A discussion piece, cross-posted from the Workers Liberty website and the paper Solidarity: http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2012/09/25/charlie-hebdo-muslims-and-how-defend-freedom-expression
By Yves Coleman
The author is a French socialist activist, involved in publishing the journal Ni Patrie, Ni Frontières (No Fatherlands, No Borders).
“If you insult Muhammad, it is as if you insult my own mother.” (A participant, during a debate on Radio Tropic FM, September 20, 2012.)
It all began with excerpts from a stupid video posted on the Net.
Then a French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, intervened. This weekly publication has always been characterized by its bad taste, rude machismo supposed to be funny and popular, and its cheap anti-racism. This typical French form of pseudo anti-racism has a peculiarity: it conveys all racist or anti-Semitic clichés under the pretext of attacking… racism. This position makes ist “humor” often perfectly acceptable to extreme right people. One example is the cover of the latest Charlie Hebdo: it shows a Jew with a traditional hat pushing a wheelchair in which sits a Muslim (or Muhammad?), with the subtitle “Untouchables” – which is also the title of a French film which won great popular success and was supposedly anti-racist. A first-degree understanding of this cartoon encourages the reader to think that Jews and Muslims are exempt from criticism in France, which obviously implies that:
- that Catholics (culturally dominant in France) are much more tolerant than the supporters of the other two religions of the Book
- French Jews, even if they are a small minority, form a powerful “lobby” (a thought which was also expressed by the Tropic FM “Muslim” listener quoted before)
- And finally, that “Muslims” have installed a reign of terror in France through their intellectual terrorism, their physical threats or even attacks.
In fact, Charlie Hebdo has only jumped on the opportunity given by The Innocence of Muslims to reinforce the “critical” current which tends to present all Muslims as fanatics or terrorists.
Fifteen years ago, the newspaper Charlie Hebdo was considered by the anti-globalization left, as a rare example of the “free press” (according to Serge Halimi, director of the Left anti-globalization monthly Le Monde diplomatique).
When this weekly came under the leadership of a former stand-up comedian and playwriter (Philippe Val), who became a vulgar court philosopher close to Sarkozy, of course radicals and left-wing people found that publication was no more trendy. And especially because a feminist reformist, Caroline Fourest, started writing in Charlie Hebdo, criticizing all religions, all fundamentalisms, including Islamic fundamentalism and therefore criticizing Tariq Ramadan, an anti-globalization and left icon for a while. Anti-Semitic “jokes” made by the cartoonist Sine (who had a long experience in anti-semitic remarks) allowed a false debate to take place between Sine supporters (supposed to be left, even far left minded) and Philippe Val supporters or Charlie Hebdo readers, supposed to be all Sarkozysts and “Islamophobes”. The terms of the debate were faked because none of the two camps really opposed BOTH anti-Semitism (including when presented as ”anti-Zionism”) and anti-Arab racism, even when it was concealed under a criticism of Islam. Finally, Sine was sacked from Charlie Hebdo and created his own satirical monthly, Val was appointed to manage a public radio station, where he soon distinguished himself by firing an two anti -Sarkozyst stand-up comedians (Didier Porte and Stephane Guillon), and Charlie Hebdo continued its muddled comments on all kinds of subjects.
It is obvious that the new issue of Charlie Hebdo devoted to caricatures of Muhammad or of Muslims (the previous issue with similar content, around the time of the “Danish cartoons” row in 2006) provoked an arson attack on its office, the protection of the police and several trials for “Islamophobia”) had only one main objective: to create the buzz in order to sell more copies of this weekly, taking advantage of the atmosphere created by the reactions to The Innocence of Muslims. “Freedom of speech” had nothing to do with this provocation.
In addition, we know that, during the recent years, in France as well as in Europe, the extreme right hides its fascist and racist ideas under the banner of the freedom of expression, and a critique of ”political correctness gone mad”, etc. So we must be conscious that freedom of expression often becomes an often adulterated commodity in certain hands.
At the same time, a tiny number of Muslims have fallen into the trap: they wanted to organize demonstrations, all banned by the “Socialist” government.
Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen, the new leader of the National Front, took the opportunity to call for a ban on hijabs and yarmulkes on the streets.
In short, a new false debate was launched by the media, amplified by radio and community media, where we were required to take stands: either on the side of all “Muslims”, whatever their orientation was (Muslims whose religious representatives called to ignore the provocation and not to demonstrate) or the side of Charlie Hebdo, supposedly the main voice of the “Islamophobic” left.
Yet there is a plethora of more important matters today than discussing the opportunity to publish cartoons of a prophet-warrior who died 15 centuries ago. The wave of layoffs, rising unemployment, lack of teachers in schools, repression against undocumented people, policing of all those who receive welfare, increase of productivity and of accidents, increase of suicides related to the deterioration of working conditions, harassment organized by foremen and bosses, etc.., all these topics deserve hundreds of articles, dozens of radio and TV programms, and thousands of discussions.
But the media prefer to organize false debates with their auditors or with confused Islamophile or Islamophobic intellectuals, almost never inviting atheists or rationalists to express their views, to discuss the only topic of interest for them: freedom of expression.
The opinion expressed by the listener whose quote begins this article, and many other views expressed on the Net, are perfect examples of the current ideological confusion.
Personal insults against individuals are dealt within the frame of bourgeois justice. People who are insulted can complain if they feel defamed. And there is an entire legal arsenal for this purpose. No need to add more to these laws.
You can also use a quick solution, as seemed to suggest the quoted listener (i.e., to smash the face of the person who insulted your mother or religion) but is this really the best solution?
Finally, one can imagine how it could work in another society, where in the neighborhoods, in the schools, or companies, general assemblies, committees of residents or workers would meet to resolve such disputes without going by judges and lawyers … But this would imply that participants agree to settle their dispute by accepting a collective, non-violent solution.
Freedom of expression, contrary to what the Tropic FM listener believes, has nothing to do with a trivial personal insult. Freedom of expression depends on a fragile collection of collective rights that regulate all media, from a simple leaflet to a TV progamme, newspaper or book, but also the right to protest and organize - collective rights which have been won after decades of struggle by the working class and other democratic forces.
This freedom of expression is reduced to a minimum in the Western world, not because of some protests made by fundamentalist Muslims or some Islamist attacks, but because of the mighty power of capitalists. The banking, finance and industry magnates who control the media rarely encourage freedom of expression. And ther words of workers, unemployed and exploited are almost never heard, or filtered by journalists who carefully respect the interests of their masters.
The situation is also not so much better in the so-called left parties or large unions.
It is well known how the French Communist Party defamed, denounced to the cops and bosses, punched or sent to the hospital hundreds of Trotskyist and anarchist activists for decades. When it did not murder them, as it happened under the German Occupation, under Stalinism in the Eastern bloc, or during the Spanish Civil War.
We know that the French Socialist Party gives power and freedom of speech only to individuals coming from the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie.
This is reflected in the media which are linked to this party, in the social composition of its MPs, Senators and Ministers, in its current implementation of austerity, in its anti-immigrant policies carried out under the previous government, its support to the police forces, French armed interventions abroad, etc.
We know that the unions muzzle speech and freedom of action of workers hostile to their bureaucracies, when they do not exclude them, plain and simple.
We also know how the small pseudo left-wing and anti-imperialist group called “The Indigenous of the Republic” with the help of some intellectuals (Said Bouamama and Pierre Tevanian) recently prevented Caroline Fourest, a secular, anti racist and left-reformist feminist to talk and criticize the National Front at the Communist Party “fête”, on September 16, 2012, all that in the name of anti-fascism … and fight against Islamophobia. (To check the falsity of these two lies, one only needs to read Fourest’s book against Marine Le Pen or the one where she interviews Taslima Nasreen and expresses a much more moderate view than Nasreen!).
So let us be wary, too, about left or extreme left groups who want, in the labor movement, trade unions, or in the street, to impose their ideas with clubs or fists whenever it suits them. Or those who claim to defend freedom of expression, but are unable to practice it in their own unions and political organizations and their publications.
About the cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo, some “Muslims” wanted to have both the right to express their indignation in the street against the newspaper and also to protest against The Innocence of Muslims. The French government has banned several demonstrations, and the few which have been organized have been spectacular failures (from one to 150 protesters, according to the cities), showing that the vast majority of “Muslims” did not fall into the trap, even if they were offended by the film and/or the magazine.
As a supporter of freedom of expression, I do not see why I should support any ban by the French State. These demonstrations should be allowed to proceed without being banned by the state, whatever one thinks of their dubious or reactionary political or religious content. And activists should also have the right to protest against these demonstrations (it is symptomatic that the only “Muslim” demonstrator sentenced to prison after the September 15 demonstration has explained he wore a telescopic club to defend himself against… Jews. A typical example of the delirious anti-Semitism inspired both by Koranic anti-Judaism, fascist anti-Semitism and extreme right anti-Zionism.).
As a rationalist atheist, I do not see why I should support those who want to introduce in France a law against blasphemy, or limit the freedom of expression with regard to the criticism all religions, including Islam.
We know that both the Organization of the Islamic Conference (which includes 57 states), the United States and the Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations want France to adopt new laws against blasphemy. We know that French government is regularly criticized as “anti -religious”, “Islamophobic”, because of the laws against the headscarf or niqab, and that they pretend that the Church of Scientology is persecuted in France.
The French state uses secularism when it suits its interests for domestic policy issues; it finances Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim cults, in several French departments.
It maintains Catholic churches, and its finances (religious) private instruction throughout the country. We have no reason to support the French government but we must also oppose all those who would like to impose laws restricting criticism of religions, supposedly because it offends believers, god or the prophets.
Similarly, without supporting a publication like Charlie Hebdo in its quest for sales and publicity, I see no reason to support those who want to destroy its headquarters, or physically threaten its cartoonists or journalists, or want them to be condemned by the bourgeois judicial system because of their bad taste and/or “blasphemy.”
As an atheist, I can only oppose any law against blasphemy, any restriction to the criticism of religions, if a government, left or right, wants to impose them in France.
Meanwhile, we should also denounce anyone, including in the Left, who is critical of one religion (Islam) while remaining silent or very secretive about other religions, so he can present as progressive his anti-Arab racism, or his support to French, European or American interventions in Africa, Libya or Afghanistan.
We must denounce Iran’s trial to recover the initiative it lost since, in Tunisia and Egypt, dictators were overthrown by the people, or are highly contested. Iran where a religious foundation linked to the regime immediately took advantage of the The Innocence of Muslims to increase the price on Salman Rushdie’s head.
We must denounce the National Frront attempt to participate to this debate in order to stir up hatred against the Arabs, whether Muslim or not, and against Jews, two elements of the National Front political patrimony.
Finally, we must denounce the obvious diversion organised by all media about these non-events. Several facist groups (including l’Oeuvre française et les Jeunesses nationalistes) organize a “ride” to Paris with buses and a “nationalist rally” on 29 September 2012, but the media have not shown any interest for this demo. Yet the themes of the meeting of 28th and demo of the 29th should alert all those so-called advocates of freedom of expression: Promotional material for the event calls for a “General mobilization of all the French patriots and nationalists. After the French natives revolt in Lyon, let’s participate to the French march on the capital! Against lawless areas, against the government’s anti-national policy, against anti-white racism: We want to be masters in our fatherland! Against immigration-invasion governments hirelings, against the violation of our interests by US-Zionist and euro-globalist forces, against foreign preference: let’s struggle to give France back to the French and become masters in our homeland! “
This disgusting prose is a significant example of the xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and fascistic form of anti-Zionism which flourish on the internet at every minute.
National, cultural and religious identities are being promoted by states, churches and all sorts of fascist and populist demagogues. But neither Muslim nor non-Muslim workers lose their free will, intellectual independence or critical faculties just because they are exposed to vicious hateful propaganda.
Workers have a choice: either they support their exploiters and their demagogic leaders who claim to share the same faith and/or culture, or they unmask all the political uses of their beliefs and background.
As atheists and non-believers, we must also stand against all left or right, populist or fascist currents who claim the heritage of the Enlightenment or human rights to better hide their reactionary or obscurantist projects!
NB: The term “Muslim” is put in quotation marks in this article, because journalists, demographers, sociologists and many radical, left-wing or anti-globalization activists generally stick the religious label of Muslim on the front of all those who come from countries where Islam is the state religion, or whose families are practicing islam, or simply those whose names sound “Arab”, as if there were no atheists among these so-called “Muslims.”
Hilarious bleating from a pompous prat and utterly preposterous purvayor of humbuggery:
This witch-hunt has put us behind ex-Soviet states on Press freedom
THE Sun is not a “swamp” that needs draining.
Nor are those other great News International titles, The Times and The Sunday Times.
Yet in what would at any other time cause uproar in Parliament and among civil liberty and human rights campaigners, its journalists are being treated like members of an organised crime gang…
…[J]ournalists have been needlessly dragged from their beds in dawn raids, arrested and held in police cells while their homes are ransacked.
Wives and children have been humiliated as up to 20 officers at a time rip up floor-boards and sift through intimate possessions, love letters and entirely private documents”…
For a really good laugh, read the rest here. Then, all together now: Ahhhhhhh!
Come to think of it, this “beyond parody” thing is a pretty good idea that I may make a regular feature – ie simply republishing stuff that is such self-evident bollocks that it’s not worth even commenting upon, let alone mocking.
Easy blogging, as well.
Lady Warsi receiving a “rapturous reception” the Vatican with her complaint that religion is being denied “a seat at the table” in British public life, for instance… (here)
In a shock announcement … [07.07.11] James Murdoch has informed staff at the News of the World that the newspaper is being wound up with its last edition printed on Sunday.
General Secretary said: “This shows the depths to which Rupert Murdoch
and his lieutenants at News International are prepared to stoop. The
announcement James Murdoch should be making today is the dismissal of Rebekah
Brookes as chief executive of News International. The shocking revelations this
week show beyond doubt the systemic abuse and corruption at the top of the
operation ran by both Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson. Yet News International
has persistently lied about the extent of this scandal and tried to pass it off
as a problem created by a couple of rogue reporters.
200 staff in the UK and Ireland, and putting scores more freelances and casuals
out of a job, is an act of utter cynical opportunism. Murdoch is clearly
banking on this drawing a line under the scandal, removing an obstacle to the
BskyB deal, and letting his senior executives off the hook. That simply won’t
wash. It is not ordinary working journalists who have destroyed this paper’s
credibility – it is the actions of Murdoch’s most senior people.
when he said in his statement today that ‘Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom
bad.’ Yet those wrongdoers are still there today, at the top of the News
International empire and ordinary staff at the paper are paying with their
– a newspaper that has been in print now for 168 years – is a calculated
sacrifice by Rupert Murdoch to salvage his reputation and that of News
International, in the hope that readers will switch allegiance to a new
seven-day operation at The Sun, the government will wave through the BskyB deal
and he will widen his grip on the UK’s media landscape.
Wapping dispute it is the behaviour of Rupert Murdoch and his management that
has caused the closure of the newspaper. The NUJ will offer all support to its
members at the News of the World facing compulsory redundancies and will be
organising an emergency meeting of all journalists at the title to offer advice
Times are hard and economies have to be made. For some time I’ve been wondering why I continue to spend good money subscibing to the New Statesman. Each paranoid piece of reactionary apologia for tyrants from the unhinged Pilger, dishonest relativism from Wilby, anti-human nihilism from Gray, and pro-religion insult to the intelligence from Byrnes, has edged me towards cancelling my subscription. I can hear garbage like that at my local trades council meeting or C of E church (well, maybe not Gray’s philosophical fascism): I don’t have to pay for it.
Of course, the New Statesman has form. Back in the 1930′s it refused to publish George Orwell’s writings on the Spanish Civil War for fear of offending the Comintern and their local agents. Orwell never forgave the then-editor Kingsley Martin, a supple-spined “left” power-worshipper who seems to have uncannily prefigured both Peter Wilby (editor 1998-2005) and the present incumbent Jason Cowley.
The final straw, for me, came last week with an edition edited by upper class “wadical” Jemima Kahn, largely devoted to promoting the preening anti-semitic loon Julian Assange and other posh friends and relatives like her Tory brother Zac Goldsmith and her ex-hubby Hugh Grant. The high-spot of the issue is Jemima’s own interview with her friend Nick Clegg , who wails, “I’m not a punchbag: I have feelings.”
NS editor Cowley is quoted in today’s Observer justifying his decision to hand over the mag (albeit for just one week) to this ruling-class posh-girl by claiming “She’s been underestimated. She’s smart, writes well and she’s a liberal.”
“She’s a liberal”: even if that’s true, what a craven, miserable self-indictment of Britain’s leading supposedly “serious” SOCIALIST magazine…
At least Khan has some self-awareness, describing herself as “Sister of a Tory, rich twat and acc[ording] to some, more socialite than socialist, I know some NS readers will be irked. Judge the issue, not me“: I have judged both and am cancelling my subscription forthwith.
You may have heard on the grown-up news that Barclays Bank has obtained a court order preventing the Guardian from publishing documents, leaked by a whistleblower, showing how the bank avoided hundreds of millions of pounds in tax – you know, money that should have gone towards schools, hospitals, education, welfare, police, defence, stuff like that.
This quote, attributed to a Financial Times commentator, says it all.
I was lucky enough to read through the first of the Barclays documents…
Until now I have been a supporter of the finance industry – I work with people there regularly and respect many of them, and greatly enjoy the Financial Times and other financial papers. However this has shone a light on something for me, and made me certain that these people belong in jail, and companies like Barclays deserve to be bankrupt. They have robbed everyone of us, every single person who pays tax or who will ever pay tax in this country (and other countries!), through both the bailouts and schemes such as this.
I will say it was absolutely breathtaking, extraordinary. The depth of deceit, connivance and deliberate, artificial avoidance stunned me. The intricacy and artificiality of the scheme deeply was absolutely evident, as was the fact that they knew exactly what they were doing and why: to get money from one point in London to another without paying tax, via about 10 offshore companies. Simple, deliberate outcome, clearly stated, with the exact names of who was doing this, and no other purpose.
From the people who brought you John Molyneux there is another long, tedious and self-regarding article in the International Socialism journal, this time about Afghanistan. You can guess what it will say, these people have been using the same arguments for so long they can do them in their sleep, but here’s a summary by the author Jonathan Neale:
In every country in Europe majorities in opinion polls are against participation in the Afghan war. Yet the media still present it as a good war. Iraq, they now admit, was a crime or wrong or maybe just a mistake. But Afghanistan is a war on terrorists, we are told; on fanatics, jihadis, sexists, savages; on people who are not ‘modern’ and therefore deserve to die.
Yes, it’s those evil Western imperialists forcing secular democracy upon the noble, untutored tribesmen. Indeed the first part of Neale’s article consists of nostalgic reminisciences of his time in Afghanistan doing ‘two years of fieldwork as an anthropologist from 1971 to 1973′.
[T]he people I knew best were poor pastoralists who had lost their flocks and now made yoghurt. Their lives were not unrepresentative. Most of them got two sets of adult clothes in their lives—one when they first grew up and one when they married. A bicycle was a sign of moderate wealth. Out of 30 households in the camp, three were wealthy enough to afford to offer me a fried egg in hospitality. And they reminded me of it: ‘You ate his egg,’ they said to me. Out of 30 households, 29 ate meat once a year. An average household had one teapot and one cup.
How absolutely darling. I shall certainly make Shah-era Afghanistan the choice for my next gap year.
There’s also this bizarre bit of nostalgia:
When I lived in rural Afghanistan in the 1970s I had a short, trimmed beard. Every other man with a beard was either a white haired elder or a mullah, and all of them trimmed their beards neat and short. I was regularly ridiculed in public for my beard, which was immodest and un-Islamic, and it would have been quite unacceptable to grow it long.
Which proves… er… what exactly?
As you’d expect from this journal Neale concludes that ‘there are no easy outcomes for Afghans in this situation, but the best one is a victory for the resistance.’ That ‘resistance’ being the Taliban, this means that Neale’s main task here is to make the Taliban look good, or at least find diverting explanations for its behaviour.
So we’re told that the Taliban ‘came into being in 1994 under the patronage of the ISI in Pakistan, and with the quiet support of the US’ – so it’s all the fault of the West anyway. The word Taliban just means ‘the students’ and its leadership consists of ‘men with limited formal education’ who ‘had never attended university and did not come from big landowning families’ – good old working class lads, like you.
‘Crucially,’ Neale tells us, ’the Taliban promised that their leaders and soldiers would not molest boys and girls as the mujahedin commanders had often done.’ Which was nice of them. And while the public executions in football stadia were ‘barbaric’ they were also ‘welcome to many Afghans’. Well, the death penalty may be acceptable to much of the UK public, although I doubt that Neale wants to introduce it over here.
During the 2004 elections the Taliban ‘had the sense not to attack any of the voters at polling stations—people would have been furious.’ Except that they killed election workers, threatened all eighteen presidential candidates with assassination and launched a massive intimidation campaign against potential voters.
Yet for Neale one of the Taliban’s ‘great strengths’ is that ‘they do not engage in bomb attacks against Afghan civilians’ – but they don’t mind shooting them, as in Khandahar two months ago when Taliban killers gunned down twenty-five Afghan civilians, including a child. Still, ’on the rare occasions when these happen the Taliban issue a public statement denying involvement.’ So that’s alright then.
Indeed, the Taliban have ‘learned, changed their strategy and displayed considerable political intelligence.’ While they banned music and videos when they were in power, now they ‘produce propaganda videos and cassettes of Taliban music.’ Big changes, eh? It’s like Scrooge after the spirits had finished with him.
Next Neale deals with the quislings: regrettably, ‘almost all the feminists have collaborated with the occupation, or the NGOs or Karzai’s government. So have most former Communists, the returned Afghan-Americans, the ‘modernisers’ and the ‘secular’ liberals.’ I wonder why. Could it be because they want a fledgeling democracy over fascist theocracy? What sellouts!
Edmund Standing has already had a go at this and he makes this point:
Yet again, the SWP cannot understand that Islamists are not just resisting the presence of foreign troops; they are resisting democracy, human rights, and, specifically and with most venom, the rights of women and children.
Only today I was talking to a teenage Afghan immigrant whose father was murdered by the Taliban. Try telling him that you want ‘victory for the resistance’, when you mean the same bastards who killed his dad.
To which Ophelia Benson adds:
Well it’s physically impossible for them not to understand that, because it’s physically impossible for them to be unaware of all the myriad news reports of the Taliban burning down schools that admit girls, throwing acid on schoolgirls (that was just last week), murdering teachers in front of their students, etc etc etc. They do understand it, the shits, they just don’t object.
Neale’s piece of propaganda for a fascist movement is something that would have been shocking six or seven years back, but wouldn’t raise an eyebrow now. Yet in light of recent debates as to whether the SWP can be considered a totalitarian party I think that Jonathan Neale has done a real service in reminding us exactly what kind of scum they are and how far they have gone from anything that could be considered remotely left wing.
The Liars’ Gazette
You may or may not agree with what Sean Matgamna and I have written about the likely forthcoming Israeli attack upon Iran (see post below). But if you disagree, then at least criticise us for what we’ve actually written, not what you imagine (or have been told) we’ve written.
I was astonished to read in the comments below my last piece, “Dave O” (ie: Dave Osler of Dave’s Part, and usually a sensible comrade) accusing Sean and I of advocating an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran. I had no idea where he got this impression from…until I saw this week’s Weekly Worker. Never mind the feeble-minded drivel like this, or ther libellous crap like this: it’s the front page that has clearly influenced even serious comrades like Dave. And it’s an out-and-out LIE that Sean Matgamna advocates or would attempt to excuse or justify a nuclear attack by Israel upon Iran.
I defy the CPGB (publishers of the Weekly Worker) to find a single sentence in Sean’s article that suggests he’s in favour of, or would in any way seek to justify, a nuclear attack on Iran. What Sean (and I) were talking about was a conventional bombing raid like Israel’s 2007 attack upon a nuclear weapons site in Syria. Dave had the good grace to admit that he’d been mistaken about that (see comment #76 beneath the previous article, below), and stated that his mistake was a result of taking the Weekly Worker as a reliable source. Hopefully, he and other comrades will learn from that error.
Meanwhile I offer two further comments: firstly, that it’s possible that the Weekly Worker / CPGB people are not simply deliberate, conscious liars, but (and I put this forward having met some of them), pathological liars and hysterics who actually believe their own lies. Secondly, it’s ironic that this ex-Stalinist sect once sincerely believed in the idea of the “workers’ (nuclear) bomb”, before being educated out of that and other Stalinist nonsense by …Sean Matgamna and the AWL.