Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Charlie Hebdo: All should not be forgiven

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Just weeks after Australia experienced it’s first ever terrorist attack linked to a claimed adherent of Right-wing political Islam, the so-called ‘Sydney Siege’ has been overshadowed by a global focus on the tragic attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

In many ways the Paris attack, whereby 17 people were shot dead by three gunmen, represents a more coherent narrative than that of the Sydney attack. The French-born perpetrators in Paris expressed clearly their motivations, while the Iranian-born Sydney attacker remains a contradictory and confusing character.

The starting point of any attempt to unravel and make sense of the events must be the obvious but necessary condemnation of these brutal, unjust and indefensible murders. The Socialist Party has no sympathy with acts of individual terrorism, especially those aimed at ordinary workers (who were overwhelmingly the victims in both Sydney and Paris).

Most striking has been the eagerness with which politicians from across the world have cynically used these events to further their own political agendas. The congregation of world leaders in Paris (who ingloriously had themselves photographed to appear as though they were leading a 3.7 million strong solidarity march through Paris) was a who’s who of the current architects of global turmoil; the latest perpetrators of ongoing war and instability in the Middle-East and devastating austerity in Europe.

Their goal has been to use the tragedy and sense of solidarity genuinely felt by millions to foster a false image of unity in a time of historic wealth inequality and increasing political polarization across most of the world.

In unison the mainstream commentary has painted a narrative of a fierce clash between the values of the ‘Enlightened West’ and the ‘Barbarous Islamic Near- East’. This telling turns reality on its head in order to perpetuate division.

In reality the vast majority of victims and the fiercest opponents of the various brands of Right-wing political Islam are the people of the Middle-East and North Africa themselves – many of whom are Muslim. Similarly, those stoking the flames of racism, war and poverty (conditions that push people to radical political conclusions – both Left-wing or Right-wing) are the very Western leaders claiming now to be ‘leading the fight’ against terrorism.

Some commentators have been perplexed by the fact that the gunmen in Paris chose a magazine of the political Left as their target, rather than the more obvious targets of the burqa-banning French Government or the openly anti-immigrant and Islamophobic far-Right parties. In fact, the Right-wing political Islam of organisations like Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda in many ways mirrors the far-Right political movements in Europe.

Both are predominantly middle-class expressions of powerlessness felt in societies in decay, characterized by a desire of the once privileged to regain control of society in the name of a specific racial or religious group. Both necessitate a burning hatred of the Left, which strives to unite the oppressed of all nations, ethnicities and religions against oppression.

Many of those who announced “Je suis Charlie” following the Paris attacks, or #illridewithyou following the Sydney Siege (while problematic statements) were attempting to express a general class solidarity in the face of Right-wing violence and the dreaded racist and Islamophobic backlash. Many of the same people have expressed solidarity with the movements of the Arab Spring or the Kurdish youth fighting on the front lines against ISIS. It is in these movements that genuine solutions to Right-wing politics and terrorism can be found.

But slogans and hash tags are not enough to challenge the racism and Islamophobia of the far-Right, the warmongering of the political establishment or the incomprehensible hoarding of wealth by the world’s top 1%. Neither are they enough to support the activists fighting against Right-wing political movements in the Middle-East and Africa and across Europe. Only genuine, self-organised movements of workers and young people can politically and economically empower the world’s 99% to end racism, imperialist wars and poverty. This requires the establishment a truly democratic socialist society that can provide jobs, homes and freedom of artistic and religious expression for all.

By Mel Gregson


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