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Terror returns to France | HT Editorial – editorials


The cultural fault line over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons shows no sign of healing. The French government and society have rallied against the murder of a schoolteacher for using the example in a freedom of expression class. A burst of terrorist attacks and gratuitous interv-entions from the Islamic world’s traditional trouble-makers have followed. Democracies struggle to find a balance between complete freedom of expression and the ill-effects of incendiary actions. India tends towards prioritising peace and not disturbing public sensitivities. In the developed world, especially in countries such as France and the United States, the constitutional support for freedom of the expression is unusually robust. France additionally has among the strongest firewalls between religion and State in the world. Each nation navigates these debates in the context of their history, value system and political evolution. In a democracy, those who wish to move the needle of policy have the right to form a party, write a blog or file a lawsuit. There can be no excuse for the use of violence in such a debate.

There is even less excuse for foreign politicians to make provocative statements. The usual suspects — Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Imran Khan of Pakistan and Mahathir Mohammad of Malaysia — have denounced French President Emmanuel Macron. While claiming to be defenders of Islam, it is clear they are milking the crisis for their personal gain. Mr Erdogan is seeking an opportunity to revive his dreams of pan-Islamic leadership. The weaker Mr Khan gets at home, the greater his interest in political causes overseas. And Mr Mohammad, who recently lost his prime ministership, has a record of inflammatory and false claims about other countries: this time, he has crossed all boundaries and justified mass murder. Their interventions are not just wrong, but will make life more difficult for French Muslims, and strengthen the hand of far-Right politicians.

Societies that uphold freedom of expression are also the ones most likely to preserve the rights of minorities. The majority of Islamist terror attacks in France have been done by outsiders or recent immigrants, and not by its well-established Muslim population which understands the benefits of living in a secular environment. Whatever claims they make, the terrorist and the agitator are only dangerous caricatures of their beliefs and should be treated accordingly. India has done well to stand with France against extremism and violence.

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