January 26, 2015

While nothing can ever justify cold-blooded murder, the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris are no surprise, said Canada's most famous Catholic philosopher.

Charles Taylor spoke to The Register the day after brothers Said and Chérif Kouachi invaded the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo with AK47 assault rifles, killed 12 people and injured 11 others.

One of the brothers is reported to have shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) and at another point in French, "The Prophet has been avenged."

"I would not say this in Paris today, but Charlie Hebdo helped contribute to a situation," said Taylor, the author of A Secular Age and dozens of books and articles on political theory, religion and multiculturalism. "They're not the cause of it, but they were part of the situation."


The kind of journalism practised at Charlie Hebdo contributes to a kind of society in which no respect is afforded to fellow citizens, and minorities bear a burden of contempt heaped on them by media outlets which they cannot influence, said Taylor.

"If you are going to contribute to the sense of marginalization of these people, you're going to contribute to a situation that could produce what happened," he said.

Taylor pointed to the 2005 Danish cartoons which made fun of the Prophet Mohammed, reproduced in Charlie Hebdo, as an example of how press freedom can be abused.

"The Danish case is absurd," he said. "One hundred thousand very much marginalized Muslims (in Denmark) felt terrible when they were given this kind of treatment.

"This is not to say there should be a law forbidding it. That gets us into all sorts of problems. I'm just saying that you're justified in saying to people who published those Danish cartoons, 'That was a bad move.' "

The Vatican quickly condemned the Charlie Hebdo massacre as a "double act of violence, abominable because it is both an attack against people as well as against freedom of the press."

A joint declaration signed by French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and four French imams, said, "Without freedom of speech, the world is in danger."

Taylor said freedom of the press should not be used to target minorities with contempt and ridicule.

"You know it's headed for the wrecking yard if those are the conditions of your society," he said. "The trouble with our political theory is that it is excessively normativistic. It doesn't think of what are the actual, existential conditions in which these norms can be fulfilled and are reasonably secure."


Over the years Charlie Hebdo has attacked the Catholic Church and a long line of popes including Pope Francis. One cover showed Pope Benedict XVI in a sexual embrace with a Vatican Swiss Guard. But the paper's harshest satire was always saved for Islam. In 2012 it depicted Mohammed naked and in pornographic situations.

Said Taylor: "I don't think the excuse that 'Well, we caricature the pope, and we caricature that' really cuts it."