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On Charlie Hebdo and defending liberty – a dose of multiculturalism would help

charlie-hebdoToday we express solidarity and sympathy with the remaining staff of Charlie Hebdo and the families and friends of their 12 colleagues brutally murdered yesterday. It was an appalling attack on the freedom of speech, including the right to criticise, to satirise and to lampoon which we believe are essential features of democracy.

Furthermore, in defending the right to criticise, to satirise and to lampoon, we recognise that the exercise of this right will sometimes offend. Some of those who are condemning yesterday’s murders as an act of terrorism, including the White House, previously criticised Charlie Hebdo in doing just that by publishing images some of which were indeed obscene (such as this which we recommend you do not look at if you are likely to be offended) after it had been firebombed for similar actions the previous year. In a democracy, the right of free speech is accompanied by a requirement of tolerance. You don’t have to read or listen to views you disagree with or find offensive. That applies to views both promoting and criticising aspects of religious or political belief.

Nevertheless, many Muslims in France and elsewhere have been offended by what Charlie Hebdo. That is why we are encouraged today by the involvement of French Muslims in some of the “Nous sommes Charlie” solidarity vigils which have taken place across France, and by the condemnations of the violence such as that by the French Muslim Council and that by Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grande Mosque in Paris,who said:

This attack is against all our values. We are absolutely horrified and stupified by this crime. We are entering an extremely dangerous situation in Paris when violence is becoming a part of daily life.”

Charlie Hebdo may have been offensive at times, but it practices what it cals “equal opportunity offence”. It is not, I think, in any way ” a racist publication” as Richard Seymour believes. As the past covers below illustrate, it is willing to lampoon Catholicism, Judaism as well as Islam.

charlie-hebdo covers copy


But that does not mean we are not concerned about the backlash against this dreadful attack and how it will be used to inflame the Islamophobia that permeates France like so much of Europe. Marine Le Pen said yesterday that”this attack must liberate our speech in the face of Islamic fundamentalism“. It goes without saying that the freedom of speech we defend does not include the freedom to inflame racial hatred. And yet even on the Left in France, the secularism in which we find much to applaud (if only we didn’t suffer from the obstacle to multiculturalism that faith schools impose, for example) is also too often the justification for measures and actions which fan the flames of racism and islamophobia.

On new years eve, François Hollande urged France to stand firm against “terrorism, communitarianism and fundamentalism“. But this anti-communitarianism is a requirement for individuals to “integrate” in a society which is blinded by its extreme secularism to severe economic ineqalities based on race, and to racial segregation of housing. Measures to ban religious symbols justified in the same of secularism are in reality an attack on the hijab and on French Muslims who constitute 6% of the population, the largest proportion in western Europe.

If the French left wants to wage a campaign in defence of liberty in France, it could do with re-examining the case for multi-culturalism.



  1. James Martin says:

    I think you are quite wrong to draw this conclusion from the outrage yesterday Jon. After all, no doubt there was your opposite number in France after 7/7 who was saying exactly the opposite and that the reason for that (and later Lee Rigby’s murder) was precisely because of our multiculturalism of separate development and religious ghettos and schools that had allowed the religious fascists to go unchallenged (particularly by the wet-liberal left) for so bloody long.

    No, for now let’s just stand in solidarity with those journalists and cartoonists killed by the clerical-fascist scum, no ifs, no buts.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      James: I don’t know to whom you refer as my “opposite number in France” but I reject the idea of any connection between, for example, the Le Rigby murder and multiculturalism. I am also dubious about this concept of “religous fascism”. I think it is possible to combine what might be regarded as conservative religious belief with acceptance of diversity and tolerance of different choices by others. It is OK for someone to believe that something is “wrong” for religious reasons in determining their own actions. What is not acceptable is to seek to impose those views on others, including in many cases on people especially women and young people within their own communities. I am certainly in favour of challenging, for example, reactionary attitudes on abortion and homosexuality but I do also defend religious freedom and the diverse expressions of identity. It is not religious practice which we need to challenge so much as intolerance and oppression.

      1. James Martin says:

        Jon, the point I was making in terms of your ‘opposite number’ was that your arguments in this article could have been just as easily used and turned on its head by any supporter of French secularism at the time due to the fact that we – as a multicultural society – have equally had our share of Islamic extremism. You appear to have used this tragedy to hang your pre-existing views on (in terms of multiculturalism), which is a little distasteful at this time if I’m being honest.

        As to the fascist tag, look we can call these bastards what we want: Islamic extremists; fundamentalists; takfiri’s; clerical-fascists. The point is that like other fascists these are not people we debate with, these are not people we look to reason with. These are people (whether in the UK, France or Syria, that should – like the Nazi’s – be physically and politically eliminated as that is what they wish to do to us as socialists (just read some of their particular hatred and venom for the YPG/PKK due to them being self-declared socialists). We are talking about a political ideology here hiding behind religious cloaks (just as it once did in Christian Europe a few hundred years ago), and by taking on the ideology it does not mean that we attack religion in general or Muslims in p[articular (as you seem to imply). After all, socialists were once more than able to distinguish between the necessary physical and ideological fight against Nazism without at the same time forgetting that not all Germans were fecking Nazis…

        1. gerry says:

          james – excellent point

          The holy warriors who murdered the French cartoonists and others are, in fact, way more right-wing and hate-filled than fascists per se.

          Jon Lansman and others should see them for what they are – part of the vast hard-right fundamentalist forces now at open war with the rest of us (socialists, communists, liberals, atheists etc) in every country on Earth, including the UK.

          In 2015, Islam harbours nearly all of those clerical fascists, but they exist (in smaller numbers) in Christianity and other faiths too…

          Poor France! There is very little Hollande can do to defeat these hard-right clerical/ultra-conservative murderers..the fanatics sense/know that there time is now, and there are millions of would-be jihadis ready and able to kill, execute, behead, enslave, forcibly convert, for their God

          Western enlightenment values, which Hebdo so brilliantly represent, are on the retreat everywhere, and Islam’s holy warriors can feel power within their grasp…

  2. MVW says:

    Western Europe has had enough forced multiculturalism.

  3. Ethan says:

    “It goes without saying that the freedom of speech we defend does not include the freedom to inflame racial hatred.”

    So you’re pro-censorship after all?

    “But this anti-communitarianism is a requirement for individuals to “integrate” in a society which is blinded by its extreme secularism to severe economic ineqalities based on race…”

    So French lawmakers are racist?
    I’ll believe it, but I want to see the evidence for it first.

    “If the French left wants to wage a campaign in defence of liberty in France, it could do with re-examining the case for multi-culturalism.”

    So it’s the French left who shoulder the blame for any affront to liberty in France, rather than religious extremists? Also, which policies need changing and how so?

    I don’t mean to bombard you with strawmen Jon. It’s just that in my opinion some of the points you’ve made have been vague, and so I’m hoping for a response or a follow-up article that will clarify them.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      “So you’re pro-censorship after all?” – No I’m anti-censorship but also anti-incitement of racial hatred. I accept that there is some tension between the two as there is between opposing censorship and libel laws or Levenson-style regulation. I do thing some recent legislation has impacted too much on freedom of speech including laws on religious hatred.

      “So French lawmakers are racist?” – Some French lawmakers are of course racist – those in the Front National for example. But the bigger problem is with the institutuional racism that arises from a presumption of civic equality that goes back to the revolution of 1789 coexisting with a failure even to collect data on inequality by race. The roots of secularism are just as old, but its enforcement works in practice to encourage, even incite discrimination. Racism is dealt with as a matter of criminal law but there is widespread racial inequality (though no data to measure it) in pay and access to employment and housing which in the UK might be deal with as a matter of civil law. It wouod be enough to demonstrate pay differentials based on race, for example, in the UK wheras in France it would be necessary to identify an act of discrimination.

      Of course the French Left has very much less responsibility for the worst that is happening than the far right and these murderers but continuing racial inequality, inadequately monitored and inadequately challenged, provides a recruiting opportunity for irrational violent extremists. If the French wishes to eliminate that opportunity, it needs to recognise the institutional racism in French society, recognise that in spite of its presumption of civic equality, France is as diverse a society as any in Europe. Only through the acceptance of a multicultural approach is it possible to work with all communities to combat that racial inequality.

      1. James Martin says:

        But again Jon your logic (or rather lack of it) could be used in exactly the same way by a French secularist or socialist against the UK and your own arguments. After all, we have establishment multiculturalism as well as equality under the law (since the Race Relations Act of 1976), but I don’t think anyone would seriously suggest that this has created racial equality (just as the adoption of many feminist ideas and the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 did not create equality even to this day in pay for women).

        And the problem you have perhaps is believing that genuine full equality is possible without the elimination of class, which is not possible in a capitalist society. It is also a blindness to the real problems of liberal multiculturalism in this country that dominates the socialist left (as do many other alien liberal imports), and that acts as a barrier to genuine working class unity (based not on some abstract values, be they British or French), but of class interest.

        And so the left has ignored for too long the oppression of women and gays in Muslim ‘communities’, and has largely gone along with the nonsense of allowing reactionary old men to speak for these people lest we ‘offend’ or be accused of ‘racism’ or ‘islamaphobia’. And for too long the left has been happy to attack or ridicule the Catholic Church (for an example), but has not had the courage to do the same against the equally reactionary dangerous ideology and religious superstitious nonsense spouted by many Muslim leaders. Why is this, why do we have these double standards? Why does the British left appear incapable of equal-opportunity religious criticism?

        The ONLY way to deal with those reactionaries who claim that their religion is better than anyone else’s, that their belief’s can never be criticised let alone laughed at and ridiculed, is to criticise even more and laugh even louder. It is how we broke the power of the reactionary Catholic priesthood in Ireland and elsewhere, and it is how we will break the spell of these clerical-fascists, with or without the wet-liberals that passes for ‘the left’ these days.

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