Alex Dunn. Introduction by b. traven.
Alex Dunn is one of TCP’s EU correspondents. An English ex-pat living in Luxembourg gives us a view of this disturbing massacre in Paris. I am sure that Alex’s view from Europe is as concerned as some of our views that the wrong lesson will be learned by politicians about this tragic and vicious attack. Those politicians in power throughout the Western world will see this as an opportunity to further suppress humanitarian and civil rights initiatives in their countries. Already in France which has wisely eliminated the death penalty the far right Le Pen party has used this tragedy to ask for a referendum on restoring the death penalty. How ridiculous, since those who commit these crimes in the name of Islam have usually accepted death as the honor that will get them to the heavenly virgins. Let’s not compound this awful crime with tragic knee-jerk mistakes. b. traven
I cannot imagine that Charlie Hebdo is a magazine which is too well known in the US. Indeed until yesterday afternoon, few outside of France will have been familiar with the name of this satirical cartoon. Charlie Hebdo is now a name which echoes around the world for all the wrong reasons.
On Wednesday, gunmen walked into the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris and opened fire on an editorial meeting. By the time they had made good their escape, 12 people had been murdered.
Shaky photographs and video taken on bystanders’ camera phones show terrifying images of the armed men shooting a policeman dead. The gunfire was interspersed with shouts of Allah Akbar and when the killers left the scene, they shouted that they had avenged Mohammed.
There is no possible justification for such an attack. So why was a magazine targeted in this way?
Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine which has a long history of publishing cartoons which are designed to provoke. Amongst other religious targets (Christians and Jews have not escaped), Islam has been on the receiving end of a good deal of ridicule.
For example, there was the edition “guest edited” by Mohammed, calling him Charia Hebdo.
Another cartoon showed Mohammed being beheaded by a terrorist. The twist being the caption, “If Mohammed came back”, and Mohammed saying “I am the prophet asshole” and the terrorist saying “Shut up infidel”.
This uncompromising content has resulted in attempts to prosecute Charlie Hebdo under French anti-racism laws. So far, the magazine has not fallen foul of the law.
This may not seem particularly noteworthy, but when put into context with other legislation, it becomes more interesting. In France it is illegal to question the existence of crimes against humanity. OK, but it seems that not all crimes against humanity are covered. For example there is nothing wrong with denying the Armenian Genocide (It is possible that this observer is missing something, but isn’t genocide a bad thing in every single case?).
Indeed this law seems specifically aimed at Holocaust deniers and it has been cited as being necessary to combat anti-Semitism.
Of course the rounding up of French Jews during the Second World War is something which is still within living memory. The horror of what happened is still raw and personal to the French.
But what about Islamophobia? I will return to this shortly.
Charlie Hebdo received enough threats for them to get a security presence at their office. Sadly this was not enough to stop a well organised and determined attack.
The shock of what happened yesterday is still reverberating around the world. In the initial hours following the attack, the charliehebdo.fr website was a simple black page with the words Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie).
Social media was quick to pick this up and Je Suis Charlie has become the hash tag du jour.
This morning I find my Facebook page covered in handwringing reposts of Je Suis Charlie and how this was an attack against freedom of expression – a god-given right. Voltaire has been much quoted on this topic, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
My first issue is with freedom of expression being a god-given right. God had nothing to do with it. Freedom of expression and the other freedoms that we as Europeans and Americans enjoy were paid for by the lives of millions who fought for these freedoms on our behalf.
If we agree that this is true, should we not be less reckless with a gift that came with such a high price?
Secondly, I don’t believe that the attack was primarily an attack on freedom of expression. I think that the objectives of the attackers are part of a much longer game.
Consider the inevitable sequence of events that will unfold in France and wider Europe.
Candle lit vigils will celebrate the work of those who have tragically died.
This will be replaced by calls for vengeance “they want war, they will get war” etc. etc.
Right wing politicians such as the Front Nationale (once they have shaken off the initial shock of what a gift for them this all is) will sigh and point out that the attack was an inevitable consequence of the Islamification of the West.
Arabs will be attacked in European cities and be subject to more stop-and-search checks by jumpy police.
Arabs and Muslims who have had nothing to do with the attacks will be pushed further and further into the arms of the fundamentalists, adding to their number.
Here is where the paths of Charlie Hebdo and those that attacked them meet.
Charlie Hebdo reinforced negative stereotypes, alienating Muslims and making them feel isolated and unwelcome in France. The terrorists want native French Muslims to feel isolated and unwelcome, so that they turn on their infidel countrymen.
It should not be underestimated the degree to which the media contributes to the isolation of minorities.
I see parallels with what I saw growing up in Britain in the 1970s, when the US organisation NORAID was still funnelling money to the IRA, whom they saw as freedom fighters.
The IRA were blowing up civilians as well as service personnel in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain. As a result, the sound of an Irish accent set alarm bells ringing. On television, the Irish were shown as being either idiots (e.g. the builder in Fawlty Towers) or terrorists (Harry’s Game). This stereotype persisted until the peace process paid dividends.
Whilst the IRA was (and is) a tiny group, their actions coloured the image of the Irish held by the British throughout The Troubles. The media did nothing to address this imbalance.
In 2015, the same is happening to Muslims. It may come as a shock to many right wing observers, but Muslims across the globe are trying to get on with their lives without fantasising about killing infidels. Apparently, whole communities of Muslims make it through the day without throwing grenades into Wal Marts. It is even said that Muslim teachers have been known to resist beheading children who draw pictures of Jesus.
Sadly, the actions of a minority are likely to result in major suffering for a benign majority. The Arab League and Islamic bodies around the world have quite rightly condemned the attack, but you will not see too many headlines picking this up.
Charlie Hebdo presented a one sided view of Islam, which attracted a disproportionate response from those who disagreed with them.
Alongside the Je Suis Charlie hashtags, I have seen the word Liberté, the French word for freedom.
Freedom did take a battering yesterday, but those of us who exercise our right to freedom of expression would do well to remember the other two words that make up of France’s national motto: égalité and fraternité. Equality and Fraternity. Especially Fraternity.
Alex Dunn is a British ex-pat who currently lives in Luxembourg.