Like many of us I was shocked by the horrific killings that took place recently in Paris where more than a dozen staff and editors of the French publication Charlie Hebdo, as well as some innocent bystanders, were viciously and cold-bloodedly gunned down by Islamic terrorists. In a separate but related incident a policewoman and five other Parisians were killed. Ultimately, the French authorities found and killed the perpetrators of these killings, but not before they had succeeded in bursting the illusionary bubble of security and safety thought to be enjoyed in this modern city and, in fact, in Europe and much of the west. The terrorists, young French citizens apparently trained and supported by Al-Qaida, purportedly acted in revenge for cartoons and articles published in this satirical weekly newspaper seen as insulting to Mohammed and the Islamic faith.
The Western world responded swiftly in showing support and solidarity to what was seen as a vicious attack on freedom of speech and liberty in our modern society—”Je Suis Charlie—I am Charlie,” resounded around the world as thousands took to the streets in protest and support against the terrorists. The intent of the rallies and the protests was to show Islamic extremists/terrorists that we will not be bullied by armed threats, and we will continue to live as free and open societies. To underscore this, the January 15 publication of Charlie Hebdo sold out more than 5 million copies. (Their normal publication rate previously only amounted to about 60,000 copies!) In the end though we are left to reflect on what could cause such a violent and visceral reaction to simple cartoons in an obscure publication. From my own travels I recall an experience that may offer some insight as to what drives these extremists. Continue reading