Terrorism, no if and but …

Condemn terror, but query cartoon content

Kchew note: The Paris massacre is indeed shocking and more so than the hostage crisis in Sydney. Twelve people died, and the harrowing picture of policeman who fell on the floor and was about to be killed will forever be etched in our minds. All acts of terrorism must be strongly condemned and there should be no if and but, as the excellent article from Global Times tells us.

From the Chinese perspective, many can relate that whenever there are act of terrorism committed in China, the Western media will just report such incidents as attack or act of “terrorism” (in quote), as if doubtful of the nature of terrorist attack on China. What’s more, they would give prominent coverage to the overseas supporters of the terrorist group in defending their brutal acts.

The clash of values between the West and Islam world is a serious one, and I believe will escalate further. The West truly value their freedom of expression. But in practice this freedom is not without limits, as materials that are deemed to be anti-Semitic, anti-gay or pro-Nazi in nature are prohibited in many Western countries. Meanwhile, to a Muslim, picture or worse caricature of Prophet Muhammad is a big taboo and deemed as an unforgivable affront where offenders can be subject to horrific consequences. This clash can also be viewed as a clash of fundamentalists, with Muslim fundamentalists on one side, and the Western liberal fundamentalists on the opposite side. Both believe that they are on the right side of history.


Many countries have condemned the brutality of the terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. But in some non-Western societies, particularly Islamic societies, the responses may be much more complex. While recognizing diversified values, we believe that at this time, condemnation of terrorist attacks should be unconditional. Any other choice does not serve the common interests of humanity.

The West often shows a lack of firmness when responding to terrorist attacks that have happened in China. Even after China officially determines their terrorist nature, Western mainstream media puts quotation marks when describing these bloody assaults as “terrorist,” saying that it is a claim of the Chinese government. This always upsets Chinese people.

Now Chinese society has to make a choice when such attacks happened in a Western country: Should we behave in a tit for tat manner or reject these double standards to resolutely join in the global condemnation? We choose the latter, as we have done on each and every occasion.

Combating terrorism needs a high level of solidarity among the international community. The world is always unified in its response to terrorist attacks that happened in the West, but when it’s the West’s turn to react to such attacks in countries like China and Russia, they often beat about the bush.

From the perspective of the East, what Charlie Hebdo has published is not completely defendable and it is understandable that some Muslims feel hurt by the cartoons in the magazine. But it cannot be used to justify such an attack that has gone beyond the civil boundaries of all societies. Almost all terrorist attacks bear their own deep-seated causes, but people should only hold one response toward them: resolute opposition and crackdown.

We notice that many Western leaders and mainstream media outlets highlighted their support for press freedom when commenting on the incident. This remains open to question. Press freedom lies as part of the West’s political and social systems and is a core value. But in these globalized times, when their acts contradict with the core values of other societies, the West should have the awareness to ease conflicts, instead of heightening them in accordance with its own values in a zero-sum manner.

As the West holds absolute dominance in global opinion, non-Western societies can scarcely get their disagreements heard by the world. The West has to consciously control its use of “soft power” that can verbally abuse those it doesn’t favor.

Some Islamic groups indeed feel hurt during their clashes with the West due to artworks. Even if the West thinks it is right to uphold press freedom, it’s still worthwhile respecting the feelings of others. If the West thinks of globalization as an absolute expansion and victory of certain values, then it is in for endless trouble.

Whatever is said here won’t reduce our condemnation of the Paris attack and unshaken opposition against using violence to address cultural contradictions. Terrorist attacks are absolutely inexcusable, but meanwhile, it would be wise not to intensify the sensitive elements against the complicated backgrounds. Condemning terrorism doesn’t necessarily mean supporting controversial cartoons.

It’s inspiring that mainstream opinion worldwide supports Paris. But if the West can be milder in expressing cultural clashes and consider the feelings of many others, it would be very rewarding and respectable.


About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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