Charlie Hebdo slayings trigger debate on free speech, Islam in Europe

(Photo: REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi)People hold placards reading "I am Charlie" to pay tribute to the victims following a shooting by gunmen at the offices of weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris in front of the French embassy in Rome January 8, 2015. France began a day of mourning for the journalists and police officers shot dead on Wednesday morning by black-hooded gunmen who stormed the Paris offices of the weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, renowned for lampooning radical Islam.

Christian leaders like Pope Francis, unequivocal in condemning the murderous attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, have also pleaded strongly against religious intolerance as a reaction.

The attackers killed 12 people, 10 of them staff members on the satirical newspaper and two police officers as they shouted slogans indicating that they were committing their crime in the name of Islam.

And Europe's resurgent far-right was quick to try to capitalize on the terror triggered in Paris on January 7 as the attack raised vigorous debate on freedom of expression and Islam in Europe.

"Whatever may be the motivation, homicidal violence is abominable. It is never justifiable," Francis said in a statement released by Vatican Radio on January 8 calling on people to pray for the victims and the attackers that they might change their ways.

"The life and dignity of all are to be guaranteed and protected with decision. Every incitement to hatred should be refuted."

Witnesses told police the attackers shouted the Islamist war cry of "Allahu Akbar (God is great)" as they gunned down staff at Charlie.

Father Federico Lombardi, press director of the Holy See, read the Pope's message, which issued a call "to oppose by all means the spread of hatred and of all forms of violence, physical and moral."

The World Association for Christian Communication general secretary, Karin Achtelstetter in condemning the attack, noted that journalists all over the world are increasingly facing attacks.

"Over the past ten years, more than 600 journalists and media workers have been killed – with 61 deaths in 2014 alone. It is urgent that more be done to protect journalists and to prevent a further escalation of violence," she said.

The attack prompted a #Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie) campaign of solidarity from the global media and the public, but anti-immigrant groups in Europe were also quick to beat their drums.

Germany's emerging anti-Islamisation movement called on sympathizers to wear black arms bands at its next rally to mourn victims of the Paris terror attack. It was a sign of how Europe's resurgent rightwing is trying to capitalize on the tragedy reported The Financial Times.

"The Islamists have . . . shown in Paris that they are not at all ready for democracy but seek answers in violence and death," the Pegida group said the newspaper reported.

It prepared for a protest in Dresden on January 12 and pushed to spread its movement to other German cities and even Scandinavia.

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In France Marine Le Pen, leader of the surging National Front, called for an end to "hypocrisy" in addressing Islamism. "We must not be scared of saying the words: this is a terrorist attack carried out in the name of radical Islam," she said.

Islam has become Europe's fastest-growing religion, with 44 million adherents (excluding Turkey) in 2010, up from 30 million in 1990, the Financial Times quoted the Pew Research Center saying.

Although only 4 per cent of the European Union population is Muslim, key cities have much higher concentrations, among them Paris (more than 10 per cent), Stockholm (20 per cent) and Birmingham (22 per cent), The Financial Times said.

"There are some who will say that Charlie Hebdo tempted the ire of Islamists one too many times, as if coldblooded murder is the price to pay for putting out a magazine. The massacre was motivated by hate.

"It is absurd to suggest that the way to avoid terrorist attacks is to let the terrorists dictate standards in a democracy," The New York Times editorialized on January 8.

"This is also no time for peddlers of xenophobia to try to smear all Muslims with a terrorist brush. It is a shame that Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front party, which has made political gains stoking anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim fears, immediately sought political advantage with talk of 'denial and hypocrisy' about 'Islamic fundamentalism,'" the Times said.

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