After Charlie Hebdo: World leaders on terrorism, tolerance and freedom

In the days since the terrorist attacks in France that resulted in 17 people dead in a massacre at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris, the world’s political and religious leaders have had plenty to say on the topics of terrorism, tolerance and freedom of expression.

Whether or not leaders identify themselves with the catchphrase “Je suis Charlie” that became globally popular after the murders at the magazine, differences of opinion – overt or nuanced – are clear in several instances.

Moreover, differences become even starker when it comes to claims of “Islamisation” of Europe and the issue of immigration. For all the talk of Europe’s history now having a new division in its timeline, “before Charlie” and “after Charlie”, it remains an open question whether opinions have changed, or merely, in many cases hardened – or that some, if not all, politicians can never resist the opportunity to point to a tragedy and use it to reinforce their own particular point of view.

This is a selection of quotations after January 7 2015:

“Hate preachers, violent delinquents who act in the name of Islam, those behind them, and the intellectual arsonists of international terrorism will be rigorously fought with all legal means at the disposal of the state,” German chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bundestag on January 15.

“Freedom of the press written down on paper isn’t worth anything. In far too many countries, there is no real freedom of the press,” Merkel said, adding that tolerance was “demanding virtue, not to be confused with sitting on the fence.”

“Anti-Muslim acts, like anti-Semitism, should not just be denounced but severely punished,” French president François Hollande said on January 15, saying that mainstream Muslims are the primary victims of “fanaticism, fundamentalism, and intolerance”.

“The fact that this was an attack on journalists, attack on our free press, also underscores the degree to which these terrorists fear freedom — of speech and freedom of the press.  But the one thing that I’m very confident about is that the values that we share with the French people, a belief — a universal belief in the freedom of expression, is something that can’t be silenced because of the senseless violence of the few.” – US president Barack Obama, January 7.

“No country knows better than France that freedom has a price, because France gave birth to democracy itself. France sparked so many revolutions of the human spirit, borne of freedom and of free expression, and that is what the extremists fear the most. They may wield weapons, but we in France and in the United States share a commitment to those who wield something that is far more powerful – not just a pen, but a pen that represents an instrument of freedom, not fear. Free expression and a free press are core values, they are universal values; principles that can be attacked but never eradicated, because brave and decent people around the world will never give in to the intimidation and the terror that those seeking to destroy those values employ.” – US secretary of state John Kerry, January 7.

“You can’t provoke, you can’t insult the faith of others, you can’t make fun of faith,” Pope Francis told reporters on January 15. “I think both freedom of religion and freedom of expression are both fundamental human rights…“Everyone has not only the freedom and the right, but the obligation to say what he thinks for the common good. … We have the right to have this freedom openly without offending,” Pope Francis said.

“We will continue to stand together against those who threaten our values and our way of life…”We will defeat these barbaric killers and their distorted ideology, which tries to justify the murder of innocents, whether children attending school in Peshawar, or girls forced to become suicide bombers in northern Nigeria,” Obama and UK prime minister David Cameron said in a joint article in The Times on January 15. “The United States and Britain will continue to work closely with all those who believe in peace and tolerance. The terrorists know only how to destroy, but together we can do something infinitely more powerful: build security, strengthen justice and advance peace.”

“I thought it was very moving going to Paris on Sunday and seeing so many people holding signs saying ‘Je Suis Juif’, ‘I am a Jew’, showing real solidarity with France’s Jewish community. I want to reassure you that we will try and do everything we can to make sure that your organisations are properly engaged with our police and security services right across the board to see if there is anything more we can do to ensure security. I think we have to recognise that in a modern democracy you can never protect against every threat but we should do everything we can and be as vigilant as we can to help reassure. I had a very good meeting with police and security services to address all these issues. I think we have very capable security services in this country but there is always more to learn; there will be lessons to learn from Paris. I hope today to hear more about some of the particular concerns from the community. But I think we should use the momentum of those great demonstrations to emphasise what we are in this country: a very successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy.” – David Cameron, meeting the Jewish Leadership Council on January 13.

“Without freedom, there can be no security.” – Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, addressing the European Parliament on January 13, urging caution in coming up with new measures to tackle terrorism.

“Freedom of the press does not mean freedom to insult,” Ahmet Davutoglu said in Ankara on January 15. “We cannot allow insults to the Prophet.” He went on to liken his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, who attended the January 11 Unity rally in Paris, to the killers who attacked Charlie Hebdo. Davutoglu said the “Israeli government killed children on the beach by bombarding Gaza. It destroyed thousands of homes too,” he said. “Israel takes every opportunity to kill Palestinians and dish it out as if it’s a normal thing to do.” “Netanyahu is the head of a government that massacred Turkish citizens on an aid ship in international waters,” Davutoglu said.

“Civilised, politically correct Europe’s silence over an anti-Semitic, neighbourhood bully like (Turkish president) Erdogan and his gang takes us back to the 1930s” – Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman on January 14. “In the world and in Europe, most of the discussion was about freedom of expression, extremism and Islamophobia. But the Jewish and anti-Semitic aspects were hardly mentioned and this is particularly grave.”

unity rally paris january 11 2015

“There is great significance in what the world saw, the Prime Minister of Israel marching with all the world leaders in a united effort against terrorism, or at least in a call for unity. This is something the State of Israel has been saying for many years. This is what we are saying here today with one simple addition: If the world does not unite now against terrorism, the blows that terrorism has struck here will increase in a magnitude that can scarcely be conceived; therefore, I hope that Europe will unite. I hope that it will also take action. Israel supports Europe in the struggle against terrorism and the time has come for Europe to support Israel in the exact same struggle.” – Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on January 12, at the start of a meeting with French Jewish leaders.

“Those who are not able to adapt to the host country´s rules should leave this country,” Czech president Milos Zeman said on January 14, adding that media reports saying that he had called for a blanket deportation of Muslims were incorrect. “Britain deported several imams spreading radical views some time ago,” Zeman said. As to who should be deported, “I suppose that those who are repeatedly threatening with terrorist attacks, mainly on social networks, because prevention has always been better than to subsequently solve problems,” he said.

“We are appalled by the incident but we are also certain that the Republic of France and the great French civilisation, reputed for its tolerance, would know how to deal with the dangers of terrorism,” – Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vucic in a cable to his French counterpart on January 7.

“This is a terrible event which shows how far individuals and well-organized groups are ready to go in order to realize their goals, which have nothing to do with religion, history, tradition and culture” – Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic on January 12.. Nikolic said that such attacks were aimed primarily at the destabilisation of the Islamic states rather than Europe and other parts of the world. Serbia was ready to participate in actions aimed at combating all kinds of terrorism in the world, including that related to the Islamic fundamentalism, which he said was the most dangerous at this point. “Serbia is deeply distressed by what happened in Paris and we pray to God that this does not happen again. This is madness of people who are accidentally Muslims,” Nikolic said.

“Pakistan deplores terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. We extend our condolences to the government and people of France on the loss of life. We are confident that the international community will continue to stand firm against terrorism and bring the perpetrators of terrorist acts to justice.” – Pakistan foreign ministry statement, January 7.

“Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham on Wednesday deplored Charlie Hebdo repetition of wrongful act stirring resentment in Muslim World and advised Europeans to respect religious sanctities.
“She said that the Islamic Republic of Iran condemned the crimes perpetrated by the terrorists in France last week and that Charlie Hebdo must stop desecration of the Islamic sanctities.
“We strongly denounce the provocative act of Charlie Hebdo and believe that the wrongful act will injure the sentiments of the Muslim World, she said.
“In her weekly press briefing, she said respect to divine religions, sanctities and their beliefs is a principle and the European governments are expected to fully observe.
“It is necessary that the European governments to amend their wrongful acts in support of extremist groups and to adopt sound policies in line with the interests of all followers of religions and world nations, she said.
“Many countries in the world are paying the price for the wrongful acts of the Western governments and its consequences had been admitted by European officials, she said.
“Admitting to mistakes is not enough and all should take concrete action to seriously deal with extremism and violence in the world, Afkham said.
“Misuse of freedom of expression in the west is not acceptable and it should be prevented, she said.” – Statement by the foreign ministry of Iran.

“This terrorist act stirs anger in us towards violent killings and the attack on the freedom of speech. We express our solidarity with the French people in this difficult for all of us and Europe time and our sympathy to the grief-striken families and relatives of the victims.
“No cause justifies terror.
“As allies in NATO and the EU, Bulgaria and France work together to thwart new threats to security and peace. Together with our partners, we are confident that terrorism will be defeated, no matter what effort this fight might require.” – Bulgarian PM Boiko Borissov on January 7.

(Main photo: Presidency of France)



The Sofia Globe staff

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