Raised in foster care, Cherif is the very personification of the alienated youth of colour in Europe. An aspiring rapper who was manipulated by the false impression, the evil ideology of militant Islamist terrorism. France started 2015 by confronting familiar demons.
A more robust militant posture by furious French Muslim youth, coupled with the propaganda of the so-called “Islamic State” of Iraq and the Levant, fueled concerns that French Muslims were about to face a most exacting retribution from their overwhelmingly secularist compatriots. Yet, France created Cherif. He was born in the poverty-stricken outskirts of Paris and France cared little for him or the likes of him. Small wonder then that he turned to terrorism in retaliation. He and his generation deserve better, and I cannot exonerate him from his crime.
France seethes with frustrated potential. The unfortunate Charlie Hebdo incident had and would continue to have serious ramifications not only in France, but across Europe. Cherif dared to do what others of his generation and religion in France have rared to do.
Whether or not we agree with his tactics is immaterial. France must come to terms with the fact that there are millions like Cherif. If freedom of expression means insulting Prophet Mohamed then the very liberal ethos needs cross-examination. France, and the West, was courting disaster.
The gruesome Charlie Hebdo episode prompts the dire need for France and all Europe to seek new political conversations, real dialogue. Democratic values do not come at the expense of insulting the founder of one of the world’s most inspiring monotheistic religions.
There will likely be more such bloody incidents in 2015 in France, and in all probability throughout Europe as long as the continent continues to lurch to the far right.
Marion Anne Perrine Le Pen (aka Marine Le Pen), daughter of the founder of the French Front National Jean-Marie Le Pen, was the only leader excluded from political consultations initiated by French President Francois Hollande in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo affair. As the head of the third largest political party in France, she was denied the honour. Not that it stopped her and her ilk from making the most of the disastrous circumstance.
Le Pen was put into the political deep freeze so to speak. She openly favours the repeal of affirmative action and advocates the reform of French nationality regulations so as to remove dual citizenship, an act that would not hinder second generation North Africans from committing heinous crimes as in the case of Cherif.
Worse, Le Pen favours an enforcement of the law regarding the repeal of nationality to those she considers not qualified to be French. Marine Le Pen regularly states her attachment to secularism, and France remains perhaps the most irreligious and secularist nation in Europe, notwithstanding the fact that the country has six million Muslim nationals.
Cherif obviously looked on in disgust as Charlie Hebdo, published since 1970, recently published an issue in very poor taste ostensibly published by a “guest-edited Mohamed. “Prophet Mohamed” was quoted as saying, presumably in jest, “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter”.
It wasn’t even funny and certainly most provocative. Not surprisingly, unknown assailants hacked Charlie Hebdo’s website and Cherif took matters into his own hand murdering 12 of the magazine’s staff with a Kalashnikov claiming the life of the magazine’s editor-in-Chief Stephane Charbonnier. Charlie Hebdo originally flummoxed when it made fun of the death of former French leader Charles De Gaulle, and hence, Charlie. And it bounced back into business.
Secularism does not mean mocking Prophet Mohamed and not unexpectedly many French Muslims do not savour Charlie Hebdo’s satirical fare. Even French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius once asked in exacerbation: “Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on fire?” And, Paris paid the price.
Gamal Nkrumah is a Cairo-based African and international affairs expert.