US Secretary of State John Kerry is facing criticism after seeming to suggest a “rationale” for the Al Qaeda attack on the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo earlier this year.
Twelve people were killed in that attack, including 10 of the paper’s editorial staff.
On Tuesday, Kerry spoke to US embassy staff in Paris, four days after ISIS-linked terrorists killed at least 129 people in a series of attacks in the French capital.
According to an official transcript, Kerry claimed there was “something different” about last week’s Paris attacks from the Charlie Hebdo incident.
The publication had been a target of jihadist threats because of its open defiance of Islamic taboos against pictorial depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. And Kerry argued that the attack on the newspaper resulted from “a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of — not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, OK, they’re really angry because of this and that.
“Friday,” he added of the Paris attacks, “was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people. It was to attack everything that we do stand for.”
The transcript, and video of Kerry’s talk, suggests that he realises “legitimacy” might have been a poor choice of words, as he walked his phrasing back almost immediately.
In context, it appears that Kerry was drawing a distinction between attacks meant to accumulate maximum death toll, like last week’s assault in Paris, and one targeted at a specific institution over a specific grievance — but without endorsing or justifying that grievance.
Even so, it’s possible to take exception at Kerry’s implication that a massacre in a newspaper office isn’t also an “attack [on] everything we do stand for.” And Kerry’s statement assumes some degree causality between Charlie Hebdo’s content and the deaths of 10 of its editorial staffers, while arguably one of the bases of a free or democratic society is that such a connection between speech and physical safety can never be legitimate or rational.
Top Republicans are already pouncing on Kerry’s remarks.
“He needs to get some sleep and shut up, is what he needs,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a presidential candidate, told Fox News on Tuesday. “For the Secretary of State of the US to stand up and say there’s some rationale for what happened in January? These are the kinds of weak, mixed signals this administration sends that helps to really make the American people think there’s nobody watching the store — and there isn’t.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) also condemned Kerry’s remarks.
“There should be no empathy,” he said during a South Carolina campaign stop, according to The Washington Post. “And there’s no rationale for barbaric Islamic terrorists who want to destroy western civilisation.”
And according to The Wall Street Journal, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) has called on Kerry to apologise, while Rep. Ed Royce (R-California), the chair of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, said the secretary of state “need[s] to correct the record.”
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