Jan 13




Satire has the unique ability of throwing up surprises, of course. Nevertheless, the more reflective survivors of the dastardly attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French magazine which lost 12 of its journalists in a brutal massacre on 7 January 2014, may, in years to come, ponder whether their extreme distress at the wanton slaying of their colleagues did not rob them of an opportunity to cover adequately, a story that seemed to be made for satirical iconoclasm.

For the spectre of a Paris filled 1-2 million people shouting liberte, fraternite, egalite in support of freedom of speech in the France of 2014, would appear  somewhat problematic to some — especially the country’s Muslims..

They would wonder how often  French Muslims are allowed to feel “egalitarian” with their non-Muslim fellow citizens? Are they allowed space, in the spirit of fraternite, to argue in the French media, the case for, say,  allowing Muslim females the right to cover themselves from head to toe in black burkas or niqabs?

It is no doubt enormously disconcerting  to a Frenchman to have to sit opposite a woman on a train or a bus, without ever being able to know what she looks like. But you cannot spend 100 hundred years or more, carrying out a mission civilisatrice around the world – from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, to Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger (all countries where Muslims form a large slice, if not the majority, of the population) – and not expect some fallout to come back to haunt the  civilateurs, can you?

The problem in France, as in many Western countries, is that the rulers do not ensure that their children are taught real world history in their schools, but a sanitised version that glosses over, if not totally ignores, the role played by their countries in the pauperisation of the peoples of so many countries in the world. Even worse, the people of these former colonising countries are never apprised of how disingenuous was the process whereby their countries transferred power from the traditional rulers of the colonies (who could at least be dealt with by the people themselves when they failed to perform) to an insensitive and unresponsive Western-educated elite that, once elected (through a vote that can be rigged) is empowered to swindle the state of its resources at will  for four or five years at a time, and reduce the populace to penury, whilst indulging themselves in “conspicuous consumption”.

Nor is it explained that the reasons for so much instability in the ex-colonies is that the only power that can remove an unresponsive, “elective dictatorship” is the military – whose leadership is often, more corrupt than the corrupt politicians they often remove from office  ostensibly “because of the corruption of the politicians!”.

This lack of knowledge of cause and effect — and the “groupthink” it fosters — is perhaps more visible in France than in any other former colonial power. In the name of freedom of speech, some French publications often ridicule the generality of peoples of other cultures at a very superficial level, not because of what they have done or said, but because of their culture as such.

A good example can be taken from the periodical, Le Point, which claimed in a cover story in 2012 that “brazen Islam” was taking over French schools, hospitals, cafeterias and swimming pools. The cover featured a niqab-clad woman arguing with a French police-woman. When asked what he thought of the story, the [then] French Interior Minister, Manuel Valls [now Prime Minister] answered: “It expresses reality”. He added: “What I find shocking, and will always find shocking, is a fully-veiled woman”.

Ahah! But suppose an Ivory Coast newspaper were to make hate-figures of the French women who swim naked in holiday beach resorts in countries with Islamic populations, (including the Assoinde beach resort  in the Ivory Coast, where I have seen this behaviour at first-hand myself)? Isn’t swimming in the nude “shocking” to many of the populace in a country whose labourers at beach resorts include  Muslims? Do the French care? Do the Westernised Ivorian mass media care?

That is the framework that must form part of  the discourse that takes place when  a  massive clash of cultures and/or religious beliefs, occurs. People approach religion from different angles: some are fanatical about their beliefs, others are not. It is thus in the enlightened self-interest of governments and their peoples not to adopt a head-on confrontation with those who engage in irrational religious practices. Fanaticism can be so all-consuming that it is best not to provoke it into action in the first place.

Yes, if the fanatics wage a military campaign, as they are doing with Boko Haram in Nigeria, then they must be fought with rifle for rifle. But if all they are doing is to say, “Allow our women to dress as they like and do not discriminate against them because of that mode of dressing”, then meeting them half-way, even if inconvenient, is a good strategy. They will eventually get tired of observing the strict dress code, I would have thought.

In any case, acting with the usual Western attitude of superiority on such occasions as the mourning of the Charlie Hebdo  Twelve can  seem puzzling, to say the least. How many of the millions who marched in Paris had even heard that even as they marched, that Boko Haram had slain 2,000 people  in a place called Baga in North-eastern Nigeria? Who will march in support of the “right to life” of the victims of  Boko Harm? Did they indeed occupy the same hallowed space on Planet Earth as the Charlie Hebdo Twelve?

I started off by saying that good satirists can have a field day analysing what happened in Paris on 11.1.2015. And indeed, some illuminating comments have already begun to emerge. One is this:

QUOTE: Counter-Punch, Paris, January 12, 2015


We must demonstrate our solidarity with Charlie Hebdo without forgetting all the world’s other Charlies.” — Christophe Deloire, Director of Reporters Without Borders (RWB), Jan 11, 2014

…The march, and the grief, strike the necessary emotional register. The attendance list of the notables in attendance, however, was more problematic. …The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, is certainly raising the stakes in a dangerous way. On Saturday, he declared that France was at war with radical Islam. But what, exactly, is this war against? Such untidy reasoning has become the hallmark of responses of supposedly tolerant governments.

This is why the list of political celebrities in attendance of the Paris march is troubling. Turkey’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, was present, representing state interests that are… intertwined with Islamic radicalism. The tip-toeing of Turkey with the Islamic State is well noted, as is the authoritarian move of the regime towards a more conservative brand of Islam. …

The case becomes even murkier on the issue of free speech. If free speech is, in fact, the valiant creature that is meant to be the armed warrior against obscurantism, then some of the leaders in attendance seem like odd choices. For them, free speech is not something to treasure so much as dread and stifle. Turkey, to take one example, remains a star offender against the journalistic profession in the World Press Freedom Index. Questioning various dogmas of the government – that the Armenian genocide is not, for example, a genocide – will land you a prison sentence [in Turkey].

Even more notable is the prospect that [if] the same cartoons run by Charlie Hebdo [had been published] in Turkey, its journalists [may have been] targeted. The government can call upon various legal weapons to achieve its purpose of controlling freedom of expression, be it the penal code’s articles on defamation (Art 125), religious defamation (Art 216), or obscenity (Art 226), to name but a few.

Other countries also deserve mention. There is Egypt, [next] Algeria and the United Arab Emirates. Then there is Russia. All [these regimes] place regime interests before free speech interests. [And yet] all had representatives at the march….

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) was one of the first [organisations] to note the contradictions. “RWB is appalled by the presence of leaders from countries where journalists and bloggers are systematically persecuted such as Egypt (which is ranked 159th out of 180 countries in RWB’s press freedom index), Russia (148th), Turkey (154th) and United Arab Emirates (118th)” (Reporters Without Borders, Jan 11).

Then comes that rather troubling issue of terrorism – or at the very least what are perceived to be acts that fall within the dozens of definitions suggested in the social science canon. Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu has made his position clear on the Palestinian state, on Palestinians in general and that old hoary chestnut of sovereignty. And the state he runs has not been remiss in its own periodic acts of military ruthlessness against those in Gaza, where Palestinian deaths assume statistical coldness before state brutality. …

The tragic tale of the recent killings in Paris, is that these were not acts lacking a compass. The direction was made even clearer once France joined the air campaign led by the United States in Iraq against the Islamic State. Bombs, at least the result of them, tend to be productive of only more bombs…. A pretext for home- generated brutality is minted with each intervention, with each impassioned appeal to storm distant foreign barricades. Jihadi fascism is the distorting lens here, while free speech is ever the straw man cast in an argument that is actually Realpolitik. Regimes are capitalising on sprucing up their images, the police state has been given a shot in the arm, and even now, the significance of the Charlie Hebdo victims is being lost. UNQUOTE



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