Category Archives: freespeech

Are terrorist attacks Europe’s high-school massacres?

Fuck the Terrorists
Fuck the Terrorists by VivaAntarctica, on Flickr.
In the light of the recent horrible events in Copenhagen, I'm starting to wonder whether terrorist attacks are becoming Europe's version of America's high-school massacres.

Both high-school massacres and small-scale terrorist attacks are typically done by young people who feel they don't fit in, and they're heavily publicised by the media.

Lionel Shriver wrote the following back in 2007; however, wouldn't almost every word of it apply to many recent terrorist attacks in Europe?

If it does not sound too tautological, campus shootings keep happening because they keep happening. Every time one of these stories breaks, every time the pictures flash round the world, it increases the chances that another massacre will follow. In the main, all of these events are copycat crimes. Campus shootings are now a genre, much as, in literature, campus-shooting novels are a genre, one of whose entries I am guilty of writing myself. They are part of the cultural vocabulary, and any disgruntled, despairing or vengeful character -- of any age of late, since grown-ups now want in on the act -- now has the idea of shooting up a campus firmly lodged in his brain.

[...]

I would far prefer that this new killer remained anonymous. Were all such culprits to remain utterly and eternally unknown, the chips on their shoulders interred with their bones, their grudges for ever private, surely the frequency of these grotesquely gratuitous sprees would plummet. One of the driving forces for most of these killers is not just to be noticed, but, however perversely, to be understood.

Of course there are terrorist attacks that are carefully planned by organisations consisting mainly of grown-up people, and maybe they should be handled differently. However, I can't help thinking that perhaps we're actually causing lots of small terrorist attacks by talking about them too much.

Would it not be better if media reported such attacks in a low-key fashion, without talking too much about the perpetrator's identity and reasons, basically treating them pretty much as if they had been bank robberies with the same number of casualties?

Of course it's hard to force the media to tone down their reporting when there's a huge amount of public interest, but at the very least we should perhaps try to keep the big headlines inside the country where the attack happened instead of publicising every one of them across the entire continent. For extremists, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

Je suis Charlie

A Charlie Hebdo cover.
A Charlie Hebdo cover.
When Jyllands-Posten published the now famous Mohammed cartoons back in 2005, I must admit I felt a bit annoyed. The Danish newspaper is consistently right-wing, so it was very fond of Dubya and his War on Terror, and it had no history of provoking people (other than left-wingers) just for the sake of it. I therefore thought their real motives had less to do with protecting free speech and more to do with provoking Moslems. At the same time, I supported their freedom of speech 100%. In other words, my attitude at the time was very well expressed by the quote wrongly attributed to Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

However, this time it's different. Charlie Hebdo didn't just criticise Islam -- they were ruthless in their treatment of everything and everybody (see the cover illustrating this blog post), as a left-wing secular satirical magazine should. It would have been very strange for them not to criticise Islam using their best cartoonists from time to time. In other words, the terrorist massacre of Charlie Hebdo's core staff is the clearest attack on free speech imaginable, and we all have to join the fight against those people who want to transform our societies into illiberal, totalitarian regimes, whatever their religion and nationality.

Moi, je suis Charlie. Et toi?