How do we put in perspective the international media focus on the massacre of 12 journalists in Paris on 7 January at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, notorious for its racist anti-Muslim caricatures and the lack of media response to the routine, daily racist police murders of black youth in the USA? Why did France ban any protests of the 15 journalists killed amongst the 2,000 deaths in the Israeli assault on Gaza this past summer? Don’t those lives matter? The Charlie Hebdo assassinations strengthen the hand of the state, which uses them in an ideological offensive, even if the state had a role in arming and training the killers. Why do we not mourn other murders, not respect them, not even report them… even the murders of other journalists? A crucial role of the corporate media is to try to shape the perception of which lives matter. Consider the mass outpourings following several different, very public killings in the USA. Hundreds of thousands of youths were in the streets repeatedly in America, confronting the refusal of the state to prosecute killer cops, even when millions saw their murderous crimes on video. Hundreds of thousands of people were in the streets of Paris on 11 January. French, other European, American, and Israeli politicians led the march honouring the slain journalists. Twice, on 27 December and 4 January, thousands of uniformed police from all over the USA converged on New York City for separate funerals of two police officers shot in their patrol car in 20 December. Jet Blue offered free flights to all police traveling nationally to the funeral. The US Vice President, New York State Governor, and the New York City Mayor attended the funerals. They closed off roads in the areas; the put up giant outdoor TV screens.
Not a Free Speech Issue
The French government’s protection of the racist journal Charlie Hebdo had nothing to do with protecting freedom of speech. We must face this deception. In 2012, the same government that protected this vile publication banned any demonstrations, protests, or even public prayers opposing the racist publication. French law allows for the prosecution of “public insults” based on religion, race, ethnicity, or national origin. However, the racist, sexist, bigoted, grossly insulting cartoons in Charlie Hebdo were never once a source of any successful legal action. However, France did ban anyone from even protesting the cartoons that insulted Muslims or the prophet Mohammed. In 2012, as protests swept the Muslim world in response to an anti-Muslim film made in the USA, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said prefects had orders to prohibit any protest and to crack down if anyone challenged the ban. “There will be strictly no exceptions. Demonstrations will be banned and broken up” (Daily Mail, 21 September 2012). They even banned prayer meetings and street prayers (CNN, 19 September 2012). In the same week, Charlie Hebdo put out an extra run of cartoons featuring a grossly obscene caricature of a naked prophet Mohammed. They gave the magazine extra police protection. Freedom of speech and of the press is hardly sacred in France. It was punishable by a year in prison to even post on the Internet a notice of a demonstration opposing the Israeli onslaught on Palestine during the Israeli 2014 summer offensive on Gaza. France was the only country in the world to bar all demonstrations and protests in any form supporting Palestine during that time. The penalty was one year in jail and 15,000-Euro fine (1.12 million Roubles. 110,000 Renminbi. 1.1 million INR. 17,800 USD. 21,200 CAD. 21,800 AUD. 11,700 UK Pounds). It’s worth noting the double standard… there was no similar crackdown against the current rightwing fascist demonstrations against immigrants.
Role of Nazi Caricature
Charlie Hebdo serves a very important purpose for French imperialism; that’s why they protect its virulent racism, at the very time that they prohibit protests against it. Charlie Hebdo may have run cartoons to ridicule the powerful 40 years ago when it claimed to be left-wing, irreverent, and nonconformist. However, there’s a big difference between satire ridiculing the powerful… a French tradition going back to Voltaire… and the current imagery promoting fear and loathing of the oppressed and powerless. The latter is rightwing and fascist in character. In this period, when Muslims face increasing extreme rightwing attacks and fascist mobilisations grow in Europe, Charlie Hebdo functions like the Nazi publication Der Stürmer with its vehemently anti-Semitic caricatures. Jewish people in Der Stürmer, as Muslims are in Charlie Hebdo, were depicted with exaggerated facial features and misshapen bodies. Both publications used obscene sexually explicit caricatures. The Nazi caricatures were part of a policy to make Jews an object of hatred, fear, ridicule, and disdain. At the end of World War II, Julius Streicher, the editor of Der Stürmer… even though he didn’t run death camps, but only used the press to incite hatred… was put on trial, convicted of crimes against humanity, and executed. They protect Charlie Hebdo as it hardens the population against Muslims, to divide the population. The French government announced a grant to Charlie Hebdo of 1 million Euros (74.4 million Roubles. 7.3 million Renminbi. 73.4 million INR. 1.18 million USD. 1.42 million CAD. 1.46 million AUD. 780,000 UK Pounds), and Google donated 250,000 Euros (18.6 million Roubles. 1.825 million Renminbi. 18.35 million INR. 295,000 USD. 355,000 CAD. 365,000 AUD. 194,500 UK Pounds). Charlie Hebdo isn’t about freedom of expression and freedom of press. It’s an instrument of war mobilisation. It ran cartoons demonising Serbs during the NATO campaign against Yugoslavia, and it supported NATO’s attack on Libya.
No Free Press
Although they laud and glorify “free speech” and “free press” in their reporting of the murder of the French journalists, no such thing exists in any capitalist state. The press in France or in the USA isn’t free, open, or accessible. The ruling class own the media and it serves their interests. They tightly control what one can say and who can say it. The corporate media in capitalist society serves class rule. What’s covered depends entirely on who can pay for publication or airtime. A handful of multibillion-dollar media conglomerates control almost all information, culture, and entertainment in the Western capitalist countries… although in the past decade social media and the internet opened a few cracks in this overwhelming corporate control. The media industry has an enormous impact in shaping what lives have value and what deaths go unreported, unmarked, or consciously covered up.
The hundreds of thousands of deaths in wars initiated by American imperialism, with full support of French and British imperialism, are unmarked and unmourned, callously labelled “collateral damage”. The media ignore or barely mention the enormous toll in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. No mass sympathy arises when an American drone wipes out a wedding party in Pakistan or a whole village with a Hellfire missile. No one notes the assassinations of journalists in these wars. There were no state funerals for the 166 journalists killed in Iraq under American occupation. Chelsea Manning is in prison for releasing videos of American helicopters gunning down two Reuter’s camera operators in Iraq and then circling to kill the family that stopped their van to try to help them.
According to The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, 15 journalists died in the 2014 Israeli bombing of Gaza. They “were killed in civilian sites which are supposed to be safe for civilians”. The Israelis targeted and bombed eight media centres. American bombers targeted and destroyed RTS, Radio TV Serbia, in the 1999 American/NATO war on Yugoslavia, killing 17 journalists. The most dangerous country in the world for journalists is Honduras. Since the American-backed coup, they’ve assassinated 46 media and information workers. The International Federation of Journalists sharply criticised NATO 2011 air strikes against Libyan television, which killed three people and injured 15. The IFJ stated that the strikes violated international law and UN resolutions. If a free press existed, then, Chelsea Manning wouldn’t be in prison or Edward Snowden and Julian Assange on the run, living in exile. What media they even allow in imperialist countries demonstrates how little they respect freedom of the press. For example, they ban Press-TV, an Iranian news channel broadcasting in English, from broadcasting via satellite throughout Europe, Canada, and the USA. France, Germany, and the USA bans al-Manar, a Lebanese satellite station affiliated with Hezbollah. Both Press-TV and al-Manar protested, to no avail, that this was a grave breach of freedom of speech. Whilst both news channels are available via the internet in limited form, Apple and Google removed al-Manar mobile apps.
We can’t ignore national oppression and racism in France. There are 5.5 million residents of African origin, many of them born in France and most of them citizens. A large number are Muslims, although not all practise. They live in poverty and isolation in suburbs that have high unemployment, inferior schools, and substandard housing. Just as American prisons overwhelmingly imprison black and brown youth, the same is true in French prisons. According to Muslim leaders, sociologists and researchers, about 60 to 70 percent of all inmates in the country’s prison system are Muslim, although Muslims make up only about 12 percent of the country’s population (Washington Post Foreign Service, 29 April 2008). Imperialism needs hatred of targeted peoples. Western politicians cynically use Islamophobia to advance rightwing political agendas and curtail freedoms.
Regardless of whether a police conspiracy is ever exposed, we do know that the French ruling class and the corporate media are always primed to take full advantage of such acts to reinforce the repressive state apparatus and sow division among the working class. There shouldn’t be an iota of confidence in the news stories of this massacre at Charlie Hebdo. We know only what French military police and state intelligence agencies have told the corporate media. We do know that three men, who’re now dead, were tools of imperialism in their wars of conquest in Syria and Libya. They’ve recruited, trained, and armed more than 1,000 French citizens of Arab and North African descent for use as weapons conduits, saboteurs, and terrorists in the efforts of the USA, France, Britain, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia to overthrow the government of Syria.
This leads to the fundamental question of whose policies are responsible for the massacre and who gains from the massacre? Since the collapse of the USSR, American imperialism, aided by the old colonial powers of Europe, has engaged in a whole series of wars to reconquer countries that achieved a high level of development based on sovereignty and control of their resources. In their frantic efforts to recolonise Iraq, Syria, and Libya, they’ve cynically whipped up sectarian divisions, organised deadly militias, and promoted fanaticism and anarchy. That aroused deep-seated rage against the USA, France, and Britain. It’s also highly unpopular that French imperialism is widely involved in Africa, primarily in the majority-Muslim countries of Mali, Central African Republic, Chad, Ivory Coast, and Djibouti, and in Abu Dhabi on the Arabian Peninsula. The French ruling class wants to divert mass attention from their expanding wars and increasingly militarised society. We must oppose and counter the mobilisations claiming to defend a free press.
13 January 2015