(Published by the Malay Mail Online 8 January 2015)
The unthinkable just happened. Two masked gunmen stormed offices in central Paris killing 12 people. Eight journalists from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, including its editor, and two policemen are among the dead.
A major police operation is underway in east of Paris to catch the killers who escaped by car from the 11th arrondissement, while an estimated 100,000 people across France (Paris, Lyon, Rennes) have taken to the streets in respectful vigils in memory of those killed. Unofficial reports (not confirmed at the time of writing) suggest the attackers belonged to Al-Qaeda.
In amateur video footage of the attack one of the men can be heard shouting, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” and “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Great”) minutes after the attack.
Charlie Hebdo magazine is known for its controversial treatment of all religions—notably their cartoonists’ caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in pornographic poses back in 2012 which helped spark protests across the Middle East.
The attack was frighteningly well planned. Automatic rifles used with military precision, two escape cars, the first abandoned for a second on the outskirts of Paris and the attack coincided with the regular weekly editorial board meeting with staff cartoonists present.
And, perhaps, not unexpected. I reported on the beheading of Hervé Gourdel back in September, the French mountaineer killed by the Islamic State while on holiday in Algeria.
I thought then we were one step away from an attack on French soil. I also questioned the thorny issue of France’s ransom payments to Al Qaeda/Islamic State over the past few years estimated by a New York Times reporter to be in the region of US$58 million (RM206.9 million), which, if correct, would have helped them become the violent extremists we see today.
Then there was a spate of violent attacks over the festive period, the last being a van rammed into a busy Christmas market in Dijon. While unconfirmed, each attack carried some of the hallmarks of Islamic extremism.
One cannot escape the irony of this happening in a country that prides itself on its cornerstone motto “liberty, equality and fraternity” — inscribed on the facade of every Town Hall throughout France.
About 35,000 Parisians gathered tonight in the Place de la Republique for a vigil. Holding up hastily-made placards that read Je suis Charlie — I am Charlie — a hashtag that is now trending on Twitter in memory of the victims.
A way of saying this attack is extensibly against me, as a fellow French citizen. News headlines echo the same sentiment.
Fear and panic grip hearts and souls here this evening giving a palpable sense that nowhere is safe, not a Christmas market, not a business meeting, not your own doorstep. Terrorists are ubiquitous entities; they cannot be easily contained by police, governments nor indeed countries.
My thoughts are with the families and friends of those whose lives were taken so brutally hours ago. But they are also with the Muslim communities across France who condemned this horrific incident.
I fear for them in the dangerous anti-Islamic tide that has swept through France, Europe and beyond in this post 9/11 climate.
Tariq Ramadan, one of the most prominent Muslim intellectuals in Europe, responded to the attack earlier today in America’s Democracy Now! news show saying the attack was: “A pure betrayal of our religion, our principles and everything we stand for.”
The professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University, England said that there has to be critical debate now on “Islamophobia” — the racism that exists against Islam and Muslims.
“Critical discussions” are urgently needed he added, making it clear that “Muslims as a whole, including Western Muslims, be it in the States or in Europe or in France, have to be involved.”
Anyone with an iota of intelligence knows that the extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are NOT the “voice of Islam.”
As 99 plus per cent of Muslims around the world will tell you: The Quran, the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, explicitly prohibits any form of injustice including violence that seeks to instil fear, injury or death to civilians. It also absolutely forbids the taking of an innocent life unjustly, whether it is Muslim or non-Muslim equating the gravity of such a crime with the killing of all humanity.
Yesterday’s attack was cold-blooded murder, plain and simple. It has struck “the heart of France” as President François Hollande lamented in a news conference yesterday evening. He has ordered French flags across the nation to be lowered for the next three days, and today to be a day of mourning.