This is why UN hearings on anti-Semitism are a very, very bad idea. The General Assembly "informal" conference opened Jan. 22 with a keynote address by French philosopher (of Sephardic background) Bernard-Henri Lévy—yes, the same who was recently in the news over having pressured Charlie Hebdo to fire an anti-Semitic cartoonist, was a few months back the target of angry protests in Tunisia over his supposed intrigues against the post-revolutionary government, and also made headlines in 2011 with his unseemly defense of accused rapist Dominque Strauss-Kahn. A choice perfectly designed to turn the whole affair into a counter-productive farce. Arab and Israeli diplomats did not fail to deliver opportunistic obfuscation that just makes everyone stupider.
At least eight have been were killed and scores injured in Niger in two consecutive days of angry protests over the Charlie Hebdo affair. The French cultural center was attacked and several churches burned. Protests began outside the grand mosque of capital Niamey Jan. 16, and quickly spread to other parts of the country. Police in Algiers fired on protesters with rubber bullets after rioting broke out at an anti-Charlie march Jan. 17. In Pakistan a local photographer was hit by gunfire and seriously wounded in protests outside the French consulate in Karachi. Angry protests are also reported from Afghanistan. A demonstration in Chora district, Uruzgan province, followed Friday prayers at a local mosque where a cleric asked worshippers to rally in support of the Charlie attackers, who he praised as "true mujahedeen." (EuroNews, AFP, BBC News, News24, Jan. 16)
A dangerous social consensus can be seen consolidating behind the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie. France just announced it is sending its Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to support military operations against ISIS in Iraq. This comes after al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the Paris attack in a video message by commander Nasr Bin Ali al-Anesi on the Qaedist website Sada al-Malahim (not on Google, seemingly). Al-Anesi said the attack was carried out under orders from al-Qaeda's global leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. (Yemen Post, Reuters, CNN) Reprisal attacks are sweeping France. Abdallah Zekri of the National Observatory Against Islamophobia said that since the Charlie Hebdo massacre, 26 Muslim places of worship around France have been attacked with firebombs, fired at, or desecrated with pig heads. There have been many more insults and threats. (AP) We have heard of no arrests in these cases, but French authorities have detained 54 for violating the country's strong laws against anti-Semitism and racism—seemingly all preceived apologists for Islamist terrorism. Among the detained is comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, who has repeated convictions under the hate speech laws. Prime Minister Manuel Valls has declared Dieudonné "no longer a comedian" but an "anti-Semite and racist." He was arrested after posting a Facebook comment playing on the popular hashtag to suggest that he "is" one of the slain assailants in the Charlie attack. (AP, AFP, Foreign Policy, Jurist) However repulsive Dieudonne's post, the cognitive dissonance is overwhelming. An attack on free speech is being used to justify further attacks on free speech... in the name of protecting free speech.
European Union government ministers met in Paris Jan. 11 to condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo. But there is an Orwellian aspect to their reaction. A joint statement (PDF) issued by twelve EU interior ministers, including Bernard Cazeneuve of France and UK Home Secretary Theresa May, included the following text: "We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the Internet to fuel hatred and violence... With this in mind, the partnership of the major Internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible." In other words, pressure on ISPs to shut down websites deemed objectionable by EU ministries, and rat out their producers to the Euro-cops—a notion rendered especially problematic due to the elastic nature of the word "terrorism." (To provide just a few examples, see here and here and here and here and here and here and here.) The statement was signed in the presence of US Attorney General Eric Holder. (Global Guerrillas, Jan. 12; The Register, Jan. 11)
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)
France is boosting police patrols and mobilizing army troops over the Christmas holiday following a string of three seemingly unrelated attacks. A man died from injuries suffered Dec. 22 in Nantes, when a van plowed into shoppers at an outdoor Christmas market. The driver stabbed himself after the incident, but is expected to survive. The day before in Dijon, a driver shouting "Allahu Akbar" ploughed into pedestrians, injuring 13. The day before that, a man issued the same war-cry as he attacked police with a knife in Joue-les-Tours, before being gunned down. French media are emphasizing that ISIS issued a call urging Muslims around the world to kill "in any manner" people from countries in the anti-ISIS military coalition, especially singling out the French. Among the helpful suggestions from ISIS was "run them over with your car." (BBC News, BBC News, RFI, CNN, France24)
Syrian rebels announced formation of a new Revolutionary Command Council at a meeting in Gaziantep, Turkey. The RCC claims to represent over 70 rebel militias. It includes both the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front, as well as more Salafist formations such as Ahrar al-Sham. It excludes the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. The RCC charter repeatedly uses the terms "the Syrian people," "civilian," and "revolution"—anathema to the Qaedist ideology of Nusra Front and ISIS. Each RCC affiliate is pledged to contribute at least 100 fighters to a proposed rapid intervention force. The RCC's elected head, Qais al-Sheikh, last week resigned from the Syrian National Coalition in protest of its poor performance. (Al Bawaba, Dec. 1)
Iraq's military has halted ISIS forces just 40 kilometers outside of Baghdad. Iraqi government air-strikes Sept. 28 held the jihadist fighters at Ameriyat al-Fallujah, a strategic town west of Baghdad and south of ISIS-controlled Fallujah. But panic spread in the capital as rumors circulated of ISIS attacks in the capital's immediate suburbs. Reports indicate some 1,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the offensive over the weekend. (Rudaw) Meanwhile, ISIS advanced to within three kilometers of the Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria. Kobani official Idriss Nassan appealed to the outside world for urgent assistance: "We need help. We need weapons. We need more effective air-strikes. If the situation stays like this, we will see a massacre. I can't imagine what will happen if ISIS gets inside Kobani." (CNN)