There were four terrorist attacks in the last few days. One in Paris, one in Colorado Springs in America, one in Sana'a in Yemen and one in Nigeria. Mainstream media has hardly taken up the last three attacks because one is deemed to be a complete aberration--a racist white man, and the last two business as usual--Arabs/Africans/Muslims killing other Arabs/Africans/ Muslims.
So the world has been swept by declarations of Je Suis Charlie. As people debate whether this was an attack on freedom of speech and the French right readies itself for the apocalyptic battle between Islam and Europe about which they have been warning the world, it might be worth dwelling on a word that is equally hated by psychotic militarised extremists and by prejudiced war-mongering right-wingers: context. Here let me, as Dubya would say, preemptively declare that talking about context in no way justifies the actions of murderers let alone the killing of innocent people.
There are two contexts in particular that need to be highlighted. Firstly, all the people who are advocating the journalists and editors of Charlie Hebdo as champions of free speech need to ask themselves a few basic questions. These are borne out of the long history of the magazine's position of taking satirical stances in their critiques of everything in general but religion in particular. As newspapers, magazines and television channels pick out the tamer cartoons published by Hebdo, it might be worth the reader asking themselves whether they would be willing advocates of the more obscene cartoons, all accessible through google, and show them to their Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish or Muslims friends.
For instance take a cartoon that shows revered figures from all these religions up in the clouds having an orgy. Or lets take the one in which God the father is being sodomised by Christ the son who in turn is being sodomised by the Holy Spirit. Another shows the Prophet naked with a caption saying 'my butt, do you like it--my butt?' Or perhaps the one with a Rabbi holding a knife above a baby in order to conduct a circumcision, while the parent asks 'why can't we wait till he is old enough to understand.' This image also speaks of those old European stereotypes of Jews and child sacrifice. How about a cartoon that says 'the French are dumb like 'niggers'.' I could go on but now, before saying Je Suis Charlie, you might want to ask yourself whether you would want to publicly condone and perpetuate vulgarity that masquerades as satire. What would be truly laudable is to say I am not Charlie but I defend their right to abuse me and I condemn their murderers. Ahmed Merabet, a French policeman did just that and paid with his life defending a stance advocated by that other Frenchman, Voltaire.
The second context is for the benefit of those people who think that Muslim societies spontaneously give birth to death-loving and world-hating sociopaths who are bred to kill innocent people. As much as certain sections of the Muslim world are to blame for the proliferation of misguided militants, certain European countries and indeed America are as accountable. Most of the weapons that are being used in conflicts around the world are not the result of domestic cottage industries. Let's face it there are no AKs made in Baghdad. During the first Gulf war nearly a quarter of the material and equipment used to make chemical weapons by Saddam was French. If this is too long in the distant past (French colonisation of Algeria being a faint memory) then perhaps it might be useful to recall that France sent arms and provided air cover to Libyan rebels in 2011. It was in Paris in 2012 that Western countries and certain Arab countries came together to pledge to arm the rebels fighting Assad. Then lets not forget in 2014, French weapons were paid for by Saudi Arabia to arm the Lebanese army in a $3 billion deal. For the past few years France has been trying to outdo the US as the primary weapons supplier to Saudi Arabia. But despite all this, as some Americans might say today about their government's training of the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the seventies: rebel today, terrorist tomorrow. It seems that the world's governments are just not able to comprehend that if you produce a demon to fight your battles, it will come back to haunt you.
If the perversion of religion is a root cause, then the insatiable appetites of the military-industrial complex and those governments who benefit the most from instability and conflict is as much of a problem. As we well know, blasphemy against our twenty first century deity, the nation-state, is not just unacceptable, it is stamped out with all the power of the law. And who knew this more than the journalists at Charlie Hebdo whereby the previous incarnation of the journal, Hara Kiri, was banned by the French Government for carrying a headline following the death of Charles de Galle saying 'Tragic Ball in Colombey: 1 death." The satire was aimed at the establishment because the death of 146 people in a fire at a discotheque was eclipsed by coverage of the General's death. The crime was lèse-majesté or basically an offence against the dignity of the sovereign or the state. The events in Paris, just like the attacks in Sana'a and Nigeria and the failed attempt in Colorado are all about the targeting of innocent people and nothing is as offensive as the murder of innocents regardless of who they were, where they came from or what they believed in.