By Martin Smith and Tash Shifrin | 7 January 2015
We write, horrified and with a sense of foreboding, after the attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo that has left at least 12 dead.
Like everyone else, we are appalled at the killings. Nothing can justify the murder of journalists – however provocative, offensive or racist their politics, or the politics of those who own or control their publications.
There have been huge spontaneous demos in cities across France and elsewhere in Europe tonight, reflecting the scale of horror and anger at the killings.
But while we share revulsion at the killings, we disagree sharply with those who have responded by reproducing Charlie Hebdo covers “in solidarity” with the magazine or supporting its politics.
Charlie Hebdo has a long record of producing deliberately offensive anti-Muslim cartoons and other material, loaded with racist stereotypes. Muslims have been the main target of racism in France and across Europe, with Islamophobia on the rise – particularly since the “War on Terror”, which continues. In Germany at the moment we are seeing a wave of large and regular anti-Muslim racist demos.
Charlie Hebdo has gleefully helped to stoke this Islamophobia in France, attacking a vulnerable, discriminated-against minority under the guise of “free speech”.
At Dream Deferred, we did not support Charlie Hebdo’s nasty racism before the attack, and we do not support it now.
Free speech is not an absolute value. That is why we personally have been among those who have demonstrated against giving fascists like British National Party leader Nick Griffin or Holocaust denier David Irving a media platform. And most people recognise that “free speech” does not mean allowing child pornography or incitement to violence on newspaper front pages. It should not be used as an excuse for racism either.
The brutality of the killings should not allow anyone to get swept into the idea that publishing offensive racist cartoons is positive or progressive. It is not.
The attack on Charlie Hebdo immediate sparked a fresh wave of anti-Muslim racist hatred. That is where the sense of foreboding comes from tonight – it is going to get ugly.
In Britain, the 2013 murder of soldier Lee Rigby was followed by a spate of arson attacks on mosques and violent physical attacks on Muslims. Now, as then, racists will try to capitalise on the murders – although of course, the millions of Muslims in Britain and France are no more responsible for these crimes than Christian Norwegians were for the murder of 77 people in Oslo by Anders Behring Breivik.
In France, there is an added danger as the fascist Front National, already riding high after its recent local and European election successes, will undoubtedly feed and strengthen further in the increasingly Islamophobic climate.
Islamophobia also taints mainstream politics in France, from the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy to sections of the left. Laïcité – the principle of secularism – has often been used as cover for anti-Muslim racism. These arguments will sharpen in the wake of the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
There is an urgent need for anti-racists to argue for unity amid the shock. The best response is not to reproduce ugly racist caricatures, but to urge solidarity between Muslims and non-Muslims.