AMU Homeland Security Opinion

French Identity Crisis: Are We Charlie or Are We Islamist?

By Brett Daniel Shehadey

France is calling for freedom and unity across the country after a brutal massacre of 12 people and a massive manhunt that saw two suspects killed in a hostage situation. After the vigils for famed Charlie Hebdo and the others that were murdered in the offices of his magazine and thereafter, came the peace marches that saw hundreds of thousands.

The French all over Paris and elsewhere were caught chanting: “We are all Charlie Hebdo.” Yesterday there were 5.7 million twitter messages counted that stated, “I am Charlie.” Headlines followed the massacre by stating that: “Liberty assassinated” and “Parisians will not be afraid.”

Cartoonists are chiming in to pay tribute by drawings that illustrate the deaths by the hands of Islamists and the looming conditions facing France, Islam and free speech. Comical as well as anti-Islamic cartoons have been making their way around the internet, but the French people have not united around a common aire of satire in the name of Charlie Hebdo.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris went dark in morning along with the Statue of Liberty in the New York. Many Muslims and leaders around the world condemned the attack.

President Obama, in his unannounced visit to the French Embassy, expressed: “…we stand united with our French brothers…we go forward together knowing that terror is no match for freedom and ideals we stand for…”

Charlie Hebdo magazine said that they will not back down after the massacre. They plan to increase circulation to one million for the next issue, instead of the average 60,000.

The latest terror in France is a direct assault on the French identity, which is highly satirical, critical and free in expression. It attempts to suppress Criticism is a positive thing in French culture and so the contest becomes one of civil war between the French identify and the Islamists swelling within the ranks of French Muslims. Many experts have for some time anticipated an attack of this nature in France; most specifically in a manner of ideological and cultural civil war: which civilization will survive? Will France move from a position of submission to defiance?

In a counterstrike, it might be more powerful for a majority of the French people together to send copies and publish the most debasing Mohammad cartoons than vigils in a show of defiance. But the French people first choose to hold a vigil and say they stress a resistance of terror. Specifically, this is more than a resistance of terror and suspicion at issue is the debate by action to the larger acceptance or rejection of the Islamist tyranny and censorship. If France does not publish more obscene or satirical Mohammad cartoons, they will have submitted.

Since the search for the fourth suspected female attacker, the French people have tried everything they can to avoid a greater entanglement of tensions with the Muslim communities. But that may not be possible. There are over 700 Muslim French no-go zone enclaves (considered too dangerous for entry of non-Muslims) where Muslim populations devoid of French customs, culture and even law reside. As the French gather to rally for peace, Islamist terror cells are being activated within the country. Jihadist groups like al Qaeda or ISIS prey on the disenfranchised French youths and many in the French Muslim communities.

An analysis of the French response to the jihadist massacre in France is important on many levels but also how the Western states like France must respond to defy religious threats and encroachments on secular liberal government systems. On the one hand, there is the call for peace, but in the other hand, the state must be prepared to fight with an iron fist. France must actively try to separate the real Muslims from the violent and intolerant pretenders which should have no place within their state and to do so justly within the confines of its core identity.


While the French have done the right thing to attempt peace with the general Muslim population, they and the West have failed to preserve and uphold their right to satire against Islam and the Prophet, which is the centerline issue here, regardless of the obnoxious content of the cartoons. The television news media, it seems, continues to display the pictures of the attackers and quoted demands of the Islamist murderers every few hours after the attack, but does not put up the pictures of those that died expressing their freedom of speech or their work that provoked the attack. A better response would have been to air the message of the satirists Charlie Hebdo and the other artists on the hour for several minutes. It would have been better to draw out the radicals and deal with them than wait for another surprise attack at some later date. Moreover, the message of defiance should be stronger than the message of mourning. And the television news media has been complicit in sending the exact message that the terrorists murdered for without the message of the frontline cartoonist that were killed.


Positive responses are also seen in the French security efforts to apprehend the suspects. The mobilization of security forces took over two days and over 80,000 people to get two murders. Two suspects were killed and the hostages they abducted were freed with minor casualties. Victory was in the end theirs but at a high cost and one that tempts delusions of perceiving triumph over only a small ambush where a larger war exists. So on the political and tactical levels, the operations were fairly good but on the sustained planning side of France’s long-term homeland security and counterterrorism, there were and remain many problems. In fact, France has so many Jihadists that over 700 have left to fight in Syria alone. There are so many that the counterterrorism officials have a difficult time screening and tracking them. Just before the Charlie Hebdo Massacre, there were several foiled terrorist attacks. They need to work closer with the Americans and allies and after this incident, they likely will. Terrorist cells are activated, according to sources but the problem is determining what strategic targets are vulnerable as well as targets of opportunity. In France, the security environment is such that the jihadists somehow have automatic Kalashnikov rifles were such laws prevent their existence as illegal but the French citizens are unarmed prey.

As for the bigger picture, all that France has proved up to this point is that it supports Charlie Hebdo but does not proliferate his work postmortem. In effect, the French satirical identity and critical element have been further suppressed while they claim they will not ‘cower.’ Moreover the news does not help by continually showing pictures of Islamist martyrs and their message, which is exactly what they sought to achieve from the latest attack. So in conclusion, at this very day and at this very hour, France has failed to truly retaliate against Islamists and remain true to their core by doing this the French Way. Instead, they seek not to provoke their enemy, at least, not to provoke them too much (which is very un-French).

France’s recognition and participation of the larger jihadist war is clearly be reevaluated and their response to the recent massacre is still pending. To preserve the French identity they will have to fight with words as well as weapons. Like President Obama expressed in solidarity with the French, their culture and way of life: “Vive la France.”




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