The Federalist, by M.G. Oprea, April 8, 2016:
Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine whose offices Islamists attacked in 2015, published an editorial recently titled “How Did We Get Here?” that has raised some eyebrows. In it, they ask how Europe has become where European-born Muslims have attacked the hearts of Paris and Brussels. Their answer has proved distasteful to many on the Left.
The editorial has been harshly criticized and the magazine accused of racism and xenophobia. The Washington Post says Charlie Hebdo blames extremism on individual Muslims—the veiled woman on the street, the man selling kebabs. There’s some truth to this accusation, and to the extent that there is, Charlie Hebdo is wrong. But this, and other critiques, miss the larger point of the article, which is to demonstrate the gradual and quotidian way in which criticizing Islam has been silenced.
It’s worth quoting Charlie Hebdo at length:
In reality, the attacks are merely the visible part of a very large iceberg indeed. They are the last phase of a process of cowing and silencing long in motion and on the widest possible scale. Our noses are endlessly rubbed in the rubble of Brussels airport and in the flickering candles amongst the bouquets of flowers on the pavements. All the while, no one notices what’s going on in Saint-German-en-Laye. Last week, Sciences-Po* welcomed Tariq Ramadan. He’s a teacher, so it’s not inappropriate. He came to speak of his specialist subject, Islam, which is also his religion…
No matter, Tariq Ramadan has done nothing wrong. He will never do anything wrong. He lectures about Islam, he writes about Islam, he broadcasts about Islam. He puts himself forward as a man of dialogue, someone open to a debate. A debate about secularism which, according to him, needs to adapt itself to the new place taken by religion in Western democracy. A secularism and a democracy which must also accept those traditions imported by minority communities. Nothing bad in that. Tariq Ramadan is never going to grab a Kalashnikov with which to shoot journalists at an editorial meeting. Nor will he ever cook up a bomb to be used in an airport concourse. Others will be doing all that kind of stuff. It will not be his role. 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. The little dent in their secularism made that day will bear fruit in a fear of criticising lest they appear Islamophobic. That is Tariq Ramadan’s task.
The Charlie Hebdo editorial correctly points out that in Europe the dominant liberal culture has pounded into us that we must adapt to Muslims who come to our country, and never ask them to adapt to any of our ways. Doing so would be colonialist and wrong. It’s a double standard, of course. As the welcoming countries, Europeans must suppress their own culture and ideals for those of the Islamic immigrant population. But when they go abroad to non-Western countries, either to live or to visit, it’s considered offensive not to adapt to their ways of life.
Learning a Culture Should Work Both Ways
No one who found the Charlie Hebdo op-ed so offensive would ever suggest Morocco ought to welcome McDonalds or Wal-Mart with open arms. They would say the country is being ruined with Western culture. They want non-Western countries to remain exactly as they are—preserved and frozen in time-while the West must endlessly adapt to anyone who makes it their home.
The article highlights the important fact that Europe has failed to ask its Muslim immigrant population to assimilate. This fact was demonstrated recently when police discovered that the only surviving terrorist from the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was able to travel from Paris to Brussels and conceal himself there until a few days before the Brussels attacks. He was aided by a large community of French and Muslim Belgians whose loyalties clearly lie with their own community, not with Belgium, or Europe at large. What’s more, a 2013 study shows the shocking degree to which European Muslims hate the West.
Asking immigrants to assimilate doesn’t mean white-washing their culture and religion, asking them not to wear the hijab, or demanding that they eat pork. But it does mean asking them to accept, to some degree, the culture of the country to which they have willingly moved. These are things like women’s rights, tolerance, free speech, or criticism of religion. It also means not having to apologize for having a culture of one’s own. This is the point that Michel Houellebecq made in his recent novel, “Submission.”
Slow-Boiling Our Brains
Europeans have been lulled into accepting that it’s wrong to criticize Islam or scrutinize it in any way. The Charlie Hebdo editorial points out that it’s a slow process, an insidious wearing away of what is and isn’t acceptable to say or think. The process must be slow, because few people would accept a proposal dictating what topics they’re not allowed to discuss. So, you gradually shame them into it.
This establishes a pre-conditioned mindset so the line of acceptability can be moved further and further until the problem of global jihad can no longer be effectively explored because we aren’t even allowed to ask fundamental questions. This is Charlie Hebdo’s point about Tariq Ramadan, whose grandfather founded the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and whose father was an active member of the group. Through the guise of intellectualism and purported adherence to moderate Islam, he instructs his audience ever so gently that the problem has nothing to do with Islam, and that suggesting so is ugly and base.
We acquiesce, because, as Charlie Hebdo points out, we fear being seen as Islamaphobic or racist. We are made to feel guilty if the thought flashes through our head that we wish that the new sandwich shop run by a Muslim sold bacon, or that a woman wearing a hijab makes us a little uncomfortable. That fear that we feel when we entertain those thoughts, the op-ed argues, saps our willingness to scrutinize, analyze, debate, or reject anything about Islam. And this is dangerous.
Fierce Reactions Aim to Condition Us Into Fear
Although Europe is further along in this process, there is a clear relevance to the United States. We are already being instructed on college campuses and by our own president that Muslims are a sort of protected class regarding criticism. President Obama even went so far as to censor French President François Hollande when he used the forbidden phrase “Islamist terrorism.”
The latest incident of shaming those who do push back ishappening in Kansas, where the Islamic Society of Wichita invited Sheik Monzer Talib to speak at a fundraising event on Good Friday. Talib is a known fundraiser for Hamas, the militant Islamist Palestinian group that the United States classifies as a terrorist organization. He even has sung a song called “I am from Hamas.” U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo dared to put out a press release objecting to the speech out of concern that it would harm the Muslim community, particularly in the wake of the Brussels terrorist attack.
In response, the mosque claimed Pompeo stoked prejudice and Islamaphobia and that they had to cancel the event because of protest announcements and because some individuals on Facebook made some offhand comments about guns. Cue a local media frenzy, letters to the editor accusing Pompeo of government overreach, and the predictable arrival of two CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) representatives to skewer Pompeo.
This is just one example of how criticizing or questioning the actions of a Muslim community—even one that is supporting a Hamas fundraiser—has become anathema. The line of acceptability has been moved so now it’s Islamaphobic to object to someone with links to Islamist groups being invited to a U.S. mosque while we’re in the midst of a global battle against Islamist terrorism. People don’t even want to discuss it. The conversation is over. Just as Charlie Hebdo asks, so should we ask ourselves, “How did we get here?”
Although the particulars of the Charlie Hebdo editorial may go too far, and I do not endorse everything the article says, the overarching message is that Europe has slowly let this happen year by year, decade by decade, like a frog in a pot slowly brought to a boil. Post-colonial guilt and shame have stopped Europeans from openly loving and defending their own culture. The state of things in Europe today is the natural conclusion of that neglect. We in America are on the same road.
M. G. Oprea is a writer based in Austin, Texas. She holds a PhD in French linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin. You can follow her on Twitter here.