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The 7 January attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by heavily armed men and the murder of 12 people was a shocking event which we condemn as a cowardly and barbaric act.
The attack on Charlie Hebdo and individuals such as cartoonists Wolinski and Cabu is no random act. In many different ways they fought intolerance, racism and censorship. By attacking ordinary workers, those committing this atrocious murder demonstrate that they have nothing to do with the fight against racism, that they are not acting in defence of Muslims, and that they have no desire to live in a society which is tolerant and shows respect for all.
French Muslims will feel no sense of relief from this act, quite the contrary. Moreover they will be the ones who suffer the consequences on the streets, since this is what happens every time one of these blind acts is committed. Those terrorists who claim to defend a 'religion' are no better than the reactionary Islamophobes who will now be rubbing their hands and planning violent acts against Muslims. Both groups work hand in hand to breed intolerance. This hateful and cowardly act of terrorism reinforces all those trends which seek to divide workers and young people on the basis of religion or ethnicity.
Charlie Hebdo is the product of a long struggle against censorship, racism and the far right, although it doesn't spare the Left either. It uses provocation and extreme sarcasm as a way of undercutting media and political manipulation.
We defend Charlie because we believe in freedom of expression. We know that the ruling classes are very quick to attack this right. When Charlie Hebdo published the cartoons of Mohammed it was in response to the death threats against the Danish journalists, to say, in effect, that we do have the right not to believe in God, and to criticise religions.
The problem is that to approach the issue in such a provocative and sometimes insulting way, in the context of an escalation of anti-Muslim racism, especially after 9/11, is no answer, and may even play into the hands of the racists. While defending the right to the fullest freedom of expression, it is for this reason that we would wish to distance ourselves from some of the observations and drawings published in Charlie.
Wolinski and Cabu's cartoons may have sometimes seemed 'stupid' or 'nasty', but their aim was to attack stupidity and oppression. From early on in their careers they confronted the forces which pressed down on society - the Church, the army, supporters of colonialism, the far right. What the terrorists targeted in their cowardly attack was not the real Islamophobes of the far right but the defenders of freedom of expression, and those struggling against oppression and totalitarianism. Often in their work it was not faith itself which was the target but the use made of it by the powers-that-be and by racists.
Seeing all those politicians who were criticised and caricatured by Charlie defending the magazine defies belief. The cartoonists would have laughed out loud if they had been told that the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral would toll for 15 minutes in tribute to them - quite an achievement for these dyed-in-the-wool anti-clericalists!
There is something laughable in the limitless hypocrisy of the ruling classes and their servants in the media. We will take no lessons in 'freedom of expression' from them - we know that 90% of the press is in the hands of the major capitalist media groups, who do not hesitate to apply censorship in their pursuit of profit. In November, a new 'anti-terrorist' law was passed in France - using the pretext of combatting jihadi networks as an excuse to spy on people. But now the politicians are suddenly worried about our freedom.
Even the far-right National Front (FN) wants to join in 'national unity' and claims to defend a magazine which was opposed to what is the FN stock-in-trade - racism and Islamophobia in particular. FN leader Marine Le Pen is even using this opportunity to call for the reintroduction of the death penalty, something which the cartoonists at Charlie always opposed. There can be no room for the FN in the commemorations of the deaths at Charlie Hebdo.
Some right-wing MPs such as the UMP's Mariani claim to defend freedom of expression yet attempted to ban certain public events and even rap songs. There can be no unity with these politicians who attempt to use the current mood to promote their racist ideas.
And certainly there must be no unity with those heads of state who took part in the big demonstration on 11 January at the invite of Prime Minister Valls. For example, Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister and heir to Franco, and Cameron, the British prime minister who in his younger years led Conservative Youth and their 'hang Mandela' campaign.
We will demonstrate and pay tribute to the victims, in defence of freedom of expression and thought, and against socially regressive policies which provide fertile soil for fanatics and reactionaries of all stripes. We need the maximum turnout to the protests to stop them from using these deaths to make themselves look squeaky clean. Yes, we need unity, but not a spurious unity which is no guarantee of our freedoms.
We desperately need (and have done for years) a political force which will defend the victims of capitalism. This force should be open to all, and have as its goal the unity of workers, young people, the unemployed and pensioners, whatever their origin or ethnicity.
We need a political force which is just as serious about fighting the attacks by the government and the employers as it is about fighting racism and intolerance. The government, led by the so-called Socialist Party (PS) talks about the 'jihadist danger' in France while it supports Turkey which is assisting IS in Syria, and while it is in alliance with Qatar and Saudi Arabia whose ultra-reactionary regimes also support terrorist groups.
The present government also bears some responsibility for the poisonous atmosphere in recent months. Without batting an eyelid they are following their predecessor Sarkozy down the road of undermining the welfare state and democratic rights.
We shouldn't lose sight of the thousands of redundancies, the ultra-liberal policies in favour of the rich and the rising unemployment - which affect us all, wherever we come from. While mobilising to pay tribute to the dead we must not leave aside the vital task of a generalised struggle against the policies of this government which serves the rich and the bankers.
On 8 January the newspaper le Monde carried the headline: 'France's 9/11'. The fact that they dare to make this comparison gives an ominous indication of the atmosphere which we will encounter in the weeks to come. We can expect that a larger space will open up for the forces of the right and the far right. It is up to us to organise a rank and file struggle against racism and capitalism to counter that.
We can expect that this murderous attack will be used by the ruling class (and not only in France) to impose draconian measures on immigrants (or those who look like immigrants), activists and all of us, under the pretext of national unity and the fight against terrorism. The Vigipirate plan has already been raised to the highest level in the Paris region. This allows for bans on large demonstrations, and will encourage stop-and-search by armed personnel based on racial profiling, especially among the population of North African origin.
The terrorists, just like the warlords who rape and pillage among defenceless populations in Africa and the Middle East, have no interest in the struggles of peoples in these regions, any more than they are concerned with the struggles of ordinary people, Muslim or non-Muslim, in France. The 'religion' of these terrorists consists of highly lucrative deals, for example, in the arms trade, or in human trafficking, which is big business for groups like Boko Haram and Islamic State.
At the same time, young people in Europe becoming radicalised along reactionary religious lines to the extent that they lose any sense of humanity and become terrorists, is not unconnected to the policies of their governments. These imperialists have been bombing some countries for years now, and have sown chaos and war for hundreds of millions of people all over the world.
But confronted with all this, it is not terrorism which will bring change - quite the contrary, it strengthens the position of the ruling class and traps entire populations in a state of fear. The answer is not to turn inwards and remain confined within communities, which is what both the traditional French far right and some religious groups want. What we need is a mass movement which is tolerant, militant and democratic.
Trade unions, and other labour movement organisations and associations should put out a call to rally and pay tribute to the victims of Charlie Hebdo on their own platform. They should stand for the unity of workers, youth and the great majority of the population regardless of their origin or beliefs, for freedom of expression, against all reactionary and fundamentalist terrorists and against the racist and imperialist policies of French governments that increase sectarian divisions and intolerance.
A mass, unified movement against racism, and against the policies that force millions into insecurity, must be built. It is on that basis that we must show support for the journalists and employees of Charlie Hebdo and that we will continue to struggle against the government's austerity policies in the coming weeks and months.
We are in favour of a tolerant and democratic society where everyone can live as they wish, according to the culture, the philosophy or the religion they choose. A democratic society such as this is possible but it requires us all to fight to destroy the roots of oppression and division. We must fight against capitalism, the law of profit, and the exploitation of workers and natural resources for the benefit of a tiny minority of super rich.
By taking the principal means of production and exchange out of the hands of the capitalists, and by organising society democratically, on the basis of public ownership and under the control and management of the working class and the population as a whole, we can put an end to inequality, war and injustice. This is what we defend - a democratic and socialist society, in total opposition to the endless barbarism which capitalism forces on us.
Nearly four million people marched on the streets of France on 11 January to express their disgust and grief against the attacks in Paris which killed 17 people last week. This is an unprecedented mobilisation on this kind of issue.
It is clear that a large majority wanted to be united in the face of the violence of terrorism, to reaffirm the right to freedom of speech and expression, but equally, to a large extent, their rejection of racism and division. The manoeuvres of the right and the extreme right to benefit from the emotion and the anger have failed.
When we hear talk of "national unity", there is always a danger. On the one hand government figures use it to cut across the opposition of workers and the population to their policies. On the other hand, journalists and politicians outbid each other with nationalism as if the country was going to war. This was the complete opposite of the feeling that dominated the marches in all the cities, often calm and silent but above all fraternal.
Some preferred, in view of the world leaders who were participating, to boycott the Paris demonstration.
Many were repulsed by the presence of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose army has caused the deaths of thousands of Palestinians, and the Turkish Prime Minister, Erdogan, who is a leading supporter of IS in Syria, and many others who are the worst warmongers and gravediggers of freedom in their own countries.
This is understandable, but for our part we did not want to give up the street to the gestures of Valls and we preferred to be with the millions who were expressing their rejection of hatred and terrorism. We participated in the marches wherever we were, distributing our special supplement and not encountering any hostility.
We have to fight against racism in all its forms, from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia. And some politicians are stirring up hatred particularly against Muslims. According to a poll taken on 10 January, 66% reject the amalgam between "Muslims who live peacefully in France" and Islamists.
After the dramatic events of 7 and 9 January, the demonstration, its massive and fraternal nature, things mustn't be allowed to fall back. Workers and young people must be united to fight against racism, whatever their origin. For this, we cannot count on Valls, Holland and Sarkozy!
We must organise together to attack the root of the problem, the capitalist system, exploitation and impoverishment of the majority for the benefit of a small minority on which the system rests.
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Article dated 14 January 2015
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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