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Once upon a time when newspaper and magazine offices were torched for offending a powerful group, the rest of the press would rally behind them. But when Charlie Hedbo, a French satirical magazine decided to put out an issue dedicated to Islam with a cover of Mohammed declaring, “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing,” and received a very special burning “Letter to the Editor” from the country’s “Religion of Peace,” the American press lined up behind the firebombers.
Christopher Dickey, the Paris Bureau editor at Newsweek suggested that the far right was probably behind it because it had the most to gain from the attack. Dickey was unable to accuse Hedbo, a left-wing magazine, of being a member of the far-right, so he did the next best thing by diverting attention from the perpetrators and transforming Muslims into the victims of a far-right conspiracy.
Newsweek’s response showed that the second most pernicious thing about the Islamophobia myth is that even when Muslims are the perpetrators, they are still the victims. Moments after an attack takes place, the press rushes out editions worrying that the murder or attempted murder of innocent people by Muslims will cause Islamophobia.
Whether it’s the mass murder of 3,000 people or another in a long series of assaults on freedom of speech in Europe, the villains are always critics of Islam and the victims are always Muslims.
However Dickey was a moderate compared to Time’s Paris Bureau chief, Bruce Crumley, who charged that Charlie Hedbo was a victim of its own “obnoxious Islamophobia” and accused it of wanting to be burned down. Crumley’s article tossed aside freedom of speech in the name of France’s five million Muslims who feel stigmatized by Islamophobia.
Islamophobia is one charge that the editors of Charlie Hedbo are immune from. If they had been afraid of Islam, the way that Time and Newsweek editors are, they would have never run an issue dedicated to mocking Islam. But then Crumley isn’t really saying that Islamophobia is a bad thing. The thrust of his reasoning is that it’s a good thing. It’s good to be afraid of Islamic violence because it makes us more sensitive to Muslim concerns.
If the French had taken a few lessons from CNN and Comedy Central and American newspapers who didn’t dare print the Mohammed cartoons, if they had accepted the “Gift of Fear” that is Islamophobia, they would be a more peaceful and tolerant society.
Crumley’s piece demonstrated that the most pernicious thing about the Islamophobia myth is that once it is used to legitimize Muslim grievances, it is then used to legitimize the violent Muslim response to those grievances. Once you accept that Islamophobia is a serious problem, you have taken the first step to justifying violence as a response to that problem.
That is how it began in Israel, once the narrative of Muslim suffering under the “occupation” was accepted; Muslim terrorism became legitimized as a resistance to the occupation. Once you accept that Muslims in France have been marginalized by an Islamophobic society, then criticizing their religion marginalizes them further and justifies their violent response.
The charge of Islamophobia turns Charlie Hedbo into the new Israel, occupying Muslim sensitivities with tanks made of cartoons and barbed wire fences made of words. Once the occupation is defined, then resistance is justified– and the charge of Islamophobia becomes a license to kill.
Even organizations dedicated to freedom of the press make their ritual obeisances to the Islamophobia myth.
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