On 7 January, 12 people lost their lives in an armed raid to French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Charlie Hebdo had published caricatures mocking the prophet Mohammad two years ago. There are others heavily injured. The perpetrators who were able to commit their attack in cold blood in the midst of Paris with assault rifles in a building which is under police protection were killed three days later in a police operation. Amongst the killed were another person who is told to act in solidarity with them and 4 other people who had been taken hostage, bringing the total number to 12 at the end of the three days during which “terror days” reigned in France.
The massacre caused a huge uproar. At the end of the day of assault many mass demonstrations were held around France, mainly in Paris. They were accompanied by similar demonstrations in some other European cities. Istanbul and Ankara also were stage to similar demonstrations. The climax of these demonstrations was the massive one held in Paris on 11 January. It was a 1.5 million-strong march (“republican march”) held by the call of the French government for “national unity” with the participation of bourgeois leaders of more than 50 states.
While the incident is presented by the Western imperialist media as an assault against freedom, democracy, freedom of speech, many publications among them defined it as France’s 9/11. And the cause of the assault was explained by the same media on the basis of Islamist forces’ passion for revenge.
Charlie Hebdo raid is a very important political development that reveals the nature of main political processes determining the course of the world and concerns all workers in the world very much. The matter involves many dimensions, including in the first place the imperialist course of war which has been ravaging the world. Among these dimensions, the issues like “freedom of speech” or “freedom of press” can only come in the second place. Imperialist media, and others in its wake, brought this issue to the forefront and argue in their propaganda that “liberal values of the West” and “its mode of life” are under attack. And the French government resorted to the demagogical discourse that “these values are our common values we must unite over” and called for “national unity” succeeding in pouring millions of people to streets.
The discourse over freedom of press in the mouth of imperialist states is not only utter hypocrisy but also a colossal smoke bomb to obscure the reality. The political essence of Charlie Hebdo raid is that it is a link in the course of ongoing imperialist war. This is the biggest part of the truth. Any analysis and approach that does not give precedence to this, will, apart from missing the point, fall, even in the best case, to the position of playing into the hands of the ongoing imperialist scramble for re-division.
It must also be noted that those who speak of the ruthlessness, blood-thirst, intolerance etc. of radical Islamist forces, and thus take aim at them and/or Islam, generally ignore the war agenda of the Western imperialism and its role in fostering those radical Islamist forces. There is no doubt that those Islamist forces such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko-Haram, are reactionary forces hostile to the interests of the working masses and that numerous massacres perpetrated by them have been well-inscribed in the book of shame of humanity. However, it should not be forgotten that these forces have been fostered directly or indirectly by imperialist powers, that they make use of the rightful anger caused by the deep pain created by imperialist powers in the Muslim world, and move, in the final analysis, within the boundaries drawn by the same imperialists. In this sense, the address that can be spotted in the first place as the main headquarters of global barbarism is the great imperialist powers. Therefore it is important to have a clear understanding of the relation between the course of imperialist war and the Muslim world.
Course of imperialist war and the Muslim world
There is a process of imperialist war in progress that reflects a scramble for re-division of the world and hegemony among imperialist powers. At the moment this process is particularly active in the region called “the Greater Middle East.” This region begins from North Africa, covers some other African countries such as Sudan and Somali, passes from the Middle East and the Arab peninsula, Caucasus and extends to central Asia. Actually this imperialist scramble has expanded as far as to Black Africa on the one side and to Eastern Europe as in the example of Ukraine and to the East and Southeast Asia on the other side. All these regions are subject to re-division. The Middle East, however, is the heart of this scramble.
Peculiarity of the Middle East (and the Greater Middle East), apart from hosting the richest oil reserves, is that it is the main land of Islam religion. As long as the Middle East is made subject to imperialist carve-out, it is inevitable that discontent and anger on the part of the Muslim peoples of the region aiming at Western imperialists grow. Moreover, it is a natural consequence that this anger finds an expression in Islamist ideology under present circumstances. With the collapse of the USSR and decline and discredit of socialist ideas that are falsely identified with it, and also of nationalist movements in the region based on Arab nationalism that are essentially secular movements, radical Islamist currents have been able to gain a ground. It must also be noted that imperialist powers and those collaborating reactionary powers of the region had fostered Islamist forces against the USSR during the period of Cold War.
In the following years Western imperialist powers gave their support through direct or indirect means to the work of organisations such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc. in the Middle East to overthrow those governments in the region that have not been regarded as fit for the Western interests. On the other hand, imperialists were quite aware of the fact that these organisations gaining strength would prepare the ground for armed attacks in the West. Yet, contrary to popular belief, this was not to the detriment of Western imperialist powers. For, in the course of the present deep crisis of capitalism and thereof the imperialist war, these kinds of acts (as long as they are under control) were quite useful in order to suppress the discontent and possible revolts of the working masses in the Western countries to keep them attached to the existing order. Therefore while these elements were in fact mostly under close monitoring, a strategy has been put into use that they were at the same time being turned a blind eye in carrying out their sensational actions. 9/11 was the most stunning example of this, signifying the historical turning point on this road. After that, similar attacks happened in countries such as Britain, Spain.
Striking similarities since 9/11
Could it be mere chance that those who perpetrated 9/11 and other large scale attacks since then (London tube attackers, Madrid train station attackers, Boston marathon bombers, and so on) are formerly somehow within the knowledge of the police and intelligence services and/or have somehow come to contact with these repression instruments of the state? There should not be slightest doubt that secret intelligence services stage plots in various ways. Apart from directly organising such acts they implant agents into these kinds of organisations (or winning over ones from inside them) and let these guys organise such acts, or they simply turn a blind eye to, thus opening the way for, preparations of such acts although they are able to prevent them. It is unquestionable that secret state forces have done, and will do, thousand and one plots to justify and carry out imperialist, militarist, repressive policies as today’s imperialist state has reached to the point of dwarfing Orwell’s 1984.
As in previous large scale sensational acts in the example of 9/11, there are strong signs of such an element in Charlie Hebdo raid. Our conviction is that even if this action is not directly organised by intelligence services, the assailants whose activities were under surveillance were turned a blind eye to carry out their action. It is fairly significant that French interior minister had to admit Kouachi brothers had been under surveillance. He tried, in a futile response, to compensate by saying that although they had been under surveillance there was not a sign of immediate attack. It is also uncertain whether these persons did the job of French intelligence (directly or indirectly) in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. For, at a time when the whole world, particularly the West, was kept in alert with a scaring discourse of radical Islamist terror, they were charged with these kinds of activities, put in prison, and released! Moreover, it is known that their visits to countries such as Yemen and Syria were under surveillance and that they were even placed on the no-fly list by the US. And despite all this, the Kouachi brothers, for example, were somehow classified as “low risk” and left out of close surveillance!
Pointing to the fact that there are conspiracies in this world is put to criticism by some in the name of Marxism as conspirationist set of mind. This criticism is however wrong. Conspirationist set of mind is the one that reduces the general course of history, basic workings of social processes to conspiracies. Identifying the existence of conspiracies is one thing, setting out to explain history and social processes on the basis of conspiracies another. What Marxism does is to lay bare the specific role played by conspiracies in the grand course of history. The course of history is not determined by conspiracies, but they have an impact on the speed and certain curves of this course. Conspiracies are effectively used to convince the broad masses to accept reactionary, anti-democratic and militarist policies and endeavours that the bourgeoisie seek to implement.
Consequences of the attack
We have constantly emphasized that world capitalism is in a deep crisis. European capitalism is not immune to this crisis. While one chief manifestation of this crisis is exacerbation of the imperialist course of war, this is accompanied by the rising attacks against economic, social and political gains of the working masses, militarism, rise of repressive laws and practices, fostering of xenophobia and racism. Imperialist bourgeoisies need to divide and sow enmities among the working masses on ideological level in order to sell these policies of attack to them. And we have been drawing attention to the rapid rise of anti-Muslim xenophobia and racism in Europe. The rapid growth of the movement called PEGIDA in Germany in recent months is a striking manifestation of it. This same PEGIDA was able to hold a mass meeting participated by thousands of people in Dresden under the pretext of Charlie Hebdo raid.
The principal consequence of shocking acts such as Charlie Hebdo raid is that they lend a strong impetus to such fascist tendencies. Although hypocrite Western leaders give the message that there should not be a hostile attitude towards Islam in the aftermath of this attack, they actually know very well that Islamophobic prejudices which have already been gaining strength in Western societies will be given a fresh push. In essence they never have a problem with that as this is to their benefit.
Is not the following tweet by Murdoch, one of the biggest media tycoons, perhaps the biggest one, telling? “Maybe most Moslems [are] peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” It should not be difficult to guess the line of publication to be followed by the media under the control of such a man. And Murdoch can only be distinguished by crassness and recklessness. Basically the whole of imperialist Western media fosters these tendencies.
Another reactionary consequence of the attack is to raise new repressive laws and measures throughout Europe, France in the first place, and get them accepted by the public that is forced to a state of shock and eclipse of mind. As a matter of fact there have been such measures put in use recently in France and military troops have begun to appear in the streets. Now there are more changes in the agenda. 10.000 more troops are already decided to appear in the streets. On this occasion it was disclosed that some other European countries such as Denmark, Italy and Britain have already made their preparations for similar measures. If there is an assault against freedom, then, on the face of it, there will, no doubt, be some to set out to protect it! Here is a perfect march towards to a police state “on the road to freedom!”
How to approach the question of religion or is it “Je suis Charlie”?
Western media and part of the media in Turkey present the Charlie Hebdo raid as an attack against freedom of press, against humour etc. And Charlie Hebdo magazine is portrayed as a representative of the tradition of sharp humour rooted in the enlightenment and attributed a progressive role. Yet Charlie Hebdo magazine, under the guise of humour, follows a political course that fosters tendencies of humiliating Muslims and making them scapegoat for the problems of the system, which, at present, is a chief political reality in the Western world. The distinguishing feature of enlightenment humour tradition is that it had a position to sharply criticise the privileged of society, kings, aristocrats, and, with time, rich bourgeois. Now, we have a tradition aiming at the oppressors on the one side, and another position that hits the oppressed from the same position with the oppressors! To obscure this fundamental distinction under the veil of criticising religion is a manipulation. And those humour magazines in Turkey that regard themselves as left-sing, socialist, progressive etc. unfortunately embraced the misleading, manipulative line of Charlie Hebdo.
This brings us to the political attitude towards religion which is one of the important issues posed by the attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine. Charlie Hebdo’s attitude confirms by inversion the profundity and soundness of the attitude of Marxism towards religion.
Charlie Hebdo incident has shown that it is of no use to mock religion in the struggle against religious prejudices and fanaticism, and rather that this has backfired in a tragic manner. The question at stake is more than the act of a few gunmen. When the matter is viewed from the standpoint of hundreds of millions of Muslim labourers across the world, did the attitude of Charlie Hebdo and the likes of it help in pushing back religious prejudices and fanaticism? What such attitudes in fact helped was deepening of prejudices and fanaticism and making them more widespread, and, on a world scale, pitting the working masses against each other. This attitude is but recklessness and irresponsibility, to say the least, of intellectual blabbers living in relative comfort in imperialist metropolises.
While imperialist bandits put the peoples of the Middle East that are overwhelmingly Muslim in bloodbaths, and hundreds of thousands lose their lives in these bloodbaths, millions are displaced from their homelands, their poverty and misery are being deepened more and more by imperialist aggression, millions of Muslims in Western metropolises are driven into ghettos in joblessness, misery and humiliation, and these masses are clinging to religion just as explained in Marx’s profound words, you would end up a gross failure and get a backlash if you regard mocking it as kind of merit.
The political essence of the matter from the standpoint of the struggle of the working class is not “freedom of speech” etc., but the question of imperialist war engulfing the world and of the world working class being divided along religious, sectarian, cultural lines and pitted against each other under the guise of “different civilisations” for that matter. Put more concretely, what is at stake is to pit particularly Western labourers and the labourers in those parts of the world where Islam is the majority religion against each other. Therefore, on the basis of this approach, there could be no doubt that such a slogan as “I’m Charlie” (“Je suis Charlie”) could not be the slogan of Marxists. Unfortunately, among those who adopted this slogan there are ones who attach themselves the label of Marxist or socialist. We have them in Turkey as well and they are not less within the socialist milieu at large.
The Kemalist-turned socialists in Turkey regarded this incident as an opportunity and seized upon it to consolidate their traditional positions. They mean to say “look, this is Islam, this is religion!” They think the broad working masses voting for the AKP will be impressed and change. Or they calculate that their position will gain strength from this. Yet this is a big illusion. For we would have already seen such an outcome throughout the whole course of similar sensational attacks began by 9/11. Yet, what we have is a polarisation of the working masses across the world based on religious references. So it would be political mindlessness, to say the least, to start from “Islamist bigotry” and shape the attitude in accordance with that in dealing with the Charlie Hebdo raid.
Under these circumstances the focus point for the working-class struggle in the West is to resist the attempt to pit the working masses in the West particularly against labourers in the Muslim-majority world on Islamophobic grounds, and, in the Muslim-majority countries, identification of labourers in Western countries with Western imperialism and regarding them as enemies. The world working class needs to rally around the flag of internationalism against the attempt to divide them along the lines of so-called “civilisation” sophistry, whether it is openly expressed or not, and make them hostile parties in the course of the imperialist war. Let us mount the unity of internationalist struggle of the working class against imperialist conspiracies, imperialist aggression, grip of new legislation for more repression, racism and religious fanaticism!
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