The attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is a further escalation in the unequal confrontation between the West and the Islamic world, which is increasingly taking the form of a kulturkampf or clash of civilizations. We condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo. At the same time, we do not join the ranks of the united front for the defence of the imperialist West and its “superior civilization”, which is emerging as a reaction to the attack. In France, this front ranges from the secularist left all across to the radical right of Jean-Marie Le Pen.
As anti-imperialists, social revolutionaries and “enlightened”, rationally thinking people, we insist:
1. Not to forget the imperialist character of the present world order, which denies the majority of humankind any perspective of development, any right to self-determination, and which oppresses any resistance with violence and war. Ignoring or tolerating this structural injustice makes it impossible to understand and to overcome the rise of jihadism.
2. Not to close our eyes to the total social exclusion and to the discrimination of migrants, especially of those who live in the banlieues, the vast poor suburbs that surround French cities, for whom “western civilization” and the “democratic republic” have nothing but poverty, unemployment and police brutality. As long as this comprehensive violence against the lower class right in the middle of the world of opulence of the white upper class exists – and this violence is increasing in the centres of the west – it will breed hate and counter-violence.
3. Not to follow the ideology that transforms western values – democracy, human rights, secularism – into a policy of war against any and all opponents of the west, and into a policy to dismantle civil rights and social rights in the imperialist countries. These values, which had been emancipatory achievements of the masses, were stripped of their original meaning and turned into the battle cry of the ruling elites in the west. If we don’t overcome this ideological hegemony of imperialism, it will bury social discontent in the western centres and it will push the wretched of the earth to fight against these “western values” as well.
We are not willing to go along with that, and this is why we are not marching in lockstep with this front in the west that politically spans across from left to right and is trying to exploit the attack on Charlie Hebdo to further cement its increasingly unbearable reign.
This is not about freedom of speech. Where were they, when people were tortured in Guantánamo for “our security”? What did they say, when the United States of America subcontracted torture to “New (EU) Europe” or kidnapped (“rendered”) European citizens for torture elsewhere? They remained silent about the “cost of liberty”, just as they were during the Cold War!
This is not about the defence of democracy, but about ruthless power politics: western dominance.
The winner is: our own regime
The pattern of 9/11 is repeating itself. The rulers play the sacrificial lambs and stage an hysteria to urge the necessity of closing the ranks of “western civilization” across all differences and distinctions, against the barbarism of the other – represented by Islam. François Hollande, Nicolas Sarközy, Bernard-Henri Lévy, etc, who had just been pied, now dare to show their faces in the streets and style themselves popular heroes.
On one hand, social and political opposition against the capitalist elites is relegated to the background. Those elites obscenely enriched themselves at the expense of the broad masses, and they have been continuing to do so even during the economic crisis, with the cynical arrogation that they were actually the saviours from collapse and chaos.
On the other hand, of course we are to provide national, public and personal security and must guard against the invasion of the savage hordes from the South and East. Of course, we must increase the police state and decrease civil rights. How fortunate that this is also helpful in fighting social and political protests.
Nobody who is head over heels into the clash of civilizations would ever ask about the underlying historic origins of that very clash.
The wretched of the earth
Frantz Fanon, a black French psychiatrist who witnessed the colonial war in Algeria as a physician, famously put forward that those who are oppressed by extreme violence will react with anti-colonial violence accordingly, thus overcoming their alienation.
The Islamic revival is an historic reaction to western colonialism and to the failure of decolonisation – political, economic and cultural decolonisation. The symbol of this failure is Israel, a western colonial regime which expels and kills the native Arab population with impunity, all the while feted as the only democracy in the Middle East. In an act of boundless cynicism, the genocide against the Jews – a crime of the German fascists, committed with the support of the German elites – is used to justify the subjugation of the Arabs, and whoever stands up against that is slandered as an antisemite, not least by the present-day representatives of those very German elites, who fervently excel in such libel.
Given the total impotence against the rule of this unjust system not only in Gaza, but also in the French banlieues, is it not understandable that someone comes up with the idea to “avenge the prophet Muhammad”? How come that the secularists who fervently criticize religion are unable to see the social and political context of that slogan? “Religion is the opium of the people”, wrote Marx, but how come they don’t remember the first part of that quote: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature.” It rather seems they don’t want to remember, because they have become part of the system. They no longer want to deconstruct the clash of civilizations, they simply want to win it.
This is meant to explain, not to justify. For jihadism – especially jihadism of the slums of Europe – is a paroxysm, the last convulsion in the (self-)annihilation of the extremely marginalised, a collective rampage. It is a reaction of the hopeless to a global system of permanent aggression, with no way out but death, a revenge against that system, sweeping along into death as many as possible.
Above all jihadism wrongs the millions and millions of people in the Middle East who fought and fight for self-determination and against colonialism and imperialism, such as the Palestinian resistance and the Tahrir of the Arab Spring. At the same time, jihadism is an expression of the political crisis of those movements, which become hostages of jihadism. Their struggle for liberation is transformed into a clash of civilizations which is bound to end in defeat.
Social revolution and anti-imperialism, not clash of civilizations
We condemn the mass killing of civilians by slavery, colonialism, fascism and nuclear weapons in the past as well as by the structural violence of hunger, free trade, neo-liberalism, Zionism, western occupation and the war on terror in the present. We just as well condemn the jihadist violence that draws us into the vortex of the clash of civilizations and religions and thus strategically harms the resistance against imperialism and occupation. However, we must not lose sight of the asymmetry in all that violence which mostly originates from the western masters of mankind, just as we must not equate the violence of the global oppressors with the violence of the global oppressed, however misguided, reactionary and in turn oppressive the latter may be. Right after 9/11, we quoted the Bible: “Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.”1 It is in this context that we also condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
The attack is ultimately grist to the mill of western rule. It intensifies the clash of civilizations which obscures the structures of power and thus threatens freedom of speech and democracy. It further marginalises the Muslim underclass in the west and leads the Muslim world into a bloody civil war, which also perpetuates western rule.
Freedom of speech is a great good, too great a good to leave it to the abuse and demagogy of the ruling elites. “Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters,” said Rosa Luxemburg. She was and is right: democratic rights must also apply to the opponents of democracy, even if we reject their positions – whether they are Islamic or secular fundamentalists. More importantly: fighting for rights, we must not ignore the structures of social and economic power, but fight for the rights of the poor and the oppressed.
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God – or is that fundamentalist hate speech, too?
Antiimperialistische Koordination (AIK)
English translation of a German declaration issued by the Austrian and German groups affiliated with the Anti-imperialist Camp.
- 1. Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind! Declaration by the Anti-Imperialist Camp on the WTC bombing. http://www.antiimperialista.org/node/244446, September 17th, 2001.