Charlie Hebdo  

© The Independent

In the English newspapers, there was a near unanimity of opinion after the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and then the supermarket, Hyper Cacher. Obviously all the journalists thought that there was a need to support the principle of freedom of expression, the right to offend included, and horror at the attack on the Jews in the supermarket simply because they were Jews. But. But there are many questions raised which don't have an easy answer.

Where to start? Well let's start with Charlie. Here we have what seems to be a war between the religious and those who are against religion.  Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine with pronounced left-wing views, considers that religion should have no place in politics – France, after all has a very definitely secular constitution.  In France, incitement to hatred is a crime only in connection with race.  Religion can be attacked freely even if in doing so hatred may be engendered.   Religion, however, is not the only target of Charlie Hebdo.  If you look through the cartoons on the front covers over the years, it is clear that politicians are their main object.  Religion comes a poor second.

But it is religion which is the most prominent because of the publication of the cartoons of Mohammed.  I imagine that politicians are used to being made fun of or, as in the case of Charlie Hebdo, insulted.  It seems that it's not the same thing with religion.  Their omnipotent god needs to be protected by his devoted followers.  Even for me, when I was a good Christian, it was unclear why a law against blasphemy was needed (finally abolished in 2008).  Jesus was certainly one to turn the other cheek, even if the present Pope doesn't seem quite so convinced.  Indeed, his holiness seems to be a bit more like John Prescott in his pugilistic attitude.  Evidently, though, in the minds of many Muslims their god is even less indulgent and expresses himself through their AK 47s and knives.

Can I understand that a lot of offence was caused to Muslims?  Yes.  Do I think that such actions as were taken can be justified in the name of religion?  No.  Is it sensible to stir a hornets' nest?  No, but it is difficult to see that what they were doing was inciting hatred of Muslims.   Instead, they were effectively asking to be hated by Muslims by calling attention to the barbaric nature of various Muslim attitudes.  But as Charb himself said after the fire-bombing of their offices in 2011, it is not acceptable to live your life on your knees.  They were prepared to take the risk and suffered the consequences.  I doubt that I would be so brave.

The Jihadists succeeded in what way when they killed these 12 people?  The magazine was close to bankruptcy with an actual circulation of around 30,000 against a print-run of 60,000.  In November they had made an appeal to try to raise a million Euros and were promised only 26,000.  It was never known for its investigative journalism. It was known for the very offensive tone of its articles and cartoons.  In fact it was more reminiscent of a testosterone-fuelled student publication than a grown-up one.  In contrast, Le Canard Enchaîné, another satirical weekly, but with a print-run of around 700,000 is very profitable and has been responsible for the resignations of a number of politicians through its journalism.  Now, however as a result of the claimed 'killing' of Charlie Hebdo, we see its revival with the support of practically everyone in France, both financial and moral, as the incarnation of freedom of expression.  I wonder if the jidhadis see the irony of their stupidity.  Or perhaps they will see this resurrection as another reason to regard themselves as victims of the West.

We are in an era, after the economic crisis, when many extremists, including the extreme right are trying to find scapegoats for our situation: whether bankers, “the Establishment” or immigrants.  We have the attack by the Muslims and by other extremists against the Jews because they are Jews and so 'responsible' for all the ills of the world.  What can we do?  There are many factors in play, but in my opinion, whatever the religious leaders say, nothing will change while religions remain in the dark ages.

The Jews are no exception.  They complain that they are the subject of hatred by fascists and Muslims. This is certainly not acceptable in a modern democratic society.   But it has happened for a variety of reasons. Their guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus (according to the church until quite recently) and their willingness to engage in usury with gentiles created a very unfortunate image for them over the centuries.   But in more modern times, their wish to return to Palestine because it is the land given to them by God and also because they see it as a form of protection from a hostile world is rebounding on them.  They refuse to see that the expulsion of the Palestinians consequent upon the spread of their settlements over the decades has massively increased this hostility.  In the meantime, the American protestant majority are encouraging the Jews to return and take back their promised land, and this mainly because they see it as the fulfilment of prophecy and thus the precursor to Armageddon and the Second Coming of the Messiah.   So then, everything is related in some way to religion.

But there is a problem with the promised land at another level.  They have chosen to remain a people apart., a group which continues to think of themselves as citizens of another land – even though their forebears left it around 2000 years ago.  It is as if the descendants of the Vikings who came here in their longboats still considered themselves as Scandinavian or as if the descendants of the conquering army in 1066 were pervaded with a desire to return to their ancestral home in Normandy instead of being integrated into this country.  The Jewish religion, however, depends upon the idea of the promised land and so this disconnection continues.

But it is the same thing with the Muslim community in Europe.  There are many who dress in the style of the country where their great grand-parents lived.  The symbols on the outsides of mosques are in Arabic lettering and the kids learn the Koran in its original language and not in English or French or whatever language is spoken in the country in which they live.  Even when I have tried to listen to local radio for Muslims, I have found that quite a lot is in Arabic.  They want to take us back to medieval times with their theocratic system of justice, a system which comes from an era when women’s rights didn't exist and when 'justice' was brutal.  And as for intermarriage between people of different religions...  All of this gives the very strong impression that they are, and want to remain, strangers in their country of birth, whether in France or elsewhere in Europe.

Is it really so surprising that they are the target of hatred by the extreme right, particularly in a time of economic difficulty?  Demagogues of the right have an instinctive understanding that our loyalty is given primarily to those whom we consider to be a part of our group.  They use this psychological principle to promote the hatred which they feel.  We seek in this country to discourage fascist tendencies with our laws against incitement to hatred by reason of religion, race, sexual orientation etc. but the law cannot succeed on its own in resolving these tensions.  In contrast, the people who are the targets of these attacks give the impression of wanting to continue to be different, simply for the sake of not changing, because of their religious conservatism.   We see some attempts in the Muslim community to change things, but there is no general movement in this direction.

I do not want in any way to excuse the actions of the extreme right or religious attacks by jihadis, but it seems to me that there are many benefits available to both the Muslim and Jewish communities from finally becoming an integral part of the country in which they live.  They would at least be a less obvious target for the extreme right and also for each other.  Will this happen in the foreseeable future?  I doubt it.

Paul Buckingham

January 2015

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