As I write this, the republic of France is still in shock, and the three thousand police officers on the Paris streets are still desperately hunting the three masked cowards who today gunned down twelve people, and seriously wounded a further five. I call these people cowards, because that is what they are. They targeted people who were prepared not for mortal conflict, but for the established routines of a midweek working day in France's capital city. The attackers wore black clothing and full masks, shouting slogans about "avenging the prophet" as they assassinated a Police Officer, and numerous employees of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine.
In the hours since the attack, social media has been awash with the 'JeSuisCharlie' hashtag in a show of solidarity with those who value freedom of speech, similar to the fantastic 'I'llRideWithYou' hashtag that was born in solidarity with ordinary, law abiding, peaceful Muslims in the aftermath of the Sydney shootings.
Both of these social media responses are, in my mind, wonderful responses in the face of mindless and cowardly acts. The three armed criminals who took those lives today did so not from a duty to defend the name of their religion's sacred figures. They did so out of a need to soothe their own burning inadequacies by exerting the ultimate power over fellow human beings. They would doubtlessly claim that they are defending the honour of the prophet. In the spirit of the freedom of speech that they so clearly oppose, I would allow them to hold that opinion, or whichever differing view they wish. But this was not about the defence of religious freedom. This was about restricting the freedoms of people with whom these bullies happen to disagree.
I have seen reaction from some on social media who claim that the victims of todays slaughter were somehow deserving of their death as a result of the west's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ironic thing is that the developments in Paris, and the shootings in Sydney both have much in common with our disastrous foray into the Middle East; They have served only to act as recruiting sergeants to the opposing view.
The justified anger felt about the military campaigns in the region have clearly made the task of radicalising the angry, and the disenfranchised young of the Muslim faith much easier. They have a rallying point. They have video footage of the carnage left by bombs and gunfights. They have western footprints in the sand to point at as proof of the injustice that validates their fanaticism. By walking into suburban coffee shops and taking hostages with lethal force, or trolling the streets looking for innocent people to shoot in the most barbaric terms, the Muslim fanatics who swell the airwaves have only served to unite the moderate population of Europe and beyond in embracing the principles of speaking freely without fear of violence or death.
The offices of Charlie Hebdo have been firebombed in the past, in response to the publishing of offensive cartoons featuring the prophet, Mohammad. I don't endorse the tasteless lampooning of any religious icon or belief, despite the fact that I am somewhat of a sceptic when it comes to organised religion. But expressing tasteless humour is no reason to be murdered. A great many Muslims will undoubtedly be offended or angry about the content of these now infamous cartoons. I am sure that killing the people who drew and published them was not a course of action they considered. They have every right to be angry, they have every right to be offended, and they have every right to express that anger and offence reasonably and responsibly, within the boundaries of the law, as the vast majority of them have done.
Throughout social media, a growing number of people are using the actions of a tiny minority of Muslim extremists as justification for what is little more than a 'hate campaign' directed at the Muslim faith. I have seen internet memes comparing Muslims to Nazis, and all manner of dark content I shall not regurgitate here. I was told recently that 65% of British Muslims support Sharia Law. I have no idea where this figure came from, nor have I any source with which I can substantiate its accuracy, though on face value I tend not to believe it. I am aware that this dank mistrust has always been present in the undercurrents of British society, but now more than ever, in the face of such brazen evil on the part of those three hooded gunmen, we need to cling to the ideals of freedom, tolerance and solidarity that make us the fantastic nation of people we are.
Pockets of our society perceive Muslims as the enemy. They see Islam as the root of all evil. We are seeing one single group of people lambasted, marginalised and targeted by a campaign of hatred, propaganda, and increasing aggression. This is being done against a backdrop of austerity, against a constant struggle to secure employment, security, and hope for the future, and against a never ending news feed of millionaire politicians and shifty bankers feathering their own nests whilst wagging their bloated fingers at the poorest in society. This is the time when we need to keep in mind who is responsible for our social ills. It is not a religion of people who happen to pray to a different god. It is not a handful of murdering cowards who crusade in hypocritical defence of a twisted and toxic interpretation of Islam. It was bankers who conspired to crash the financial markets through greed, and it is government who cheerfully use the crash of those markets to embed the poor into poverty and drive a coach and horses through health, welfare, and pensions. Let us not develop selective hearing whilst we listen to the lessons of history. We allowed the scapegoating of a single group of people in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. We must not allow ourselves to be drawn into repeating that mistake with what is, in the mainstream interpretation, a peaceful religion.
We need to get angry. We need to get involved. More than anything, we need to get angry at the right people. We need to stand together, and not allow ourselves to be hoodwinked into being angry at Mosques, when we should be angry at the fat cats of Threadneedle Street, and at Parliament. If we are holding a competition over which pointy building does us the most harm, I'm confident in that there will only be one winner, and it won't be the venue for Friday prayers...