Nothing excuses the attacks. Going into a building and shooting people because somebody said or wrote something that deeply hurt, offended, and humiliated you isn’t consistent with the sort of society that we’ve developed.
Does it follow from the above that any response towards the situation is valid and legitimate? In the minutes that followed the news breaking, my Twitter feed was flooded with the most disgusting array of Islamophobic nonsense — including that we needed to protect democracy by banning Muslims. Others were clinging to tired rhetoric about freedom of speech — that this was an attack on liberal values and that we needed to do all that we could to show that our liberal values were safe (by making sure the world’s Muslims knew that we have every right to marginalise them whenever we feel like it).
All of this long, long before we have any real details about what’s happened.
We don’t grieve well. We don’t mourn. We can’t take even half an hour to experience genuine horror and disgust. We must respond. Worse, we’re encouraged not to analyse our bellyfeel reactions: by getting something out into the world first, we show that we’re on the right rhetorical team and that we’re the right kind of person to exist in our liberal society. It’s a weird form of jingoism: patriotic fervor for an ideology. My liberalism, right or wrong.
As such, there’s no room in the discussion for basic questions without looking like you’re trying to exonerate extreme violence. You can’t ask whether there was something that we did that contributed to radicalisation without suggesting that Charlie Hebdo deserved what happened. You can’t ask whether ‘satire’ is being used as a shield to protect the powerful against the weak without suggesting that we need to restrict satire for the benefit of religious extremists. You can’t question the narrative that liberal society is an innocent victim — even despite Abu Ghraib, despite bans on Islamic attire, despite extrajudicial killings outside the theatre of war — without suggesting that the gunmen aren’t guilty.
Following a crisis, we have to hunt down the unorthodox and make sure they get back to singing the right hymns. There’s no room for grey, or depth, or analysis following atrocities: we have to be polarised or we’re not playing the right game.
I’m still in shock. I have no idea how people have come to such concrete, resolute positions on this issue so quickly. I can’t digest it.