We comment on the recent attack on Charlie Hebdo.
The attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo is something no one can justify. But, if we don’t understand the roots of these events, we risk being pulled ever further into a spiral of increasing violence.
Let’s not forget, then, that within France, racism against Muslims has escalated to horrific levels. The fascist National Front leads in presidential polls, and are mobilising for a national demonstration next week to exploit the current situation. There are bans on women wearing the hijab in schools, and the niqab, which covers the face, anywhere in public. Such measures are supposed to protect the dignity of women, but have quite the opposite effect – as seen in the summer of 2013, when a young Muslim woman, four months pregnant, was attacked for wearing a niqab in a Paris suburb, kicked in the stomach and miscarried.
We should also remember the treatment of Muslims and Muslim-majority countries by the west in recent years. The invasion of Afghanistan killed 20,000 people according to the Guardian, and the invasion of Iraq over 600,000 according to the Lancet. Israel, armed by the west, killed over 2,000 people last summer in Gaza, including 500 children. Of course France sat out the invasion of Iraq, but this morning’s Guardian reports that “About 3,000 soldiers are deployed in a vast area from Mauritania to Niger and Chad, following an earlier French intervention in Mali in 2013 to counter an Islamist insurgency.”
In the context of such Islamophobia, internationally and within France, individuals will inevitably go over the edge. This is not to justify the attack on Charlie Hebdo, any more than we can justify the attacks of 9/11. But it is to say that, as after 9/11, we need to understand the reason for such events if we are to stop them in future. We need to avoid repeating the drive to further violence and oppression which followed that attack, and which, over twelve years on, is a key part of the context of the attack in Paris.
This means that we cannot agree with French president François Hollande that this is a matter of civilisation versus barbarity – there is all too much barbarity on the side of the French state, with its long track record of murderous racism in Algeria and elsewhere. And we cannot raise the slogan “Je Suis Charlie” when we look at that magazine’s track record of attacking Muslims. If the Financial Times can refer to Charlie Hebdo as a “Muslim-bating magazine” as they did yesterday, there is no reason for revolutionaries to fight shy of saying that satire against the powerful and mocking the oppressed are two very different things. Nor does it excuse Charlie Hebdo to say that it was associated to some extent with the left, or that it also attacked other groups, such as the Catholic church – caricatures of black people are still racist, even if printed in a publication that also makes fun of the pope.
Our main impulse of solidarity at this time is with Muslims, throughout the world and particularly in France, who will face a horrible backlash following this attack. The main thing that can be done to prevent such attacks in future is for the rulers of the west to end their repeated attacks on Muslim-majority countries so as to further their own power – the events in Paris yesterday are the bitter fruit of those imperialist adventures.