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The smartest and dumbest responses to the Charlie Hebdo massacre so far

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Every major violent world event elicits a variety of responses, from the thoughtful to the absurd to the embarrassing and ridiculous.

At Raw Story, we have been horrified and saddened to see our media colleagues gunned down simply for having the courage to stand up to religious zealotry and fanaticism. And while we think that Fox News’ allegation that “political correctness” is the real villain in the massacre is pretty darn dumb, our first prize winner thus far for the dumbest response to these attacks goes to Ezra Klein and Vox.com, for the piece, “Don’t let murderers pretend their crimes are about cartoons.”

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The attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices and two police on Wednesday, said Klein, “isn’t about Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, any more than a rape is about what the victim is wearing, or a murder is about where the victim was walking.”

The killers in Paris “went on a killing spree,” Klein wrote, and will have will have “some thin rationale. Even the worst villains believe themselves to be heroes. But in truth, it was unprovoked slaughter. The fault lies with no one but them and their accomplices.”

Klein said “(W)e shouldn’t buy into the bullshit narrative of a few madmen that their murders were a response to some cartoons. We shouldn’t buy into it even if we’re saying that murdering in response to cartoons is always wrong.”

“These murders can’t be explained by a close read of an editorial product, and they needn’t be condemned on free speech grounds,” he went on. “They can only be explained by the madness of the perpetrators, who did something horrible and evil that almost no human beings anywhere ever do, and the condemnation doesn’t need to be any more complex than saying unprovoked mass slaughter is wrong.”

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“This is a tragedy. It is a crime. It is not a statement, or a controversy,” Klein concluded.

The problem here is that this is a controversy, the killings were made as a statement. This is an act of terrorism with a specific goal in mind, not a mindless frenzy that one can discount as meaningless, patternless fanaticism.

Juan Cole, we believe, has the smartest take thus far on what the killings represent and what the best response would be.

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Cole wrote Wednesday that al Qaeda in France is suffering from a lack of recruitment. On the whole, European youth from Muslim backgrounds are interested in secular culture, pop music and living like their non-Muslim counterparts.

“The horrific murder of the editor, cartoonists and other staff of the irreverent satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, along with two policemen, by terrorists in Paris was in my view a strategic strike, aiming at polarizing the French and European public,” he said.

“The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam. France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world,” he wrote.

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The murders at Charlie Hebdo were not meant by the killers to avenge the Prophet Mohammed, they were intended to enrage and divide the population of France.

“Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination,” he explained, making isolated and ostracized Muslims more easily radicalized.

“This horrific murder was not a pious protest against the defamation of a religious icon,” wrote Cole, but a cynical strategy to “provoke European society into pogroms against French Muslims, at which point al-Qaeda recruitment would suddenly exhibit some successes instead of faltering in the face of lively Beur youth culture (French Arabs playfully call themselves by this anagram).”

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To dismiss the attackers as senseless, religion-crazed madmen, as Klein does, is to radically oversimplify what has happened here and to miss the tactical motivation behind the attack.

Coming from a site — and a man — that has consciously assumed the position as the smartest voice in the room seems, to us, more than a little reductionist to us and frankly, pretty dumb.


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