Charlie Hebdo: Pourquoi?

Why do they hate us

Pourquoi? Why? Why do they hate us? This question always seems to surface for westerners following attacks like the one last week where 12 were heinously slaughtered at the offices of the satirical publication, Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

The question of why surfaced for Americans following the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Then President Bush’s infamous answer was that the “terrorists” hate our freedoms.

Those claiming responsibility for 9/11 had other answers. They said that the attack was a retaliation for innumerable Muslim deaths caused by 80 years of brutal western imperialism following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. It was motivated by U.S. support for the horrors of Israeli occupation of Palestine. It was a response to the deaths of half a million children killed by “American” sanctions imposed on Iraq after the first Gulf War. It was retribution for defiling Muslim holy sites in Mecca and Medina by establishing U.S. military bases there.

Most in the west never heard those answers.

The question “why” was posed again in Paris on Sunday – this time in gigantic letters attached to a statue in the central Place de la Republique where hundreds of thousands gathered to protest the barbarous slaughter of innocents at Charlie Hebdo last Wednesday (Jan. 7th): POURQUOI?

President Francois Hollande and leaders from Germany, Italy, Israel, Turkey, Britain and the Palestinian territories were in attendance. Even Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Natanyahu, fresh from butchering 500 Muslim children in Gaza while injuring 3000 others and traumatizing an additional 373,000 solemnly marched against the criminal barbarism of killing 12 westerners. No doubt he was as puzzled as others in the vast throng. Why on earth do the Muslims hate us? Why are they so barbaric?

Perhaps he might ask the perpetrators themselves. After all, they were jihadists who enlisted in the war against the United States long before the emergence of ISIS (the so-called Islamic State). Their motivation? Abu Grahib and the torture pictures that shocked the world. With that in mind, do you suppose that the release of the “Torture Report” on December 9th had anything to do with catalyzing the Kouachi brothers in their decision to do something about it? Or the drone killing of 13 Yemeni wedding-goers on December 12th?

And as French nationals, why not choose Charlie Hebdo. It symbolized their own country’s participation in the war against Islam. Since 2006 the magazine had been publishing what the Kouachis evidently understood as virulently anti-Muslim propaganda to justify a military campaign against their co-religionists which the French air force joined on September 19th of last year.

None of this is to defend the killers at Charlie Hebdo. They were absolutely barbaric, absolutely indefensible. The point is rather to second the idea expressed by Gilbert Achcar, the renowned Lebanese-French professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He observes that what the world has experienced since 9/11 is a not a “clash of civilizations,” but a “clash of barbarisms.”

And the reactionary barbarisms of the east cannot be understood without first understanding the causal barbarisms of the west.

By comparison, the latter are wholesale; the former are retail.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

7 thoughts on “Charlie Hebdo: Pourquoi?”

  1. Why do “they” hate “us”? People who think in terms of mass identity politics are likely to hate en masse, and to look for mass excuses to project personal anger onto vulnerable scapegoats.

    Why do “Berea professors” hate Israelis? Most of the Israelis that I know don’t “hate” “Gazans”. They do, however, have a responsibility to not become casualties of unending rocket barrages and bombs set in civilian areas like pizza parlors, coffee shops, next to strollers, etc.

    The status of women in Islamic-governed areas is very, very low. One unfortunate woman was pressured by her family to become a suicide bomber at Soroka Hospital’s burn unit. You’ll find the story on “Snopes” — (yes, it’s true).

    “As to the veracity of Eldad’s story about a burn patient turned suicide bomber, it is indeed an account of an actual incident, except for the small detail of how the aspiring terrorist came by her burns. (She was injured by a gas tank explosion rather than deliberately by her family in retaliation for a suspected affair.)

    “On 20 June 2005, twenty-one-year-old Wafa Samir Ibrahim al-Biss was detained at a crossing into Israel when something about her gait struck the guards on duty at that post as somewhat amiss. This Palestinian woman was arrested after a search revealed she had been carrying 22 lbs. of explosives strapped to her body. While al-Biss had ostensibly been attempting to enter Israel to attend a follow-up appointment at the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva, questioning revealed that it had been her intent to detonate the payload she’d been carrying at that institution. The would-be bomber had been treated there five months previous for severe burns received after a gas canister exploded on a fire while she was cooking at her refugee camp home in the Gaza Strip.

    Why is there widespread distrust of Gazans? Because of incidents like Wafa al-Biss’ — or the child labor casualties during Gaza tunnel building (which you have not allowed to be posted on your website, Mike — ).

    We all fall short of the glory of God. Before you and others condemn Netanyahu, consider the practices that you support, and the casualties that have resulted from actions you support (among people of many ethnicities, not just “Jewish”)


    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Mary. Honestly, I have never excluded anyone’s comment from publication on this site — much less one of yours. Like the current one, yours are especially thoughtful and always informed. (Oh, there was one I excluded by another friend. But it was a direct attack on another commenter.) Please let me know which of your comments you perceived as “not allowed to be posted.” I’ll put it up immediately. Thanks again, Mary.


  2. Journal of Palestine Studies “Gaza’s Tunnel Phenomenon” by Nicolas Pelham

    It’s a long article, but here is some of it:

    “….Gaza authorities levied a 14.5 percent value-added tax on all goods….

    “…For a time, tunnel workers were the best paid in Gaza…With each fully functioning tunnel employing twenty to thirty people, by 2010 the tunnel industry was estimated to employ some five thousand tunnel owners and twenty-five thousand workers, supporting about one hundred and fifty thousand dependents, or 10 percent of Gaza’s population.

    “Such was the turnaround in the local economy that Gaza City had a surfeit of new hotels, restaurants, and beach cafés, which attracted not only the new moneyed elite the tunnels had fostered but also exiles returning to the Strip (sometimes via tunnels), and even visitors from northern Sinai. Gaza’s new luxury hotel, al-Mashtal, optimistically bought cocktail glasses, while visiting businessmen from the West Bank complained that the latest-model sports cars and Hummers could be seen on Gaza’s streets long before they surfaced in Ramallah. Real-estate brokers said the multiplier effect of the increased spending power spurred a threefold increase in real-estate prices.

    “That said, the tunnel economy has also tarnished Hamas’s reputation for transparency, accountability, and financial propriety. “This is not the old style radical movement,” notes a Gaza economist; “Hamas has acquired a business venture.” Hamas’s lack of transparency about its use of its tunnel earnings compounds suspicions. … Calls for accountability have mounted as the Haniyeh government has increased the tax burden…

    “A similarly cavalier approach to child labor and tunnel fatalities damaged the movement’s standing with human-rights groups, despite government assurances dating back to 2008 that it was considering curbs. During a police patrol that the author was permitted to accompany in December 2011, nothing was done to impede the use of children in the tunnels, where, much as in Victorian coal mines, they are prized for their nimble bodies. At least 160 children have been killed in the tunnels, according to Hamas officials. Safety controls on imports appear similarly lax, although the TAC insists that a sixteen-man contingent carries out sporadic spot-checks…”


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