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The Greyhound

Free speech under fire in Copenhagen


Yesterday, a gunman fired over two-hundred bullets at a Copenhagen cafe hosting a seminar on free speech and blasphemy. One man was killed at the cafe, and three police officers were wounded. That night, the same gunman opened fire on a Jewish synagogue, killing another man and wounding two more police before being shot himself.

Danish intelligence officer Jens Madsen believes that “the perpetrator could have been inspired by the events in Paris.” Referring to the Charlie Hebdo slaughter in January. The target of the attack was Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist who depicted Mohammed as a dog in 2007. A French diplomat in attendance at the cafe explained: “they tried to repeat Charlie Hebdo but couldn’t get in.”

After that attack that claimed 17 lives, Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility and said “Today, the mujahideen avenge their revered prophet, and send the clearest message to everyone who would dare to attack Islamic sanctities.” Though the attacks in Copenhagen are not known to have been orchestrated by Al-Qaeda at this time, the message is the same.

Let there be no ambiguity: Free speech is under fire by a newly fervorous contingent of Islamic extremism that threatens. The conference that was attacked was explicitly devoted to the topic of “free speech;” you couldn’t ask for a more flagrant attack on the concept.

Ruinous as it often is, is the world left with any other option than force? Western society pins ultimate value on freedom. Life is worth living because we are free in how we live it. When terrorists would try to dismantle the freedom to express oneself in a civil, democratic way at gunpoint: the world is left without choice.

But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still fresh in our memory. The will to take decisive action against militant Islam in Syria and Iran is understandably lacking. I understand that diplomacy is a preferable option. I also understand the irony in turning to arms to defend free speech. But I keep returning to the question: what else can be done?

Peaceful movements like #JeSuisCharlie are incredibly important, but these shootings in Copenhagen prove that all the solidarity in the world isn’t going to stop people from getting gunned down in broad daylight.

How long is this going to go on? Europe will only be able to take so much before it takes the fight to 21st-century jihad once more.

But the reality is that combating terrorism is incredibly difficult. It’s not “The Middle East” or “Islam” that’s the source of our problems. As the Prime Minister of Denmark stressed: “This is not a battle between Islam and the West, and it is not a battle between Muslims and non-Muslims, but a battle between the values of freedom for the individual and a dark ideology.” Those who ascribe to this “dark ideology” are spread out, decentralized and  hard to identify.

This renews the need for aggressive counter-terrorism which, ironically, will necessitate more invasions of privacy. The western world, moving forward, must do well to remember that it’s our freedom that’s at stake in the first place, and that our efforts to defend it must not in themselves abridge it.


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Free speech under fire in Copenhagen