The cruel killing of 10 members of the editorial staff of the Paris weekly Charlie Hebdo (including its chief editor) and two policeman by three gunmen on Wednesday will go down in history as yet another instance of total intolerance of opinion and criticism even in a highly democratic society. Charlie Hebdo has long been known for courting controversy with satirical attacks on political and religious leaders who have sought to perpetuate ideas quite ucceptable in a democratic setup. With satire and lampoon, cartoon and caricature Charlie Hebdo had gone hammer and tongs at radical views seeking to substitute what goes by the me of religion. The last tweet attributed to the magazine had mocked Abu Bakr al–Baghdadi, the leader of the militant Islamic State, which has already taken control of large stretches of Iraq and Syria. The weekly was part of a hallowed tradition in France, that made use of satire and insolence to attack politicians, the police, bankers and religions of all kinds. This week, it had included even a mock debate about whether Jesus Christ actually existed. Among the 10 dead was the co–founder of Charlie Hebdo Jean “Cabu” Cabut and editor–in–chief Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier. Charbonnier had apparently told Reuters in 2012 that nobody noticed when Charlie Hebdo ridiculed Catholic traditiolists. “But they are not allowed to make fun of Muslim hardliners. It’s the new rule… But we will not obey it,” he had said. Speaking to Le Monde the same year, Charbonnier had said, “it is perhaps a bit pompous to say so, but I prefer to die on my feet than live on my knees.”
On Wednesday, the three gunmen casually walked into the Charlie Hebdo office, shot down 10 members of the editorial staff and walked out casually. Seeing a wounded policeman lying on the ground, one of them walked up to him and shot him at point–blank range. Thereafter, they got into a parked car and disappeared. The youngest of the three gunmen, 18–year–old Hamid Mourad, who drove the getaway car, surrendered late on Wednesday night at a police station in Charleville–Mezieres in northern France. But the manhunt for the two other killers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, suspected to be brothers is still on. And those who are aware of the prowess of the French police have little doubt that in the next few days, the other two killers will also be apprehended and sent to trial.
However, the issue is not whether the killers will be tried and punished but rather whether France will be compelled to change its ways of criticising, lampooning and making fun of ucceptable beliefs, attitudes and mores in order to bring about the desired reforms and to kow–tow to jihadi ways of doing things. The weakness of European countries in respect of resisting jihadi attitudes is bizarre and intriguing. It is a case of the host permitting the guest to have his way in running the affairs of the house. And we have seen what this can lead to. Such an attitude leads the guest to dictate terms even with the use of firearms and with killings to make a point. The situation in Paris is that there are now many areas of the city with a high concentration of Muslim immigrants that even the police personnel are afraid to enter. In all these years, the liberal French have been generous to these immigrants and have permitted thousands of them to settle in France. Should they leave French traditions, customs, mores and norms alone or try to impose their own ways on the French? Perhaps European countries have a thing or two to learn from Australia that had made it clear to Islamic immigrants a few years ago that if they did not like the ways of the Australians, they also had the freedom to leave the country. We have also seen what Wednesday’s carge did to France. It provoked a very tolerant population to take to violent, intolerant ways by attacking hundreds of mosques all over the country.