After the Charlie Hebdo attack earlier this January, the world has become preoccupied with the issues surrounding freedom of expression, national security, and anti-Islam sentiments. The latter, especially, has sparked debates and protests throughout Europe during the past few weeks.
On January 7 at 11:30 am, two masked gunmen dressed in black and carrying assault rifles entered the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine in France. Once inside the building, the gunmen opened fire and killed twelve people: eight journalists, two police officers, one caretaker and one visitor. According to several witnesses, the gunmen screamed “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” and “God is Great” in Arabic during the shooting (BBC News). Almost immediately after this terrorist attack, social media users on Twitter and Facebook expressed solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo magazine, posting #JeSuisCharlie and changing their profile pictures to a black and white image of the trending hashtag. However, not everyone has been sending positive messages concerning the attack.
Extremists in Europe have used the Charlie Hebdo attack to support their own movement for anti-immigration and anti-Islam. Specifically, PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) has held protests and rallies in an attempt to antagonize Islam. A grassroots movement originating from the German city of Dresden, PEGIDA is quickly garnering support in other parts of Europe. On January 12, the week after the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, PEGIDA drew a record of 25,000 people to its rally in Dresden. In addition, PEGIDA has announced its upcoming protests in Spain, Switzerland, and Belgium. Now, PEGIDA-esque chapters exist in Austria, Bulgaria, Italy, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands (Al Jazeera).
It is easy to generalize the West as still being overrun with right-wing extremists spitting hatred and racism wherever they go. To a certain degree, this is true. As stated by Dresden’s city official, Michael Nattke, “They are using a fear of Islam to put chauvinism and racism on the street” (Al Jazeera). Of course anti-Islam sentiments are a problem in much of the Western world; many people believe that the extremists from this Charlie Hebdo shooting and the 9/11 attack are representative of the entire Islamic community. Still, just as the media has misrepresented Islam, it can also easily distort our views on what is being done to resolve the issue. After the development of PEGIDA, anti-Islamic protests were banned in France and Belgium. Numerous counterdemonstrations have brought in thousands of protesters more than PEGIDA (Arabian Business). It would be unfair to say that there is not a problem, but it is incorrect to say that people are not trying to resolve it.