Latest post on Left Futures

What makes someone murder cartoonists?

charlie-hebdoThe attack on Charlie Hebdo was an atrocity calculated to outrage, to intimidate, to silence critics of Islam, and to remind the West that terror attacks can strike at the heart of its capital cities. It has provoked an outpouring of anger and solidarity with the victims, and not a small amount of stupid bigotry. Yet one hopes the barbarity seen in Paris does not achieve this objective. Liberty after all has faced opponents tougher than three gun-toting fanatics who cowardly attack defenceless people and then run. But why has this happened, or rather how could it have happened?

Saying Charlie Hebdo were asking for it, or that this is somehow blowback for France’s interventions in Afghanistan and Mali says nothing at all really. France has been up to its neck in military adventures for years. The magazine has been scathing of Islam – as it is of all religions – for longer. This has taken place in a context where French Muslims have been singled out by the “secularist” moves against religiously-inspired dress and symbols, and the unwelcome return of the National Front. Yet this has not elicited a wave of terror attacks.

No one enters into the world fully formed. We are made and make our own history, but not under circumstances of our choosing as someone fairly influential once noted. That is true for you, me, and murderous scum who rampage through offices shooting journalists and cartoonists. Media comment has noted the so-called professionalism of the shooters – they knew when best to strike, where the staff would be, who to murder, and how to withdraw before the authorities arrived. How does one get to the point where, against the teachings of your own religion, you acquire automatic weapons and head out to kill people for writing critical words and printing disrespectful doodles?

We live in the age of spectacular terrorism, of atrocities committed with an eye to rolling news coverage and social media. If the September 11th attacks were acts of semiotic terrorism, as the late Jean Baudrillard argued, that has been the commonplace since. Bali, Madrid, London Underground, Utøya; public spaces, safe spaces forever burdened with the memory of mass murder. The killing of Lee Rigby and the slaying of hostages by the Islamic State rabble are no different. Maximum senselessness and over-the-top brutality puts a rocket booster under their propaganda ensuring it reaches a wide audience. In a sense, there might even be an arms race. Which group, which cell, which would-be martyr can pull off the most audacious outrage?

There is more to this than securing coverage, however. There’s a display of macho narcissism – look at us, we’re the real deal. As disgusting as it sounds, whatever the gunmen are doing now they will be proud. It’s also about weakness. The crimes committed by IS fanatics in their desert boltholes substitute for not facing Western troops. It’s a way of getting at the main enemy without getting at them, and conveying on themselves a sense of power that does not really exist. Something similar happened with today’s thugs. They selected a soft target and all that stood between them and their massacre were two unarmed police. Theirs was – hopefully a vain – attempt to shut down a bête noire for Islamists, but one that nevertheless was a substitute, a stand-in because the centres of power in Paris, London, and Washington remain beyond their reach.

The attacks also smack of anarchist terror attacks, or what was once known as the propaganda of the deed. Fundamentalist Islam does not have a mass following in France, and those willing to countenance the murder of journalists count number far less than that. This mediaeval hocum is never getting traction – despite what the absurd-sounding novel Submission has to say about it – so our gunmen believe that their murdering journalists will act as a catalyst to cohere disaffected Muslims around their views. If, for example, in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo the Western presses reprint some of their anti-Islamic cartoons, the killers win because some Muslims will be antagonised by the move. If across the West the fires of Islamophobia are stoked, they win again. Especially in France where the fascists of the National Front won’t miss the opportunity to whip up bigotry, hate, and fear. If Muslims come under siege, the thugs will feel it’s been a job well done. If in the name of terror prevention governments act true to form and assume more swingeing, authoritarian powers it will be Muslim kids on the sharp end of police attention. It will be Muslims bearing the brunt of surveillance and petty interference in school and other education settings, the workplace, and so on. Again, they win.

We must refuse to play the jihadis’ games. The mass demonstrations against terror and in solidarity with the slain are a poignant, beautiful, inspiring start. For them to open their arms to Muslims, to emphasise the common values the vast majority shares, whether they happen to be Christian, Muslim, or of no religion at all, and to ridicule, dismiss, ignore, and distance those for whom tragedy is an occasion for dog-whistling; to resist more draconian legislation, armed cops, and policing by profile; to live by liberty and fraternity – that’s how the scum will lose.


  1. Chris says:

    “If, for example, in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo the Western presses reprint some of their anti-Islamic cartoons, the killers win because some Muslims will be antagonised by the move.”

    Only bad ones.

  2. Syzygy says:

    ‘Macho-narcissism – – look at us, we’re the real deal’ seems to hit the spot. Best analysis that I’ve read.

  3. Barry Ewart says:

    I have shed buckets of tears re the loss of life in Paris. I try occasionally to use egalitarian humour myself on other sites to take on right wing bigots and humour can be powerful but perhaps the best advice I have heard is read, read, read. I read a lovely piece by a French Algerian journalist in the Guardian on Friday- she reminded us how 200 Algerians were killed in Paris in 1961 and perhaps herein lies the solution. As democratic socialists we value all life equally and the World needs to also – black, white, brown, gay, lesbian, transgender, disabled, etc. etc. We want to unite the diverse working people of the World of all religions and of none. The tragedy is that some young Muslims seem to want to be Jihadists when they should be socialists. As democratic socialists we love diverse humanity – there, I have said it. Yours in peace, love and international solidarity!

  4. swatantra says:

    These islamofacists are mentally ill, but that’s no excuse. In the end they will fail, and they must be punished by the ultimate penalty.

    1. Je Suis Charlie says:

      Yes – they should be made to read your posts.

  5. Barry Ewart says:

    Zizek is good in the New Statesman (10/1/15) and talks about the collapse of the secular Left in Muslim counties plus how the Left needs to pull the rug from under the feet of reactionaries (I would argue on all sides). As I have also argued the tragedy is that a tiny number of young oppressed Muslims may want to be Jihadists when they should be socialists. It could be argued that the collapse of the secular Muslim Left was down to bourgeois socialism (top down, undemocratic rule by elite central committees, secret police etc) – (the USSR has a lot to answer for and the tragedy was that the early bourgeois socialist leaders took power for themselves when genuinely socialist leaders would have been faciltators – keeping power with the masses) but there is a positive left narrative for the 21st Century – democratic socialism – bottom up, democratic, peaceful, participatory, grassroots led) a socialism as it should have always been. Democratic socialists have a strong message – whilst tiny factions of one religion may want one perspective of one religion to dominate we want to unite diverse working people black, white, brown, LGBT, disabled, male/female, young and old of ALL religions and of none. It may also help if some in the media and the Right (deliberately) stop treating Muslims as though they are an homogenous group (as though they are all the same) when of course Progressive and Moderate Muslims are the overwhelming majority. There is hope! Yours in peace & international solidarity!

  6. Chris says:

    The Kouachi Nazis weren’t oppressed. Oh well, they’re in hell now anyway.

© 2024 Left Futures | Powered by WordPress | theme originated from PrimePress by Ravi Varma