Charlie Hebdo, terrorism and the debate on morality

Charlie Hebdo, terrorism and the debate on morality
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By Ray Hanania

Racist caricature of an Arab or Muslim from Charlie Hebdo magazine

Racist caricature of an Arab or Muslim from Charlie Hebdo magazine

When human life is lost, it is difficult to have an unemotional discussion about the issues that might be involved when morality clashes with emotions.

That’s what happened when a group of terrorists murdered 12 people in an attack on the offices of a satire newspaper in Paris last week, and then the rampage that followed resulting in the killing of more innocent people held hostage by supporters of the killers at a Paris supermarket days later.

Murder is disturbing enough without all of the anguish that it evokes. And the measure of morality is sometimes set aside to make it easier to express outrage at the violent actions of the killers.

Here are some issues that surfaced in the Hebdo killings:

First, the terrorists were Arab and they claimed to be committing their crime in the name of their religion, Islam. They asserted they were angry that Hebdo and his staff had insulted Islam by portraying the Prophet Mohammed in unflattering cartoon caricatures.

This needs to be dissected further. What bothers me and many in the Arab World is how easily these terrorist were allowed to anoint themselves as representatives of Islam and the Arab World. It was easy because so many people in the West, including in France and in the United States, have racist views of Arabs and a hatred of Islam.

In other words, the Western outrage against Islam and Muslims because of the actions of these previously unknown terrorists suggest that it wouldn’t have been so great if the killers were, say, Christians simply murdering people for political reasons.

The ingredient of religion, a specific religion, has made this debate more spicy, unfairly so in my opinion.

These terrorists do not represent Islam, no matter how much they claim they do. It is more the willingness of the West to accept this representative claim, that to me is so disturbing.

That said, though, there is nothing more terrible than murder. To me, how you murder someone may evoke more emotions, but murder is murder, whether it is done in a dramatic terrorist attack, or as a result of a military assault by the army of a nation state, like Israel.

Let me say that Israel’s government inserted Israel into this discussion when it’s rightwing fanatic Prime Minister< Benjamin Netanyahu, claimed that the terrorism in Paris reflected the same kind of terrorism that Israelis face in their century-long battle for control of the land of Palestine.

Netanyahu, as he always does, exploited the suffering and tragedy of the Charlie Hebdo for his own selfish, and vicious, political gain.

But let’s get back to the real issue here.

Without the terrorist attack, Charlie Hebdo was producing disgusting and disturbing caricatures not only of Islamic religious figures but of Christians and Jews, also. There was no moral outrage in the West at all, even though the caricatures could be justifiably described as promoting racism and hate. Yes hate. When you draw a cartoon to convey a specific racial character, you are being racist. Acceptance of that kind of “satire” is also racist, too.

The problem with the wave of terrorism we have seen is that terrorism often downplays the immorality of the victims.

Killing Charlie Hebdo and his staff is so outrageous and wrong, there is no justification. But to only focus on that aspect of outrage and to totally ignore, or even justify the racist caricatures that Hebdo produced regularly, is disturbing and exposes a flaw in Western morality, ethics and principle. In fact, the flaw is so great that you have to accept the criticism that the West often embraces an “elastic” form of moral indignation. And that is wrong, too.

The West lives by the theory of social relativity. They focus on what is worse, especially when it challenges their political views, and are silent in the face of things that are “not as worse” simply because those “lesser worse” issues and events tend to align with their political views.

I don’t condone the terrorists. I believe we need to fight them and defeat them. Whether it is al-Qaeda, ISIS, ISIL or whatever. Anyone who kills innocent people should be prosecuted, but politics should not be a factor in assessing those instances of violent crime.

I also don’t believe that a great evil makes a lesser evil to be acceptable in any form. What Charlie Hebdo did for a living, to defame and libel any religion, should be unacceptable.

When American neo-Nazis sought to march in Skokie, a Chicago suburb that is home to many Holocaust survivors, the world was outraged. The image of these modernday Nazis who spouted hatred but made no physical threats of violence, so angered many that there was a widespread cry to prevent them from protesting. Why do we prevent Nazis from marching but celebrate the publishing of racist caricatures?

As an American Arab comedian, I often lampoon my Arab heritage. That’s my right as an Arab. I also lampoon the things that come out of my marriage to my wife, who is Jewish. It’s funny. But I don’t make racist jokes about Arabs and I don’t make racist jokes about Jews.

The line between what is or isn’t acceptable is blurry. But Hebdo and the terrorist are so far over that line that there should be no debate.

Let’s condemn the terrorists for their crimes, not their religion or their race. But let’s also not give a pass to racist caricatures.

Why not see this for the truth of what it is. Violent criminals committing a violent crime, and victims who certainly do not deserve to be killed because of the outrageous and racist views they embrace.

Condemn the terrorists. Condemn the killers. But do so by respecting the proper parameters of morality.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter. He is managing editor of The Arab Daily News. Reach him at

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Managing Writer at The Arab Daily News
RAY HANANIA — Columnist

Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at, and at, and at He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper,, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.

The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.

Click here to send Ray Hanania and email.

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Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com
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