Charlie Hebdo: a Thought Experiment



Jews 1

If World War II Jews did in Berlin exactly what the Charlie Hebdo killers did in Paris, they would be considered heroes, not terrorists. That realization alone should help us re-vision what took place in Paris last week. It should make us more careful about using the term “terrorism” in the context of our country’s so-called “War on Terror.”

To get what I mean, perform the following thought experiment.

Imagine Germany in 1943. The country is at war with Russia, Great Britain, France, and the United States. The Jewish holocaust is in full operation. German newspapers and magazines are full of anti-Semitic propaganda including grotesque cartoons (like the one above) depicting Jews in general and their Jewish faith in particular. The ones attacking Judaism and Moses are especially offensive to devout Jews throughout the diaspora.

One dark morning in Berlin, two Jewish gunmen burst into the offices of Lustige Blatter , the German humor magazine which as part of Germany’s war effort specializes in the publication of anti-Semitic cartoons. The gunmen know the particular cartoonists they’re looking for. They’re delighted to find them protected by a couple of Ordnungspolizei.

The gunmen open fire.

With their bloody work finished, the killers leave twelve bodies of Lustige Blatter cartoonists, copy writers, and Orpo bodyguards dead on the office floor. The assassins flee the premises.

Later on, they’re cornered and killed in a fire fight with the Gestapo.

How would the world outside the Reich’s orbit react to that sequence of events?

  • Would it consider the Jewish perpetrators “terrorists”?
  • Would it sympathize with massive protests defending the press freedom of the Lustige Blatter cartoonists to make fun of Jews and their religion?
  • Would it admire those waving banners declaring “Ich bin Lustige Blatter” while demonstrating in Berlin’s central Paris Square on behalf of the right to insult Jews and their faith?
  • Would it expect their leaders to join Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Tojo at those demonstrations?

The answer to each of those questions is probably a resounding NO! Most likely, the only ones considering the shooting an act of terrorism would be supporters of the Third Reich.

If that’s true, the thought experiment puts into perspective the events of last week surrounding the horrific events in Paris connected with the Charlie Hebdo shootings. It enables us to see this latest event in the “war on terror” from the viewpoint of the other side.

It reminds us that.

  • The Charlie Hebdo killers are combatants in a war and have grievances as real as any that Jews had in 1943.
  • For example, over the last fourteen years, western governments have daily killed untold (literally) numbers of Muslim civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and elsewhere throughout the world.
  • More specifically, their recent attacks on Palestinians killed more than 2000 in Gaza (mostly civilians) including 500 children.
  • By some counts, more than one and a half million Muslims (mostly civilians) have been slaughtered in the allied invasion of Iraq since 2003.
  • In war, both sides kill one another; retaliations are routine and to be expected; they are part of war, not to be considered acts of terrorism.
  • In war (as the above thought experiment shows) most would consider propagandists and psy-ops agents as vital cogs in the combat machine, and hence legitimate targets.

And now a final thought. . . .

What if, during WWII, again during the holocaust, a group of 19 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto somehow hijacked three Lufthansa airliners? And suppose they flew two of them into Berlin’s tallest building housing the offices of companies like AIG Insurance, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Krupp Aviation, and Volkswagen — all vital to the German war effort?

How would we remember those Jews? Would we consider them “terrorists” or heroes?


The bottom line is this: if western governments insist on fighting a “War on Terrorism,” they have to expect counter-attacks even on what the “enemy” considers war propagandists and psy-ops personnel.

Simply put, that’s war.

Published by

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.

17 thoughts on “Charlie Hebdo: a Thought Experiment”

  1. Thanks for speaking up for the underdogs (Muslims in this case) as you always do Mike,
    following the example of your teacher Jesus. Many Americans will condemn you for this, just as the brainwashed Germans would have condemned anyone who spoke up for the Jews. Netanyahu loved having a chance to demonize the Muslims, just as the Jews were once demonized by the Nazis. Check out the Turkish leader’s thoughts on this:–muhammad-cartoons-provocation-charlie-hebdo


  2. You don’t need to make up a fictional case. Herschel Grynszpan’s assassination of a German diplomat Ernst vom Rath was the pretext for Kristallnacht. (Kristallnacht involved pre-organized “riots” against Jewish shopowners….which the Berlin chief of police tried to stop in Berlin, before being stopped by his higher-ups who had engineered the violence.)

    Of Islam:

    I don’t think it’s a great idea for young couples to have multiple sexual partnerships instead of forming committed marriages. However, “honor killing” goes far beyond reasonable objection to casual relationships. Authentic reasoned judgment is always preferrable as a deterrent, when compared to violent punishments and physical intimidation.

    I oppose honor killings/stonings etc. Probably most Berea College professors would oppose honor killings also if the discussion ever came up on campus. Honor killing never did come up in our History of Palestine/Israel class despite being a significant cultural controversy. I refrained from bringing up honor killing, as a test to see if the instructor ever would mention this practice on his own. The Ph.D. instructor never did mention this practice, which was a disservice to students who needed to know the truth, and understand why there are cultural conflicts.

    Disrespectful communications cause fights in classrooms. When disrespectful language and slurs are default mode, life is unnecessarily stressful and interactions are much more likely to turn violent. All the same time, in my opinion it’s far better to sue or argue (usual Jewish tactic) than to murder — and with all respect for people who are affiliated with (currently) violent societies, I’d rather live under rule of reason and law, than rule by murder.

    Going to a kosher (or halal) store to murder specific ethnicities who are more likely to congregate there is morally reprehensible. This type of act is also likely to draw some kind of “blowback” — neither Islam nor Judaism endorse “turning the other cheek”, which is a Christian principle that is not necessarily employed by Christians, either.


  3. Interesting rationale, Mike. But I have a little problem with it: Are you saying, in so many words, or expecting your readers to read between the lines here, that THE END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS?
    Not only for this shocking immoral crime in Paris, but for what has occurred and continues to this hour by our presence in the whole Middle East cauldron these past decade(s)?


    1. Dear Alice, I’m just saying that if the United States considers itself to be at war, it must not expect that the other side will roll over and not respond. And when counter-attack comes, we have no right to call it “terrorism.” My point in the posting is that we wouldn’t do that in the hypothetical case I outlined even though it tracks perfectly the case of Charlie Hebdo. Moreover, the U.S. has been just as brutal to Muslims as the Nazis were to Jews in 1943. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.


      1. Hasn’t that been the rationale for all wars for millennia? When does it stop, Mike, What do we have to do as followers of Jesus to make it stop, to find other means to settle our differences.

        Yes, you are right, The U.S. (and certainly the Catholic Church) has been brutal to Muslims.
        And the German government, aided and abetted by their populace, nearly destroyed the Jewish population of Europe, as well as homosexuals, gypsies, Communists, handicapped persons, anyone who got in their way and/or questioned their authority. Now, we have the merciless Zionist Israeli government, under the madman Netanyahu, committed to squeezing the life and existence of every indigenous Palestinian in Palestine-Israel–with the financial-political backing of our country – – more evil being perpetrated in OUR name – yours and mine, Mike. This madness has to stop.


  4. The name of our madness is capitalism, which teaches that life is a fight against all to get everything you can get. Capitalism and war are synonymous.


    1. Since WIII and long beyond, there has been a barrage of propaganda effort aimed at differentiating Germany from other nations at an emotional, visceral level. As someone with strong emotional ties to Germany as well as other nations including my own, I am offended by the propaganda manipulation. The injustice is obvious to me, along with the insult to my conscience and intelligence.
      It stuns me that more people don’t feel insulted by incitements to hate and unfairly judge other groups, no matter who the target is.

      Nazi oppression of homosexuals occurred in the 1940s when this oppression was common to most countries including England, which recently apologized for its mistreatment of the computer hero Turing. Who opposes oppression of homosexuals by political groups in the present (including political groups that are majority Muslim, such as Hamas?) Why or why not?

      The mass killings of the Nazis were hideous. So were the mass killings by their opponents, for example the Spanish Republican massacre of Nationalists at Paracuellos in 1936, and the Soviet massacres of Polish leadership at Katyn Forest. Were massacres by anti-Fascists as reprehensible as those committed by Fascists? why or why not?

      In Spanish, Paracuellos history:

      Katyn Forest history:
      “On 5 March 1940 the Politburo, the leading committee of the Soviet Communist Party, officially ratified a decision taken by Stalin a few days earlier to execute about 15,000 Polish prisoners of war (PoWs)…”


    2. Agreed Mike and Aliceny …capitalish or more specifically mad, out of control “gloves off” capitalism.
      (btw Turning the other cheek went out with water and baby.)
      Even the pope is ready to throw a punch,
      PS The Manila Times on line is interesting this week


  5. Hey Mike, I think Charlie Hebdo is more like South Park than Nazi propagandist cartoonists. Still I also contend that attacking cartoonist and publications is cowardly by anyone. Charlie Hebdo, though blasphemous and subverdive, is not racist. They actually promote unity of races, intellectualism and converstion, through lowbrow cartoon art.


    1. Good point, David. You and I might agree on that. However, I was trying to indicate how Charlie Hebdo might appear to Muslims. After all Jews regularly take jokes about them (and criticisms in general) much more seriously than non-Jews.


      1. I cant say I know how all Jews react but my experience has been that many Jews have an amazing ability to find humor of the past tragedies to their people, at least in entertainment (Sahsa Baron Cohen, Sarah Silverman, Matt & Trey, Jeff Ross, etc). It is also their way to educate without the soapbox. I’m sure there are also more sensitive people of Jewish origin than Sarah Silverman…

        I dont disagree with your ultimate point, that we are viewed as aggressors (terrorists, world police), but the way you get to that point seems to villainize free speech and satire. I can see how Muslims can see Charlie Hebdo as a media instigator. I love free press and expression. People need to try not to kill women, children and cartoonists. 🙂 Killing for blasphemy is out of bounds, even if the blasphemer is a nazi.

        Just my opinion.


      2. adding to what I said… an example being: how many comics and jokes have been made of Jesus? How many people have been killed for it? No Jews or christians have killed for Jesus cartoons. How many Buddha Cartoons have been killed for? None.

        Also why do people only draw Mohammed? Why not Allah?


      3. Good for you, David.
        And: what about the pervert ‘artist’ who urinated on the crucifix — under the aegis of ‘freedom of self expression? If I did a Google search I am sure that I could come up with many other examples.


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