After last week’s brutal attack in Paris on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, over a million Parisians took to the streets, many of them holding signs reading “Je suis Charlie.” (I am Charlie.) It was at once a defense of the free speech that is a central value of Western civilization, and an act of defiance against the the violent strain of Islam that killed twelve journalists, three policemen, and four shoppers, and which threatens to kill others who “insult the Prophet.”
A day or two after the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag appeared, a second began to make the rounds: #JeSuisAhmed. Ahmed Merabet was the brave Parisian police officer who was murdered by one of the terrorists outside Charlie Hebdo’s offices, shot in the head at close range during their escape. He was Muslim. Ahmed’s brother, also Muslim, made an eloquent plea for calm and tolerance at his funeral service.
At its best, the #JeSuisAhmed meme is a reminder of the tens of millions of decent, kind, hard-working Muslims around the world, including those living in every Western democracy, who behave in ways consistent with democratic (small d) values and do not support terror in any form. May God bless them all.
But many of those copying the #JeSuisAhmed hashtag, and others tweeting #JeNeSuisPasCharlie, do so from an entirely different viewpoint. They aren’t offering Ahmed as another victim of the Paris killers, but as the real victim. The implication of many is that the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were asking for it. They should have been more prudent. They should have been more culturally sensitive, more respectful of other people’s religious beliefs. They are not the real victims here; the dead policeman who defended such jerks and paid with his life is the only one who deserves our sympathies. He was the tragic collateral damage of an understandable act of religious self-defense.
Ironically, the friend who sent me the #JeSuisAhmed link is an in-your-face atheist, who once referred to my Christian faith as “a science fiction story.” No apparent need for cultural respect there. But then, 21st century American Christians who live in wealthy suburbs do not generally behead, shoot, or blow up their critics.
That Muslim policemen was doing his job. So were the two other police officers who died, whose faith if any is unknown, at least to me. But there is no spontaneous tweeting of #JeSuisFranck or #JeSuisClarissa. Martyred police officers, and others who put themselves in harm’s way in defense of our physical safety and our way of life, are heroes all. The families of the three murdered cops in France are as deserving of our memory, prayers and support as those of Officer Daniel Faulkner of Philadelphia, or such military heroes as CPO Chris Kyle, or Navy diver Robert Stethem.
Yet support for police who are doing their jobs, and opposition to their murder, is not a set of Western values that is at risk. (Well, at least not in Paris. In New York City and Oakland California, maybe, but not in Paris.)
The value that is very much at risk in France and throughout Europe is the right of free expression, unconstrained by threat of violence. So is the ability of French Jews to live in the land of their birth without rational fear of murder. In defense of those values, I echo, “Je suis Charlie.”