Wednesday 7 January 2015

What Makes Someone Murder Cartoonists?

The 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.


Boffy said...

There is also some considerable hypocrisy involved. We are repeatedly told, and you say it yourself above that those who commit these acts of violence are acting against the peaceful nature and teachings of their religion. Is that true?

Every time I have read the Old Testament, it reads to me like an epic novel not of War and Peace, but of perpetual War, whose basis is "MY God is more powerful, more vicious than your God, and will help me smite all his enemies."

Does anyone remember the Borgias? A Pope who raped his daughter, a son, Cesare, who was the employer of, and model for Niccolo Machiavelli's Prince, and head of a Catholic Church that pillaged its way across Europe, and led Crusades in the Middle East, in search of greater glory, and loot.

Does anyone remember The Spanish Inquisition? We know that no one expects them, of course. Were they just acting as mavericks against the spirit of their Christian religion?

Or what about all the Christian fundamentalists in the US, that have been firebombing abortion clinics, and shooting with high powered rifles doctors for having the timidity of legally performing abortions. The same lunatics are now infesting the UK with a low level equivalent of these tactics.

My father remembered when in his youth, here in Stoke, Catholics and Protestants formed rival gangs. That still applies in Glasgow, and the North of Ireland, and that is just between rival schisms within the same Christian religion, let alone between adherents of different Gods.

I am old enough to remember when the Christian Church in this country was powerful enough to have people locked up for blasphemy, and to be able to censor the publication of books, films, and magazines not just for blasphemy but for outraging its moral values.

I was also watching a programme the other week about the wonderful Dave Allen, who did so much to satirise all of that similar bigotry and nonsense by the Catholic Church, and he related how at the time, only 40 years ago when the adherents of that same Catholic Church in ireland, including the Official and Provisional IRA, issued death threats against him, for doing so.

What we have is people who are not acting against the spirit of their faith, but acting consistently in defence of it, whatever that faith may be. What we have got used to in relation to Christianity in Europe - and this does not apply to Christianity elsewhere such as in parts of Africa or fundamentalist areas of the US - is people who in order to be able to continue to practice their faith have had to become thoroughly hypocritical, to propose that what is contained in the Bible is just a story, a myth rather than fact, that the world was not created in 6 days by God, that Man arose by Evolution, not as the product of a day's work by God, and so on.

Secularists have allowed them to continue to get away with that hypocrisy, rather than expose it, and that is also a reason that the fundamentalists continue to exist.

Alex Dawson said...

What bothers me is we son't actually know who carried out these attacks, or why.

We have, immediately and collectively, decided it must be Muslim fanatics and must be an attack on press freedom.

Sure, it does look a lot like this has happened. But I think we all know (or should) the dangers of sinply accepting a suspicion as evidence and truth.

Let's wait until justice has run its course and we know te facts before all proclaiming to know what must be done.

BCFG said...

I think these attackers were simply taking a leaf out of the secularists handbook. From what I can see the policy of imperialism is drop bombs first, send heavily armed sadist racists to patrol streets where lots of dark skinned people live and ask questions later, and then sweep things under the carpet and say when all said and done we were right all along!

We should also be aware of the number of Egyptians who joined ISIS for example. Can you blame them? After all the holy than thou secularists, after losing the election, decided they were not accepting this, enforced a military coup and killed the elected Islamist's governments supporters in large numbers. Secularists are all talk of tolerance, accepting opposing views but when it comes to the crunch they are every bit as venal as any other group.

This is all ancient history to imperialist apologists like Boffy though.

If we are looking to secularists to lead the moral crusade then I think we ain't going to be getting through. In affect the war continues. And I for one ain't getting into bed with the secularists.

Actually in the grand scheme of things, this is a relatively minor atrocity, though all the atrocities committed by us and the secularists seem to provoke less outrage and less attention. Wonder why that is?

And incidentally, the secularists have been committing atrocity after atrocity because they don't like the ideology of the Islamists. So in effect they are probably worse than the people who committed this act, and less tolerant of opposing views.

So secularists = ultimate hypocrisy.

At least with the Islamists you don't get the bullshit.

asquith said...

Yes, until very recently we had blasphemy laws in Britain, and Blair (that natural authoritarian and hater of all things liberal) tried to revive them in all but name. We should be ashamed of "our" country in that, while the media in Europe republish the cartoons, here we have the Scum demanding less freedom, not more, and even calling for the tragic failures of the previous war to be tried again!

And by saying #jesuischarlie we are not only showing that we abhor the killing of journos and coppers- one of whom was, in fact, Muslim- but that they do have the right to say these things, if they deem it necessary.

Better, a glance at Charlie Hebdo's history shows that they are as much against white Christian bigots as against Islamic bigots. They have slagged off the Catholic Church and the Front Nationale. And a point can be made from the fact that only one side has made violemt retaliation. But the point is this:

It is only liberals, secular liberals and liberal Muslims, who can truly say they are solid with Charlie. It cannot be exploited by the far right because the journos were against the far right when they were alive. Their attempts to do so should be rebuffed.

They are martyrs to our cause and today is a liberal day where it is time to stand up and be counted, that is the fact of the matter.

As a long-standing patro of the excellent Jesus and Mo I will be seeking to buy Wednesday's copy of Charlie Hebdo and I will be supporting the efforts to defend the likes of Raif Badawi and the blasphemy laws that are in place in many parts of the world, such as Pakistan, because every one should stand up and be counted, that is the truth of the matter.

Speedy said...

"How does one get to the point where, against the teachings of your own religion..."

That's debatable, alas.

2000 Nigerians were murdered by Boko Haram thus week, while the world's attention was otherwise diverted. But of course "that's not Islam" either.

If you look at what Mohammed actually did, as a warlord, some of his acts were just as calculated to cause terror. As a sociologist I am surprised that you cannot acknowledge the truth that this is perfectly consistent with Islam, which was the greatest imperial power for 1000 years. How do you think it achieved that? Sending flowers?

Holding up a few pens in the rain is not victory - the BBC policy as presented by David Dimblebore on QT to not show images of Mohammed is victory, the failure of the UK press to not show cartoons is victory.

The perps are narcisists, yes (as many young people are, which is why they conscript at 18), but you ignore the iceberg: their supporters in the Gulf who fund the schools that promote this particularly intolerant brand of Islam, their parents in the Midlands who raise them with the values of the Pakistani village to have contempt for the people they live among.

Islam need not be aggressive and intolerent, but there are many, many respected authority figures who define it as thus. As the father of the Iranian revolution said:

"Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. They are witless. Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured? Islam says: Kill them, put them to the sword...
Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors! There are hundreds of other Qur’anic psalms and Hadiths urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim."

The liberal elite is an enabler (as it was in Rotherham and across the country) because it fails to acknowledge the facts (which would make it question its own certainties). Most of all it is afraid of the consequences of doing so, because to acknowledge the truth would be truly dreadful - that this will go on and on and on and get worse and worse.

Within this context the premise of Submission is not so far fetched: the Islam does not come to power in France because there is a Muslim majority, but because the Left choose it over the alternative.

BCFG said...

speedy, you hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

Seriously if you recounted the extreme violence carried out by Western powers, whether justified by Christianity or secularism you would still be writing until the end of your life.

Your one sided view of the world isn't only a joke, it is what causes conflict in the first place.

And your trying to link the complex Rotherham case into a wholesale critique of Islam is bigoted, dangerous and marks you out as a character that far worse than anything you are attacking.

Speedy said...

"Bigot", "hypocrite" the usual tropes. After all, just as the Guardian is full of fears of "Islamophobia" following every outrage in the name of Islam (as opposed to seriously considering its causes), so the facts must be suppressed because the little people "can't handle the truth".

The Rotherham case is only complex to those who refuse to acknowledge the unpleasant realities and must therefore construct sophisticated excuses. There is nothing complex about it - it is an old, toxic tale of ignorance, power and self-serving cowardice.

"Seriously if you recounted the extreme violence carried out by Western powers..."

Two wrongs do not make a right. I went on many anti-Iraq war marches etc, so what? So I am supposed to suck it up? And what have these cartoonists got to do with Western aggression? Are the 1000 lashes being meted out to that blogger in Saudi Arabia due to Western aggression too? Do tell.

Why should Islam be given a free pass? This Orientalist - frankly racist - perspective sees Muslims as the eternal victims. As a Socialist I see them for what they are - ordinary people subject to an oppressive, backward culture that at best resembles moderate Judaism, on average oppresses men and women alike with its obsession with sexuality and parochialism, and at worst results in violence, poverty and fascism.

This is not caused by the West, this springs from within - compare Pakistan and India, indeed even Bangladesh, with its secular republic, and Turkey, where Islamists are rolling the secular reforms back. Simply observing Islamic societies one can see their strengths and weaknesses are internal. It is breathtakingly arrogant to think otherwise.

But such arrogance on the Left is hardly surprising - this is why it became decoupled from the proletariat. In desperation it embraces Islam (pace Galloway) as a more "authentic" working class movement. Idiots - just look at what they did to the trade unionists in Iran. I am reminded of the Jewish League of Fascists in Mussolini's Italy. That didn't end well either.

BCFG said...


You are an opportunist racist, who can be counted on to surface every time a Muslim is implicated in an act.

And you are clearly a bigot and in fact far worse than that, you are sinister and dangerous to boot. You give us examples of acts carried out by Muslims (you don’t even know if they are Islamist or not, e.g. Rotherham abuse case) and attempt to build from this a picture that by their nature Muslims are violent, child abusers. This is Nazi type propaganda isn't it? You throw everything into the mix in order to paint a very toxic picture. Do you really think anyone with even a modicum of intelligence will fall for this crap? Or maybe you think the proletariat are so stupid that you have to stoop to this level? As someone who comes from a working class community I can tell you they are not quite as stupid as you probably think they are.

But, just as the Nazi’s did something very similar to what you are doing but about Jews and not Muslims, you could effectively build up a case against the British, Irish, Americans, white people in general, Indians using your warped method. Working class people will understand this and see in you a very warped and dangerous individual.

Your method of simply cherry picking events and linking them, not through any intelligence, just casually going from Boko Haram to Rotherham abuse scandals, is about as dishonest and thoroughly dangerous a method as one could employ. It really is the method the worst recesses of the far right. Again workers will recognise this and reject it, the only people who will embrace your claptrap method are the idiots who attend EDL marches.

Vague references to liberal elite’s changes none of this.