Islamic extremists make it pretty clear who they want dead

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Marco Werman: The editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo was well aware of the risks he and his colleagues were taking. Stéphane Charbonnier was among those killed yesterday. So was the police bodyguard assigned to protect him. Charbonnier’s name had appeared on a most wanted list put out by al-Qaeda. So were the names of several other European satirists. Yesterday’s attacks serves as a grim reminder the behind the list is a very serious threat. The World’s Matthew Bell reports.


Matthew Bell: Al-Qaeda’s online magazine, called Inspire, published an old west-style wanted poster in 2013 with eleven people’s names on it, and it says “A bullet a day keeps the infidel away. Wanted: dead or alive for crimes against Islam.” Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard’s name and face are on the poster. Ten years ago, he drew a cartoon with the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban and he’s been living under police protection ever since.


Kurt Westergaard: I just did my job as a cartoonist on a newspaper. I worked according to the Danish tradition for satire. I haven’t done anything wrong. Nevertheless, I have to be on the run in my own country.


Bell: Another name on that wanted poster is Salman Rushdie. The author has been living with death threats since 1989 after his book “The Satanic Verses” was published. In a 2012 interview with PRI’s Studio360, Rushdie said “People didn’t understand radical Islam very well back then, how thin-skinned extremists could be and potentially how a perceived offense could lead to real violence.”


Salman Rushdie: I’ve always thought that you can draw a straight line from the attack on “Satanic Verses” to the 9/11 attacks. One is a prologue and the other is the main event.


Bell: Public calls for assassinating those who have insulted Islam are meant to inspire acts of violence, says terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp. But they also serve to bolster propaganda from extremists about the West being at war or, at the very least, hostile towards all Muslims.


Magnus Ranstorp: Counterterrorism authorities in France, for example, now, in all likelihood, strengthen their terrorism legislation as a consequence of this. They will also ?? from Islamic-phobic attacks on Muslim communities, ?? and they really like that because if it creates ?? it makes it a lot easier for them to recruit.


Bell: Threats like the wanted list from the al-Qaeda magazine play on the Islamic understand of blasphemy. Some Muslims believe that mocking the prophet is a serious offense worthy of death, says Mustafa Akyol. He’s a Turkish journalist and the author of “Islam Without Extremes.”


Mustafa Akyol: If you look at the Kuran directly, which I do in my book, there is nothing which says people who blaspheme against Islam should be killed. There’s actually only one verse that really addresses the issue and it says “When you hear God’s revelations mocked at, do not sit with those people until they enter into some other discourse.” That is the only thing it says. It says “Do not sit with them,” like “Do not engage in that conversation. Maybe boycott those people.”


Bell: Akyol says the belief that anyone insulting Islam should be killed come from commentaries written in medieval times. So, is there a way to get off the jihadis’ death list? Akyol says that’s possible.


Akyol: Of course, it must be a very nasty thing to be on that list. It means that somebody is trying to kill you at any moment. Probably they would be off the list if they apologized and then maybe backed off, but then that would be the death of freedom of speech. I certainly do not want to encourage that.


Bell: Akyol says there’s a debate going on among Muslims about how they should respond to perceived insults towards their religion.


Akyol: Although I would not enjoy some of the cartoons in the magazine that was attacked, I certainly stand by them when they’re attacked barbarically by these extremists.


Bell: In the same spirit, the Twitter hashtag #jesuisahmed has appeared. That’s a reference to the fact one of the French police officers murdered on wednesday was also a Muslim. For The World, I’m Matthew Bell.