By Cillian Gillespie
The first week of January witnessed horror on the streets of Paris with the horrific killing of twelve people in the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, a police officer and four Jewish people in a kosher shop two days later.
These inexcusable criminal attacks must be unreservedly condemned. They have shocked and horrified working class people, non-Muslim and Muslim alike, in France and further afield. They once again illustrate the reactionary nature of right wing Islamic fundamentalist terror groups such as Al-Qaeda who have claimed responsibility for the attack. As well as resulting in the shocking tragic loss of life as occurred in Paris, they provide an excuse for capitalist governments to introduce repressive legislation and create a climate where Islamophobic and racist prejudices can be fostered and whipped up.
A major contributing factor to the growth of such groups like Al-Qaeda has been the interventions by imperialism in the Middle East and North Africa. More recently France and other major powers armed and supported groups like ISIS in Syria and many young Muslims have been radicalised by wars such as those in Iraq and the oppression of the Palestinians thus leading them to join these groups.
Workers unity against racist division
Four million took to the streets throughout France the Sunday following the killings. As well as seeking to register their outrage at the events of the previous week, many ordinary working and young people consciously sought to use the mass demonstrations as opportunity to show their opposition to potential divisions being opened up between Muslims, Jews, Christians and atheists.
Gauche Revolutionaire, the French sister organisation of the Socialist Party, participated in these protests and highlighted the need for the unity of working class people to oppose Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and all forms of racism. The importance of such unity has been highlighted by the fact that over 50 anti-Muslims incidents, including arson attacks and shootings, were reported in the week following the killings alone.
Disgusting hypocrisy of capitalist leaders
The enormous display of solidarity and unity shown on the demonstration of January 11th was marred by the carefully choreographed and hypocritical “participation” by leaders of various capitalist and imperialist countries. Many of these individuals have been more than willing to brutally repress freedom of speech and deploy terror against civilians on a scale far greater than those who brought bloody carnage to Paris at the beginning of January.
One example of this hypocrisy was that that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government slaughtered 2,200 people in its one sided war on Gaza last summer, including 17 journalists. It is also noteworthy that during this war the French state banned demonstrations in opposition to it. It is very important that a movement seeking to build solidarity amongst ordinary people remains independent of capitalist politicians in France and war criminals such as Netanyahu.
Charlie Hebdo cartoons
Since the attack on Charlie Hebdo there has been much debate about the nature of the cartoons that it published.On a number of occasions, it provocatively published crude cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, something the editorial staff had to know would cause offence to much of France’s Muslim community.
This is a community that is a marginalised and discriminated against minority within France and this has only been added to by the rise of Islamophobia in France and Europe in the last decade and a half, consciously fostered by the ruling classes as illustrated by the banning of the hijab (headscarf worn by Muslim women) in France in 2004. Unfortunately this is something the broader French left failed to oppose and indeed in some cases enthusiastically supported.
It is also important to note that the vast majority of the Muslim population are of Algerian origin. Algeria was a colony of French imperialism for over 130 years and 1.5 million Algerians were killed in their country’s struggle for national liberation between 1954 and 1962.
The Socialist Party defends the right to free speech, and we oppose all blasphemy laws, however we believe this right should be exercised responsibly and not used to insensitively offend peoples’ religious beliefs, particularly when they are those of an oppressed minority. Satire can be progressive tool when it is aimed at those in power, not those who are powerless.
Understanding the above context is very important. The publication of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in Charlie Hebdo will understandably add to a real sense amongst Muslims that they are second class citizens in France. Therefore they should not have been published. Needless to say, this is no way excuses the heinous attack on the magazine.
Working class people and all sections of the oppressed, regardless of their religion and ethnicity have a common enemy- the system of capitalism that breeds imperialist war, racism and austerity. The poison of racist division must be fought by a united working class movement in France that can also give a vision of a democratic and socialist society based on human solidarity where everyone regardless of their race or religion that can develop to their full potential and not face discrimination and poverty.