The fact that expressing an opinion which offends somebody, can now get you killed makes us all potentially ‘je suis charlie’. Unless of course, we bow the knee to those who are prepared to kill and maim in order to silence criticism or satire. The realisation that having and expressing an adverse opinion about a religious belief system falls into this category is to be given a glimpse of the days when institutionalised religions ruled the world. In the past, all religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have resorted to intimidating and assassinating those who criticised the beliefs and practices of their respective creeds. Now, in the 21st century, some religious believers clearly wish to return us to that state of affairs.
It is a matter of historical record that it took protests, loss of life, large-scale desertions and economic and political revolutions in Europe and elsewhere to end this previous domination by those who thought they had a divine right to force their rule upon all within their reach. Whilst many moderate Muslims are in denial concerning the political content of Islam, it is a fact that an increasing number of the radical wing of Islam wish to re-create a modern version of the totalitarian religio-political rule of the ancient Caliphate. The recent resurgence and spread of Islamic fundamentalist atrocities, in the wake of the territorial conquests of ISIL, is steadily becoming globalised. India, Africa, Australia, Spain, Britain, and now France again have become the repeated scenes of detached and outreach efforts of retaliation and intimidation in the name of Islam.
The killing and injuring of practically the whole of the staff of Charlie Hebdo was not only meant to permanently remove the ‘offending’ magazine from the news stands of France and elsewhere. As with other such past atrocities its purpose was to create a climate of terrorised fear of speaking out against any part of Islam. This natural reaction needs to be resisted, because Islam, is a retrograde, dangerous ideology which authorises killing in the name of God and the subjection of women and children to domination by men. Also its core religious ideology perpetuates aggressive discrimination against homosexuality, lesbianism and it certainly does not respect atheists and secularists to any appreciable degree.
Furthermore in its most radical and fundamentalist form (as per the full reading of the Qur’an) it does not even respect or tolerate alternative opinions among Muslim communities. Historically and more recently, Sunni and Shia versions of Islam are notorious for exterminating each other on the basis of their alternative religious opinions. Bowing the knee and keeping quiet in order not to risk becoming a victim will only strengthen the determination of the fundamentalists to perpetrate more such sectarian outrages. Why would they stop doing it if it works? In this sense we all need to be ‘Charlie Hebdo’. If this atrocity succeeds in shielding Islam from criticism of its manifold defects and failings, these aspects will also continue to be practiced to the detriment of all those subjected to it, particularly women and those who disagree.
The conflation of anti-Islam with racism.
Among some Muslim apologists and some on the political left there has again been an attempt to identify the criticism of religion with racism. Already in the wake of these Islamic-inspired murders, there has been an attempt to play the race card against the cartoonists and authors of the magazine. In actual fact this magazine criticised and satirised right-wing racist organisations along with the religious beliefs of Christianity and Judaism. It should not be overlooked that Charlie Hebdo was a radical secular left publication which also satired the bourgeois political elite. The magazine may not have been a product of revolutionary anti-capitalists, but it would be rabidly sectarian not to express solidarity with it.
Of course racists and fascists will be eager to jump upon this outrage in order to blame it not on the religious beliefs of the perpetrators, but on their colour or origin. However, this does not mean that the rest of us should defend the religion of Islam in order to actively oppose anti-Arab, or anti-black racism. In this case as in other cases, we should not conflate but distinguish between the ideological opinions of people and their right not to be physically harmed or exploited. We cannot rely on the bourgeois elites to make this distinction and publicise it because there are vested interests to blur the distinction. And of course, these same elites will use this outrage to strengthen the forces of the state
Among the political elite, there is also an implicit desire to dodge the political and religious dimensions of the problem regarding the rise of Islamic fundamentalism today. The political elite do not want to be too explicit in any criticisms they may have with regard to religion, because this may lose them ‘religious’ votes at election time. For this reason they choose to classify the various religious-inspired atrocities as ‘terrorism’. This conveniently avoids drawing the links and connections between the nature of the acts and the precise ideologies which inspire them. Similarly the political elite strenuously avoid making the links between the ’foreign policy’ decisions (for example in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine etc.) they make and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
The conflation of anti-immigration with racism.
An allied conflation of two separate issues is also occurring in regard to immigration and racism. This too will play into present and future debates sparked by this atrocity. What will not be ‘officially’ factored in will be the primary motivation for post Second World War European integration and immigration. The primary motivation has been to ’free’ the movement of capital and labour. Capital has been freed to move between countries to take advantage of local conditions and capital is free to recruit labour from other countries. The advantageous results for capital are clear. It can go to places of cheap labour and other costs thus exploiting the local population. It can also bring cheap labour into countries where labour is more expensive and undermine the wages and conditions of the indigenous working populations. So the disadvantages for working people is also clear.
Yet when indigenous working people start to campaign against this erosion of their hard-won economic and social rights by economic ‘immigration’ they are declared racist by the employing classes and their intellectual apologists. According to this bourgeois view, in order not to be declared racists, workers and others should accept a continual erosion of their economic and social well-being. The fact that working people by and large have in the past never really been fundamentally racist is ignored. Despite the fact that racism was deliberately promoted by the colonialist and imperialist bourgeois elite in order to justify invasion, appropriation and exploitation of foreign peoples, most working people have welcomed newcomers and even supported them. This fact is in danger of being ignored.
If we do not clearly distinguish between these discrete aspects of 21st century neo-liberal capitalism then this will leave working people at the mercy of racist ideologists and proto-fascists. If revolutionary anti-capitalists and revolutionary-humanists do not offer a clear explanation of the crisis of capitalism and alternative ways of struggling to surmount the current hardships, then workers will be attracted to alternatives which ‘seem’ to offer a common-sense (but racist) way forward. Fascism was used to divide working people in the last systemic crisis of the capitalist mode of production, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, there is every danger that history can repeat itself if not exactly then at least enough to be dangerous.
Finally, if the revolutionary left do not publicly defend the already limited freedom of expression currently available to us, then it will soon become our turn to be intimidated and eventually silenced. Je suis Charlie!
[See also ‘Elites in Denial’; ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Book Review – ‘The problem of Islam today’. on this blog]
Roy Ratcliffe. (January 2015.)