- Category: Ideas and Arguments
- Published on Thursday, 15 January 2015
- Written by Edd Bauer & Birmingham ISN
A lot has already been written on the nature of Charlie Hebdo and other subjects. The subject of if we are in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo staff has been the main area of disagreement within in the ISN and many ISN members have objected to saying “Solidarity with Charlie Hebdo staff”. So this is what this quick article is about. It is also a response to Charlie Hebdo: the responsibilities of the left by John Game which in response to the debates within the ISN deliberately choose not to say we are solidarity with Charlie Hebdo staff.
Seeing the likes of Sergei Lavrov, Bibi Netanyahu, Jacob Zuma, the Egyptian foreign minister, David Cameron and other criminals taking the lead in a millions strong rally, called in the name of national unity and supposedly for freedom of speech, should send a chill down any socialist’s spine. These are murderers, capitalist politicians and bastions of reaction who have done their utmost to withdraw civil liberties and on all occasions use ethnic minorities, and in recent years Muslims in particular, as scapegoats for their agenda. These people are not allies, they are enemies: we need to fight them to win our freedoms not join them.
In its response to the murders of the journalists at Charlie Hebdo, the left should not participate in any national unity with those who will use the attacks to whip up hate against Muslims. We are in the middle of a key test for the left, as Game wrote for the ISN, socialists must stand against the wave of racism and Islamophobia that is being unleashed against Muslim communities across Europe and demonstrate solidarity with Muslim communities against the far-right.
How should we respond?: are we Charlie?
Many of the cartoons which individuals shared to demonstrate that Charlie Hebdo was racist were often clearly not understood, mistranslated and taken out of any context. In the worst cases mock ups created by the far-right in attacks on Charlie Hebdo, such as the Shoah Hebdo mock-up front cover, were used to prove Charlie Hebdo’s racism.
However, whatever the traditions of the French left, whatever the intentions of those producing the cartoons, it is clear that in the broadest sense Charlie Hebdo was an Islamophobic paper. Its Islamophobia is different to that of the far-right but it is Islamophobic nevertheless. As such, no we are not Charlie Hebdo. Especially in the light of the “Je Suis Charlie” being very clearly taken over by the establishment.
Showing Solidarity is not opposed to challenging racism
Solidarity should not be confused with an expression of your own identity or your own politics. You do not give solidarity to only those deemed pure. Solidarity is a not religious kindness, doing good to please god. Solidarity is not charitable philanthropy, solidarity is given on the receiver’s terms, not the terms of the philanthropist. Importantly, solidarity is a universal principle on which we hope to construct a new society.
Those murdered by Islamic fundamentalists were not murdered by wildly misguided anti-racist activists, they were murdered because fundamentalists considered their work blasphemy. They were murdered because fundamentalists wish to stoke up a clash of civilisations that is as equally beneficial to them as the Western imperialists.
Socialists should of course oppose anyone being murdered for blasphemy. Further, we oppose completely any ideology that has bizarre illusions about a clash of civilisations. We stand for international socialism.
Solidarity is a system based on trust i.e. you can trust in solidarity of the working class to protect you from being murdered for blasphemy, even if you cannot trust the forces of liberal capitalism which have regularly chosen to use religious and Islamic fundamentalists as their proxies of choice for their wars. This not a solidarity we can or should seek to withdraw. It should be a constant, that the left or the working class will express its solidarity with those murdered for blasphemy even if they do not represent perfect politics.
Solidarity is a universal principle on which socialists hope we can all build a new society
If you are saying or arguing we are not in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo against their murderers, it is saying we would not do anything to protect you against this. I know that this is not what people are trying to say when they argue that we should not offer any solidarity, they assume the very powerful Western states would be their protectors instead of our solidarity.
Socialist society will not be built if we do not build it as alternative source of power to the capitalist state. The offer of socialist society is an offer of life and protection, based not on the force of the capitalist state or god, but on trust in solidarity of the working class. It is important to conceptualise our solidarity in this way as a fundamental ethic which all socialists are obliged to offer.
Solidarity is extended to all members of the working class victims of capitalist system. Solidarity is extended to all women who are victims of patriarchy. I am and always will be in solidarity with those murdered for blasphemy. No socialist should be on marches of national unity with the capitalist establishment whose belief in freedom of speech is skin deep, socialists should stake out their own robust and separate show of solidarity.
More than a dualist discourse
Most on the left see only a two-sided discourse: you are either on the side of the racist-imperialist-capitalist nexus standing in national unity and proclaiming freedom loudly, or you are on the side of us the progressives pointing out that Charlie Hebdo was racist.
It is the task of those who want to construct a new society based on solidarity to create a third camp: one critical of racism of Charlie Hebdo, critical of racist states, critical of the false freedom of speech offered to us, but with its own mechanisms and promise of solidarity and protection against such murders. This is how we will build socialist unity not national unity.
Je ne suis pas Charlie.
Solidarity with Charlie Hebdo staff.