By Leonid Bershidsky
Although French police have now identified and are hunting the suspects in Wednesday's Charlie Hebdo attack, the terrorists have, on at least two levels, already won: They've scared a number of powerful news organizations into submission, and they've stoked European Islamophobia, whose rise will help militant Islamists recruit more supporters.
Here's a mental exercise: Imagine you're a terrorist leader watching today's news. You'd scoff at images of big rallies in European cities meant to express solidarity with the victims of the attack.
The people in the street may hold up placards saying "Not afraid" and "Je suis Charlie," but these crowds are not made up of journalists.
News organizations, in many cases, have chosen to censor images in which Charlie Hebdo cartoons are visible. The media outlets involved include London's Telegraph, the New York Daily News and the Associated Press. The latter actually uploaded the Charlie cartoons to its database but then deleted them. Major U.S. television networks also refused to show the images, saying that would go against their policies.
The New York Times and CNN decided to describe the cartoons but not show them, arguing that would give readers an understanding of the story, but not offend religious sensibilities: After all, irreverent (or, indeed, any) images of the prophet Muhammad are what Islam objects to. A terrorist reading this would laugh out loud at the hypocrisy: These are cartoons, for God's sake, works of visual art that are funny, or meaningful, only as such. It's as ridiculous to describe them verbally as to explain a joke. Those who made the rules at these organizations can plaster themselves head to foot with "Je suis Charlie" stickers, but they are transparently not Charlie.
The second victory is subtler. Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right Front National, made a politically correct speech condemning Islamic fundamentalism, but one of her top lieutenants, Wallerand de Saint-Just, explained in an interview before she spoke that the problem was Islam, which "has a tendency to create fanatics more than any other religion," and the French nationality of the suspected terrorists, which makes it impossible to deport them.
This terrorism is clearly encouraging anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant forces. They also don "Je suis Charlie" buttons, even though Charlie Hebdo was a leftist publication that made fun of them more often than it went after Muhammad.
At this, the terrorist watching the news must be rubbing his hands. After all, the militant Islamic groups do not want European Muslims to integrate, to become Europeans as Charlie Hebdo copy editor Mustapha Ourrad and police officer Ahmed Merabet — both killed in the attack — had done.
The more far-right protests against their very presence, the more likely Muslims will be to turn to the militant groups for guidance and moral support.
This situation requires both standing up for European values and making integration more, not less, attractive to Muslims. With the news media barely hiding their fear and the far right on the rise, the terrorists cannot but win.