BRUSSELLS TRIBUNAL

Very sad thoughts with the victims and families of the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. Whatever might be claimed about the merit or effect of such journalistic views and images – mocking, controversial, satirical, provocative, incendiary, blasphemous, iconoclastic, defiant or otherwise – there is not the slightest moral justification for such violence or the murder of those who publish such things.

Yet, any measured observation of that violence must be seen against the much greater level of violence and murder perpetrated by the states living under such attacks.

Many, Muslims and non-Muslims, will have made the essential point that these killers are no more representative of Islam than the Ku Klux Klan is of Christianity.  Many across the Islamic world have condemned the Paris deaths.
 
Which raises the perennial question: why do Muslims, once again, feel so compelled to make such defensive appeals?

Largely out of basic humanity. But, also, because a lot of liberal empathy for socially besieged Muslims and ‘moderate Islam’ is still laced with false dichotomies and misplaced loyalty.

The problem with much liberal ‘Je Suis Charlie’ solidarity is not its condemnation of violent jihadism, or cherishing of free speech. It’s that such expression still relies on flawed identifications with ‘enlightened’ entities like ‘our’ states and their ‘civilising’ status.

Although well motivated, Owen Jones, for example, comes close to such a blanket label in this tweet:

Sickening act of mass murder in Paris. People from all communities will be repulsed by this atrocity. Solidarity with France. 

All fair and honourable comment on the terrible act and widespread response. But why any particular solidarity with France?

Thomas Piketty has just refused the Legion of Honour, insisting that the French state has no such validity in determining who or what is honourable. Why isn’t Jones similarly specific over who deserves such empathy?  

Or consider, more problematically, this reading from Channel 4’s Jon Snow:

Paris: brutal clash of civilisations: Europe’s belief in freedom of expression vs those for whom death is a weapon in defending their beliefs.

Is this really a ‘clash of civilisations’? How did Snow arrive at this generic conceit of ‘Europe’s belief’ in anything?

And if we are to speak of Europe as such an entity, what of its own dark record of murderous violence? 

One could more accurately characterise Europe’s part in Western/Nato invasions, occupations and imperialist plundering as distinctly anti-civilising: ‘those for whom death is a weapon in defending their geopolitical interests, rather than beliefs.’

Just think, past and present, of France’s own militarist atrocities and self-serving interventions in Algeria, Indo-China, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Mali and other parts of Africa. Indeed, two of the Paris suspects are reported to have returned from jihadist service in Syria, the very same theatre of appalling violence the French state have been so wilfully fuelling.

While much of the liberal political class and media make lofty proclamations and pitch the Paris killings as a red line issue over free speech, they have virtually nothing equivalent, or worse, to say about such states crossing the ‘civilisational’ line into mass and sustained terrorism.

All of which perfectly shields the hypocritical condemnations and ‘we will defend democracy’ breast-beating of Hollande, Cameron and Obama. Where are all the searing media comments on their suitability to invoke the values of life and liberty?
 
This indulgence also provides liberal space for the right’s poisonous claim that Western states are still soft on Islam. Thus on Channel 4 News was war hawk and neocon Douglas Murray allowed unopposed room to bewail the ‘attack on Western freedoms’ and declare that “terrorism works”.

Likewise, in condemning the killers and urging liberal defence of free speech, a Guardian editorial can muster only token words on the gravity of Western crimes:  

Poverty and discrimination at home may create fertile conditions for the spread of extremism, and western misadventures abroad can certainly inflame the risks.

Those last nine words say more about the Guardian’s own feeble mitigations, pandering to power and failure of brave expression than any Voltarian defence of untrammelled speech.
 
Appalled by the Paris killings, Jon Snow indulges in even more liberal hubris: 

Make no mistake, this is a landmark moment in the affairs of man.

Can you imagine Snow offering similar enunciations over the West’s mass slaughter of Iraq, Israel’s grotesque crimes in Gaza, or the sustained killing of Afghan civilians by Nato forces?

For Snow and much of the liberal media, men in jihadist garb killing journalists is barbaric, while men in suits, ordering others in uniform to mass murder and maim millions of innocents has, seemingly, no such ‘landmark’ significance.  
 
None of which ultimately detracts from the personal responsibility of those who unleashed this wicked killing in Paris. Their actions are as inhumanely futile in closing down real democratic speech as they are in furthering or illuminating Islam.  
 
And, as ever, such acts only provide the purveyors of ‘civilising’ state violence even greater powers of control, surveillance and repression of serious speech, alongside the vitally extended freedom to inflict even more militarist aggression across the planet.

The mark of a truly courageous media is not its willingness to reproduce more caustic cartoons or proclaim defiant words of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. It’s that media’s readiness to condemn and indict the ‘civilising’ politicians and states responsible for even greater acts of barbarous violence.

 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

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