Charlie Hebdo attack – the importance of antiracist unity

By Martin Smith and Tash Shifrin | 7 January 2015
Demonstration in Marseille after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Pic credit: @clementvr on twitter

Demonstration in Marseille after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Pic credit: @clementvr on twitter

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.



  1. James maddock said:

    Great article

    8 January 2015 at 6:27pm
  2. Letty said:

    I am really sorry to read this! I am French and I am hurt. CharlieHebdo was never racism, or you don’t understand satire, irony. Those drawing were meant to make you react. And it was never dedicated to Muslims, every single controversial situation had a drawing. So no! I disagree, CharlieHebdo is not the reason why there are terrorists in France, and the crime has not been done by Muslim, every Muslim in France says this, killing has never been a religion. Humanity is the problem, because people don’t understand that tolerance is what is going to save us, and by that I mean, you can’t agree with everyone and it’s ok.

    9 January 2015 at 12:08am
  3. Martin Smith said:

    Letty, just a quick response to your comments. We are certainly not saying that the magazine is responsible for terrorism – for me imperialism and naked racism are far better explanations for the cause of this rage.
    Secondly, have you looked at the magazine? One cover depicts a black women MP as a monkey. That is not satire or irony it is vile racism and if it was produced by the BNP/FN everyone would say the same thing.
    Other covers depict Jews and Muslims in the most crude and racialised way.
    Of course it is wrong to murder cartoonists, , but I cannot be Chalie Hebdoo.

    9 January 2015 at 12:46pm
  4. tash said:

    Letty – thank you for your comment. But I think if you consider the Charlie Hebdo front cover that shows pregnant Muslim women screaming “touchez pas a nos allocs” [“hands off our benefits”] that is clearly racist. There are many other examples – I am not going to list them all here. This is why I don’t say “I am Charlie Hebdo”. I am not.

    I am horrified by the murders but this does not make me like the anti-Muslim racism that CH often promoted. I hate racism.

    10 January 2015 at 1:41pm
  5. Julie said:

    Please do not scream at racism without context :

    The one with Mme Taubira as an Ape is clearly a criticism of extrem right winged people who called her so : it is written “blue racist union” above, blue being a joke upon the name of the leader of Front National

    The one with boko haram victims

    10 January 2015 at 2:06pm
  6. tash said:

    Hi Julie – thanks for your comment.

    I wasn’t going to go through the various cartoons, covers and other anti-Muslim material frequently and quite deliberately carried by Charlie Hebdo, because I’m actually fed up of seeing this sort of imagery over the past few days. It makes the horrible situation and the deaths worse, not better.

    But to answer your points…

    I personally agree that the portrayal of Taubira as an ape was intended as a comment on the fascist Front National (one of whose candidates was jailed for the original comparison) – you point out the slogan Rassemblement Bleu Raciste, a play on Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement Bleu Marine, and there is an FN logo too. But to do this by rehashing the FN’s grotesque racist imagery in a particularly crude form is at best stupid, misguided and a repetition of the original racist offence. I think if you are going to attack a party’s racism, it should be done in a way that does not echo and reinforce that racism.

    I do not agree with the interpretations of the “hands off our benefits” cartoon given in the piece you link that say it is just a clever juxtaposition of two news stories. Yes, the cartoon is headed with a declaration that “Boko Haram’s sex slaves are angry” before “Hands off our benefits”. That is actually particularly grotesque, conflating the fate of schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram with the crude racist stereotype showing Muslims getting pregnant to get benefits. Its so-called “humour” does not attack Boko Haram specifically but Muslim women generally, and it really can’t be seen as an attack on people holding such ugly racist views. In what way would these come off badly from the portrayal compared with Muslim women?

    Sadly, CH has a history of publishing Islamophobic material. It reprinted the notorious Danish cartoons purporting to show Mohammed, like the one showing him with a bomb in his turban, aimed specifically at causing maximum offence to Muslims and stirring up Islamophobia – anti-Muslim racism.

    CH has repeatedly produced its own similar material, with caricatures of Mohammed and of Muslims complete with a familiar array of racist stereotypes – bombs, camels, 1000 lashes etc. There is the one showing an Orthodox Jew pushing CH’s usual Mohammed charater in a wheelchair declaring ironically that these are the “untouchables” (referencing a popular film) and implying that CH is bravely lampooning them. But it is not brave to target religious or ethnic minorities for abuse or offensiveness, nor to participate in stirring up racism. CH supported the Islamophobic legislation that bans the niqab (face veil) in France, and trumpeted this with a cover proclaiming “Yes to wearing the burka… inside” showing a naked woman with cloth apparently stuffed up her arse.

    CH’s covers and cartoons and articles heavily target Muslims, who already face racism and discrimination in France (and across Europe). As we pointed out, Muslims are the main target of racism in France and western Europe at the moment – that is the real context we should bear in mind. Islamophobia has ratcheted up particularly since the start of the “War on Terror” in 2001. The history of France’s brutal occupation and colonisation of Algeria lies behind this too.

    I know Charlie Hebdo is associated with left wing causes. But in France, as we noted above, Islamophobia infects sections of the left as well as the right. I don’t think Islamophobia – or any other form of racism – is in any way accepable, whether from right or left. It is something we oppose on this blog.

    So to repeat: like everyone else we are horrified at the murders – these killings are appalling and utterly wrong. But this does not make us suddenly support the nasty racism that Charlie Hebdo put out or wish to be identified with it.

    11 January 2015 at 12:04pm

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