Brief statement on the attacks on Charlie Hebdo by Islamists
Recently, several Islamist gunmen attacked the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The style of the Charlie Hebdo magazine is an irreverent one that attacks religion in general, but also is seen as bigoted for its targeting of Muslims and migrants. Twelve people were killed and 11 wounded. Three of the dead were police. According to reports, some of the gunmen had connections to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. One woman suspected of being involved in the planning of the first attack is thought to have fled to Islamic State territory in Syria. Yemen’s top al Qaeda leader Sheikh Nasr al-Ansi has claimed responsibility for the first attack. In what was probably a copycat incident that followed, a Jewish market was held hostage by at least one gunman who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS). This second attack killed four people. All or most of the attackers appear to have been killed. Information is still coming in. In a video, the Yemeni leader did mention various crimes of the West, but the emphasis was on defending the honor of Muhammad. The choice of target would confirm that the main motivation was defending the religion, not Western crimes against the Third World. Sheikh Nasr al-Ansi stated, “We claim responsibility for this operation as revenge for the Messenger of Allah.” (1) At the height of the attack, one of the attackers is heard yelling something to the effect of “God is great! We will avenge the Prophet!” The attack seems to mainly be in retaliation for comics that depicted Muhammad in embarrassing ways. The second incident, the one on the Jewish market, appears to an unorganized attack by a lone man, a so-called “lone wolf.” In a video he made prior to his death, he does discuss, albeit briefly, attacks on the Middle East, especially bombings against the Islamic State, as the reason for his action.
The attacks have been followed by a large “I am Charlie” campaign where many people are expressing their solidarity with the slain cartoonists. Reactionary world leaders attended a rally against terrorism that included: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The US Obama administration made statements of solidarity. The rally in France was reportedly attended by two million. It is described as the largest since the liberation of Paris in World War 2. The issue is being framed as one of free speech versus Islamist barbarism. The attacks have caused a backlash of liberal and traditionalist outrage against Muslims and migrants. The “I am Charlie” campaign is fueling some of the most reactionary tendencies in Europe.
Of course attacks on free speech should be condemned. The murder of people over depictions of religious figures is wrong. However, there should be no mistake the “I am Charlie” campaign is not really about freedom of speech. The French state has continually restricted free speech, both left and right. Recently, rallies in support of Palestine were banned. There is the famous 1983 case of pseudo-historian Robert Faurisson who was convicted in France for denying the holocaust on Iranian television. Since the Charlie marches, France has opened 54 cases against people for supposedly expressing support for terrorism, including one comedian who merely mocked the Charlie events on Facebook. (2) France has a long history of placing restrictions on all kinds of speech that upsets its social-democratic, imperialist consensus. Noam Chomsky, the famous linguist and anti-imperialist, has been highly critical of France’s record on free speech. Two years ago, Chomsky criticized Charlie Hebdo’s portrayals of Muslims as racist. Chomsky pointed out that had such portrayals been of Jews, they would not be tolerated. Chomsky said, “Freedom of speech in France is complete fakery and fraud.” (3) All should be skeptical over France’s crocodile tears. The liberal imperialists and traditionalist anti-migrant forces will use the banner of freedom of speech to silence their opponents, especially anti-imperialist opponents. Those who are making the most noise about “Charlie” and “freedom” are some of the biggest hypocrites around. All of the reactionary world leaders who marched have far more blood on their hands than the attackers.
Empire will gain, one way or another, from the attacks. The motivations of the attackers appear to be very reactionary, in-line with the barbarism of right-wing radical Islamist groups, which, ironically, have been supported by imperialism in various underhanded ways. The radical Islamist trends are very much manipulated by the intelligence agencies of the Gulf Arab states, which are themselves a part of the First World. For decades, these radical Islamist forces have received military aid from the imperialists, including France, Israel, and the United States. The West, including France, has blood on its hands for its role in bringing these forces to power in many places, but especially in Syria and Libya. These forces are proxies and semi-proxies of these First World states that inflict horrors on their Third World neighbors. There is a kind of blowback when Empire supports these kinds of forces because Islamist forces are highly-ideologically motivated despite being empowered by the Empire. The recent attack on Charlie Hebdo is blowback. The violence Empire itself inflicts on the Third World pouring over into its own borders. It is a case of, as Malcolm X said, “the chickens coming home to roost.” These attacks will surely be manipulated by Empire to serve its own ends, be it by giving the Islamists more or less leash.
Both Hezbollah and Hamas, which are genuine resistance movements, much different than al Qaeda and the Islamic State, issued statements anticipating the imperialist backlash. Hassan Nasrallah of the Lebanon’s Hezbollah made a good point when he stated that “extremists are more offensive to Islam than cartoons.” He went on to say:
“The behavior of the takfiri groups that claim to follow Islam have distorted Islam, the Koran and the Muslim nation more than Islam’s enemies… who insulted the prophet in films… or drew cartoons of the prophet…” (4)
Hamas also condemned the “justification for killing innocents.” They condemned opportunist attempts by Israel to compare the attacks on the cartoonists to their resistance against Zionist occupation. (5)
The issue is not about Islamist barbarism versus Western freedoms. Rather, it is two very reactionary forces trying to manipulate public opinion. In the end, Third World people and migrants end up paying the price. All over the world the imperialists are committing mass murder on a daily basis, often, but not always, working hand-in-hand with radical Islamists, who are often Empire’s proxies or semi-proxies. On the same day that reactionary world leaders marched for the 12 killed in France, thousands were killed by the Islamist Boko Haram in Baga, Nigeria. Millions die from imperialist wars every year. Millions die from imperialist policies. Yet there is no marching against that. First World lives are considered to be worth more than Third World lives. This reflects the sad state of the world. Neither Empire nor Islam is the answer. Real, true, all-powerful Leading Light Communism is the way forward.