The murder of 12 people in Paris yesterday at the hands of three gunmen sparked worldwide support for the journalists and cartoonists killed for expressing their political views, but a deeper controversy has also erupted over who's to blame.
Early reports came in that the gunmen were shouting "God is great!" and "We have avenged the Prophet!" which led many to believe that the attackers were Muslim. Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine that was the target of the attack, was notorious for its caricatures and depictions of all religions in a negative light. But it was the cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad that seemed to set off the most violent responses, including a 2011 firebombing of the magazine's headquarters.
Some, like the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, were quick to remind us all that Islam is not a religion of violence and that these attackers are part of a minority extremist sect that doesn't represent the entire religion. "Terror incidents lead many Westerners to perceive Islam as inherently extremist, but I think that is too glib and simple-minded," he wrote. "Small numbers of terrorists make headlines, but they aren't representative of a complex and diverse religion of 1.6 billion adherents."
But The New Yorker's George Packer believes that it's time for us to stop making excuses for Muslims. "Some well-meaning people tiptoe around the Islamic connection, claiming that the carnage has nothing to do with faith, or that Islam is a religion of peace, or that, at most, the violence represents a 'distortion' of a great religion," he wrote.
"They are only the latest blows delivered by an ideology that has sought to achieve power through terror for decades," Packer continued in the article. "It's the same ideology that sent Salman Rushdie into hiding for a decade under a death sentence for writing a novel, then killed his Japanese translator and tried to kill his Italian translator and Norwegian publisher. The ideology that murdered three thousand people in the U.S. on September 11, 2001. The one that butchered Theo van Gogh in the streets of Amsterdam, in 2004, for making a film. The one that has brought mass rape and slaughter to the cities and deserts of Syria and Iraq. That massacred a hundred and thirty-two children and thirteen adults in a school in Peshawar last month. That regularly kills so many Nigerians, especially young ones, that hardly anyone pays attention."
In a USA Today article toting the opposing view, writer Anjem Choudary explains why and how Muslims believe that any depictions of Muhammad are considered death-worthy. "Muslims consider the honor of the Prophet Muhammad to be dearer to them than that of their parents or even themselves. To defend it is considered to be an obligation upon them. The strict punishment if found guilty of this crime under sharia (Islamic law) is capital punishment implementable by an Islamic State. This is because the Messenger Muhammad said, 'Whoever insults a Prophet kill him.'"
In Choudary's argument, it was the French government who was to blame for allowing Charlie Hebdo to continue publishing the types of political commentary and cartoons that infuriated Muslims.
"Why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the sanctity of its citizens at risk? It is time that the sanctity of a Prophet revered by up to one-quarter of the world's population was protected."
As Christians, we are meant to turn the other cheek. Luke 6:29 (KJV) says, "And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also." That means that this blame game is essentially a moot point, but it's still important to learn from what happened. It's not so much about Christianity versus Islam, but misinformed extremists versus the enlightened.
Rupert Myers summed it up fairly well in his own opinion piece at GC Magazine UK: "The attack on Charlie Hebdo was an attack on all of us who believe in the free passage of ideas, and the importance of perspective. While it is hard to find much amusement today, we must not stop looking for it. Terrorists tried to kill off humour in Paris. They have subdued it for a while, but it will rebound."