Je sius charlie?

When the terrorists attacked Charlie Hebdo last week, my instinctive reaction was to support Charlie Hebdo. And I still do. What has struck me since then, is the magnitude of the response of the world. My perspective has been evolving particularly when I read the following Atlantic article: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/01/charlie-hebdo-secularism-religion-islam/384413/ because it provided me a nuanced argument I was looking for to support Charlie Hebdo even when I did not find their humor funny. Where I come from, Freedom comes with Responsibility, and one can make the argument that some of the folks in Charlie Hebdo were irresponsible in their use of freedom of speech.

My current position is that, while I am glad that we are all celebrating free speech and it is extremely important and I fully support that, it does strike me that there were many other acts of terror perpetrated by Islamic extremists that deserve much greater condemnation.
For example, the atrocities committed by Boko Haram in western Africa, or the dastardly killing of innocent children in a school in Peshawar are two recent examples in a long list of recent events that include 11/26 Mumbai attacks, 9/11 attack, etc. The Peshawar one, in particular, was particularly cowardly and insane. In theory, the Charlie Hebdo journalists had intentionally insulted Islam, but the children in the Peshawar school, did no such thing. They were also of the same faith as the attackers. Their only “crime” was that they were children of Pakistan Army personnel. I did not see a bunch of world leaders march hand-in-hand when that happened. I wonder why?

I may be conflating all these Islamic extremists, e.g., those that bombed WTC on 9/11, took over the Oberoi in 11/26, took over the mall in Nairobi, Boko Haram, those who killed innocent school children in Peshawar, bombed London, killed Daniel Pearl, and killed the journalists in Paris, etc., etc., as being products of the same process, but it does appear that the ideology is shared among these groups at a high level, even if they don’t always agree with each other. So the question is why?

Some have tried to unfairly lay the blame on the entire religion for the acts of a minuscule minority, but, I prefer to base arguments on data. To this end, I recently came across the work of Prof. Steven Fish at UC Berkeley (See http://polisci.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/people/u3833/IslamAndLargeScalePoliticalViolence.pdf). A couple of points he makes are particularly revealing. According to him, in the aggregate, Muslim societies are not any more “violent” than other societies. Their crime rates are lower, and rates of political violence are not materially higher than other societies. So there is real evidence to suggest that those who try to blame the religion as a whole for the violent terrorist attacks are likely mistaken.

The kicker though, is that according to the same data, terrorist attacks are much more likely to be performed by Islamic extremists than by any one else. So, the problem is Islamic extremism. That is the common enemy that all of us need to isolate and defeat. I would also venture to guess that the Islamic extremists are not particularly spiritual or aware of the deeper philosophical underpinnings of their religion.

So rather than say “Je Suis Charlie”, I would rather all of us say “je ne suis pas un extrémiste islamique” and unite to understand and defeat Islamic extremism.

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