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Charlie Hebdo massacre: A tragic, universal failure

French security forces, politicians, the Muslim community and the cartoonists themselves bear some responsibility for this atrocity

The mass murder on Wednesday in the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, in which 12 staff members were gunned down, represents many gross failures. In the most obvious way, it represents a failure of the French security forces who failed miserably in their job. It represents the failure too of President Francois Hollande and the nation's political class, who have done little to address Islamophobia, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic sentiments that seethe just beneath the surface of French life.

Now let me say a few controversial things: it represents a failure of the French Muslim community from which the killers sprang. It represents a failure of the French press and public which fostered the puerile satirical farce represented by the magazine's portrayal of Islam. It represents the failure of the French right which simmered the cauldron of Islamophobia to which the killers, at least in part, responded.

Elaborating on the failures I listed above: one of the mass-murderers served a three-year prison sentence for recruiting French Muslims to join jihad in Middle East wars. Where were the security services in monitoring him and ensuring he didn't get access to firearms? Charlie Hebdo was under constant threat from Islamists. Yet the police offered two officers to guard the offices, both of whom gave their lives doing their duty (one of whom was a Muslim). And is it possible that two men can commit mass murder in broad daylight in France's capital and manage to get away without any security force (except the two guards) intercepting them?

We must recall the same lapses that occurred in the case of the Toulouse Jewish school attacked by a different Islamist gunman. That individual managed two separate attacks which killed both French Jews and soldiers. He too had a history of association with Islamist violence which should have flagged him and drawn much greater attention from the authorities.

As for the failure of the French political class, Angela Merkel last week nationally denounced anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant fever which was gripping her country. She stood up for what was right. What have French politicians done in the face of the surge in racism from the National Front?

No doubt, this attack will draw even stronger support to this party, which thrives on hatred of the other in French society. The blood of these French men and women fertilises the soil of racism and hatred on which Marie Le Pen thrives. We shouldn't forget that Israel's far right has made common cause with her in their joint jihad against the "Muslim hordes".

The statement above in which I noted the failure of the French Muslim community was not made to cast blame on all Muslims. Unlike Islamophobes, I understand that there are killers in the name of God among all religions and ethnic groups. The acts of the psychopathic few aren't the fault of the many. But just as I do soul-searching when I read of the murders committed by mad-dog Jewish settlers, and bemoan their perversion of Judaism as I know it, it becomes more important than ever for the real Muslims to rise against this hate and fight it with every fibre of their being.

Regarding Charlie Hebdo itself, during the Jylland Postens controversy, I wrote critically about the deliberate provocations of the cartoonists which led to the attack. Not that I dismissed their right to draw what they liked. Not that I dismissed freedom of speech and the press. But both the Dutch and Hebdo cartoons were provocation for its own sake.

Political satire through the medium of cartoons is a hallowed tradition, which I both admire and support. But why waste such a sharp instrument on such a dull subject?  Why employ this respected art in the service of base, degraded sentiments?  For example, there is much in Judaism and especially some of its adherents which I criticise. I regularly display cartoons that ridicule and lampoon not just Israeli policy, but the religious tenets of settlers and their ilk. 

But why would I attack the founders of my religion: Moses, the Biblical prophets? There are plenty of anti-Semites to do that. Similarly, unless you're the equivalent of an anti-Semite, why would you debase the founder of Islam and its foundational tenets?  Why would you not distinguish between Muhammed and those of his followers who've deviated from the right path, unless you hated all Islam and all Muslims? And if you do, what right do you have to the support of the news-consuming public?

Satirise Islamist terror? By all means. Criticise sects of Islam like Wahabism? Certainly.  But imagine if Charlie Hebdo drew a big-nosed Moses sitting amid buckets of cash. Does no one understand why if one is wrong the other is as well?

The final, and equally sad failure in this tragedy is that Bibi Netanyahu will, if he hasn't already done so, release a statement to the French and the world saying: I told you so. He'll thank his lucky stars that carnage like this has been thrown into his electoral campaign.

You think this is overly cynical? Not at all. If you can think that, you don't understand the way his mind works. After 9/11 he publicly said that that sort of attack was what it would take for the world to understand what Israel faces every day. In a perverse way, he was right. The Israeli right has reaped a bitter harvest from Islamism and the West's war on terror.  It put back the Palestinian cause by years if not decades. Islamist terror is the bitter fruit on which Israeli extremism feeds.

- Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog, devoted to exposing the excesses of the Israeli national security state. His work has appeared in Haaretz, the Forward, the Seattle Times and the Los Angeles Times. He contributed to the essay collection devoted to the 2006 Lebanon war, A Time to Speak Out (Verso) and has another essay in the upcoming collection, Israel and Palestine: Alternate Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman & Littlefield).

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A woman holds up a sign in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo magazine (AFP)

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