Personal Blog of Mark Hoskins – Anarchist Writer and Community Organiser
If the pen was really mightier than the sword, then we’d be living in a utopia by now. If words were more powerful than bullets, then the French state would commission their best journalists to write a scathing critique of the Charlie Hebdo killers instead of sending heavily armed cops after them. If we really had freedom of speech and freedom of expression, then the Charlie Hebdo attack would probably not have happened. Yet, words and images are powerful and power should be distributed evenly. Everyone should have freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression in capitalist society is a bit like the concept of freedom in the old southern confederacy. It’s a freedom for those with the freedom to exercise it. More accurately termed, freedom of the press, is just that; Freedom for those with a platform to reach millions, to use that platform to say whatever they want, and what they want to say (in ‘the west’) usually reflects the mores of the dominant section of society – the billionaire capitalist owners and the white middle class men who make up the majority of the press.
As it happens, that the members of the fourth estate are mainly white middle class men was illustrated in the aftermath of the Charlie massacre, with photos of editors and staff writers from mainstream publications everywhere holding up signs of solidarity with their fallen comrades. Je Suis Charlie was the phrase of the day, and it wasn’t just those from the press who emblazoned it across the web, anyone and everyone was getting on board with the day’s cause celebre. It popped up on lefty social media timelines, as well as far right facebook pages. Everyone, it seemed, was united in defending freedom of expression.
But of all the people restricting journalists’ freedom of expression, Islamic militants are pretty low down the list. The top dogs don’t have guns, they have lawyers, government ministers and billions in the bank. There would be no solidarity from the press with people who try and assert their freedom of expression against those who control it, because they represent a real and imminent threat, the fundamentalists are unlikely to pull of anything like that again soon.
Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are goals to be fought for, but freedom of the capitalist press, the mass mainstream media, means nothing if you do not already have more freedom than everyone else. People of Arab extraction in France certainly don’t have those luxuries – so instead of republishing and posting those cartoons, why not post something about the France that no one sees? Post something about the far right attacks that Arab people have to face on a regular basis, not just a one off attack. Post something about the importance of fighting the Front Nationale, who are growing in support.
The white French establishment isn’t going to lose it’s freedoms anytime soon. It will fight tooth and claw to defend it’s privelege against the lower classes. The millions of poor immigrants and minorities have to struggle for those freedoms on a daily basis. If the French ruling class need to, they will turn to the Fascist Front Nationale to defend their freedoms, their privilege, which exists because of the lack of them for vast swathes of the population. They will divide the working class to conquer by allowing racist and islamophobic sentiment to flourish, pitting white against Arab and African. Charlie Hebdo, is only a small part of that picture. We can condemn the attack without agreeing with that purpose. But what bout that other France?
In 2008, 148 French Muslim war graves were desecrated at the Notre Dame de Lorette war cemetery. A pig’s head was hung from one of the graves, while others were daubed with racist slogans. In 2009, a mosque was vandalised with swastikas and Nazi slogans. In 2010 the french state banned the niqab, a face covering that is central to some for the purpose of expressing their Muslim culture. In 2013 a pregnant woman who was subjected to an islamaphobic attack, lost her baby. “The attackers first tried taking her headscarf off and later cut off her hair and tore part of her clothing. After she screamed out that she was pregnant, one of the attackers started kicking her in the stomach.”
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to islamaphobic and racist attacks in France, and racism, like anywhere else, has a long history there. The murder of journalists by right wing Islamic fundamentalists has rightly been condemned by the majority of people, but it is better to shine a light on the injustice at the heart of French, and indeed European society than to amplify the voices of those who can already be heard. Lining up behind the white French establishment can only serve to defend the liberty and equality of those at the top, and the hypocrisy of proclaiming these ideals while denying them to millions.