Who is to blame for the massacre at the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, the irreverent satirical magazine?
The moment we heard about the carnage we had a pretty good idea of what happened.
Islamist extremists, “jihadis” have carried out some of the most shocking terrorist attacks in recent years, and their willingness to kill in the name of avenging a certain offense, a perceived wrong, is well known.
A horrific terrorist attack — perpetrated by Muslims — automatically leads many to blame Islam and, with varying degrees of subterfuge, all Muslims.
On the other end of the ideological scale, it sends some into a spirited defense of Islam and of its practitioners, exonerating both with claims that this had nothing to do with Islam and that, as President Obama and other world leaders have said about previous atrocities, the terrorists “are not real Muslims.”
The truth lies somewhere in between. It is absurd and utterly unfair to blame all Muslims for what some members of their religion do. It is just as ridiculous to claim these acts have nothing to do with Islam. And when it comes to deciding who is and is not a real Muslim, that is not a task for the U.S. president or the British prime minister or the secretary general of the United Nations.
Clearly, Islam, a particular interpretation of it, plays a fundamental role.
It is the driving force behind most of the terrorism we see in the world today, which is afflicting Muslims far more extensively than non-Muslims in the West.
Justifying the events in Paris, the British-born radical Muslim preacher Anjem Choudary wrote, “The Messenger Mohammed said, ‘Whoever insults the Prophet kill him.’” Choudary, who has shown no qualms about the killing of civilians, places the blame on French authorities for allowing the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo to continue publishing. The problem, in other words, is free speech.
That is a rather clear-cut delineation of the incompatibility of Islamic radicalism and democracy. The two cannot live together.
And the problem, to state the obvious, is not that the magazine was offensive. Charlie Hebdo offended Jews, Christians, Muslims and others. Only Muslims murdered as a result.
To state what is not obvious to many people: All Muslims are not guilty of the crime.
But there is a problem within a too-large segment of the Muslim world, which has become a global focus of murderous intolerance. From the Iranian fatwa against the novelist Salman Rushie, to the assassination of the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, to the deadly riots over the Danish cartoons, a segment of the Muslim world aims to impose cultural totalitarianism upon the West and upon Muslims around the globe.
The vast majority of Muslims are repelled by the actions of the extremists, who are seeking to subjugate all of them into becoming slaves of their worldview. Muslims who want nothing to do with this ideology are caught between the fanatics who would enslave them and the non-Muslims who blame them for the violent strains in the Islamic world.
To be sure, there is a vicious violent strain in the Islamic world. Muslims have acknowledged this.
I must admit, I find it reassuring when I hear Muslims criticize the atrocities of extremists, and I do believe religious and political leaders should speak out when these happen. But I find it unseemly to demand that every Muslim condemn acts that are so patently abhorrent.
The war against radical Islamists must be fought on many fronts, and that is already happening. One of the most important campaigns must come from within the Muslim world, and we have seen significant battles already under way.
Just a few days before the Paris attacks, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told Muslim leaders that they should join the fight against extremism, calling for a “religious revolution.”
Al-Sisi is a devout Muslim and fierce enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist ideologues.
In his speech marking the birth of the Prophet Mohammed he spoke passionately, as he has in the past. “The entire world is waiting for your word,” he told religious leaders.
“The Muslim world is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost,” he thundered. “And it is being lost by our own hands.”
So, who should we blame? We blame the perpetrators — and we don’t turn a blind eye to their religious motives. Islamist extremists are to blame. Islamist extremism is their cause.