Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo: Frontlines on An Ideological War

Luke Kristopher Davis

Act of Terrorism

Terrorism is a psychological warfare. Terrorists try to manipulate us and change our behavior by creating fear, uncertainty and division in our society.
- Patrick J. Kennedy 

  On January 7th 10:30 GMT two gunmen, believed to be Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi, killed at least 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo HQ in Paris. Many of those killed and in current critical condition were cartoonists and workers for the satirical newspaper. The gunmen forced the cartoonist Corienne Rey to open the coded doors leading into the Charlie Hebdo HQ building, once inside they killed a police officer on guard and one staff member. After this, they moved to the meeting room on the second floor killing 8 journalists and 1 guest. Witnesses, one of whom took a video which was uploaded to youtube, heard the terrorists shouting 'God is Great' in Arabic providing even more evidence that this was indeed an act of Islamic terrorism.

Victims from left to right: Bernard Maris, Wolinski, Cabu, Stephane Charbonnier and Bernard Verlhac

   Police rushed to the scene and engaged in gunfire, more police officers died and many more injured. The gunmen, with an accomplice, escaped the scene and a current manhunt of the utmost urgency is being carried out. Paris and indeed France is in a state of extreme emergency.

The Kouachi brothers are the current suspects

What is Charlie Hebdo?

     Charlie Hebdo, meaning Weekly Charlie, is a left-wing, controversial and anti-religious piece of satirical newspaper which was founded in 1970. It was dropping in the 80's but re-founded in 1992 which has grown a circulation of around 45,000. As you can see by the example 'The Father, The Son.. The Holy Spirit' cover, it is by no means subtle or politically correct in its critique of Christianity. It doesn't just explicitly poke fun at Christianity, the form of Religion dominant in the west, but it also blatantly ridicules all religions, the extremism of right-wing dogma and notable topics in culture which they see fit to comment on in their irreverent tone. 

     In November 2011 the previous offices of Charlie Hebdo were fire bombed in response to a piece named Charia Hebdo meaning 'Weekly Sharia' which quoted the prophet Mohammed as the editor in chief. The paper moved offices into Paris and did not cave in to self-censorship, which many citizens demanded, but instead continued its goal in producing news reports which deliberately mocked fundamentalism, Religion and extreme right wing ideas. This choice to not undergo self-censorship was given the thumbs up by the French government itself and many intellectuals agreed, as caving in implies the fulfilling of the terrorist goals, which is to install fear and demand respect for Islamic religion and all that it derives. 

The reason for this attack

     You may suspect that this attack was simply another November 11' and  you wouldn't be wrong. The mocking of the prophet is one of the most offensive things you can do to a Muslim, scratch that... it IS the most offensive act you can do. A large minority of Muslims are blindly intolerant, living as extreme fundamentalists in which they believe the Muslim faith to be true without doubt and anyone who mocks their beloved figure head deserves death. The thing is they not only think that those who mock their faith should suffer intolerable pain and death but some are extreme enough to actually bring this about. 

     January 7th is an event which saw the actualization of this hatred towards a group publicly mocking their faith in such a freely and careless way. This was an attempt to silence that mocking, to point the finger at this massacre and say "you disrespect my faith, which me, my family and my community base our entire lives on... we will kill you... we will take away your lives... your lives worth less than our faith...".

     I must stress that only a minority of Muslims are extreme enough and indoctrinated enough who would actually cause the death of innocent people who were merely exercising their freedom to express themselves. Many Muslims, who are in no question offended by the cartoons, agree that this does not give anyone the right to take lives and that such matters should be addressed in a peaceful voice. An Islamic man justifies my point: 

 In my Islamic upbringing I was taught that the pen is man's strongest weapon. These extremists must know that they can never silence freedom of speech, for it is a stronger weapon than any they'd dare to carry. Why couldn't they answer peacefully through the pen as our prophet likely would have? True Islam condemns such attacks, more so when they are ignorantly and violently carried out in its name. Long live freedom of expression, religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. - Hamed Saeedi

A casualty of war

      This massacre is a physical expression of memetic alleles colliding and trying to drive the other out as they are both detrimental to each others survival in the whole meme pool. It is a casualty in the war waged between the central idea holding some military authority in the East and the idea which founded the modern Western world as we know it.

   Basically fundamentalism and religion on the one hand, largely represented by Islamic fundamentalism, is in a state of ideological warfare with Freedom of thought and expression. Fundamentalism which is the belief that an idea or theory or any number of statements is 100% true is in direct competition with freedom of thought and expression: the idea that no claims about the world are 100% true due to empirical and scientific doubt and that no idea should be physically impressed on anyone because it might in fact be wrong. In a world dominated by a belief in freedom of thought would lead to its inhabitants being free to express ideas as this stimulates debates, discussions and questions which could lead to an improved living and empirical understanding of the universe. In a world dominated by a fundamentalist belief, due to historical reasons it happens to be an immovable belief in a supernatural being and the validity of ancient texts, we would witness its inhabitants not being able to think outside the confines of their belief due to indoctrination of such belief. Even if some do indeed think beyond the fundamentalism any expression of it would result in death, for this denies the supposed absolute truth.

      So we can see that these two ideas are on an extremely basic level contradictory and any humans believing in them would form two groups with a conflict of interests. Now those who are on the freedom of thought side also assign fallibility to their own belief so in light of this, they will not be intolerant towards the fundamentalists solely because there is a possibility (however small the probability) that they are indeed right. The fundamentalists however believe that anyone who does not believe the absolute truth are committing the highest crime to all humanity, for they are denying what is 100% true... supposedly. So this will result in them doing all they can to either convert or exterminate the other group.

     In reality we have witnessed the fundamentalist side do this very thing, but only really when the other side really mocks the fundamentalists beliefs. Why haven't the fundamentalist side, which not only includes Islamic extremists, tried to wage outright war on the other 'freedom of thought side' ? Well because the sides are not equally matched and are not the same size. The Western world with its huge accumulated economy, population and military power has actually stopped the Eastern world (which most fundamentalist communities at large exist) from going to outright war solely on the difference in culture because the East would surely lose. So going to war would in essence destroy fundamentalist believers, their homes and possibly the survival of the fundamentalist idea itself.

      However the fundamentalism urges believers to still do something in order to convert or destroy those who explicitly contradict their ideas. They do this through acts of terrorism and acts of death (many which include the death of a terrorist) to install respect of their belief through fear of more death and violence and this reduces the power of freedom of expression. I say reduces but it is simply an attempt to reduce the power of freedom of expression. In no way has this mission really been accomplished.

Which side will win ? 

     Looking at this as two memes (ideas) which are competing for their future survival, where such survival depends on their abilities to adapt to selection criteria imposed by human nature. By this I mean that the idea that survives or becomes more  believed in will be more conducive to human life in which it enables humans to live a more long lived, healthier, more knowledgeable and happier life. Showing how these ideas could do that seems hard and almost impossible, but it can be done and I  will outline some reasons as to why I think fundamentalism, be it; Islamic, Catholic, Judaic.... Creationist or any belief system believed in without doubt or consulting the evidence will gradually fade away into the history of mankind.

     First of all what is conducive to human life is most definitely likely to be true. Never has a false principle ever helped humans in manipulating a physical environment or improving their biologically characteristics. This is because if a principle does not abide by how nature works the principle cannot take into affect. For example if I believe that curing a disease took a number of people putting their hands together praying to a supernatural being then of course this wouldn't work...  we would in fact witness those with no natural way of improving their condition simply dying. This is because the principle of praying assumes the existence of an all controlling being and that praying to him about curing someone will cure them. These assumptions have no scientific evidence for them so they are deemed false. This logic can be applied to any principle of this nature and it can be shown (has been shown in many cases) that these principles are in fact completely useless. Principles based on scientific inquiry, repeated experiments and peer-reviewed theories will work much better instead. 

     So the dogmas of fundamentalism which are majorly based on religious ones are principles which assume supernatural entities, beyond the observable world, they assume odd claims about the world which nearly all are either physically impossible, cannot be demonstrated or have no evidence for them. This means that actually they really won't lead to useful advances in human life. Some may argue that what happens if science is believed fundamentally? Well they will face an immediate contradiction in terms as science is based on empirical approximations and no scientific theory by the very nature of science itself can ever be claimed to be 100% right, as there is a possibility of a future experiment which could falsify its claims. So in fact fundamentalism is doomed. 

    Of course the human race cannot know innately the principles which are most conducive to human life but the most logical way is to try different ideas and see whether they are indeed useful. This implies that humans should have the freedom to think of different ideas and they should be put out into the open so that all these ideas can be discussed, some being more favored than others due to their accordance with established ideas or because they can be tested in science or politics with ease and minimal cost. Those least favored would be those which failed theoretically or testing them is extremely costly or those of a fundamentalist nature. Of course those least favored would not be outright exterminated as in a fundamentalist world, but they lay on the top shelf in which they would be sought for if they are the next best thing or other ideas failed to be useful. 

   This is how Western democracy should in theory be run and in fact it runs in a pretty similar fashion to this. Also note how well the West has actually done in economical terms, scientific terms and in the quality of lives that people live. Of course we can do better! But I personally think we are doing better than those in the East which are countries in political turmoil, stricken with poverty in some areas and not boasting the best life expectancy. Political revolutions which have occurred in Egypt, Syria and Libya are actually adopting democratic means to appoint leaders. I think once doubt creeps in and gradually enters the minds of more far Islamic and religious people they will start to question their faith and the ideas which their lives revolve around on. With these questions demand answers and I think the humans in these areas are capable of as much reasoning as I and you are, and once they question their indoctrination they will demand sensible answers with justification. The internet is slowly allowing this doubt to creep in.

How should we then react to this event? 

   We must not give in to terrorism and we must not condone acts of intolerance. Freedom of expression is an extremely valuable principle in our modern world and we all reap the benefits of its success, it is a principle worth protecting with our hearts and minds, together as a unified culture of free spirited human beings. I am out, I am Charlie, you are Charlie, we are Charlie. 

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