Don’t let this horror be used to stoke bigotry

January 8, 2015

The deadly attack at the offices of a French magazine is the focus of international attention. Here, we publish a statement of the International Socialist Organization about the killings, followed by three statements and articles posted by organizations of the European left.

THE HORRIFIC killings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris have shocked the world. The outpouring of sympathy and solidarity for the 12 people killed--mostly editors, writers and cartoonists for the magazine--and 11 wounded is widespread and justified.

But this tragedy is already being used, particularly by leaders of the world's most powerful governments, to direct hatred at Muslims and to justify imperialist war and state repression in the name of national security. The left in France and around the world must stand for democracy and against Islamophobia and state-sponsored terrorism.

As one unionist, attending the huge vigil in Paris on the night of the murders, told Libération newspaper, his union "defends freedom of speech. However, we are also here to denounce the policy of the government, which is indirectly responsible for these acts--the war in Mali, for example."

At this point, the perpetrators of the massacre are not known for certain, but witnesses said the masked gunman used the Islamic phrase "Allahu Akbar" (God is greater) as they entered the magazine's offices. Charlie Hebdo has been harshly criticized and threatened with violence for publishing cartoons and other material ridiculing Islam, among its many targets of satire.

Police surrounding the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo following the mass shootings
Police surrounding the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo following the mass shootings

There is no justification for this murderous assault on journalists and cartoonists, even if some of the content of their publication was highly offensive and provocative. In our newspaper Socialist Worker, we have specifically criticized Charlie Hebdo's cartoons that mock Islam using vile racist stereotypes of the right, while claiming to be affirming democratic values by doing so.

But Charlie Hebdo also mocks Christianity and other religions, along with other beliefs and political ideologies across the spectrum. We must challenge what we see as politically backward in such publications--but they should be able to publish what they believe to be satire without fear for their lives and safety.

If this crime was carried out by Islamists connected in some way to groups such as al-Qaeda or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)--as has been widely assumed by both supporters and critics of Charlie Hebdo--then it is a reprehensible act by political reactionaries who do not tolerate dissent, particularly from fellow Muslims. The murders in Paris are not a blow against Islamophobia, much less for the liberation of the oppressed. On the contrary, they will make the struggle against anti-Muslim bigotry more difficult by opening the way for the state and the right wing to whip up fear and hatred.

What else to read readers are debating the response of the left to the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. The discussion began with an International Socialist Organization statement titled "Don't let this horror be used to stoke bigotry."

Further contributions include:

Aaron Hess
Real and vicious Islamophobia

Sofia Arias and Wael Elasady
No tolerance for Islamophobia

Alan Maass and Todd Chretien
Resisting the tide of racism and repression

Keith Rosenthal
How far does free speech go?

Mike Friedman, Mike Healy and Daniel Factor
Views on Paris in brief

Don Lash
Who do we trust with our rights?

Joe Allen
Free speech and the state

Joel Reinstein
Is free speech the issue?

The Marxist tradition rejects acts of individual terrorism, as the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky explained: "To learn to see all the crimes against humanity, all the indignities to which the human body and spirit are subjected, as the twisted outgrowths and expressions of the existing social system, in order to direct all our energies into a collective struggle against this system--that is the direction in which the burning desire for revenge can find its highest moral satisfaction."

We also reject those who will employ--and already have--the Paris killings to claim that Western countries like France and the U.S. are locked in a "war of civilization" against reactionary Islam. The violence and repression of groups like ISIS is opposed by millions of Muslims. What's more, the far more powerful governments of the "civilized" West are responsible for far more violence, terror and death--which is quite routinely justified in the name of religious devotion or democratic ideals or both.

Barack Obama was quick to denounce the "cowardly, evil" attack. "The fact that this was an attack on journalists, an attack on our free press, also underscores the degree to which these terrorists fear freedom of speech and freedom of the press," Obama reportedly said in an Oval Office meeting.

What about freedom of the press for New York Times reporter James Risen who was just put on the witness stand and commanded to name his sources for a story about the CIA's covert operations against Iran? What about freedom of speech for Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden--two whistleblowers consigned to military prison or driven into stateless exile for revealing U.S. war crimes or the extent of the Big Brother surveillance state.

Barack Obama and other leaders of powerful governments have a selective reverence for democratic freedoms. But they will nevertheless try to harness the outrage over the Charlie Hebdo killings and the popular determination that press and other freedoms be protected to build support for imperialist ventures--from France's intervention in Africa to the U.S.-led coalition bombing of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

We can look back to the experience of 9/11 to recall how the tragic deaths of nearly 3,000 people in the U.S. was turned into the justification for a global "war on terror" and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq that cost many times that number of lives. Now, in post-9/11 America, state harassment and repression of Arabs and Muslims is the order of the day.

Political leaders are quick to assign blame for the Charlie Hebdo massacre to Islamist militants. But these reactionaries have only gained strength as a result of the endless wars waged by the U.S. in Afghanistan, Iraq and other Muslim countries. And the Islamophobia pushed not only by far-right organizations, but the political mainstream, including the center left, only produces more bitterness toward the governments of the world's most powerful countries.

What is needed to combat anti-Muslim oppression in Europe, the U.S. and the West is a stronger international left that defends both the freedom to practice religion without state harassment, as well as the right to free expression. The defense of these basic rights must be linked to a principled opposition to imperialism--including when it cloaks itself as a liberating force against ISIS and other Islamist currents.

The horrific killings in Paris will be used as an excuse for further curtailing the rights of all Muslims--not to mention those of all races and religions who wish to challenge government policies--and for continuing and escalating wars that have plunged the Middle East into suffering and chaos.

We must oppose anyone who tries to use this tragedy as an excuse for war and racism. Their actions will make the world more violent, dangerous and oppressive for people in every corner of the globe.

Statement by the New Anticapitalist Party, France

The attack on the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has provoked indignation and anger against such blind and murderous violence against journalists and employees. This violence aims at sowing terror, against freedom of expression and press freedom, in the name of reactionary and obscurantist prejudices.

We have often found ourselves debating, even in quite a polemical way, with the cartoonists and journalists of Charlie Hebdo, and we have engaged in common struggles with them.

The NPA addresses its solidarity to the friends and families of the victims, to the journalists and the employees of Charlie Hebdo.

But we will not be part of any national union with the sorcerer's apprentices who play with racism, stir up hatred against foreigners and in particular Muslims, or make use of this event to introduce new repressive laws. They have a heavy responsibility for the xenophobic and poisonous climate in which we live today.

Both sides are enemies of democracy, of freedom; they are enemies of the workers, popular classes; the enemies of a world of solidarity.

The NPA calls to demonstrate solidarity with Charlie Hebdo at 5 p.m. today, Place de la République, Paris.

Article by Lindsey German, Stop the War Coalition, Britain

No one can have anything but the profoundest condemnation for the attacks on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. It is reported that 12 people are dead, shot in a commando-style attack, and that at least nine of them are journalists.

The magazine has recently published a cartoon of the Islamic State leader, and has a record of publishing anti-Islamic satire. The gunmen are assumed to be in some way connected with Islamic State (ISIS).

There can be no justification for the attack. It should be possible to satirize or to criticize ideas without this being something that can result in death or injury. There must, however, be a response to it that does not lead either to an increase in future terrorist attacks or in a rise in attacks on Muslims.

Neither outcome, unfortunately, is likely if responses so far and in the past are anything to go by.

The one effective response to such attacks would be to change foreign policy, which has helped to create precisely the terrorism that it now abhors. ISIS has grown in Iraq and Syria as a consequence of the failed wars there. The instability created in Iraq as a result of Western intervention, the backing of a sectarian and oppressive government by the occupiers, and the current air strikes which are helping to win support for ISIS, have all contributed to the strengthening of this organization. ISIS has received weapons and money from the Saudis and Qataris, has grabbed weapons provided by the West for other anti-Assad groups, and has received material support from Turkey.

These are precisely the Western allies--Turkey also being a NATO member--who sign up for the "war on terror," but practice something different. The interventions they supported have greatly increased instability, for example, in Libya, where the British and French led bombing in 2011 continues to result in bitter civil war and conflict.

The prediction made by, among others, former head of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Buller that the war on Iraq would lead to a much greater threat of terrorism has unfortunately proved to be the case.

In recent years, France, under Presidents Sarkozy and Hollande, has played an increasing role in these interventions.

That the wars are all blamed on Muslims ignores the fact that the Libyan groups and ISIS are, of course, in large part fighting other Muslims. The refugees coming out of Syria, left on crewless boats to sink or swim in the Mediterranean, are also Muslims.

The consequences of the wars, with hundreds of thousands dead and many more refugees, have incensed people around the world. The large majorities in Western countries who have opposed these interventions have been ignored by their warmongering governments.

Muslims have also faced a growing level of racism and prejudice, seen in the rise of far-right parties, the restrictions on Muslim dress, the infringements of civil liberties, and the branding of all Muslims as somehow extremists or proto-terrorists.

In France, there is a very strong far-right party in the shape of the Front National, and the country has legislated some of the worst restrictions on Muslims--for example, over wearing the hijab. In Germany, the anti Islamic Pergida demonstrations have linked Muslims to crime. Levels of racism in Britain have grown, focused both on immigrants and on Muslims.

The latest attack will lead to a greater backlash and greater levels of Islamophobia. But it is not Muslims who are the problem, but the foreign policies that have helped create terrorism. That is what needs to change.

Article by Dave Kellaway, Socialist Resistance, Britain

I lived near where the attack took place and, as an avid reader of Charlie Hebdo during my five years there, I felt sick in the stomach when I heard the news today coming out of Paris. Two of the slain cartoonists, Cabu and Wolinski, were very familiar to me, and their pieces were picked up and used by the left and progressive publications all the time. They were justly recognized as some of the most talented and original satirical cartoonists, not just in France, but internationally.

The magazine has always been very secular. It is a trenchant critic of all religions and any other beliefs they wanted to poke fun at. After the May '68 events, it became very popular indeed. In subsequent decades, its fortunes and circulation went up and down. It became less clearly aligned on the left, but could still be defined as progressive insofar as its main targets were bourgeois politicians and reactionary ideologies. The magazine defended women's rights, while some of its portrayal of women was controversial. It courted danger the moment it maintained a position of supporting the right of a Danish magazine to publish satirical cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. There was a bomb attack in 2011 and frequent threats. Its current issue has a front page on the newly published book Soumission by Michel Houllebecq, which is provocative and reactionary, stoking up fears of an Islamization of France. Some critics see Charlie Hebdo's principled defense of total secularism slipping into a stimulus to a certain islamophobia.

Already on Facebook and elsewhere, some left-wing people are using similar arguments to the ones we heard around the time of the publication of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses--i.e., that the magazine sort of had it coming to it for its virulent secularism and its supposed Islamophobia. Even if you accept that there was a degree of Islamophobia, or at least an accommodation to those people promoting it, there is still no justification for such extreme violence to be unleashed on it. These people were journalists and cartoonists, using images and words, they carried no guns, and they lampooned the Catholic Church mercilessly, too.

People have to accept that these currents of Islamist terrorism--like the ISIS--are not just constructs of imperialism, whose actions are primarily consequences of it. They have a distinct, autonomous history that goes back to the Wahhabi tradition in Saudi Arabia and intersects with the theocratic notions of the Iranian regime. Yes, the legacy of imperialism provides fertile conditions for their growth, but political actors have choices. Before Khomeini, the dominant focus of people fighting for change and against imperialism was Nasserist and Marxist--exemplified by the PLO currents at the time of Arafat. Imperialism was just as strong and aggressive then as it is now.

Neither should the old maxim of "the main enemy is at home" blind us to the necessity of politically confronting the crimes against humanity of these Islamist currents. Indeed, our chances of building support for a socialist alternative to Labour depends partly on us having credible positions on these sorts of issues. Mealy-mouthed formulations, "excuses" or justifications just make it even more difficult to win people to our ideas.

Clearly these terrible events will be grist to the mill of the growing Islamophobic fervor being cultivated by right wing and fascist forces in Europe. We have seen the actions of groups in Dresden, in France around the Front National, in Italy with Salvini's Northern League, and in the UK with Farage's UKIP. No doubt the mainstream media will amplify all these reactionary responses to the events.

Consequently, people who believe in defending democratic rights have to condemn both these Islamist terrorists and the role of imperialist terror, too. Socialists should work with all forces who want to develop an anti-racist coalition to stop attempts to use these events to further build anti-Islamic hysteria. A communiqué released by the New Anticapitalist Party in France expresses these ideas very coherently.

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