#JeSuisCharlie, #JeSuisMusulman: contradiction?

By now we've all heard. Gunmen today shot dead 12 people at the Paris office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, apparently while shouting "Allahu Akbar" and "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad!" Editor Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier is among the dead; he had received death threats in the past and was living under police protection. Charlie Hebdo’s offices were bombed in 2011, after the magazine released an issue in which the Prophet Muhammed was satirically billed as "guest editor." The issue included cartoons lampooning Muhammed and was redubbed "Charia Hebdo," a reference to Shariah law. The new attack is said to be the deadliest in France since 1961, when rightists who opposed Algerian independence bombed a train, killing 28 people. (BBC News, NYT)

The New York Times headline states all too obviously, "Paris Attack Reflects a 'Dangerous Moment' for Europe," quoting Peter Neumann of the UK-based International Center for the Study of Radicalisation: "This is a dangerous moment for European societies. With increasing radicalization among supporters of jihadist organizations and the white working class increasingly feeling disenfranchised and uncoupled from elites, things are coming to a head." The example is cited of the recent anti-immigrant, anti-Islam rallies in Germany, under the banner of Pegida—Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West.

 in The Guardian urges us to "resist the clash-of-civilisations narrative"…

[I]n the moments after the news broke about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I found it impossible to ignore a sinking feeling: the recognition that we were being pulled further into a cycle of distrust and division.

It grew as I read through the responses online. The straightforward reaction from far-right extremists was the hashtag #killallmuslims, which would have been easy to ignore as empty words if it hadn’t reminded me of the firebombing of mosques after the Lee Rigby murder.

Less violent but still divisive was the way the attack was depicted as a battle between Islam and freedom of speech, or between Muslims and satire—a clash-of-civilisations argument that splits the world neatly into "them" and "us", by ignoring the staggering death toll of terrorist attacks abroad (most recently the massacre of schoolchildren in Pakistan).

There is some important truth here. We have also emphasized that the principal concern of jihadist franchises like ISIS and the various Qaeda affiliates is the struggle within Islam against secularism and internal heresy such as Shia, and only secondarily the jihad against the West. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, contrary to the Western media "narrative." And indeed patronizing demands on Muslims to repudiate such extremism is a form of stigmatization which is sure to backfire—especially as no such demands are placed on Jews (by mainstream voices, anyway) to repudiate Israeli state terror.

But this also obscures a point: in resisting the "clash-of-civilizations narrative," we must advocate an analysis that emphasizes the clashes within "civilizations." There are Muslims, and non-Muslims living within Muslim-majority nations and communities, who oppose the ever-more-reactionary rule of political Islam—just as there are white Europeans who stand up to the current paroxysm of xenophobia and Islamophobia. Thousands of Germans have taken to the streets to repudiate the ugly Pegida. But those in the Middle East and Muslim communities in the West who similarly stand up to the increasingly hegemonic Islamist reaction are too often portrayed by "progressives" as dupes or agents of imperialism.

In previous irruptions of the interminable cartoon controversy, "progressives" have repeatedly raised the absurd fallacy that freedom of speech is a scheme to allow the white male power structure to shout down the rest of us. A case in point this time around is the commentary of one Jacob Canfield on the Hooded Utilitarian blog. His title concedes: "Free Speech Does Not Mean Freedom From Criticism; You can condemn the attacks without embracing the cartoons." But he doesn't write like he means it about the "free speech" part. He says Charb "comes across as a racist asshole" for having dared to state, "Muhammad isn't sacred to me… I live under French law. I don't live under Koranic law."

As we have noted, an inherent right to blasphemy was precisely the position that progressives took in the controversy over art photographer Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ." It's true that Christians are not oppressed and marginalized in the West as Muslims are—but does that entirely justify the double standard? Would progressives defend intentionally offensive anti-Muslim art in countries where Christians are oppressed and marginalized by Muslim majorities, such as Syria, Iraq, Egypt? How many "progressives" who protest the sophomoric humor of Charlie Hebdo came to the defense of Gillian Gibbons, the British schoolteacher imprisoned in Sudan a few years back for innocently naming a class teddy bear "Mohammed"? How many have opposed the ugly Jew-hating cartoons that appear regularly in the Arab press? No, that is left to be exploited by the Zionists and Islamophobes. And around it goes.

There will be some progress in this world when Jews protest Israeli state terror and Muslims protest Islamist terror—and not in response to condescending demands that they do so, but because it is necessary to oppose atrocities committed in the name of one's own group identity. The Germans who are protesting Pegida get this. So too did the NRIs (non-resident Indians, presumably including some of Hindu background) who protested Narendra Modi on his much-hyped US tour last year. The dueling Twitter hashtags #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie) and #JeSuisMusulman (I am Muslim) suggest a pathological dichotomy: we can extend solidarity both to artists and satirists (no matter how sophomoric) and to Muslims under xenophobic attack.

At the rally this evening in the bitter cold of New York's Union Square, a crowd of mostly French protesters held matching mass-produced signs reading "Je Suis Charlie." Amid the crowd was one young man, seemingly of Arab background, who held a hand-written sign that read "I am Charlie" in Arabic.

More of this.

I am Muslim

  1. Further irony of Charlie Hebdo attack

    Here is one of the cartoons that got the magazine into trouble. It is captioned "If Muhammed came back…" It shows an ISIS militant in the act of decapitating a bearded man in white robe and turban. The victim shouts, "I'm the prophet, you asshole," while his killer says back, "Shut your trap, infidel."

    In other words, exactly what Muslims have been saying about ISIS from day one—that it does not represent Islam, and is inimical to its true teachings. Are the Charlie cartoons really as uniformly "Islamophobic" as critics portray?

  2. Radical cleric defends Paris shootings

    Daily Caller reports that UK-based radical Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary has been tweeting in implicit support of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. A couple of examples:

    May Allah allow all Muslims & non-Muslims live together under divine law where the honour of citizens & Prophets is protected #ParisShooting — Anjem Choudary (@anjemchoudary) January 7, 2015

    If freedom of expression can be sacrificed for criminalising incitement & hatred, Why not for insulting the Prophet of Allah? #ParisShooting — Anjem Choudary (@anjemchoudary) January 7, 2015

    Charming, eh?

  3. Leftist cowardice on Charlie Hebdo (surprise)

    Painful but hardly surprising that the left is displaying typical intellectual cowardice on the Paris massacre, even proclaiming "I am not Charlie." The Jacobin response is predictable, rejecting the word "terrorism" as a "narrative device" (God, how we hate the word "narrative") and "inherently normative" (huh?), and decrying "solidarity with what is frankly a racist publication." The writer, , issues the requisite disavowal of the notion that journalists are "legitimate targets" (gee, thanks), but he offers no critique of political Islam. His argument basically comes down to the notion that CH brought it on themselves, and tough luck.

    This is stated even more explicitly on Medium.com, which asserts: "This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech—It Was About War." We knew that was coming. The inevitable "not about free speech" line. What does that even mean, apart from (stated more honestly) we don't care about free speech for people we don't like? The invocation of the word "war" is particularly ironic, given that CH was targeted with actual deadly violence. The writer, Asghar Bukhari, protests that some "white dude" or "Zionist" will accuse him of "justifying" the attack. But if his screed isn't a justification, what is it? Even if his dubious case that CH is an organ of war propaganda holds up, what can we infer from the assertion that the attack "was nothing to do with free speech" other than the notion that CH was a "legitmate target"?

    Contrast the truly courageous editorial from The Forward, a pro-Zionist voice that all us lefties are supposed to hate. Their headline is "Why Charlie Hebdo Must Be Free to Offend All—Even Us," and they actually reprint various cartoons from CH portraying Israelis as murderous thugs. A compilation of CH cartoons on Gawker clearly demonstrates that Jews and Catholics as well as Muslims were targets of their unsparing pens. The Toronto Star reprints a 2013 statement from the late Charb, "No, Charlie Hebdo isn't Racist," in which he reminds readers that the zine's roots are on the left: "Charlie Hebdo is the child of May '68, of the spirit of freedom and insolence… The Charlie Hebdo of the 1970s helped to form the critical spirit of a generation. By mocking the powers and the powerful. By laughing, sometimes uproariously, at the ills of the world. And always, always, always by defending the human individual and his universal values…"

    OpenDemocracy scoffs: "[I]t is amazing how many Islamophobic and far right people are declaring their love for a magazine that until recently they would criticize as a 'communist rag' (after Charlie's biting satire mocked their own heroes, from Jesus Christ to Marine Le Pen). These are the heroic defenders of free speech, like Geert Wilders, who want to ban the Quran because it incites violence."

    The one unequivocally racist CH cartoon we've found is this one, which shows pregnant Boko Haram rape victims demanding their welfare checks. That isn't poking fun at religious orthodoxy, but the victims thereof. Not kosher. So has CH drifted from its leftist roots to line up with the xenophobe right? While most "leftists" have, in reaction, drifted from their secular roots to line up with the Islamist right? Once again… Are we the only ones who feel like we're through the looking glass here?

    1. Did Charlie Hebdo mock Boko Haram rape victims?

      Maybe not. The most plausible apologia for this seemingly appalling cartoon was just posted by a French friend on Facebook: "[I]t draws a paralell with demonstrations that took place in France, when the government wanted to limit the allocations for children, depending on the family revenue. It makes fun of people protesting when they have so much, while others have no rights in their country and are victims of the worst abuses. These are not the victims of boko haram who are mocked here, but the prosperous catholic families who were making a scandal about having their social prestations calculated depending of their income."

      1. Did Charlie Hebdo mock Boko Haram rape victims?

        Maybe not. The above interpretation is shared by blogger Nott George Sabra, who finds the seemingly ugly cartoon "was actually mocking the indignation of the privileged and well-off in France who decried the government’s decision to end benefits for children of the rich…"

    2. Glenn Greenwald weighs in on Paris (*wince*)

      Unhappily but inevitably, the consistently appalling Glenn Greenwald has weighed in on the Paris massacre. His piece on The Intercept is sarcastically dubbed "In Solidarity with a Free Press: Some More Blasphemous Cartoons," and gleefully reproduces a slew of ugly anti-Semitic propaganda caricatures culled from the Internet. This is fucked up at least three ways.

      1. If he's trying to make the point that it is unacceptable to reprint Islamophobic cartoons as a show of "solidarity" with CH, this is a funny way of doing it. By Greenwald's logic, it is evidently acceptable to reprint anti-Semitic cartoons to similarly make a point. What, no double standards here!

      2. Greenwald seems not to have noticed The Forward editorial which did not reprint Islamophobic cartoons from CH, but courageously reprinted one of their anti-Israeli cartoons! The difference is that Greenwald ran anti-Semitic cartoons in a paradoxical argument against free speech, while The Forward ran theirs in defense of free speech. Greenwald was essentially saying, "Oh yeah? Is this free speech too?" The Forward was essentially saying: "Yup." Too bad Greenwald wasn't listening.

      3. Greenwald seems not to get that there is a distinction between the blasphemous and the racist. Cartoons that poke fun at the Prophet Muhammed or Jesus Christ are blasphemous. Cartoons that poke fun at Muslims or Jews are racist (or whatever the equivalent word is when talking about religion rather than "race," although these are obviously related concepts where anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are concerned). Most of the CH cartoons are blasphemous; only some (arguably) cross the line into racism. In contrast, all of the cartoons Greenwald reproduces are racist—to the core.

      This guy is not helpful.

      1. Blasphemy versus racism

        A case in point is this cartoon that Greenwald reproduces from the always-ugly Latuff, which shows a globe-headed figure representing the world laughing at "cartoons of Muhammed" but outraged at "cartoons of Holocaust." There is no equivalency here. One is poking fun at religion. The other is poking fun at victims of genocide. Do you understand the distinction, Latuff and Greenwald?

        Veteran counterculture comedian Paul Krassner in this online interview says: "Irreverence is my only sacred cow. On the other hand, I don't want victims to be the target of my humor." A rather clear and critical distinction that eveyone seems to be losing sight of…

  4. Anti-Muslim backlash in wake of Paris attacks

    It is receiving alarmingly little coverage in English, but Raw Story reports a wave of attacks on Muslim targets across France overnight. Three blank grenades were thrown at a mosque shortly after midnight in the city of Le Mans, west of Paris. A bullet hole was also found in a window of the mosque. In the Port-la-Nouvelle district near Narbonne in southern France, several shots were fired in the direction of a Muslim prayer hall shortly after evening prayers. The hall was empty, the local prosecutor said. An explosion at a kebab shop near a mosque in the eastern French town of Villefranche-sur-Saone this morning also left no casualties. Local prosecutors have described it as a "criminal act."

    This comes just months after a wave of attacks on Jewish targets in France. How much overlap will there be in those who protest the current anti-Muslim attacks and those who protested last year's anti-Jewish attacks? All too little. So few seem to understand what we have repeatedly pointed out: anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are genetically linked phenomena.

  5. Charlie Hebdo: more pathological dichotomy

    Here we go again. While the above-cited "leftist" idiots completely fail to acknowledge the problem of political Islam, now we have an exemplar of the opposite error. George Packer in the New Yorker does call out political Islam—but explicitly denies the critical context for it. He opens: 

    The murders today in Paris are not a result of France’s failure to assimilate two generations of Muslim immigrants from its former colonies. They’re not about French military action against the Islamic State in the Middle East, or the American invasion of Iraq before that. They’re not part of some general wave of nihilistic violence in the economically depressed, socially atomized, morally hollow West—the Paris version of Newtown or Oslo. Least of all should they be "understood" as reactions to disrespect for religion on the part of irresponsible cartoonists.

    You know, way back in the aftermath of the 2005 London attacks, we had to call out both those on the "left" who refuse to see the threat of political Islam and those on the right who refuse to see how the post-9-11 hyper-interventionism and the rise of the Western security state are part of the dystopian dynamic. We have had to make the point since then as well. As we said after the new 2013 London attacks: We are really tired of having to make the same point over and over.

  6. Inconvenient ironies of Charlie Hebdo

    Reuters reported Sept. 21, 2012 that French authorities banned protests against cartoons in Charlie Hebdo denigrating the Prophet. Interior Minister Manuel Valls said prefects throughout the country had orders to prohibit any demonstrations over the issue and to crack down if the ban was challenged. "There will be strictly no exceptions. Demonstrations will be banned and broken up," he said.

    Mind you, this was in the midst of the violent protests throughout the Middle East over the Innocence of Muslims video. But still… Sheds a paradoxical light on the whole issue of free speech in France… We will also note the banning of pro-Palestine marches in Paris during last year's Gaza conflict. Of course, it is possible to oppose such protest bans and also support Charlie Hebdo's right to be offensive. But how many of those now cheering on CH protested the bans?

    Just asking.

    1. French court upholds ban on anti-Islamist rally

      Now the other side feels the heat. The Paris Administrative Tribunal on Jan. 17 upheld a police chief's ban on an "Islamists out of France" rally planned for the next day. The demonstration, organized by the groups Secular Riposte and Resistance Republicaine, was banned because of fears it would cause civil unrest. One group organizing the event said that rallies will still go on in the cities of Bordeaux and Montpellier. (Jurist)

      We aren't very happy about secularism getting mixed up with xenophobia, but we have noted this disturbing trend in European politics before.

  7. Wave of anti-Semitic attacks preceded kosher market siege

    The Paris manhunt for the perps in the CH attack seems to have come to a close with two shoot-outs—including one at a kosher market where four hostages and their captor were killed. (Al ArabiyaJoshua Keating writes in Slate:

    It is unclear if the grocery store where a hostage situation unfolded earlier Friday was targeted because it is kosher, but the siege there follows a string of attacks on Jewish businesses and synagogues in France, the country with the third-largest Jewish population in the world, after the United States and Israel, as well as the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. Last month, speaking at a rally against anti-Semitism in the Paris suburb of Créteil, the country’s interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said that anti-Semitic acts and threats had more than doubled in the past 10 months, and he promised to make the issue a "national cause."

    The rally was prompted by a particularly shocking crime in Créteil in which a couple was robbed and the woman raped in their apartment by armed assailants who told them they had been targeted because "you Jews, you have money."

    We noted the Créteil attack in our round-up of the anti-Jewish violence in France in the wake of Israel's Gaza attack. We must again call out the twin errors that are nearly ubiquitous in commentary on such incidents. One is to deny the context of the Gaza bombardment and portray such outbursts as mere arbitrary anti-Semitism. The other is to deny the anti-Semitic element, as if fire-bombing a synagogue or shooting up a kosher market were a legitimate way to protest Israeli atrocities.

  8. Wikileaks on Charlie Hebdo: blame the Jews

    WikiLeaks has certainly released a lot of interesting information, but they sure have bad politics. Now they just tweeted: "How the Jewish pro-censorship lobby legitimized attacks on Carlie Hebdo for 'offensive' speech." The tweet links to a Jan. 27, 2009 piece in The Telegraph about how certain prominent Jews including Bernard-Henry Lévy, put pressure on Charlie Hebdo to sack supposedly anti-Semitic cartoonist Maurice Sinet. Not quite sure what WikiLeaks' point is. Putting pressure on CH to sack a cartoonist set a precedent that "legitimized" a massacre? Huh? Anyway, it is certainly necessary to find a way to blame it on the Jews, whatever it is…

  9. Charlie Hebdo: the Jews did it (of course)

    The perennially wacky Thierry Meyssan of course weighs in with the inevitable "false flag" theory on the Paris massacre. Online at VoltaireNet,* it basically comes down to the baseless assertion that the attack did not "coinicide with jihadist ideology" (huh?), that it plays into a "'Clash of Civilizations' strategy conceived in Tel Aviv and Washington," and that there are numerous "precedents" (mostly both dubious and irrelevant).

    File under "Aw Shut Up Already, Will Ya?" 

    * An odd name for a seemingly anti-Enlightenment publication.

  10. French Jews say ‘non’ to emigration

    Benjamin Netanyahu, in France ostensibly to show solidarity after the Paris attacks, shamelessly made political hay, exploiting the terror to lure French Jewry into becoming demographic cannon fodder for the Zionist state. In a televised statement, he said:  "To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray, the state of Israel is your home. Unless the world comes to its senses, terror will continue to strike in other places." (As if terror is not striking Jews in Israel, and for very obvious reasons.) (Al Arabiya) Fortunately, few are taking the bait. In an unsubtle gesture, the New York Times notes that a packed crowd at Paris' Grande Synagogue broke into a spontaneous rendition of French national anthem after Netanyahu finished his remarks there. The Haaretz headline reads "French Jews in Israel say 'non' to mass emigration after attacks."

    A big "oui" to their "non."

    1. French Jews say ‘non’ to emigration: it’s official

      Haaretz on Jan. 11 quotes Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association, as saying he regrets that "after every anti-Semitic attack in Europe, the Israeli government issues the same statements about the importance of aliyah [immigration to Israel], rather than employ every diplomatic and informational means at its disposal to strengthen the safety of Jewish life in Europe."

  11. Iran jumps on Paris exploitation bandwagon

    This is too rich. After Bibi's obnoxious stunt in Paris, the Jerusalem Post takes great glee in calling out Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for using the Charlie attack to get his licks in at Israel, saying Tehran "condemns extremism, violence, and terrorism whether in Palestine, Lebanon and the Levant or in Paris and the United States."

    This from the same regime that still has a fatwa in force against Salman Rushdie, eh? Plenty of hypocrisy to go around here, that's for sure…

  12. Charlie Hebdo anti-nuclear role hailed

    From Beyond Nuclear:

    We pause today to remember those slain at the French satirical news magazine Charlie Hebdo. Several of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were close allies of the French anti-nuclear movement, even providing cartoons to the French anti-nuclear network, "Sortir du nucléaire." Stéphane Charbonnier, its editor in chief, drew many cartoons lampooning the nuclear industry.. Charb, as he was known by his pen name, participated in opposition to both nuclear power and nuclear weapons. He was among the 12 killed. Another Hebdo staffer, Fabrice Nicolino, who was wounded but we are told will survive, was the author of the brilliant special edition of Charlie Hebdo focusing on nuclear power and called The Nuclear Swindle [cover pictured at link]. In it, Nicolino, an author and environmental journalist, pointed out that nuclear power is a hold-up, with democracy as the spoils. The assassination of the 12 people at Charlie Hebdo, and the injuring of others, was also an assault on democracy. 

    Charlie Hebdo a voice of the political right? Are you sure?

    1. Charlie Hebdo’s PRO-immigrant cartoons

      Nothing lays low the hegemonic but patenlty false line that Charlie Hebdo is an organ of the political right like this Daily Kos post featuring several cartoons from the artist known as "Cabu," one of those killed in the attack—all of them critical of racial profiling, immigration controls, the xenophobe right (Marine Le Pen, et al), bloated military budgets, and so on. Critical viewing.

      1. Not Charlie? Neither is Jean-Marie Le Pen

        A very enlightening story in the Buenos Aires Herald, "Jean-Marie Le Pen says he is not Charlie." The best quote: “I will not fight to defend the spirit of Charlie, which is an anarchism-Trotskyism like spirit.” At least Jean-Marie understands what he opposes. More than I can say for all my "leftist" friends who are not Charlie.

  13. Kareem Abdul-Jabar on Charlie Hebdo: revealing errors

    Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabar writes for TIME, a piece entitled "These Terrorist Attacks Are Not About Religion." 

    They have to keep proving they are more relevant than their competing terrorist groups. It's just business.

    Nor should we blame America’s foreign policy as the spark that lights the fuse. Poverty, political oppression, systemic corruption, lack of education, lack of critical thinking, and general hopelessness in these countries is the spark.

    We like his spirit, really. But we have to disagree with much of this. Contrary to what you hear on the right, yes the US hyper-interventionism since 9-11 is part of what animates this rage. And contrary to what you hear on the left, yes it is about religion. Whatever the roots of the rage (including many legitimate greivances), the totalitarian ideology at work here is poltical Islam.

  14. Charlie Hebdo’s equal-opportunity irreverence

    All the lefties (e.g. Anonymous) are jumping on the fact that cartoonist Maurice Sinet was fired by Charlie Hebdo in 2009 for supposed anti-Semitism, taking this as evidence that anti-Semitism was verboten while Islamophobia was permissible. They do not emphasize that Sinet was fired only under pressure from Jewish organizations (or, if they do note that, it is evidence of the haughty power of the Jews, of course). They also seem not to have noted that in 2011—after Sinet was sacked—the magzine ran a special "Shoah Hebdo" issue full of Holocaust humor. (See Media Libre, Nov. 2, 2011) So we're supposed to be outraged over the "Charia Hebdo" issue poking fun at Muhammed, but pretend the "Shoah Hebdo" issue didn't exist, eh?

    1. “Shoah Hebdo” was a scam! We got played!

      OK it seems that the "Shoah Hebdo" cover was actually satire of the satire—not an authentic Charlie cover. We aren't the only ones to get played. Our own source seems to have—and, just now, the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung did, running the cover as if it were real. This is how the scam came to light. The French Planet website is among those to call out the error, reporting that the mock-up was actually created by the website Quenel Plus, produced by fans of the comedian Dieudonne, who has just been arrested. ("Quenel" presumably refers to the barely disguised Nazi salute now popular in European bad-boy circles, usually rendered "quenelle.")

      Anyway, there have in fact been cartoons targetting Jews in Charlie since 2011. There are the ones reprinted by The Forward (noted above), and here's another noted by Reason, which decries that the Western media are "censoring" it, and lauds the courageous Iranian press for running it (as if printing anti-Semitic caricatures were at all taboo in Iran).