A Year After Charlie Hebdo, Are Western Governments Embracing Islamophobia?

by Simone Stolzoff
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A year ago today, two Paris-born jihadists forced their way into the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo with Kalashnikov assault rifles and open fired.

In response, demonstrations erupted across Europe promoting positive ideals. Signs in the streets touted “Je suis Charlie” in solidarity with the victims, and politicians championed freedom of expression as an essential component to achieving solidarity amid diversity. However, one year later, political rhetoric in the west has taken a turn towards hostility.

In the last year, events like San Bernardino, the Thalys Train incident, and the Paris November Attacks, all carried out in the name of Islam, have instilled an understandable fear of jihadist extremism in the west. But policymakers in many western countries have leveraged this fear to derive political capital.

It is one thing when the Republican presidential front-runner calls for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, but it is another issue entirely when this kind of blanket discrimination actually gets turned into law.

In the past year, countries like Austria, Hungary, the United States, and France have all passed controversial immigration legislation. The question is whether these policies implement important security measures or simply codify institutionalized islamophobia.

Islam’s place in the West is often debated in regard to immigration.

Most recently, the United States passed a spending bill embedded in which was a change to the Visa Waiver Program that previously allowed people from 38 countries to travel to or from the United States without a visa. Now people with ties to predominantly Muslim countries like Iran and Sudan must obtain a visa—even if they are American citizens.

In February, Austria reformed its controversial “Islam Law,” from 1912. The old law, which once served as a model for how the rest of Europe deals with Islam, now prevents mosques from receiving foreign funding, while international support is still permitted for the Christian and Jewish faiths.

The reform also protects Islamic holidays and establishes a theological program for imams in Vienna. However, according to Turkey’s head of religious affairs, Mehmet Gormez, "Austria will go back 100 years in freedom with its Islam bill."

In August, Hungary famously built “The Great Wall of Europe,” which is 11.5 feet tall and stretches across the entirety of the country’s border with Serbia.

The idea behind the fence is to promote legal forms of immigration. In practice, however, the fence has shut down safe passageways for thousands of migrants who are attempting to flee war zones in the Middle East.

“We have only just torn down walls in Europe; we should not be putting them up,” said Natasha Bertaud, a spokeswoman for the European Commission.

One year after Charlie Hebdo, many similar walls have been erected in the hearts and laws of Western society.

French-Moroccan imam Khalil Merroun clearly explained the difference between Charlie Hebdo and the November attacks,

In the case of Charlie Hebdo, terrorists were specifically targeting the magazine. This time they were targeting the diversity in French society — including French Muslims.

When the government responds by implementing policy that holds all Muslims responsible for the acts of few extremists, we all pay the price.

As Merroun put it,

[Terrorists] are trying to make divisions in society. They want to turn us against society, and society against us. But we won’t let them win.

Let’s not allow our governments do the same.