In Depth

Charlie Hebdo attack: how should the world respond?

President Hollande may come under pressure to fight fire with fire, but the best reaction will be unity

The killing of 12 people at the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo has provoked huge international outcry, as governments, news outlets and the public express solidarity with the satirical publication in the wake of the attacks. But what, if anything, should be done in response to the massacre?

Charlie Hebdo – literally "Charlie weekly" – has long been strongly anti-religious, lambasting all religions including Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The magazine's iconoclastic approach is seen by many as part of a broader French tradition for satire that stretches back to the revolution in 1789.

Charlie Hebdo was first published in 1970 and has often featured cartoons on its cover that have provoked controversy – resulting, most seriously, in the magazine's offices being firebombed in 2011.

In the wake of yesterday's attacks, many publications claimed solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, but writer Douglas Murray, talking to BBC said that the mainstream media's claims to stand with Charlie Hebdo were hypocritical.

"It really is all empty," Murray said. "Since 2005 when the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten published some cartoons which depicted Islam's founder Mohammed, all of the European and Western press failed to stand alongside Jyllands-Posten. None of them republished the cartoons, except for Charlie Hebdo. And now when everyone says 'we must stand with Charlie Hebdo, solidarity with Charlie Hebdo', they can't really mean it".

So should the offending cartoons be widely republished?

Today the German newspaper Berlins Grosste Zeitung splashed them in a wraparound cover with the headline "Vive la liberte". Jyllands-Posten also decided to republish the cartoons.

Searching for a reason for the attacks, some commentators, including former US congressman Ron Paul said that such terrorist actions could be seen as the direct result of interventionist policies taken by Western countries, including France.

But Padraig Reidy, writing for the Daily Telegraph, says that while it may be tempting to think that Islamism is related to the actions of the West, jihadist attacks are largely senseless.

"If the rise of Islamic State has taught the world one thing, it is that the provocation is beside the point. Jihadists kill because that is what they do," Reidy writes. "It does not matter if you are a French cartoonist or a Yezidi child, or an aid worker or journalist: if you are not one of the chosen few, you are fair game. Provocation is merely an excuse used by bullies to justify their actions, while ensuring the world bows to their will."

So how should the world respond to the massacre? In its editorial, The Times warned that "French nationalists will be tempted to turn this terrible attack to political advantage" and that President Hollande may come under pressure to "fight fire with fire". But the goal should not be retaliation, the paper said, but restraint and solidarity. "If France can fight it with unity instead, [President Hollande] will not have to [retaliate]. We are all Charlie now."

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