If 9/11 was the start of a moral panic in the West that the “clash of civilizations” was now underway, the tragic killings at Charlie Hebdo may have driven this panic to a new high. After all, Hebdo has a unique symbolic significance. Its satirical anti-clerical journalism represents the most valuable cultural assets of the West—freedom of speech and secularism. Moreover, Hebdo is French, and the French nation historically played a pivotal role, with its bourgeoisie revolution and laicite, in the making of Western civilization.
Within a few days following the shock of the terrorist assault on, and wanton slaughter of the staff of, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the deeper crisis of Western liberal democracy—the crisis of universalism versus multiculturalism—surged into view.
In the midst of the Arab uprisings, the now famous magazine Charlie Hebdo published one of their traditional satirical covers. They titled the issue “Killings in Egypt” and drew the figure of a Muslim religious activist who was riddled with bullets. The subtitle was more than eloquent: “The Koran is a piece of shit,” the agonizing Muslim was made to say, because “it does not stop bullets.”