At the center of the blood and cruelty and pain and death was pure evil. That much is clear. Evil at Charlie Hebdo, evil at the Hyper Cacher. Pure evil.
But nothing around it is clear. Everything is a jumbled mess of arguments, of debates over free speech and the right to offend and the nature of anti-Semitism and its relationship to Israel and the difference between lone wolves and sleeper cells and the relationship between ISIS and Al Qaeda and the relationship between France and its Muslims and the relationship between France and its Jews and most dangerously, most importantly, most transgressively, because we are not supposed to talk about it at all, the true nature of Islam, about whether these attacks are a logical outgrowth of Islam or a total perversion of its basic truth.
Whatever the answers to some of the questions might be, it is clear that we no longer can avoid them. We cannot wish the link between Islam and acts of terrorism away, as much as we might like to, as much as some of our deeply held political and even religious beliefs might try to force us to. We always must keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not terrorists, that they, like us, fear terrorists, and that they do not want acts of evil committed in their name.
We also must keep in mind, though, that there is some strain of Islam, some disease in some part of the Islamic world, that is sick, that does evil, that thrives and revels in darkness and hate. We cannot wish that away either.
If we do not confront that sickness, it will continue to grow. It flourishes in darkness, and then it bursts out and it kills.
We have no idea where it comes from. We do not know why there is a part of Islamic culture that hates Jews so deeply. We know that it is not all a product of the Israel/Palestine situation. Although we know that the impasse between the Israelis and the Palestinians is not the cause of the problem, the situation’s increasing depth and rock-hard intractability might be a symptom of it.
We are struck by how we are bedeviled always with the need to find symmetry, and through it moral equivalence, in world events. Often there is none, and the need to find it gets in the way of the truth. Often, one side is worse than the other. At time the good is all on one side. World War II. The Civil War (at least from the North’s perspective, which certainly we all believe to be the true one, but then we are all northerners). The war in Gaza this summer (at least from our vantage point, a position widely shared in the Jewish world and reviled outside it).
There is no symmetry in the events in France last week. The two shootings were equally evil but they were not similar.
Charlie Hebdo was attacked because of the nature of the magazine, of the opinions and the cartoons it printed. That is profoundly and completely wrong. Even if we are grievously offended by the cartoons, if we find them simplistic, heavy-handed, or aesthetically displeasing, or, as we are told in the story on page 22, we cannot possibly understand them because they are so deeply French and we so deeply are not, to say that it is not acceptable to slaughter the artists is ludicrously to understate the obvious.
But the people at Charlie Hebdo were killed because of what they did. They made a choice. They should not have had to die for that choice, but they did make it actively.
The people in HyperCacher were killed because they were Jews. That’s it. Nothing else. They didn’t have a choice. They didn’t have a chance.
There have been other murders of Jews in France. Ilan Halimi was tortured and killed in 2006. An adult and three children were killed at school in 2012; one of the victims, an 8-year-old girl, tried to run away. The murderer caught her by her hair and shot her in the head in the schoolyard.
All these people did was be Jewish.
Of course, Islamic terrorists kill more Muslims than they do Jews. Last week, at roughly the same time that their peers were murdering cartoonists, Jews, and Dr. Elsa Cayat, a psychotherapist who both wrote for Charlie Hebdo and was Jewish, members of another Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, strapped a suicide vest onto a 10-year-old girl and sent her out to blow up herself and everyone near her.
Who does that? How does anyone do it? Why does anyone do it?
And most importantly, how do we stop them?
To start with, let’s try to see things clearly and name them for what they are. There is something in Islam that is leading to depravity and murder. It must be stopped.