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Charlie Hebdo massacre: how the West will respond

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The story so far: 12 people, including two policemen, have been murdered at the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by two hooded men wielding AK47s. In 2011 the magazine was firebombed after running a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad. Charlie Hebdo’s most recent tweet, before the latest attack, was a cartoon featuring the leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

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Here’s what will happen next.

1. French authorities will urge the public not to jump to any unhelpful conclusions about the identity and motivation of the killers.

2. Politicians, police chiefs and mainstream media reports will urge restraint over what is clearly an inexplicable rogue incident which may have nothing whatsoever to do with the Religion of Peace.

3. Extensive – and largely fruitless – efforts will be made to find Muslim community leaders prepared to speak out against the incident, in the unlikely event that it proves that the killers may have had Islamist sympathies.

4. Liberal commentators will take pains to draw a distinction between Islamism and Islam, noting that the former is a malign perversion of the latter which (apparently) explicitly forbids the murder of innocents.

5. Warming to this theme – and once the bodies are sufficiently cold, so as not to offend anyone’s good taste – one or two braver liberal commentators will suggest that while, of course, they wholly condemn all such acts of violence, it’s nevertheless the case that one or two of Charlie Hebdo’s editorials and cartoons could be quite needlessly provocative and that their contribution to the current climate of Islamophobia may have been responsible for heightening religious tensions in the broader culture. There have to be limits to free speech, after all. You can’t shout fire in a crowded theatre.

6. The BBC, The Guardian and their fellow travellers will despatch reporters to Bradford, Luton, Rotherham, Birmingham, Tower Hamlets etc with a view to proving that Islamophobic incidents have increased as a result of unfortunate events in Paris. Campaign organisation Tell Mama will confirm that this has been the case, citing the fact that there have been lots of angry tweets on Twitter.

7. On a BBC youth debate programme the audience will be canvassed as to their views on the cause of the increased tensions. To a man – and regardless of whether or not they are themselves Muslim – they will blame only two factors: “foreign policy” and “Islamophobia.” A young, attractive, female Muslim on the panel will win massive applause from the audience by dissociating herself and her co-religionists from the actions of the killers, explaining that though they may have thought they were acting in the name of Islam they weren’t, actually, because they just weren’t. So that’s OK then.

8. Politicians will bravely call for more money, much more money, to be spent on outreach programmes to the Muslim community in order to prevent further radicalisation. Later, it will be discovered that the Community Leaders who have been selected to participate in these programmes are not moderates who have much sympathy with the idea of cultural cohesion and who have only identified themselves as “community leaders” by dint of their vociferousness.

9. The Prime Minister will make a rousing speech declaring that “The terrorists will never be allowed to win.” To prevent future incidents, new laws will be passed forbidding newspapers and magazines from running satirical articles or cartoons which may offend religious sensibilities. These laws, however, will be entirely unnecessary: from now on, no one will dare.

10. Within a month, the incident will largely be forgotten. Just like the Mumbai and Nairobi massacres were. Sophisticated commentators will recognise that though, of course what happened was pretty frightful and all that, it’s important to appreciate that your chances of being killed in a terrorist incident are way smaller than being, say, run over by a bus and that actually all we’re doing when we overreact to such incidents is placing undue emphasis on what are, after all, just rogue criminal acts and not the end of civilisation.


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