Infamous Charlie Hebdo told off for linking all Muslims to Brussels attacks

 A copy of the special edition of Charlie Hebdo to mark the one-year anniversary of the attack on the magazine. Photograph: Imago/Barcroft Media/Panoramic
A copy of the special edition of Charlie Hebdo to mark the one-year anniversary of the attack on the magazine. Photograph: Imago/Barcroft Media/Panoramic

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has sparked anger and condemnation after publishing an editorial that suggests ordinary Muslims contributed to a climate in which the Brussels bombings took place.

The magazine – which itself was the target of a terrorist attack last year – published the editorial, How Did We End Up Here?, eight days after bombs at Brussels’ airport and metro system killed more than 30 people. It said a fear of being seen as Islamophobic had inhibited the public from questioning or objecting to facets of Islam.

Among the responses it triggered was a comparison with the demonisation of Jews in the 1930s. “Such categorisation of an entire community as an insidious poison is a move we have seen before,” wrote the author Teju Cole.

The editorial began by listing several mooted explanations for the Brussels attacks, including police incompetence, youth unemployment, immigration and growing Islamism.

But, it went on: “In reality, the attacks … are the last phase of a process of cowing and silencing long in motion and on the widest possible scale.”

It singled out the recent appearance at Sciences Po, the elite Paris Institute of Political Studies, of the Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan. “His task, under cover of debate, is to dissuade people from criticising his religion in any way. The political science students who listened to him last week will, once they have become journalists or local officials, not even dare to write nor say anything negative about Islam.”

To reinforce the point, Charlie Hebdo cited fictional examples of a veiled woman and a local baker. The woman, said the editorial, was admirable, courageous, dignified, devoted to her family. “She harms no one … So why go on whining about the wearing of the veil and pointing the finger of blame at these women? We should shut up, look elsewhere and move past all the street insults and rumpus.”

The bearded Muslim baker was liked by his customers who did not complain that he did not serve ham or bacon sandwiches. “It would be silly to grumble or kick up a fuss in that much-loved boulangerie. We’ll get used to it easily enough … And thus the baker’s role is done.”

The editorial moved on to a trio of Muslim men, neither erudite nor devout, who took a taxi to Brussels airport. “And still, in this precise moment, no one has done anything wrong. Not Tariq Ramadan, nor the ladies in burqas, not the baker and not even these idle young scamps.”

Yet everyone had contributed to what was about to happen, the article said. “The incidence of all of it is informed by some version of the same dread or fear … The aversion to causing controversy. The dread of being treated as an Islamophobe or being called a racist. Really, a kind of terror. And that thing which is just about to happen when the taxi ride ends is but a last step in a journey of rising anxiety.”

The terrorists’ role “is simply to provide the end of a philosophical line already begun,” it added.

Charlie Hebdo concluded: “From the bakery that forbids you to eat what you like, to the woman who forbids you to admit that you are troubled by her veil, we are submerged in guilt for permitting ourselves such thoughts. And that is where and when fear has started its sapping, undermining work. And the way is marked for all that will follow.”

The editorial was published 15 months after 11 people were shot dead at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in January 2015 by brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi. About 2 million people took part in a protest rally in Paris a few days later, and millions more across the world declared “Je Suis Charlie” in an act of solidarity.

Its publication prompted a furious reaction on social media, mainly from the UK and US. On Twitter, it was described as bigoted and racist.

Shadi Hamid, writer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tweeted:


Galib Ahsan said the editorial read “like an article on a rightwing daily from rural south”. Siraj Hashmi said Charlie Hebdo had “no interest in satirising Islam, they’re straight demonising it”.

The writer Chika Unigwe said:

Cole, a Nigerian-American writer and photographer, wrote a riposte on Facebook that recalled the demonisation of Jews in Europe during the 1930s.

“The people of Charlie –who in my view were simultaneously the victims of a terrifying, unspeakable crime, and the producers of an antic and gross publication (nothing wrong with that) that was at the same time deeply prejudiced – finally step away from the mask of ‘it’s satire and you don’t get it’ to state clearly that Muslims, all of them, no matter how integrated, are the enemy,” he said.

“Reading this extraordinary editorial by Charlie, it’s hard not to recall the vicious development of ‘the Jewish question’ in Europe and the horrifying persecution it resulted in. Charlie’s logic is frighteningly similar: that there are no innocent Muslims, that ‘something must be done’ about these people, regardless of their likability, their peacefulness, or their personal repudiation of violence. Such categorisation of an entire community as an insidious poison is a move we have seen before.”

But some on Twitter said the editorial was thoughtful and even brilliant. Toby Young, the journalist and writer, described it as “powerful”.

The editorial was published in English as well as French, suggesting it was intended for an audience beyond the magazine’s largely French readership. It has generated little response in France.

Charlie Hebdo declined to comment on the reaction to the editorial.

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