By PAULINE EASTON
(Jan. 10) – As horrendous as the attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo was, most alarming is the fact that France has descended into an unprecedented state of anarchy and violence. The people are held hostage to its crisis-ridden measures which only further deepen the all-sided crisis in which France is mired.
On January 7, according to reports, two gunmen broke into the offices of satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris and opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding 11 others. Numerous arrests were made throughout France while the police conducted a manhunt. By the end of the week, a full-scale occupation of the community of Dammartin-en-Goele, 35 kilometers northeast of Paris, where the two suspects were said to have held hostages in an industrial building, resulted in the killing of the two suspects by police forces. Meanwhile, all kinds of other attacks, hostage-taking, killings and bomb alerts occurred simultaneously throughout France, including attacks on mosques; the killing of a 25-year old police officer and wounding of a municipal worker in Montrouge, a southern suburb of Paris; and the attack on a supermarket at Porte de Vincennes, east of Paris, where an armed man took at least five hostages. The siege at Porte de Vincennes lasted three hours and ended with the killing of the suspect and four hostages.
Following the January 7 attack, French authorities raised the national terror alert to its highest level and deployed soldiers in Paris through the public transport system, at media offices, mosques and other places of worship. Repeated demonstrations have been convoked at Place de la République in Paris, including a gathering of 35,000 people on the day of the attack, as well as in Toulouse, Nice, Lyon, Marseille and Rennes. This has all been accompanied by massive media disinformation about the suspects’ motives, links and whereabouts as well as official hysteria and confusion-mongering about the nature of the attack and how the danger to the people poses itself.
The police mobilizations, lock-downs and occupations of entire neighbourhoods are a tragic reminder for the French people of the state of powerlessness they experienced during the occupation of France in 1940-44.
What to make of these events? A hue and cry has been raised about the need to protect freedom of expression. Canada’s Prime Minister said the only aim of those who committed these barbaric acts “is to usurp the rights of freedom-loving people everywhere, including the fundamental right of freedom of expression.” “This barbaric act, along with recent attacks in Sydney, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, and Ottawa, is a grim reminder that no country is immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere around the world… Canada and its allies will not be intimidated and will continue to stand firmly together against terrorists who would threaten the peace, freedom and democracy our countries so dearly value. Canadians stand with France on this dark day,” the Prime Minister’s statement said.
He was joined by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard who said “never shall we bow to these acts of intimidation, violence and hatred.” The entire French language media in Quebec joined in what they called an act of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo by printing cartoons desecrating the Prophet Muhammad, claiming it was to defend freedom of expression. Newspaper headlines declared the attack on Charlie Hebdo“An Act of War” and cried out “Freedom of Expression Under Attack” and “Growing Fear of Islamophobia.” The usual expert panels of Radio-Canada and TVA were brought in to demand more security measures and justify the assault of governments such as the Harper dictatorship on privacy and other rights. English language media, including the CBC and The Montreal Gazette, owned by Postmedia, did not carry the cartoons saying their policy is to respect the sensitivity of Muslims but they also described it as an attack on freedom of expression. In an editorial, the Gazette said the most fitting reply is Voltaire’s famous declaration, “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Whatever stance these forces have decided to take to show solidarity with the victims of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, all of them have in common the view that the fight of the peoples of the world today is not between the Old and the New but between an alleged good and an alleged evil, between allegedly progressive and civilized forces in the world, who of course happen to be of European descent against an allegedly backward Islamic fundamentalist world of terrorism. The fact that the methods used by the so-called civilized world to fight the uncivilized world are the same as those they claim to decry is to remain hidden. Those methods have long been repudiated by the peoples of the world yet the so-called civilized world admits to torture to secure intelligence, the use of violence to sort out problems between nations, revenge-killings, preventative arrests and indefinite detention. These are not methods to secure the peace. This is outright state terrorism to further the aims of destabilizing rivals and acquiring spheres of influence. But besides this, what is most irrational, to say the least, is to speak of “freedom of speech” to promote a content such as that carried by Charlie Hebdo which contains not one shred of enlightenment.
In fact, what is called the legitimate satirical content of Charlie Hebdo is not only despicable and pathetic but anti-social. It is despicable because it is designed to incite passions to gain notoriety. It is pathetic because it uses one of the great ideals of the enlightenment movement — freedom of speech — to push obscurantism on a scale as great if not greater than that used by the Church in medieval times. It is anti-social because its aim is to promote backwardness and fratricidal wars.
All of it reveals the profound crisis of the European nation-state that has been imposed on all countries in the world. While it emerged in the great struggle against medievalism in the European context, today it has been dismantled only to be replaced with every medieval dictum possible, such as Might Makes Right and no power to the people; no rights, only privileges, no due process of any kind; only the ability of those who have usurped power by force to declare people to be outlaws and suspend their rights and do the same to entire countries and peoples. The values and state arrangements the reactionary forces are inciting the intelligentsia in Europe and the Anglo-American world to defend are totally out of whack with the requirements of the peoples of all countries in the world in the twenty-first century. Progress requires enlightenment. Is that not what the men and women of the Renaissance taught us when they ushered in the Age of Reason? Is that not what Voltaire was saying when he espoused the rights of man all those years ago?
Shame on the official circles including the major newspapers in Canada and Quebec for promoting backwardness and obscurantism in the name of freedom of expression. If they believe in such freedom then why do they not tolerate the promotion of what they call Islamic terrorist views? Who decides which views should be given freedom of expression? That is the question.
After the Second World War, no fascist views were to be given freedom of expression. Humanity so decided. It was written in their blood. Today, those who have seized power by force have overthrown all the enlightened values and views humanity has brought forth since feudalism was overthrown and the peoples striving for empowerment made their mark. Once again, it is the peoples striving for empowerment who must prevail. The battle of democracy must be fought all over again. Out with the Old! In with the New!
1. Regarding the Enlightenment, French Wikipedia states:
“The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement launched in Europe in the eighteenth century (1715-1789), which aimed to overcome obscurantism and promote knowledge. Philosophers and intellectuals encouraged science through intellectual exchange and opposition to superstition, intolerance and abuse of Church and State. The term ‘Enlightenment’ was established by custom to bring together the diverse manifestations of this set of aims, trends of thought or sensibilities and historical actors.” (Translated by TML.)
Regarding the origin of “freedom of expression”:
“Freedom of expression goes back to the Western world. It is a secular tradition, republican and democratic, that began to emerge in the late seventeenth century. Before, it was a freedom reserved for royal authorities, stately or religious.
“Freedom of expression is probably more associated with the French Revolution. The 1789 French revolutionaries claimed that freedom because, for them, it was a fundamental freedom that was essential to the establishment of the new regime. The French people were freed from the trusteeship of absolute monarchy. Their representatives in the National Assembly saw everyone, men and women, as equal and having the same fundamental rights. In this sense, the National Assembly passed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and and of the Citizen, August 26, 1789. From then on, all the actions of the authorities had to respect the simple but fundamental rules enshrined in the Declaration, which was intended to avoid the abuse of power. French law does not recognize, strictly speaking, freedom of expression, but articles of the Declaration implicitly show the idea of ‘freedom of expression.’ Article 10 says, ‘No one should be anxious about their opinions […] provided their demonstrations do not disturb the public order established by the law.’ Article 11 states, ‘The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the most precious rights of man; any citizen may therefore speak, write and publish freely, subject to responsibility for the abuse of this freedom as shall be defined by law.'” (Ensemble scolaire Le Mirail de Bordeaux, translated by TML.)
(Photos: RT, Ouest France)
Source: TML Weekly Information Project, January 10, 2015, No. 2