In a stomach-churning display of sanctimoniousness, imperialist world leaders marched shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and in defense of freedom of expression. Or, perhaps more accurately, in defense of publishing vile cartoons deliberately intended to offend the Muslim community, an immigrant community that has been under attack in France.
It would be hard to say that the leaders actually marched in defense of freedom of expression, at least not for everyone, let alone everyone in France. French Muslim women are prohibited from expressing their religious faith or ethnic identity through wearing the hijab in schools or while working in public service jobs. Last summer, during the brutal Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza, the French government banned pro-Palestinian demonstrations. So it would appear that freedom of expression is to be defended by imperialist world leaders only if the expression in question is a racist insult to an already oppressed ethnic/religious group, but not if it is the expression of the oppressed.
It is important to understand the context of anti-Muslim bigotry in France. France brutally colonized, conquered and exploited Algeria starting with the invasion of 1830. The Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962) resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million Algerians. While Algeria is no longer a colony of France, the international dynamics of economic globalization have driven many Algerians to immigrate to France, where they along with other immigrants from other former French colonies constitute an oppressed and exploited community, working the hardest, lowest paying jobs, facing institutionalized discrimination, police brutality and day to day bigotry.
Netanyahu opposed to slaughtering civilians?
Particularly nauseating at the Charlie Hebdo solidarity march was the sight of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, in the front line. How dare this war criminal participate in a march to oppose a terrorist massacre of journalists and civilians? Just this past summer, during the Israeli massacre in Gaza, among nearly 2,000 Palestinians who lost their lives, some 17 Palestinian journalists were killed by Israel. And that was certainly not the first time that the Zionist government has been involved in killing or repressing journalists, including cartoonists.
In 1987 in London, a Mossad double agent assassinated Naji Salim al-Ali, the iconic Palestinian cartoonist whose most famous creation, Handala, symbolizes Palestinian defiance and resilience. More recently, cartoonist Mohammad Saba’aneh was arrested at the Allenby Bridge checkpoint in Israel and sentenced by the Israeli Salem Military Court in April of 2013 for “contact with a hostile organization,” as he attempted to publish a book of about Palestinian political prisoners.
There can never be an adequate justification for the massacre of civilians, whether the massacre takes place in Paris or Gaza City. But when imperialist leaders line up to condemn violent attacks on civilians and defend freedom of speech, it’s time to look critically at the record of these very same leaders, and be prepared for an onslaught of fresh racist propaganda to further imperialist aims.