Though it’s true that this nation’s most insightful discourse has never been conducted over Twitter, it’s still somewhat telling that it took only one hour for #JeSuisCharlie to start trending in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings on January 7th. For most Americans, carrying out the moral obligation of posting #JeSuisCharlie to show solidarity for the French and for free speech was even easier than streaming The Interview. Most were eager to look past the fact that the bulk of the newspaper’s content would never have made it past editors in America; it is, obviously, the principle that matters. And what higher principle can there be than free speech? #JeSuisCharlie therefore took on a broader meaning: to say #JeSuisCharlie was to show support not only for the martyred staff of Charlie Hebdo, but for free speech in general, and, by extension, democracy. As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review declared, “...it is not only freedom of the press that is at stake but the freedom of the world. Liberty's sun must not be allowed to set.” Who indeed would need to think twice about affirming the ideals of democracy in a world so overrun with “barbarism” and “tyranny”?

Let’s take a step back: what happened on January 7th has not put free speech, in France or anywhere, in danger. I do not believe this, and clearly, neither does anyone else. Let’s face it: wearing a t-shirt that says “Je Suis Charlie” or trending the hashtag on Twitter does not exactly amount to an act of courage. On the whole, there is no evidence to support the notion that the terrorists' goal was to wage an all-out war against blasphemy. Rather, they were pursuing a strategy of selective enforcement. The terrorists’ choice of such a high profile target as Charlie Hebdo makes the shootings themselves a performance of sorts–an expression, if you will. And the message? Fear us, for we are powerful. If the shootings were a means of asserting power, then the January 7th attacks were not an assault on discourse, but discourse at its bloodiest.

So let’s talk about the state of discourse in France. Unfortunately, #JeSuisCharlie pushes us towards dangerous and unproductive dichotomies–civilization versus savagery, freedom versus tyranny–that obscure our understanding of what is going on in France. Not all democracies are created equal, so it is senseless for us to impose our unique, historically-grounded assumptions about the nature of democracy onto France. In doing so, we risk forgetting the fact that French democracy has failed its Muslims, and that the nation’s current political trajectory is likely to only exacerbate the existing structural conditions in the background of last week’s attack.

Democratic free speech is not a shout in the street, but a discourse. So where do France’s Muslims fit into the conversation? Legally, the answer is nowhere. In the tradition of laïcité, translated roughly as “strict secularism,” Islam is allowed no space to breathe in French civil society: even the most basic acts of religious expression, such as the wearing of headscarves by Muslim schoolgirls, is prohibited as an imposition upon secular values. Sometimes, the discrimination is more subtle: laws that apply to all but affect only Muslims, such as the ban on face covering in all public spaces, are enforced with no consideration of religious needs. Ironically, under the pretense of treating everyone equally, French law has allowed the interests of the secular majority to grossly override the rights of the Muslim minority. French law, in other words, pretends that the Muslims that constitute up to 10 percent of France’s population do not exist.

Underlying this legal issue is a social one. The economic marginalization of France's Muslims has compounded their political alienation. Today, a disproportionate percentage of Muslims are unemployed, living in ghettos, or incarcerated. Despite comprising only one-tenth of the total population, Muslims fill up between one third and one half of the cells in France's prisons. Meanwhile, the growing unpopularity of the ideals of multiculturalism and inclusion has exacerbated existing problems. Marine Le Pen, the current President of the National Front, once compared France’s Muslims to the Nazis that occupied the country during World War II. According to a poll conducted by Le Figaro, 43 percent of French citizens believe that the presence of Muslim immigrants is a threat to French national identity, and 60 percent think that Islam has become “too visible and influential.” The attacks of January 7th have only reinforced popular nationalist and xenophobic sentiment, thereby increasing the likelihood that politicians like Le Pen will find their way to the highest seats of authority.

I am not condoning the savage and cowardly actions of the terrorists who were responsible for the Charlie Hebdo shootings. But it would be absurd to pretend that context does not matter.

Tragically, those who carry the flag of "France for the French" appear to be succeeding in their mission of battering the Muslim community into submission. Five days after the attacks, the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, made the following statement: “Today we want to appeal for a change in religious thinking in Islam—that we abandon political Islam, that we should not turn it into a policy but to keep it as a religion, a religion which doesn’t ask people to kill anyone nor to carry out anti-Semitic acts, or anything political." With this gross misrepresentation of the political activities of his own faith, Boubakeur has waved a white flag to the Muslim community's greatest enemies: Islamophobia and hateful populism. Unfortunately, it is precisely at this moment—when the fate of Muslims in France hangs so precariously—that political Islam has become most necessary. If there is ever to be a chance for true multiculturalism in France, Islam must not retreat into the private sphere, but make itself heard.

When Americans take to Twitter and raise the flag of #JeSuisCharlie, we may think that we are on the right side of history. Reality demands that we take a closer look. French politics at its best should not distract us from French politics at its worst. A democracy is not a stack of newspapers next to a voting booth, but a social entity as well as a political one: we cannot let our solidarity, however appropriate, cloud this vision. Let us remind ourselves that the affirmation of discourse should not be the end of discourse.