Tortilla con Sal, January 11th 2015
The recent terrorist attack in Paris has cost the lives of a dozen victims as well as those of their terrorist assassins. The attacks deserve categorical condemnation. But they also deserve a less naïve view of Europe’s reality, something, from a Latin American perspective, difficult to work out.
The Paris attack and other incidents in France over recent days are part of a cynical and hypocritical pattern long recognizable in Western history. That same pattern of sadistic racism prompted Frantz Fanon to write “Let us have done with this Europe that never stops talking about humanity and, even so ,murders people on every street corner, in every corner of the world….”
The foreseeable result of the terrorist attacks in France has been to tip Europe’s political spectrum ever further to the right, facilitating the repressive agenda of the corporate elites who in effect own the respective governments of NATO’s North American and European member countries. Domestically, they deliberately promote inequality so as to protect elite control of the West’s corrupt, powerful financial system. Overseas, they engage in crude destabilizing interventions in other countries’ internal affairs, or else carry out direct brutal armed aggression.
Since before the attacks in the United States on September 11th 2001, manipulating fears around terrorism has been a key tool used to intimidate people in Europe and North America into accepting elite-driven policies against their own interests.Now, the political forces that make up the French Left have joined in the chorus “We are all Charlie” with the far right National Front and the misnamed social democracy of President François Hollande, in solidarity with the murdered cartoonists and writers of the Charlie Hedbo publication, which purports to be a free-wheeling satirical magazine while really fulfilling a systematically provocative propaganda agenda.
While Marine Le Pen, president of the extreme right wing National Front political party demands restoration of the death penalty to punish people responsible for terrorist attacks like that on Charlie Hedbo, the misnamed socialist and Left parties argue against demonizing muslims too much, implying the same, by extension with regard generally to non-white people living in France. If one thing now really unites all the people who regard themselves as the real French with their counterparts in other European countries and in North America it is their shared conception of Western superiority, especially in relation to freedom of expression.
As is all too well documented, the argument of Europe’s moral superiority has facilitated innumerable episodes of genocide throughout history, from the time of the Crusades, to the era of colonial conquests and on to the wars of independence of the 20th Century. In May 1945, the French colonial authorities massacred tens of thousands of Algerian civilians in response to an uprising in Sétif against the French colonial occupation. Similarly, between 1947 and 1948 in Madagascar, the French colonial authorities massacred tens of thousands of Malagasy civilians. But in 1945, hardly anyone in Europe even noticed, let alone declared themselves Sétif, nor, later, was anyone in the West interested in the genocide in Madagascar.
In Paris itself in 1961, the French authorities massacred as many as 200 Algerians at or near the Charonne metro station during a demonstration against the Algerian war. Not until 1998 were a few of those responsible brought to justice. One of the instigators of the events leading up to that massacre was Jean Marie Le Pen, father of Marine Le Pen.Only over the last ten years or so has it been possible to speak openly in France about the Algerian War because, until then, the French authorities persistently refused to recognize the conflict as a war, despite having deployed over 400,000 military personnel there at the height of the conflict. Now many people in Europe want us all to be Charlie Hebdo as if political violence in Europe or North America was a little known aberration rather than a regular and frequent phenomenon of European and North American political life over the last fifty years.
In modern times, perhaps Ireland is the country that has been most notorious for prolonged political violence. How many Europeans were Derry in 1972 when British paratroops murdered 14 civilians and wounded 17? And who was Ballymurphy in 1971 when the British army murdered 11 civilians and wounded a number still unknown? Or in October 1973, who was Greysteel, when terrorists murdered 8 people there? Or Omagh in 1998 when terrorists exploded a bomb murdering 29 people and wounding over 200?
Shocking political violence is nothing new in contemporary European and North American history. Globally, for centuries, the West has waged permanent war on people around the world who have resisted European and North American depredations. Western governments have systematically used genocide and political violence to, first, achieve and, then, defend their global economic domination and political power. What has changed since the end of the Second World War is the ever greater cynicism, sadism and hypocrisy with which Western powers have abused international law and institutions like the UN to get what they want.
That cynicism and political opportunism is evident in various developments across Europe, where a series of racist and xenophobic political parties have gained significant support in recent years even, in the case of France’s National Front, to being on the verge of entering government. In other countries, they have managed to hold the balance of political power in divided parliaments condemned, as in Sweden, to form minority or coalition governments. The same has happened in Denmark with the extreme right-wing Danske Folkparti, which enjoys about 15% electoral support nationally.
In 2006, it was in Denmark that the right wing daily newspaper Jyllands Posten published a series of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a way that not only denigrated Islam but all the people of the Middle East, casting them as backward, with a proclivity for terrorism. Those same cartoons, after already having offended millions of muslims around the world, were subsequently re-published by Charlie Hebdo the French magazine whose staff were murdered during the recent terrorist attack in Paris. At the time the cartoons appeared, back in 2006, the European mood towards muslims was very sinister, with firebombing of mosques, and the general sense that muslims were fair game for abuse and attacks.
In 2011, in Norway, the terrorist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people and wounded over 100 in an attack on a social democrat youth camp on the island of Utøya. Breivik’s objective, he said, was to kill his country’s whole government for its alleged permissiveness towards muslims. In Sweden, the artist Lars Vilks crafted dogs out of wood to which he added the face of the Prophet Mahommed before placing them at prominent traffic roundabouts. A series of anti-muslim cartoons by Vilks provoked very strong reactions both within Sweden and abroad. In the Swedish city of Malmö in 2010 an aryan terrorist deliberately shot at immigrants chosen at random, killing and wounding various of his targets.
According to the 2008 Survey of Minorities and Discrimination (EU-MIDIS) more than a quarter of immigrants and members of ethnic minorities in Sweden, when consulted, reported having been victims of crimes against the person for “racist motives” in the previous twelve months. They were referring to crimes of physical violence, threats and menaces or serious abuse. Leading the list were gypsies, Africans from both North and South of the Sahara, Turkish people, people from Eastern Europe and Arabs . The figure does not isolate the total number of muslims affected, but, from the list of nationalities, one can deduce that the great majority of the victims were indeed muslim.
In Spain, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, attacks agaianst immigrants from outside Europe and especially islamophobic attacks have been a constant characteristic in official statistics (for example, “Extractos de los informes del Observatorio Europeo del Racismo y Xenofobia (EUMC )”). Certainly, no demonstrations have ever been seen of the same size protesting the constant murders of Africans and Arabs as those seen in France over the massacre of the staff of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The official explanation of this difference in the reactions by Europeans to racist murders and the attack on the French journalists is that the murder of the Charlie Hebdo staff was an attack on freedom of expression.
In fact, freedom of expression in Europe is as much a complex and carefully fabricated cultural myth as it is a fierce battleground of political and social power and privilege. Western apologists brandish “freedom of expression” as if it were in some way a knockdown argument justifying the superiority of their societies. Outside North America and Europe, the majority world sees it as a theoretical privilege, which, if it exists at all, does so paid for by centuries of Western colonial exploitation and genocide against the peoples of Oceania, Africa, Asia and Latin America
In principle, in Europe and North America, the freedom exists to say what you like but only on the basis of a total, systematic marginalization and demonization of legitimate anti-imperialist criticism of the West and its different societies. This fact has become ever more clear, especially after the 2006 defeat of Israel by Hezbollah in Lebanon, in the case of criticisms of Western support for the slow-motion genocide by Israel’s zionist governments of the people of Palestine. In practice, freedom of expression in the West translates in practice into freedom with impunity for every type of slander and abuse directed against minorities, especially minorities from outside Europe and, above all now, against muslims or, more particularly, Arabs.
The recent attack against Charlie Hebdo, and, likewise, the murder of two police officers and the kidnapping of customers of a Jewish-owned business are indeed unpardonable . But they have nothing to do with freedom of expression nor, it is worth insisting, with Islam. It is one more deliberately obscure, much manipulated incident in the so called “Clash of Civilizations” invented by imperialist strategists in a forlorn attempt to put a brake on the now steadily accelerating decline of the Western system of global domination. That strategy’s execution long ago revealed, in the clearest way possible, that Western corporate and alternative media are enthusiastic collaborators in the psychological warfare campaigns orchestrated by their countries’ governments .
Those Western psychological warfare campaigns attack targets that change from one moment to the next as required – lately Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast, Muammar al Gaddafi in Libya, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Bashar al Assad in Syria and Vladimir Putin in Russia. In the case of Islam and muslims generally, it is very convenient to interpret the recent events in France as a manifestation of an alleged inherent psychotic rage of muslims against the barbaric colonial oppression of the West. That treatment depicts the problem decisively as a deep rooted problem mass psychological problem of Arabs and muslims.
But the truth so desperately covered up by the “We are Charlie Hebdo” campaign is that the real problem, impossible to conceal by now, is quite the reverse. The real problem is the historic pyschological problem of mass hypocrisy in Western societies. It was the US government and its European allies that funded Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, in exactly the same way that decades ago they supported the Muslim Brotherhood against Gamel Abdel Nasser in Egypt and the very same way, right up to the present day, they have validated, sustained and manipulated terrorist forces against the peoples of Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
Those people who now identify themselves with Charlie Hebdo refuse to acknowledge the sinister terrorist shadow that is the inseparable doppelganger of their own governments’ insane foreign policies. By identifying themselves as “We are Charlie”, people in Europe effectively ratify the support of their governments for innumerable terrorist atrocities committed across Lebanon, Egypt, Siria, Iraq and Iran. But these atrocities have been committed by the same terrorist groups that attacked the US in 2001.
Subsequently, associated terrorist groups bombed London and Madrid, murdering and maiming hundreds of civilians. Now they have attacked civilian targets in Paris. But despite all the readily available documentation of Western government complicity in international terrorism, long standing Western political and media manipulation of the terror motif has created a psychotic context in which the atrocity in Paris will be used by Europe’s ruling elites to justify their anti-democratic, anti-humanitarian agenda of relentless economic and political repression at home and of barbaric military aggression overseas.
The “We are Charlie” campaign is an integral part of that psychotic context.