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Charlie Hebdo

 After the tragedy of the Charlie Hebdo Massacre politicians and commentators enshrined the satirical French newspaper as a bastion for democracy and liberty in the western world. The event has sparked one of the largest solidarity movements in French history, with an estimated 1.6 million people in attendance, but it was led by world leaders with highly questionable records on press freedom under the guise of free press and liberty.

Author: Nat Rush

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To see the recent terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices as an attack on free speech is a mistake. The act was a well-informed move designed to further aggressive and religiously-fuelled violence. Terrorism is employed to strike fear into a society; no matter how often attacks are made, they still have a chilling effect.

The recruitment targets of extremist religious groups are individuals who already feel at odds with their contemporaries. Clinging to religious traditions that defy the modernity that surrounds them, alienates these citizens and makes them susceptible to recruitment. With such visible and ugly violence meted out for perceived threats to religious dignity, there can be no neutrality.

The true target of the Charlie Hebdo attack are the hearts and minds of the French population. Their reaction to the event paves the way for a surge in nationalism, a far-right government, and further instability; perfect conditions for recruitment of overwhelmed individuals victimised by vicious salesmen to lives of hate and violence.


Historically, France has been a nation where racial and religious tensions often spill out into violence and unrest. What follows is a short list of recent incidents relating to religion in France:

  • On 22nd of December 2014, a 40-year-old man deliberately drove his car into crowds throughout several locations around the city of Dijon, it was reported that he yelled “God is great” in Arabic as he injured 13 people.
  • On the 19th of December 2014, a 20-year-old man seriously injured two police officers with a knife in central France – the perpetrator was killed, reports state that it was a religiously motivated attack.
  • In 2010 France made it illegal for anymore to cover their faces with anything that obscures their identity — including the burqa, balaclavas and hoods — in a public place.
  • The French Government passed a law in 2004 that banned “symbols or clothes through which students conspicuously display their religious affiliation” in educational establishments.


The Congress of the Dialectics of Liberation was held in London during 1967. The Congress was set up to bring leading figures in many specialised fields, including psychiatry, philosophy and anarchy, “to discuss…the key social issues of the next decade (The Seventies).” Briefly summarised, the event sought to explain what stage global humanity was at in moral, political and philosophical terms. An overriding lesson that was relayed to the attendees was the true face of Western society. The speakers focussed in on how unbridled greed in the form of capitalism has ravaged the world. Now, as much as then, this discourse is vital to understanding why the world we live seems inconceivably muddled.

When addressing The Congress, Paul Sweezy explained that “Capitalist development inevitably produces development at one pole and underdevelopment at the other.” This view defines the struggle of the dispossessed. Historically and under the mantra of ‘civilisation’ Capitalism was forced on much of the world. These unfortunate communities found themselves on the bottom rung of a hopelessly long ladder. With the privileged few at the top dictating the rate of development for the less fortunate, this scenario has remained the status quo ever since.

When exploring the logic behind capitalism’s tenure, John Gerassi highlights the system of law: “This system justifies repressions, rationalises oppressions, and codifies frustrations.” Today it is clear to see that the arm of the law is firmly attached to the will of the state. If it is determined that the will of the state is self-preservation then the rule of law must surely be called into question. In the wake of the Charlie Hedbo Massacre, the Western system of law seems bent against the many displaced muslims who live in a state of hopelessness. Their plight is effectively examined by Chris Hedges in this article where he confirms that the western world’s propagation of Capitalist interests are directly responsible for outbursts of terrorist violence such as those recently evidenced in Paris.

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The process of keeping disadvantaged individuals in a seemingly unending disadvantaged state can be seen as a necessity for the continuing good prospects of those in an already advantageous state. This aggressive mentality is evidenced by the late president Lyndon B. Johnson during his address to the American soldiers of Camp Stanley, Korea in 1966: “Don’t forget, there are two hundred million of us in a world of three billion. They want what we’ve got – and we’re not going to give it to them!” This extract from Johnson’s speech shows the reality of capitalism; those who benefit most from such a system wish to guard their prosperity.

So when politicians start braying watchwords such as freedom of speech and appealing to a sense of global community they are doing so to protect their nest. They exist in a paranoid world where the words freedom and security have become inseparably tangled together.

The many politicians and commentators who immediately issued statements condemning the terrorist act on Charlie Hebdo as an attack on free speech were spreading confusion. This tragedy has taught us that a violent attacks can be ambiguous. While those committing the assault undoubtedly held resolutely to their religiously motivated reasons for committing the massacre, other underlying forces at play were not given adequate consideration in order for a shocked France to effectively decipher the event and its root causes.

On the day of the attack, David Cameron issued a statement containing these words: “We should never give up the values that we believe in and defend as part of our democracy and civilisation and believing in a free press, in freedom of expression, in the right of people to write and say what they believe.” Throwing around loaded statements such as ‘our freedom of speech’ and ‘our right to a free press,’ seek only to whip up hysteria and paranoia. Statements like these are made to bind people together, so the general public see these attacks as an attack on pillars of their society. When Cameron issued that response, he wanted to be seen as standing firm as he faces an extremist threat. He is using human fear, a natural response after a brutal terrorist attack, as a political device.

Amidst the confusion surrounding the gruesome events in Paris, some fears look likely to be realised; Islamophobia will once again be stirred up, and the far-right parties will gain an even stronger footing, worsening the cycle of mutual distrust and resentment in a global society already teetering on the brink of a confused war with itself.

A full transcript of The Congress of the Dialectics of Liberation is available in paperback form. 

Illustration by Thom Flood 

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