Thursday, January 8, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Jan 9, 2015

Terror proliferation The attack by at least three gunmen on the offices of a French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Wednesday that killed 12 people and left scores injured has brought home with a vengeance to France and the world the predicted blowback from the civil wars in Syria and Iraq. Amidst persistent reports over time that young men (and even women) were being recruited for these wars on the side of Islamist extremist groups, the intelligence agencies of a number of European and other countries have been warning that these recruits could pose a terrorist threat to their home countries when they return. Given that the videos available of the Paris attack show the men had military training, that warning seems to have come true. This is the worst terrorist attack in France in living memory. Two brothers have been named as suspects. Cherif and Said Kouechi have been reportedly spotted at a motorway service station north of Paris. A massive manhunt has been mounted amidst a high security alert throughout the country. On Thursday early morning, another attack was reported in Paris that killed a policewoman and wounded a sanitary worker, but French authorities were cautious about linking the two incidents on two successive days. No claim of responsibility has come forward so far, so it is difficult to pin down which of the plethora of extremist jihadi groups that dot the Middle East and further abroad was behind the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Condemnation has come thick and fast from virtually the entire world, notable amongst which are Saudi Arabia and Al Azhar University in Cairo. Journalists and wide swathes of opinion in France and all over the world have reignited the debate about freedom of expression after the attack on the magazine. In one corner of this debate are the upholders of the freedom of unfettered expression, whose renewed defiance of the terrorists’ intolerance and violence is imbedded in the deeply held values of a democratic state and society. In the other corner are the fanatics who regard any caricature, cartoon or satire on Islam or its Prophet (PBUH) nothing short of insult and blasphemy, for which they do not shrink from killing the offender. In between these polarised positions are those who support freedom of expression, but do not agree it should be unfettered by any sense of responsibility. In 2006, when the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of the Prophet (PBUH), it sparked off riots in the Middle East that killed 50 people. Charlie Hebdo, in trying to drive home its point about freedom of expression, reproduced those cartoons, opening itself to attacks and threats from jihadi terrorists over the years. Police protection for the magazine proved inadequate in the face of a determined assault by attackers clearly well trained for their mission. Charlie Hebdo, other papers and journals and particularly cartoonists in Europe and the rest of the world defiantly showed their solidarity with the magazine and vowed to protect their freedoms from all such attempts at silencing them. That posture suggests we should brace ourselves for further such attacks on publications that fall foul of the jihadi terrorists. Pakistan is still reeling from the attack and massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar on December 16. While the country is wrestling with the challenge thrown down by the terrorists on our soil, we cannot remain unmoved at the fate of fellow journalists in Paris, whether we fully agree with their position on freedom of expression irrespective of its consequences or not. After all, Pakistan is widely labelled the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. The statistics of media workers killed over the years in the country bear out the integrity of that description. Both the Peshawar and Paris attacks show the world is not yet sufficiently prepared to face what can only be described as spreading terror proliferation. A quick glance at the news every day would be enough to convince even the most uninformed of this growing menace worldwide. Logically then, Pakistan and the world need to come together to face this menace together and crush it out of existence. That task requires not only military and security means, but perhaps even more importantly in the long run, the credible and persuasive counter-narrative that can wean away actual or potential recruits to the terrorist cause. Muslims in particular need to revisit the Prophet’s (PBUH) response/example in the face of insult and provocation to understand that those who wield the language of weapons actually lack a convincing argument and those who choose to combat them with the weapon of language will win out in the end.

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