FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Maximum Horror

It was a horrific event. It was condemned in most parts of the world and most poignantly by many cartoonists. Those who planned the atrocity chose their target carefully. They knew that such an act would create the maximum horror. It was quality, not quantity they were after. The response will not have surprised or displeased them. They don’t care a damn for the world of unbelievers. Unlike the medieval inquisitors of the Sorbonne they do not have the legal and theological authority to harass booksellers or printers, ban books and torture authors, so they go one step further and order executions.

What of the foot-soldiers? The circumstances that attract young men and women to these groups are creations of the Western world that they inhabit – which is itself a result of long years of colonial rule in the countries of their forebears. We know that the Parisian brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi were long-haired inhalers of marijuana and other substances until (like the 7 July bombers in this country) they saw footage of the Iraq war and, in particular, of the torture taking place in Abu Ghraib and the cold-blooded killings of Iraqi citizens in Fallujah.

They sought comfort in the mosque. Here they were radicalised by waiting hardliners for whom the West’s war on terror had become a golden opportunity to recruit and hegemonise the young, both in the Muslim world and in the ghettoes of Europe and North America. Sent first to Iraq to kill Americans and more recently to Syria (with the connivance of the French state?) to topple Assad, such young men were taught how to use weapons effectively. Back home they got ready to deploy this knowledge against those who they believed were tormenting them in difficult times. They were the persecuted. Charlie Hebdo represented their persecutors. The horror should not blind us to this reality.

Charlie Hebdo had made no secret of the fact that it intended to carry on provoking believing Muslims by targeting the Prophet. Most Muslims were angry about this, but ignored the insult. The paper had reprinted the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten’s cartoons of Muhammad in 2005 – the ones that depicted him as a Pakistani immigrant. The Danish newspaper admitted that it would never publish anything similar depicting Moses or the Jews (perhaps it had already done so: it certainly published articles supporting the Third Reich), but Charlie Hebdo sees itself as having a mission to defend republican secular values against all religions. It has occasionally attacked Catholicism, but it’s hardly ever taken on Judaism (though Israel’s numerous assaults on Palestinians have offered many opportunities) and has concentrated its mockery on Islam. French secularism today seems to encompass anything as long as it’s not Islamic. Denunciations of Islam have been relentless in France, with Michel Houellebecq’s new novel, Soumission (the word Islam means ‘submission’), the latest salvo. It predicts the country being ruled by a president from a group he calls the Muslim Fraternity. Charlie Hebdo, we should not forget, ran a cover lampooning Houellebecq on the day it was attacked. Defending its right to publish, regardless of consequences, is one thing, but sacralising a satirical paper that regularly targets those who are victims of a rampant Islamophobia is almost as foolish as justifying the acts of terror against it. Each feeds on the other.

French law allows freedoms to be suspended under the threat of unrest or violence. Before now this provision has been invoked to forbid public appearances by the comedian Dieudonné (well known for making anti-Semitic jokes) and to ban pro-Palestinian demonstrations – France is the only Western country to do this. That such actions are not seen as problematic by a majority of the French people speaks volumes. It isn’t just the French: we didn’t see torchlight vigils or mass assemblies anywhere in Europe when it was revealed that the Muslim prisoners handed over to the US by many EU countries (with the plucky Poles and Labour-run Britain in the forefront) had been tortured by the CIA. There is a bit more at stake here than satire.

The smugness of secular liberals who talk of defending freedom to the death is matched by liberal Muslims who waffle endlessly about how what happened had nothing to do with Islam. There are different versions of Islam (the occupation of Iraq was used deliberately to trigger the Sunni-Shia wars that helped give birth to the Islamic State); it is meaningless to claim to speak in the name of a ‘real’ Islam. The history of Islam from its very beginnings is replete with factional struggles. Fundamentalist currents within Islam as well as external invasions were responsible for wiping out many cultural and scientific advances in the late medieval period. Such differences continue to exist.

Meanwhile, Hollande and Sarkozy have announced that they will lead a march of national unity (Cameron’s going along too). As a French friend wrote to me, ‘The idea of Charlie Hebdo provoking a “union sacrée” has to be one of the ironies of history that even the most cynical post-’68 libertarian anti-establishmentarian would have choked on in disbelief.’

Tariq Ali is the author of  The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

This essay originally appeared in the London Review of Books.

More articles by:

Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

December 13, 2018
John Davis
What World Do We Seek?
Subhankar Banerjee
Biological Annihilation: a Planet in Loss Mode
Lawrence Davidson
What the Attack on Marc Lamont Hill Tells Us
James McEnteer
Breathless
Ramzy Baroud
The Real Face of Justin Trudeau: Are Palestinians Canada’s new Jews?
Dean Baker
Pelosi Would Sabotage the Progressive Agenda With a Pay-Go Rule
Elliot Sperber
Understanding the Yellow Vests Movement Through Basic Color Theory 
Rivera Sun
The End of the NRA? Business Magazines Tell Activists: The Strategy is Working
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Historic Opportunity to Transform Trade
December 12, 2018
Arshad Khan
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
Paul Street
Blacking Out the Yellow Vests on Cable News: Corporate Media Doing its Job
Kenneth Surin
The Brexit Shambles Rambles On
David Schultz
Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin
Steve Early
The Housing Affordability Crisis and What Millennials Can do About It
George Ochenski
Collaboration Failure: Trump Trashes Sage Grouse Protections
Rob Seimetz
Bringing a Life Into a Dying World: A Letter From a Father to His Unborn Son
Michael Howard
PETA and the ‘S’-Word
John Kendall Hawkins
Good Panopt, Bad Panopt: Does It Make A Difference?
Kim C. Domenico
Redeeming Utopia: a Meditation On An Essay by Ursula LeGuin
Binoy Kampmark
Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Democratizing Money
Laura Finley
Congress Must Reauthorize VAWA
December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail