The Great War Series (Part II): Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech & Religious Violence

The Great War Series (Part II)

Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech & Religious Violence

By Guillaume A.W. Attia (Editor-In-Chief)

January 7, 2016          Picture: Stephane Mahe/REUTERS


The swiftly executed paramilitary killing of twelve people at the Parisian headquarters of the French satirist magazine Charlie Hebdo by two heavily armed Al Qaeda-trained French brothers on January 7 2015, as well as the associated fatal shooting of four people at a kosher supermarket two days later, reignited familiar debates about the limits of free speech and the dangers of religious dogma.

Only this time, the official characterization of the grocery store attack as ‘anti-Semitic’ reinforced (justifiably so or not) the insecurities of some French Jews about their continued cultural existence in an increasingly multicultural but religiously segregated France, and in a world where the acts of terrorism most threatening to the French Jewish community are sponsored by organizations that not only claim to be the most faithful representatives of authentic Islamic devotion, but are also clearly capable of recruiting the disenfranchised Muslim youth of the French suburbs to carry out their ignoble biddings.

Is this fear justified? Should Jews be concerned about their safety in Europe? Is multiculturalism partly to blame for the terror of January 2015? Are the teachings of Islam and scriptural religions in general problematic for those trying to discourage religiously motivated violence? If so, is absolute freedom to criticize such religious views the best way to combat the bad results of such indoctrination? Or should members of democratic liberal states simply learn to watch what they say about people’s sacred beliefs?

The 17 expert contributors gathered for this exclusive treatment of the philosophical challenges of terrorism and warfare following the Charlie Hebdo attack offer some of their insight.


Article #1: “Multiculturalism & The Charlie Hebdo Attack” by Sune Laegaard (Roskilde University)

The attack on Charlie Hebdo has by many been linked to multiculturalism. But it is unclear exactly how the connection between multiculturalism and the attack should be understood and whether there indeed is such a connection. The article discusses this by distinguishing between different senses of multiculturalism and different ways in which one might think that there is a link between multiculturalism and the attack. On this basis the resulting claims are discussed as to whether they are in fact plausible, which many of them turn out not to be.

Sune Lægaard, Ph.D., is associate professor of philosophy at Roskilde University, Denmark. He works on multiculturalism and related issues, such as toleration, recognition, secularism, free speech and issues of immigration. He is also co-editor of the international journal Res Publica, published by Springer.

Article #2: “The Charlie Hebdo Attack & Muslim Tradition Regarding War” by John Kelsay (Florida State University)

This article identifies the Charlie Hebdo attacks as an aspect of the strategic thinking of jihadist groups. Since the leadership of such groups seeks to identify such thinking with Muslim tradition, the author then moves to provide a summary of historic judgments by authorities responding to questions about the conduct of war. A comparison of these judgments points to problematic features of jihadist discourse, as well as to the responses jihadists give in answer to criticisms based on such features. The article concludes by connecting the program of militant groups to a lack of consensus regarding legitimate governance in the historically Muslim regions. Jihadists represent one trajectory within contemporary Islam, and a minority one at that. Developing responses to their claims requires understanding their arguments, all the while acknowledging the fact that most Muslims do not recognize the behavior of such groups as consistent with the religion of Islam.

John Kelsay is Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Religion at Florida State University.  His publications include Arguing the Just War in Islam (Harvard, 2007) and a number of articles and book chapters dealing with the just war and jihad traditions. In 2002-03 he received a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.

Article #3: “The Attack On Charlie Hebdo And European Jews: A New Exodus?” by Oliver Leaman (University of Kentucky)

The author argues that the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket represent an assault on both secular and religious Jews. Secularism is often seen as a Jewish enthusiasm, and the long established Jewish community in France as a wealthy and conservative social force. European Jews have thus raised the ire of both religious fundamentalists and the left, and although there is often polite sympathy for their plight, it tends to be cold. Jews are starting to question whether they have a future in Europe, and if they end up in a protracted conflict with the local Muslim communities it is difficult to see much of a future for them.

Oliver Leaman teaches at the University of Kentucky and writes on Islamic and Jewish philosophy and theology.

[4] “After Charlie Hebdo: The Representation Of Jews And Muslims In France” by Sarah Hammerschlag (University of Chicago). 

In this essay Sarah Hammerschlag explores the implications of the representation of Jews and Muslims in the media since the Charlie Hebdo attacks last January. She compares this response to the valorization of the margins present in May of 1968 when, instead of gathering behind the slogan “Je Suis Charlie,” demonstrators chanted, “Nous sommes tous des juifs allemands” and suggests that the representations of French solidarity following the January 7 attack has had the effect of casting both Muslims and Jews as Europe’s outsiders.

Sarah Hammerschlag is Assistant Professor of Religion and Literature at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She is the author of The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (University of Chicago Press, 2010) and Broken Tablets: Levinas, Derrida and the Literary Afterlife of Religion (Columbia University Press, 2016). Currently she is editing an anthology of French-Jewish writing and working on a monograph on the renaissance of Judaism in postwar Paris.

Article #5: “Charlie Hebdo, Republican Values & The Philosophy Of Frederick Douglass” by Alan Coffee (King’s College, London)

The assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 generated calls, including from the very top of government, for the re-establishment of the values of the republic. In times of great national stress, finding unity in collectively shared values is both inevitable and important. Nevertheless, it comes with great danger since, if the process of deciding what these values are is not inclusive and reflective of all sections of the population this has the potential to further divide an already polarised society. While talk of ‘values’ may seem to be very abstract compared with people’s economic needs, Frederick Douglass shows just how profound an effect they can have. Drawing on his own experience of the period of Reconstruction that followed the American Civil War, he shows how the attempt to compel emancipated slaves to adopt the existing values of the republic rather than giving them an equal voice in defining what was their own society, too, led to a struggle for ideas that sowed the seeds for entrenched racial division for generations to come.

Alan is a Visiting Fellow in the Dickson Poon School of Law at King’s College London. His research interests are in social and political philosophy, particularly in the areas of freedom, equality and global justice. His primary focus is on the civic republican idea of freedom as independence from arbitrary rule (more commonly described as freedom as non-domination). He has a special interest in the recovery of lost or hidden voices within the republican tradition, including in the work of Frederick Douglass, Catharine Macaulay and Mary Wollstonecraft. He has recently edited a collection of articles on The Social and Political Philosophy of Mary Wollstonecraft with Sandrine Bergès which is forthcoming in 2016 (OUP).

Article #6: “The Symbolic Effect Of Regulating Offences To Cultural Identity Following The Charlie Hebdo Attack” by Meital Pinto (Carmel Academic Center, Haifa)

Some writers claim that offensive expressions should be restricted only in rare occasions whereas others believe that people should be free to say whatever they want about religion even if some individuals find it extremely offensive. The arguments that followed the Charlie Hebdo tragedy consider an important factor that has rarely been considered before: the identity of the offended religious group and its relative social status in general society. I think that taking into account the relative social status of the targeted group is an important addition to the debate on offensive expressions. I therefore suggest the vulnerable cultural identity principle, according to which the more vulnerable the social and civic status of one’s cultural identity is, the stronger the claim for protection against offences that have a destructive potential for the integrity of one’s cultural identity. If we observe the cultural identity of Muslims in France and generally in Europe, there is no doubt that it is vulnerable in comparison to the cultural identity of the Christian or secular majority in France. There are thus specific circumstances in which Muslims should be legally entitled to have it defended.

Meital Pinto is a senior lecturer at the Carmel Academic Center School of Law in Haifa, Israel. She teaches in the fields of Jurisprudence, Constitutional Law, Legal Ethics, and Administrative Law. In her S.J.D. dissertation Meital studied three legal claims on behalf of cultural minorities in Multicultural societies: claims about freedom of religion, language rights, and offences to religious feelings. She conceptualized each of them as a claim for equality and social justice between minority and majority members. Meital’s research continues to focus on minority rights within multicultural societies, including rights of minorities within minorities. Meital has an S.J.D. (2009) and an LL.M. (2005) from The University of Toronto. Prior to her graduate studies Meital served as a law clerk to Justice Asher Grunis of the Israeli Supreme Court.

Article #7: “Charlie Hebdo, Legal Rights & Moral Obligations” by Nigel Biggar (Oxford University)

The Charlie Hebdo murders of January 2015 have provoked world-wide expressions of support for the legal right to freedom of expression. And appropriately so. However, the murders raise another issue, which has gone entirely unnoticed: namely, the moral question of what constitutes the responsible use of the freedom that such a right confers. This article argues that, while there should be a legal right to say things that others might find objectionable, there remains a moral prohibition against intentionally using the legally protected freedom to spit on other people’s sacred cows.

Nigel Biggar is the Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford, where he also directs the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, and Public Life. He holds a B.A. in Modern History from Oxford University, a master’s degree in Christian Studies from Regent College Vancouver, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the University of Chicago, and before assuming his current post he occupied chairs in Theology at the University of Leeds and at Trinity College, Dublin. A former President of the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics (UK), he has sat on the ethics committee of the Royal College of Physicians and on a Royal Society working party on population growth. Among his publications are In Defence of War (OUP, 2013), Behaving in Public: How to Do Christian Ethics (Eerdmans, 2011); Religious Voices in Public Places (OUP, 2009); Aiming to Kill: The Ethics of Suicide and Euthanasia (DLT, 2004); Burying the Past: Making Peace and Doing Justice after Civil Conflict (Georgetown UP, 2003), and Cities of Gods: Faith, Politics, & Pluralism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Greenwood, 1986). His most recent book, Between Kin and Cosmopolis: An Ethic of the Nation, was published by James Clarke/Wipf & Stock in 2014. He has written on the possibility of a truth commission for Northern Ireland for the Irish Times, on the Iraq war for the Financial Times, and on the raison d’être of universities and Scottish independence for Standpoint magazine. His hobbies include reading history, playing cards, and visiting battlefields.

Article #8: “The Charlie Hebdo Affair: Between Speech & Terror” by Raphael Cohen-Almagor (University of Hull)

I analyse the terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices through several prisms: freedom of expression; the principle of profound offence; the fallacy of universal liberalism; globalisation, and the era in which we live of violence and terror. It is argued that after the violent episodes of “The Satanic Verses”, The Danish Cartoons and the Hebdo Cartoons we know full well that freedom of speech has a price. Responsible people should weigh the consequences of their conduct – action and speech. We should learn from these affairs, take offence seriously, acknowledge the fallacy of universalism and the reality of globalisation where speech in a liberal part of the world may provoke negative and violent reaction worldwide. We should fight for our principles while being cognizant of the price tag which might be high and bloody. And the price would not necessarily be paid only by the speaker. The speaker also endangers others. Responsible speakers should ask themselves whether their struggle to express outrageous ideas freely justifies putting other people’s lives as risk. Our freedoms should always be tempered by responsibility.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor received his DPhil in political theory from Oxford University. He is Professor and Chair in Politics, and Founder and Director of the Middle East Study Group, University of Hull, United Kingdom. In Israel, he was Founder and Director of the Center for Democratic Studies, University of Haifa; Co-Founder and Chairperson of “The Second Generation to the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance” Organization; Founder and Director of the Medical Ethics Think-tank at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. In the United States, Raphael was Fulbright-Yitzhak Rabin Visiting Professor at UCLA School of Law, Visiting Professor at Johns Hopkins University, Fellow at the Hastings Center, New York, and Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Among his more recent books are The Right to Die with Dignity (2001), Speech, Media and Ethics (2001, 2005), The Scope of Tolerance (2006, 2007), The Democratic Catch (2007, Hebrew), Voyages (poetry 2007, Hebrew), and Confronting the Internet’s Dark Side: Moral and Social Responsibility on the Free Highway (2015). Web: Blog Twitter: @almagor35. Academic papers

Article #9: “Charlie Hebdo, Religion & Not Causing Offence” by Peter Jones (Newcastle University)

How restrained should we be in our treatment of religious beliefs that we do not share? Even if we are legally at liberty to treat others’ beliefs as we choose, should we engage in self-censorship and so limit the use we make of that liberty? Many who unequivocally condemned the Charlie Hebdo killings nevertheless believed that the magazine had frequently overstepped the limits of the acceptable and not only in its treatment of Islamic subjects. If we should exercise self-restraint in our treatment of others’ beliefs, the reason cannot lie in the truth of those beliefs, since that would not be a reason for those who do not share the beliefs. An answer that seems to be of the right sort and that has become very common is: to avoid offending the holders of religious beliefs. I argue that that answer does not survive critical scrutiny; it does not provide the reason that it pretends to provide. However, I distinguish the appeal to offence from an idea with which it is easily confused: the respect we owe others as the holders of religious beliefs. That idea is far more cogent, but its demands have still to compete with powerful considerations that argue against shielding religious belief from critical scrutiny and, on occasion, satire and mockery. Those considerations will often, but not always, outweigh the claims of respect for belief.

Peter Jones is Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy at Newcastle University, UK. Much of his work has focused on issues associated with the differences of belief, culture and value, including issues of toleration, recognition, freedom of expression, religious accommodation, and discrimination law. He has also written on democracy, international justice, and the nature of liberalism, and on different aspects of rights, including human rights, group rights, and welfare rights.

Article #10: “Go Ghost” by Paul Cliteur (University of Leiden)

The title of the article “Go Ghost” refers to the advice Molly Norris received from the FBI when she became a target for islamist theoterrorists. This article argues that this advice was the most extreme consequence of a tendency that can also be seen in other cases. People like Rushdie, Westergaard, Wilders and others who became targets for theoterrorists were very often advised not to poke the bear.

Paul Cliteur is professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Leiden (the Netherlands). He is the author of The Secular Outlook (Wiley-Blackwell, Chicester 2010).

Article # 11: “Charlie Hebdo & Sacred Values” by Stephen Clarke (Oxford University)

It can be hard for Westerners to understand why anyone would be so angered by satire, such as Charlie Hebdo’s anti-religious satire, that they would feel the need to kill people. To understand why the Charlie Hebdo killing took place, we need to appreciate that it was a reaction to perceived violations of deeply held, shared sacred values, and we need to understand how and why sacred values can motivate action.

Steve Clarke is a senior research fellow in the centre for applied and public ethics, Charles Sturt University and senior research associate of the Uehiro centre for practical ethics, University of Oxford. He is the author of The Justification of Religious Violence (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014) and the Co-editor of Religion, Intolerance and Conflict: A Scientific and Conceptual Investigation, edited by S Clarke, R Powell and J Savulescu (Oxford University Press).

Article #12: “Charlie Hebdo & Religious Diversity” by Robert McKim (University of Illinois)

I examine some ways in which the attitudes of religious insiders to religious outsiders can be problematic. For example, the idea that those who do not endorse our insider religious perspective and who do not practice as we practice, have something seriously wrong with them, so that they are not just mistaken but wicked or perverse or the like, can make for hostility towards them. Tensions may arise and such attitudes may exacerbate the tensions. Or concern on our part about the relevant others – about, say, their welfare or their troubles or the traumas they are experiencing – may be diminished.

The best way to undermine these harmful attitudes involves recognizing (a) that the human situation is religiously ambiguous, (b) that outsiders may not be suffering from any more deficiencies than one’s co-religionists, and (c) that most people believe what they have been told to believe by their family or community, with the result that the fact that outsiders have a different religious perspective from ours probably does not arise from their being deficient in any particular respect.

I propose that members of religious traditions should endorse what I characterize as the “magnanimous outlook” towards religious others.  This involves (i) an exploratory and courteous approach to them and to their views, (ii) curiosity, (iii) being pleased by the idea that they will survive and flourish as they are, if they so choose, and (iv) wishing to maintain, or if necessary restore or even create, space that religious others can occupy.

Robert McKim is Professor of Religion and of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His publications include these books with Oxford University Press: On Religious Diversity; The Morality of Nationalism, co-edited with Jeff McMahan; and Religious Ambiguity and Religious Diversity.  His current research interests include the implications of religious diversity and the relevance of religion to environmental thought.

Article #13: “Serious Religious Disagreements Help Prevent Charlie Hebdo-like Attacks” by James Kraft (Huston –Tillotson University)

This essay discusses a strategy for understanding better—and hopefully avoiding—events like the Charlie Hebdo attack, namely, a strategy distilled from recent discussions in religious studies and philosophy regarding religious disagreement.

Dr. James Kraft is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Huston-Tillotson University.

Article #14: “Spinoza On Freedom, Toleration & Charlie Hebdo” by Steven Nadler (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

In light of the horrifying Charlie Hebdo massacre, we require some principled support for the idea that a healthy and truly tolerant society must not police its words and pictures—indeed, that institutional or self-imposed censorship of ideas and images, in the name of “toleration”, does in fact lead, ultimately, to intolerance and the end of freedom. We can find that principled support in the thought of the seventeenth-century philosopher Spinoza, one of history’s most forceful or eloquent defender of freedom of expression in a secular, democratic, and tolerant society.

Steven Nadler is the William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy and Evjue-Bascom Professor in Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Article #15: “Is Freedom Of The Press Radical Or Moderate? Examples From Eighteenth- Century Scandinavia” by John Laursen (University of California, Riverside)

A survey of the people around the first two official government declarations of freedom of the press, both in Scandinavia in the 1760’s-1770’s, indicates that one was a product of the Moderate Enlightenment, and the other may have been influenced by the Radical Enlightenment. It can be concluded that the issue was approached from a variety of political stances, both radical and not-so-radical.

John Christian Laursen is Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Riverside. He has published widely on the history of ideas about freedom of the press in Europe.

Article #16: “Charlie Hebdo Meets Utility Monster” by William Edmundson (Georgia State University)

The Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015 and the subsequent attacks of November 13 cast a garish light onto a conundrum at the center of how liberal democracies understand themselves. The Syrian emigrant crisis has added further color. How can a tolerant, liberal political culture tolerate the presence of intolerant, illiberal, sub-cultures while remaining true to its principles of tolerance? The problem falls within the intersection of two developments in the thinking of John Rawls, the great American political philosopher who died in 2002. The later Rawls struggled with the problem of how a liberal society might stably survive the clash of plural sub-cultures that a liberal society—unless it is oppressively coercive—must itself foster and allow to flourish. And he separately struggled with the problem of how liberal peoples might peacefully share the planet with illiberal, but “decent” peoples elsewhere. This article shows that Rawls’s two solutions do not easily mix.

William A. Edmundson is the author of Three Anarchical Fallacies: an Essay on Political Authority (CUP), An Introduction to Rights (CUP), and John Rawls, Reticent Socialist (forthcoming). He is Regents’ Professor of Law and Philosophy at Georgia State University.

Article #17: “Religion & Liberal Democracy: Thick Ideals Without Idealization” by Terence Cuneo (University of Vermont)

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, we find ourselves confronted with the question of whether we need to re-think the relation between religion and liberal democracy. I contend that the answer is both yes and no. We should, I claim, re-think how we theorize about religion and liberal democracy. The dominant ways of theorizing about their relation are, I believe, mistaken. But we do not need to re-think the way in which liberal democracy (rightly understood) understands the relation between religion and liberal democracy. Liberal democracy’s commitment to the distinction between church and state and equal rights and voice under the law is both defensible and sound. I close by raising the question of whether the French practice of laicite is compatible with liberal democracy’s most fundamental commitments. I contend that it is not.

Terence Cuneo is Marsh Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy at the University of Vermont. He is the author of The Normative Web (Oxford, 2007), Speech and Morality (Oxford, 2014), and Ritualized Faith (Oxford, 2016).


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