The online Charlie Hebdo posted an editorial about the Brussels bombings, “How did we end up here?” They’re not much bothered to single out a cause, even one involving religion, merely noting that everyone will choose their favorite provocation. Instead, the editorial points out the not-so-subtle ways that Islam is discouraging criticism of itself. Take Swiss Islam-apologist Tariq Ramadan—please:
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. Rather like lecture by a Professor of Pies who is also a pie-maker. Thus judge and contestant both.
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.
We’re all too familiar with intimidation of this sort, which only works for Islam because of fear of retribution. The editorial gives more examples of Taria-ism (sadly, neither Glenn Greenwald nor Reza Aslan are mentioned), and then the writer affixes some blame for terrorism on its victims:
And yet, none of what is about to happen in the airport or metro of Brussels can really happen without everyone’s contribution. Because the incidence of all of it is informed by some version of the same dread or fear. The fear of contradiction or objection. The aversion to causing controversy. The dread of being treated as an Islamophobe or being called racist. Really, a kind of terror. And that thing which is just about to happen when the taxi-ride ends [the ride of the three bombers to the Brussels airport] is but a last step in a journey of rising anxiety. It’s not easy to get some proper terrorism going without a preceding atmosphere of mute and general apprehension.
Umm. . . I’m not so sure about that. It all has to begin somewhere, before there is fear, and the modern spate of Islamist terrorism preceded the fear of criticizing it. After all, you don’t become shy of criticizing a religion until people have killed in its name.
And the peroration:
The first task of the guilty is to blame the innocent. It’s an almost perfect inversion of culpability. From the bakery that forbids you to eat what you like, to the woman who forbids you to admit that you are troubled by her veil, we are submerged in guilt for permitting ourselves such thoughts. And that is where and when fear has started its sapping, undermining work. And the way is marked for all that will follow.
Presumably, the point is to inform us of the terrorists’ message: violence will stop as soon as we stop criticizing Islam—or pointing out some of its incompatibilities with Enlightenment-informed democracies.
Charlie Hebdo is right that we should never, ever, stop criticizing irrationality, even if it puts us in danger. But even if we did, would that stop the terrorism, as the editorial implies? I don’t think so. The beef of Islamist terrorists isn’t criticism of their faith, but the incompatibility they see between their religion and modern secular society.