Don’t let this horror be used to stoke bigotry

[We reprint here a statement from the International Socialist Organization (US) about the killings in France.]

THE HORRIFIC killings at the offices ofCharlie Hebdo in Paris have shocked the world. The outpouring of sympathy and solidarity for the 12 people killed–mostly editors, writers and cartoonists for the magazine–and 11 wounded is widespread and justified.

But this tragedy is already being used, particularly by leaders of the world’s most powerful governments, to direct hatred at Muslims and to justify imperialist war and state repression in the name of national security. The left in France and around the world must stand for democracy and against Islamophobia and state-sponsored terrorism.

As one unionist, attending the huge vigil in Paris on the night of the murders, told Libération newspaper, his union “defends freedom of speech. However, we are also here to denounce the policy of the government, which is indirectly responsible for these acts–the war in Mali, for example.”

At this point, the perpetrators of the massacre are not known for certain, but witnesses said the masked gunman used the Islamic phrase “Allahu Akbar” (God is greater) as they entered the magazine’s offices. Charlie Hebdo has been harshly criticized and threatened with violence for publishing cartoons and other material ridiculing Islam, among its many targets of satire.

There is no justification for this murderous assault on journalists and cartoonists, even if some of the content of their publication was highly offensive and provocative. In our newspaper Socialist Worker, we have specifically criticized Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons that mock Islam using vile racist stereotypes of the right, while claiming to be affirming democratic values by doing so.

But Charlie Hebdo also mocks Christianity and other religions, along with other beliefs and political ideologies across the spectrum. We must challenge what we see as politically backward in such publications–but they should be able to publish what they believe to be satire without fear for their lives and safety.

If this crime was carried out by Islamists connected in some way to groups such as al-Qaeda or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)–as has been widely assumed by both supporters and critics of Charlie Hebdo–then it is a reprehensible act by political reactionaries who do not tolerate dissent, particularly from fellow Muslims. The murders in Paris are not a blow against Islamophobia, much less for the liberation of the oppressed. On the contrary, they will make the struggle against anti-Muslim bigotry more difficult by opening the way for the state and the right wing to whip up fear and hatred.

The Marxist tradition rejects acts of individual terrorism, as the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky explained: “To learn to see all the crimes against humanity, all the indignities to which the human body and spirit are subjected, as the twisted outgrowths and expressions of the existing social system, in order to direct all our energies into a collective struggle against this system–that is the direction in which the burning desire for revenge can find its highest moral satisfaction.”

We also reject those who will employ–and already have–the Paris killings to claim that Western countries like France and the U.S. are locked in a “war of civilization” against reactionary Islam. The violence and repression of groups like ISIS is opposed by millions of Muslims. What’s more, the far more powerful governments of the “civilized” West are responsible for far more violence, terror and death–which is quite routinely justified in the name of religious devotion or democratic ideals or both.

Barack Obama was quick to denounce the “cowardly, evil” attack. “The fact that this was an attack on journalists, an attack on our free press, also underscores the degree to which these terrorists fear freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” Obama reportedly said in an Oval Office meeting.

What about freedom of the press for New York Times reporter James Risen who was just put on the witness stand and commanded to name his sources for a story about the CIA’s covert operations against Iran? What about freedom of speech for Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden–two whistleblowers consigned to military prison or driven into stateless exile for revealing U.S. war crimes or the extent of the Big Brother surveillance state.

Barack Obama and other leaders of powerful governments have a selective reverence for democratic freedoms. But they will nevertheless try to harness the outrage over theCharlie Hebdo killings and the popular determination that press and other freedoms be protected to build support for imperialist ventures–from France’s intervention in Africa to the U.S.-led coalition bombing of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

We can look back to the experience of 9/11 to recall how the tragic deaths of nearly 3,000 people in the U.S. was turned into the justification for a global “war on terror” and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq that cost many times that number of lives. Now, in post-9/11 America, state harassment and repression of Arabs and Muslims is the order of the day.

Political leaders are quick to assign blame for the Charlie Hebdo massacre to Islamist militants. But these reactionaries have only gained strength as a result of the endless wars waged by the U.S. in Afghanistan, Iraq and other Muslim countries. And the Islamophobia pushed not only by far-right organizations, but the political mainstream, including the center left, only produces more bitterness toward the governments of the world’s most powerful countries.

What is needed to combat anti-Muslim oppression in Europe, the U.S. and the West is a stronger international left that defends both the freedom to practice religion without state harassment, as well as the right to free expression. The defense of these basic rights must be linked to a principled opposition to imperialism–including when it cloaks itself as a liberating force against ISIS and other Islamist currents.

The horrific killings in Paris will be used as an excuse for further curtailing the rights of all Muslims–not to mention those of all races and religions who wish to challenge government policies–and for continuing and escalating wars that have plunged the Middle East into suffering and chaos.

We must oppose anyone who tries to use this tragedy as an excuse for war and racism. Their actions will make the world more violent, dangerous and oppressive for people in every corner of the globe.