Charlie Hebdo—the issue is Islamophobia not free speech

Tony Abbott, along with racists and the right-wing everywhere, have leapt on the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s office in France to scaremonger and beat up Islamophobia.

Practically no one supports these horrific killings. The actions of the two men who carried out the attacks are deplorable.

Abbott immediately seized on the attack as “of a piece with what we saw in Martin Place”. But there is no comparison between Man Horan Monis, a single individual with a history of bizarre and attention grabbing actions, and the very deliberate attack in France. Yet Abbott was keen to make the connection, using it to beat up fear by telling people, “we can expect more of this”.

Abbott and other world leaders say the killings in France are an attack on freedom of speech.

But the full context for the attack is the wave of anti-Muslim racism worldwide, including in Europe, and the Western wars, drone attacks and occupations across the Middle East. These involved mass killing on a colossal scale and have generated deep anger across the Muslim world.

Islamophobes, racists and fascists are on the offensive across Europe. In France the Nazi National Front is leading in opinion polls on the basis of racist and Islamophobic scapegoating. It now has 2000 local councillors and a dozen city mayors across France. In Germany the Pegida movement has taken to the streets in large numbers against Muslims and immigrants.

The Charlie Hebdo magazine’s cartoons have been described as satirical. But nothing can excuse its history of blatantly racist anti-Muslim images, which were aimed at humiliating one of the most marginalised groups in France.

The horror of the killings should not hide the racism of the magazine. It is a disgrace that journalists, cartoonists and others are lending their support to help the magazine pump out any more racism.

The magazine fanned the flames of Islamophobia, in a country where this anti-Muslim racism is at its worst. Most French Muslims are immigrants from former French colonies like Algeria. Muslim women are banned from wearing the Islamic headscarf, the hijab, in government schools. Opposition to Islamophobia in France has been exceptionally weak, with many even on the far left supporting measures like the headscarf ban.

France itself remains a significant imperialist power, joining the war in Afghanistan, as well as the current bombing in Iraq. It currently has thousands of troops stationed in former French colonies in Africa

Of course none of this justifies the killings. But it does help explain them.

Abbott’s supposed concern with freedom of speech and the claim that “civilisation” and democratic values are somehow under threat is rank hypocrisy. This is a government that has moved to silence the ABC, effectively accusing it of being “unAustralian” in its criticism of government policies. It has sent Australian warplanes to bomb Iraq, and backed Israel’s bombing of Gaza last year that saw over 2000 Palestinians killed. Only yesterday, a protester with an “I’m with stupid” T shirt was arrested in Queensland because LNP Premier Campbell Newman was offended.

We must oppose efforts to use the tragic events in France and concern about freedom of speech to stir up more war-mongering, racism and Islamophobia.


Solidarity meetings

Latest articles

Read more

Interview: Islamophobia, the far right and anti-racism in France

Jad Bouharoun will visit Australia in April to speak at the Keep Left conference. He spoke to Solidarity about the fight against racism and the far right in France

Racist murder in Christchurch a product of Morrison and mainstream’s Islamophobia

The shocking murder of 50 Muslims at Friday prayers in Christchurch is the direct product of the Islamophobia that has been stirred up and promoted by the likes of Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott.

Morrison uses Bourke Street attack to spread racism and fear

Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have again blamed the Muslim community and spread fear and racism following the violent attack in Melbourne's Bourke Street last Friday.