guay/AFP/Getty Images

Opinion: France - a new level of escalation

Christoph Hasselbach / csk
January 8, 2015

The Paris attack is sure to fuel the debate about Islamization and also the influx of refugees into Europe. But DW's Christoph Hasselbach warns that tolerance and freedom of speech should not be questioned.


This attack did not come out of the blue. In 2006 the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo decided to reprint the Muhammad caricatures that were originally published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten and sparked incandescent outrage in Muslims all over the world. There were numerous attacks at the time on Danish and other Western agencies in Islamic countries.

In 2011 the editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris were firebombed. This didn't stop the magazine continuing to satirize Muhammad and Islam: Among other things it brought out a special "Sharia" edition, presided over by a certain "Editor-in-Chief Muhammad." It's presumably also no coincidence that the title page of the most recent edition bears the image of Michel Houellebecq. The author has just published his highly controversial novel "Submission," in which France is governed by a Muslim president.

Is it permissible for a magazine to make fun of a religion and its divinities? Of course it is, as long as it doesn't infringe the laws of the country. Charlie Hebdo has repeatedly mocked the Pope: It won a legal dispute over this with a Catholic organization. However upset Catholic Christians may get about contemptuous satires of the Pope, they do tolerate them.

The government mustn't involve itself, either. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was Denmark's prime minister when the caricatures were published there in 2006, was right to refuse the demands of Muslims all over the world for him to take legal action against such "blasphemous representations." A free, democratic society must be able to bear this. And a state must be able to expect this tolerance from all of its citizens. Muslims cannot be given special treatment.

Christoph Hasselbach
Image: DW/M.Müller

After such a devastating attack one is tempted to urge restraint: "Don't overdo it, you Islam satirists; give it a rest now, please. We don't want a religious war." But that would be exactly what the attackers want: the voluntary curtailing of freedom. This form of blackmail cannot be allowed to succeed.

Yet it is very alarming to think about what will result from this attack. The already major tensions in France will continue to grow. The country has a high percentage of Muslims. Many of them are unemployed and live on the fringes of society. Some of the ghettos have become no-go areas for the police. On the other side, the right-wing extremist National Front party is agitating against foreigners, and especially against Muslims. It came out on top in last year's European elections. Now its voters will feel they have been vindicated. Resentment of Islam will grow, as will rage among Muslims – a vicious circle.

And the consequences will not be limited to France alone. Xenophobic countries have been gaining ground in almost every country in the EU in recent years. Now they will say, "You see, the Muslims simply don't belong to us. They can't be integrated." The actions of a tiny minority within a minority quickly comes to stand for a whole religion and all of its followers. In Germany, too, the "Pegida" movement will presumably again see the West as being under threat from supposed Islamization.

We mustn't deceive ourselves. Social coexistence will not get any easier. It's therefore all the more important that we keep a level head. Yes, it is a dreadful attack on our freedom, one that absolutely nothing can justify. We will not allow anyone to take away our freedom. But equally we must not allow anyone to take away our tolerance. There is no reason for us to place all Muslims under general suspicion, or to doubt the model of peaceful coexistence.


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