Leading article

The attack on Charlie Hebdo is an attack on freedom

Shocking violence is the resort of the desperate

10 January 2015

9:00 AM

10 January 2015

9:00 AM

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo lambasts, attacks and lampoons absolutely everybody. Its targets include all religions, all identity groups, minorities and majorities. In recent years it has been most prominent for its refusal to apply different treatment to Islam. It knew that carrying on with satire, in the name of free expression, carried a real danger — its office in Paris was firebombed three years ago on account of this, and it still carried on with its irreverence.

On Wednesday morning, two gunmen went into the magazine’s office wielding Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades. Within minutes, 12 people were reported killed. The gunmen’s identity was unknown when The Spectator went to press, but there was not much doubt about what had happened.

When in 2005 a Danish publication published cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, there were riots, lootings and assassination attempts in Denmark and around the world. Nearly all the western media took the lesson of intimidation and refused to run cartoons which might be seen to be critical of Islam. Charlie Hebdo stood almost alone against this. Since that date, it has published many cartoons and caricatures of Mohammed. It has appropriately and justly ridiculed Isis — indeed the last cartoons sent out on Charlie Hebdo’s Twitter feed before the attack was a cartoon of the purported ‘Caliph’ of the self-styled Islamic State, al-Baghdadi.


Whatever the identity of the attackers — whatever their religion or political affiliations — it must be stressed from the outset that however robust the magazine’s position, its journalists did not ‘bring it upon themselves’ or ‘provoke’ their attackers. All blame must be directed at the people who perpetrated this disgusting act and at those who believe that it is acceptable to explain away such intimidation, violence and thuggery. And the response of free peoples and the free press should be appropriately unified.

In Britain and across the western world, the free press has been under attack from many directions in recent years. But the form of attack threatened by the perpetrators of Islamist violence poses the most virulent threat of all. What its extremists have been trying to do in recent years is to put one belief system, one religion and one historical figure in particular beyond criticism, beyond investigation and beyond free speech.

It ought to be added that the attacks on Charlie Hebdo are also an attack on Islam — and will bring revulsion from the Muslims appalled that such barbarity could be carried out in the name of their religion. After the 2011 firebombing, Mohammed Moussaoui, head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, said his organisation deplored the magazine’s treatment of Islam ‘but reaffirms with force its total opposition to all acts and all forms of violence’.

It is the duty of all free people and all free media to respond robustly to this outrage. To show that we will not treat any people of any belief or background in our societies any differently from others. To show that freedom includes the freedom to speak freely and to offend. The stake, for all our societies, could not be higher.

As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross says on page 14, making headlines with shock tactics is how Isis has sought to persuade the world that it’s winning — but let’s remember: it’s not. Just as the Taleban’s killing of 132 schoolchildren in December in Pakistan proved counter-productive, as Pakistanis and Afghanis recoiled in horror at their brutality, so such an extreme attack on the innocent will backfire. Shocking violence is the resort of the desperate. In the end, they will lose.

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Show comments
  • serguei_p

    Is Spectator going to publish a Muhammad cartoon to prove that we still have a free press?

  • Mungo Williams

    How strange. All the earlier overnight posts seem to have been deleted–I can’t find anything. Let’s hope this is just a weird technical fluke and they come back. It would be ironic indeed if a magazine supposedly defending freedom wiped out all the comments upon its work.

    Although all the British and European press is talking about an attack on freedom, that is a bit of self-deception or naivety. Those who carried it out believe, we can be pretty confident, that they were fighting for God against the ungodly infidels. What they want to wipe out is is the entire non-Muslim Western world. And if assassinations in other countries, especially Muslim ones, exemplary assassinations are a standard feature of their campaign to gain dominance–which has succeeded thanks to Western complacency in formerly secular countries like Turkey. The issue is much more than just objectionable cartoons.

    • Donafugata

      There will be acres of coverage from the MSM debating the pros and cons of free speech, as there is every time.

      Alas, if no-one will reproduce the cartoons for fear of causing upset, what is the point of talking about freedom of free speech?

      They have all miserably caved in to the terrorists.

      • Daniel McGrath

        No, they have already caved in to Muslim colonization. France is Algeria Nord.

  • jack

    Editors of today’s front pages have chosen to headline an attack on civilization as an event, and a tragedy, and have all missed a crucial opportunity to show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo by exposing the truth behind Islam, its ‘ prophet’ and its mafia style gangsterism.

    Our press has bowed down and given silent respect to the religion of fear.

    • global city

      as they will continue to do….leaving us all defenceless in the face of the coming horrors.

      While they escape to the Caribbean we will be left to reap the whirlwind that they have helped sow.

  • des mond

    The attack is not on freedom but against biased and prejudiced reporting, that’s the real reason for the attack, not tolerance and freedom of expression.

    • Harry Palmer

      Your comment is unclear. Are you suggesting the gunmen attacked Charlie Hebdo because it (and others) was biased?

    • Mungo Williams

      Shame on you. Charlie Hebdo is in the humour and cartoons business not reporting, We have a right to be biassed and prejudiced. You sound as if you think there was some legitimacy in the murders.

      • des mond

        There is no legitimacy for the attack. Probably I should say … biased and prejudiced reporting generally in the western media for non-western events eg when reporting terrorism in Russia, China and the Middle Easts. And powerful western countries imposing their “wills” on them without regards as to whether they are really acceptable or not and which they regard as prejudiced and biased. In allowing religion to control them or be obsessed with that religion these people are brought up and built with a different mentality from young and nothing can change that even in adulthood. They may seen to be mild, seem assimilated but look at the varied characters that joined ISIS – models, young girls, grandfathers… etc. For now they don’t have the numbers to attack freedom in the west. But unlucky Charlie at the wrong time and place suit them perfectly to express their accumulated frustration. In the past few hundred years western countries only fight amongst themselves because there were no internal threat from them and neither do the western countries have any interest in their countries.

    • Mister Rible

      PREJUDICE REPORTING???

      have you ever effin’ read what muslim news agencies publish and write, ever taken a look at their cartoons????

      • Mungo Williams

        The hardline ones certainly repay examination. But others–the official Saudi News Agency for example — are curiously reserved on the subject. Spot the Paris killings here for example http://www.spa.gov.sa/english/
        (About the minimum possible.)

      • des mond

        Hit the point exactly. We don’t argue with those of different mentality, they will hit you back violently.

  • Mc

    “head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, said his organisation deplored the magazine’s treatment of Islam”

    And that’s where part of the problem of Moslem intolerance originates. The same principle of freedom of thought and speech that enables Moslems to freely practice their religion also allows Islam to be criticised. So instead of condemning Charlie Hebdo, Moslems should celebrate and defend its virulent attacks on Islam.

    • Harry Palmer

      I don’t agree – I think the guy should be entitled to ‘deplore’ Charlie Hebdo all he likes. He should be able to rant and rave and even draw a few cartoons of the editorial team engaged in a group reach-around. What he CANNOT do is glorify or solicit murder.

      • Mc

        The guy is conveniently picking to embrace the element of freedoms that suit him, but attacking those elements that don’t suit his purposes. In other words, he’s not actually in favour of Western values. If some Moslems didn’t have a predilection for murdering people in the name of their religion, I’d have fewer qualms about the head of a Moslum organisation speaking this way. While heads of Moslem organisations in the West continue to deplore manifestations of free speech that don’t submit to Islam, I suspect a great many Moslems will continue to attack Western values.

        • Donafugata

          Quite.

          The one thing he does’t do is condemn killing people working in an office.

          If they don’t like the way Europeans live they should shove off to a more suitable country.

          Let’s face it, they are here with the express intention of colonisation.

        • Harry Palmer

          I agree, but I think he should be allowed to do so as well as others (in this case yourself) who wish to share their critique.

  • Mungo Williams

    Come on Spectator, do tell us why all the earlier tweet responses to this piece–and there were several hundred — have mysteriously been obliterated?

    • Hippograd

      Is it good for Israel?

  • Peter Syfret

    Vlad we need you

  • jmjm208

    You obviously believe in free speech but does that also include the freedom to state that homosexuality is an abomination? Or will I be arrested for stating that?

    • Marlinspike2014

      Of course it includes that freedom. It also allows others to readily identify you as a knuckle-dragging reactionary twat.

      • jmjm208

        If you want to call me rude names because I believe the Bible is infallible I defend your free speech. The same goes for Dawkins when he publishes “The God Delusion”,

        Unfortunately, idiot coppers don’t have the same respect for free speech as you and I. Some months ago they nicked a street preacher (Michael Overd) for pointing out the truth regarding Mohammed viz. that he was a peadophile. It seems that the liberal elite that run this country have a warped sense of vaules when it comes to free speech.

        • Craig Millar

          If you seriously believe the bible is infallable then you are no better than any other extremist zealot from any world ‘religion’

        • Marlinspike2014

          If you believe the bible is infallible then you deserve to be called rude names for the rest of your life.

          The rest of your comment is salient however.

        • Harry Palmer

          How can the Bible be infallible? It is written by men – and wonderfully so. Its fallibility has contributed to one of the greatest traditions in western thought – critical analysis. To treat it like the Muslims treat the Quran is to deny yourself the faculty of reasoning. But go ahead – you have the right to say it – just as I and others have right to call you a twat, because you’re making yourself part of the fucking problem.

        • Daniel McGrath

          The annointed editorial board can bait anyone. Except YKW. But the man in the street? He gets to go to jail if he so much as points out the obvious.

      • Lantern

        I couldn’t give a flying fig what you sodomite deviants think about our
        finer points. Come back the day an anus becomes a vagina.

        • Marlinspike2014

          Don’t know who exactly you are talking to, but I’m not gay. Take your pathetic stone age beliefs elsewhere.

          • Daniel McGrath

            Or freely migrate to my town and or city and start pimping 12 year olds, dealing heroin or shooting up the people who object. Also set the hate laws on the natives who dare to objects. Cos that’s what is happening in Western Europe.

      • Daniel McGrath

        No. You can be arrested in Europe for moaning on a Tram as was Emma West. You disingenuous white liberal you.

        • Marlinspike2014

          “Moaning on a tram” and you call me disingenuous?

          It’s not my fault you can’t tell the difference between neanderthal, racist judgement of people based on their skin colour or language spoken, and genuine criticism of people based on their beliefs and actions.

          Seriously, half-brained throwbacks like you are the reason we get Labour governments for decades. Man the f*k up.

    • Hippograd

      If you said it in a public place within earshot of the police, yes, you would be arrested. Welcome to the land of free speech.

    • Mister Rible

      you can say that

      and I, as the brother of a homosexual man, will call you cave dwelling troglodyte who has a lot in common with the bearded mouth foaming troglodytes form the desert, in return

      then I will ask my brother and his long term boyfriend to give each other and long wet kiss right in front of you and watch your reaction

      • jmjm208

        I’m grateful for your suport for free speech. If your poofy brother wishes to kiss his “boyfriend” in front of me then I’ll them them to repent or face the flames of eternal hellfire.

        • Mister Rible

          ahahaha

          i needed a laugh today Abdul!

        • Mister Rible

          uh oh, I’m so scared ;D

        • Harry Palmer

          Twat

          • Lantern

            Wanker

      • Lantern

        You mean they’re not going to “fist” each other?

      • Daniel McGrath

        You won’t be last to be eaten by the Crocodile. Your phoney sophistication is just a cover for cowardice.

    • Ambientereal

      In some European countries you can be arrested for pronouncing a forbidden word like “immigrant”. Free speech ?????

  • will91

    A policewoman’s been killed in Paris this morning by another “lone gunman”.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-30721677

  • will91

    “Shocking violence is the resort of the desperate”

    No! It’s an action of the self confident.

    • Daniel McGrath

      I agree. These people are supremely confident that this act will further Algerian and other Muslim colonization of France.

  • Donafugata

    Demonstrators protesting the Danish cartoons carried placards saying,

    “Behead those who insult Islam”

    Clearly freedom of speech is alive and well in London.

    Also spotted, ” Down with Free Speech”,
    some people have no sense of irony.

  • Mungo Williams

    Er Mr Nelson, still no explanation about what happened to the hundreds of comments which were put here overnight. I know you regard ‘below the line’ as little better than a snake pit but the fact that you allow your readers to exchange ideas is one reason why I am reading you more than the Telegraph these days. Probably it was a technical hitch, but it would be a courtesy to your readers to let us know.

  • Mister Rible

    ‘shocking violence is the resort of the desperate’

    is that why the desperate poor peaceful muslims, slaughter their own, mass rape little girls, shoot polio vaccinators, behead aid workers, burn down UN buildings, disfigure teen girls with acid, mutilate, gas, even EAT people??

    poor lambs

  • Augustus

    “The attack on Charlie Hebdo is an attack on freedom.”

    And this intolerant faith has waged war on us, so let’s have no more self-censorship in the media regarding Islamic extremism. A self-censorship born out of fear, yet just as harmful to freedom as any terrorism. All the news channels and newspapers report endlessly on attacks, terrorism, jihad and IS, but no one dares speak about Islam itself which runs like a thread through all the violence and mayhem. It’s Islam alone which makes it all possible. That’s what the debate should be primarily about.

  • polistra24

    No, it’s not an attack on “freedom”, whatever the hell that word means. It’s a misplaced and counterproductive act of revenge for centuries of occupation and oppression.

    Meanwhile, here in the “land of freedom” whatever the hell that word means, religious people are no longer allowed to practice their religion. You dare to sully the word “freedom”?

    http://seattle.cbslocal.com/2015/01/07/judge-florist-gays/

    • Mungo Williams

      Centuries of occupation? Centuries?

      And don’t forget these were once Christian lands until armies of conquest arrived.

    • Penny

      How did you get from the clear and stated objective of these terrorists – i.e. avenging Allah for the drawing of cartoons, to “an act of revenge for centuries (really) of occupation and oppression”?

  • Chris Hobson

    Ever since bush left the white house the jihadis have been on the march.

    • Daniel McGrath

      Bush marks the point when the West was flooded with Muslim colonists. Indeed his policy of invade the world/invite the resulting refugees has been the instrument of the democide.

  • global city

    Yes it is an attack on freedom, but you will still let steerpike and isabel run thoroughly scurrelous articles attempting to undermine Farage’s latest statement…….you just watch.

    Farage is the only politician who has joined the dots today….if he is demonised then you will have the blood from the next terrorist attack partly on your own hands.

  • serguei_p

    Is Spectator going to prove that it supports freedom and it is not afraid of “religion of peace” by printing a Mohammed’s cartoon?
    Or it is too late now and the religious fanatics have already won?

  • Augustus

    Yes, this form of attack by the perpetrators of Islamist violence does pose a most virulent threat. When the freedom of expression itself is attacked with Kalashnikovs there is only one answer possible: To forcefully stand behind your colleagues, and publish those caricatures of the French weekly that made these fanatics so angry throughout the Western world. By not doing so you submit to unruly terrorism. We didn’t fight long battles in Europe only to end up allowing press freedom to be extinguished by a few trigger-happy Muslim fanatics.

  • amadeus49

    The shooting at Charlie Hebdo is a violent tragedy. in the aftermath, it is understandable that moderate French Muslims should be concerned about any backlash and Islamophobia misdirected towards them. It creates an opportunity for these moderate Muslims to stand up and publicly denounce violence in the name of Islam. At the same time, they can reflect on the effect of European Muslim cutural anti-semitism and its its effects on the Jewish population. In France, this Muslim cutlure of anti-semitism is driving Jews out of France. Will moderate Muslims stand up and denounce this as well?

  • Sage Ham

    There are only two things that really matter.
    1. Will the western press or the Western public have the guys to put a Mohamed cartoon on their front page or Facebook in solidarity with Charile, Theo Van Gogh and all the rest or will they hide under this inane cowardly candlelight vigils and social medial prattle.
    2. Will Muslim organizations come out and say that the Koran is not literal and the punishment for Apostasy should now be death (ie Mohamad is not perfect). Obviously any Muslim organization will say they don not support the attacks. What they mean is “this is a PR disaster mates, but we should have done this with a bit more finesse”

  • Mungo Williams

    Looking at some of the newspaper headlines in Muslim lands not in English, I see that your (and Cameron’s) brilliant idea of saying “This is an attack on Islam” is being picked up and made into banner headlines. The implication when it is thus transplanted is quite different from what you seem to imagine. It implies (1) that malignant non-Muslim forces i.e. the West are at work; (2) the need for a riposte. Instead of discrediting the attackers, you and Cameron are actually helping do their work for them by contributing to the pressurized bitterness and irrationality from which this violence grows.

    • Mungo Williams

      By the way the headline in some non-English language religious newspapers in the Middle East has now evolved into ‘This was an attack on Muslims.’ Brilliant. Spectator, you helped set that hare running.

      • Mungo Williams

        PS I have spent too much of this morning reading the Spectator–but am better for it.
        Once I would have been reading the Telegraph but somehow since they banned readers’ views (and sacked most of their best writers, starting with St. Simon the Heffer) I find I turn to it less and less.

    • WTF

      “This is an attack on Islam” – This is just an alternative to that worn out phrase thats lost any credibility of “Islam is a religion of peace”.

      Cameron is quite adept at changing his rhetoric as we saw with his attacks on UKIP and in the context of this latest Islamic atrocity, he woke up quicker this time around when he realised the religion of peace line has failed.

      Quite what he means or implies by “Its an attack on Islam” is open to many suggestions.

      He could mean that Islam is fighting Islam as in Syria for example except that Paris is not the middle east.

      He could mean that by carrying out serial atrocities in the name of Islam like 9-11, 7/7, Madrid, Bali, Woolwich, Paris, New York and plenty more, it will become self defeating and therefore Islam is shooting itself in the foot. Quite possibly but there’s no evidence to suggest that these terrorists acknowledge this as more terrorist acts are bound to follow.

      Perhaps he means that the west attacked Islam first and we’re to blame for this, with Cameron denial mentality I would discount this reason.

      I guess we’ll never know what he really means as I don’t think Cameron understands what he said or the rationale behind it. One things for sure, its leaders like Blair and Cameron that have enabled these fanatics to run loose on our streets even when the security services knew the threat they posed to public safety.

  • WTF

    If this was an attack on Islam as some have said it surely must be the fault of Islam also, so in a sense, its Islam tearing itself apart just as Christianity did 500 years ago.

    My issue is that the west is getting blamed all the time for provoking Muslims to kill other Muslims when thats so far from the truth. IS or the militant factions of Islam are out to kill every other person starting with Muslims that disagree with them followed by every other religious group and atheists as well. On the Sean Hannity program Anjem Chowdary was eventually pinned down to say that his and IS stated agenda was for a world caliphate where Sharia law rules and penalties for breaking any law will be executed according to Islamic ‘legislation’, and by execution, in many cases it is meant literally.

    When asked simple yes/no questions, Chowdary always caveats his response with excuses by starting off with his repetative phrases such as “You need to understand” or “No, what I’m saying is” and his favourite “you need to contextualise” and when backed into a corner resorts to “Our god states that” etc, etc. The guy is a very sick psychopath who in previous times would have been put down or locked up in some victorian lunatic asylum and I wish that could be done these days.

    He makes no bones about it that he wants Sharia law to rule the world, he wants all the 6th barbaric customs that Muslims practiced then to be re-instated across the world and as Hannity put it, he is an Islamofascist of the worse kind. Cameron and others should wake up and see that this man isn’t an active jihadists, he has managed to stay out of prison thanks to successive governments lacking the b**** to charge him with a hate crime, and has surely helped radicalize uneducated young Muslims to go off and kill many different people in the name of Allah. Just watch the video, and its self evident where he stands and its with the Islamic terrorists.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HavvrcJXi5A

  • WTF

    If this was an attack on Islam as some have said, it surely must be the fault of Islam also, so in a sense its Islam tearing itself apart just as Christianity did 500 years ago.

    My issue is that the west is getting blamed all the time for provoking Muslims to kill other Muslims when thats so far from the truth. IS or the militant factions of Islam are out to kill every other person starting with Muslims that disagree with them followed by every other religious group and atheists as well. On the Sean Hannity program Anjem Chowdary was eventually pinned down to say that his and IS stated agenda was for a world caliphate where Sharia law rules and penalties for breaking any law will be executed according to Islamic ‘legislation’, and by execution, in many cases it is meant literally.

    When asked simple yes/no questions, Chowdary always caveats his response with excuses by starting off with his repetative phrases such as “You need to understand” or “No, what I’m saying is” and his favourite “you need to contextualise” and when backed into a corner resorts to “Our god states that” etc, etc. The guy is a very sick psychopath who in previous times would have been put down or locked up in some victorian lunatic asylum and I wish that could be done these days.

    He makes no bones about it that he wants Sharia law to rule the world, he wants all the 6th century barbaric customs that Muslims practiced then to be re-instated across the world and as Hannity put it, he is an Islamofascist of the worse kind. Cameron and others should wake up and see that this man isn’t an active jihadists who commits crimes himself but promotes others to do it for him. He has managed to stay out of prison thanks to successive governments lacking the b**** to charge him with a hate crime, and has surely helped radicalize uneducated young Muslims to go off and kill many different people in the name of Allah. Just watch the video, and its self evident where he stands and its with the Islamic terrorists.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?…

  • Daniel McGrath

    These Algerians are taking over France. You childish vulgarians don’t seem to understand that’s what is actually at stake.

  • Daniel McGrath

    Free Speech for men who buy ink by the barrel. Prison for the lumpen-proles who point out that they are being replaced by Muslims! Yay!

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