KU professors discuss deadly terrorist attack at Paris newspaper

Islamic Center of Lawrence statement

Baha Safadi, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Lawrence, released the following statement Wednesday:

The Islamic Center of Lawrence condemns in the strongest terms the recent attacks in Paris and all acts of terror around the World. These acts were committed by individuals belonging to the criminal organizations of ISIS and al-Qaida who have nothing to do with Islam and Muslims and are in total contradiction to the spirit of peaceful Islam. Islam teaches respect to all humanity and all creation. No one believing in God and his mercy will ever commit such acts of terror.

We stand by the people of France in total sympathy and full solidarity.

Don Haider-Markel

Raj Bhala

Sadly, Kansas University professor Don Haider-Markel will have fresh material when students arrive in his Extremist Groups and Government Response class later this month.

Wednesday’s shooting that killed a dozen people at the Paris office of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo will probably be one of the first example cases he discusses, he said.

Haider-Markel is a professor of political science whose specialty is public policy, including counter-terrorism. He shared reactions to the Paris killings Wednesday, along with KU’s Raj Bhala, associate dean for International and Comparative Law and Rice Distinguished Professor at the School of Law. Bhala teaches Islamic law and international trade law.

Hooded gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly paper known for lampooning Islam and other religions, shooting dead at least 12 people, according to news reports. The killings, which included newspaper staffers and at least two police officers, were called the worst militant attack on French soil in decades.

Supporters of Islamic State and other jihadi groups hailed the killings on Internet sites, citing cartoons of Muhammad as the reason.

Bhala said his reaction was one of horror and frustration.

“The horror is obviously at the loss of life, and the frustration is at the consistent misunderstanding by a very small number of cold-blooded killers who claim to act in the name of Islam but in fact are not,” he said.

In Islam, law and religion are one and the same. Either way, Bhala said, the shooters apparently relied on warped interpretations.

“They acted in a completely un-Islamic way,” Bhala said, noting that stories show the prophet Muhammad himself reacting to insults peacefully. “These guys don’t know their own faith, so they don’t appreciate the right response should be a loving one. And they don’t understand free speech.”

Haider-Markel said based on initial information and video from the scene, the attack appeared to be the work of “homegrown Jihadists,” though they seemed more sophisticated.

Multiple actors were involved, and they clearly planned ahead to obtain body armor, weapons and information about the Charlie Hebdo facility to ensure they would locate people at work — “presumably the maximum number of people possible,” Haider-Markel said.

Unlike attackers whose plan includes “dying in place” or creating a standoff, these gunmen obviously planned to escape, indicating they may want to engage in future attacks, Haider-Markel said.

The gunmen also appear in photos to go about their business calmly, possibly indicating previous combat experience or training, or the influence of barbiturates, Haider-Markel said.

Wednesday’s attack follows a series of events over the past year in Western Europe, including other incidents in France over the past three months, Haider-Markel said.

Although of course the vast majority of French Muslims would not kill in reaction to cartoons, Haider-Markel said, he believes homegrown jihadis are a bigger threat in Europe because the Muslim communities there are less integrated into broader society than Muslims in America, where comedy targeting all religious and racial groups is commonplace.

“Those are the kinds of individuals that would be more likely to respond in the manner they see fit, not consistent with the values of the country in which they’re living,” Haider-Markel said.

Bhala said backlash and copycat acts could be a concern.

“I’m very worried that extremism begets extremism,” he said. Particularly for Muslims in France right now. “Things are really, really tense.”