Recently, the Western world was horrified by the brutal killing of French teacher, Samuel Paty. The teacher was targeted because he previously showed images of the Prophet Muhammad to his students. Depiction of the Prophet in Islam is known to be highly offensive. The attack was horrific and was rightfully denounced. However, brought to the forefront again was the right-wing magazine Charlie Hebdo, known for its controversial drawings regarding religions (like Judaism and Islam) and migrants.
Following the attack, thousands rallied in France in a show of unity and to denounce Islamic extremism. In addition to the rallies, giant images from the Charlie Hebdo magazine were displayed on large French buildings in order to “defy Islamist terrorism.” One of the images displayed was a mock drawing of a photo of a migrant child who drowned to death. French President Emmanuel Macron responded to the attack by saying he believes Islam is in crisis and vowed to continue fighting Islamic extremism.
European and U.S. liberals and socialists have claimed that while they believe that the Charlie Hebdo images are vile, they should be allowed because of freedom of speech. Rather than be upset by the gross depictions, some of these Western “progressives” say refugees, Muslims, Africans and other targets of Charlie Hebdo should better assimilate into European society or go to a country other than France.
What we are witnessing now is France and Macron fanning the flames of hatred. Charlie Hebdo publishes hate speech pushing Islamophobia and xenophobia. The attacks supposedly made against “extremists” did not single out extremism or extremist groups, but attacked Islam as a religion. This publication routinely attacks Muslims and refugees of any faith. Their racist caricatures are not meant to get people to hate Muslims, but rather are a reflection of the chauvinist ideology that already exists in Western Europe and the United States. How do we know this? Because of the hundreds of thousands who marched in France, the open and public display of hateful images which was celebrated, and finally, the unity of Westerners from conservatives to liberals to even some “socialists” in their immediate defense of Charlie Hebdo’s images as “free speech.”
The outrageous aspect to this is just how much history of oppression and imperialism is overlooked, even by those who claim to be the most staunch anti-imperialists. To really understand the root of these attacks, take a look at the vile history of French-Muslim relations. France, along with the other imperialist countries, has routinely funded and armed ultra-right wing extremists from the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Syria, and was the most aggressive in the bombings of Libya resulting in the death of Muammar Gaddafi. Perhaps Macron’s reform for Islam simply involves promoting more extremism. In Nigeria, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, which just had a massive movement disbanding it because of violations and abuses, was trained and worked alongside French counter-terror troops. Most African nations that were formerly French colonies are still paying billions in debt to the colonizers. These crimes against humanity are just the tip of the iceberg and do not even touch on the centuries of colonization in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Those who defend hate speech by calling it free speech overlook this historical relationship. In addition, however, many find themselves in a contradiction. Many free speech advocates would say that they defend free speech except in cases where that speech promotes direct harm, yet still defend the Charlie Hebdo magazine. How does explicit Islamophobia, xenophobia and racism not promote harm? They want to defend this hate speech, but it is exactly this speech and ideology which resulted in a 54 percent increase in anti-Muslim attacks in France in 2019. It is this type of speech and these images which convince French and other imperialist soldiers that Muslims and Africans are “barbaric” and in need of “civilization.” This speech is aimed at religions and communities that have been suffering and continue to suffer under the capitalist-imperialist boot of the French. They dehumanize the victims of their imperialism, who have already been dehumanized for centuries. Charlie Hebdo continues the centuries long violence against Muslims and Africans perpetuated by France. And those that defend the publication’s “freedom of speech” are promoting that violence as they stand in unison with the most fascist right-wing elements of the West.
When you destroy a country like Libya or Syria, what should one expect? Mass displacement of people who have had their homes destroyed and loved ones killed. They flee to areas that are known to be safe and possibly offer a better life because they cannot return to a destroyed home or community. When and if some of the refugees are lucky enough to make it to Europe or the U.S., they face rampant discrimination and laws made to specifically target these communities. There is no safety at home and they are unwanted foreigners in the nation that destroyed theirs. Resentment builds, and eventually blows up in the face of the Westerners. The Western response is to double down on their hatred rather than re-examine or admit to the role they played in creating this terror. As hatred is cemented within the Western population, the government feels compelled and emboldened to continue their imperialist attacks on Muslim and African nations, knowing that the hatred in the hearts of the Western people will blind their desire for a more humane and just world. The cycle keeps repeating with every nation destroyed, and with every attack that occurs on the West, they will continue to cry victim.
The victims they cry for are only their own. Paty’s death was tragic and brutal and should be mourned. But remind me where the cries and mourning was when a bombing killed eight and left over 130 wounded in Pakistan earlier this month. Where was the cry of mourning when on October 24, another bomb in Pakistan killed three people. The killings in the Global South have become so normalized that no one stops to mourn for them. Their names are not spread throughout the world. Pictures of them are never seen or even thought about. The value of the millions of lives lost in the Third World will always be less than the loss of life in the First World in the eyes of the imperialists. That is why we denounce those who defend this violence, who show to the world how they truly feel about the refugees and migrants their nation created. We stand firmly with our Muslim brothers and sisters who are resisting imperialism, prejudice and ultra-right wing extremism being pushed by the capitalist-imperialist nations of Western Europe and the United States.
This editorial reminds me of how we all need to look beyond the images and words reported by the press. Nicholas Ayala’s reasoning here is on target.