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Don’t let Paris tragedy produce more racism and war

Jesse McLaren

January 8, 2015

The warmongers and Islamophobes are using the tragic shooting in Paris to further their policies.
Three gunmen stormed the offices of the French weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people and wounding 11. One of the gunmen has turned himself in and the other two are still at large. It is presumably the magazine’s Islamophobia that drove the gunmen, but their reactions are unjustifiable and a gift to the very forces they claim to oppose.
Highjacking tragedy
Before people have had time to mourn the recent attacks, the warmongers and Islamophobes have gone on the offensive. The National Front in France have called for a referendum on the death-penalty, while the German group PEGIDA have ramped up their campaign against “Islamization.”
Meanwhile, Stephen Harper’s response has highjacked the tragedy to support his anti-immigrant domestic campaign against “barbarism” and his foreign-policy support for the Iraq War. As he said, “I’m horrified by the barbaric attacks in France. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Canada and its allies will not be intimidated and will continue to stand firmly together against terrorists who would threaten the peace, freedom and democracy our countries so dearly value.” But Harper has been silent towards the barbaric attacks on mosques in France, and the horrific way in which Islamophobia has been used to threaten peace around the world and religious freedom at home. 
Je ne suis pas Charlie
The main slogan in French has been “Je suis Carlie” (I am Charlie). But the instincts of solidarity with the slain have become wrapped up in uncritical support for the politics of the magazine—which have shifted from challenging French authority to picking on oppressed minorities, Muslims in particular.
The magazine changed its name to Charlie Hebdo in 1970 when the Interior Minister banned it for mocking the death of the French president Charles de Gaulle. While the magazine began by taking on the state and the Church (a powerful institution in France), it has in the past decade become a crude tool to encourage Islamophobia—from republishing and adding to the racist Danish cartoons in 2006, to naming a 2011 issue “Charia Hebdo” dedicated to mocking Islam.
As part of the new breed of “atheists,” the French magazine saw no difference between challenging the religion that has dominated France—and continues to permeate French society—and picking on the religion of the oppressed Muslim minority. So-called “secularists” claim to be following the 1905 law separating church and state. But the purpose of that law was to stop the Church from dominating in order to defend freedom of religion—not to impose atheism or scapegoat Islam. Now the French state does not ban it but encourages it, under claims of “free speech.”
As a colonial power, France has a long history of Islamophobia. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the former leader and father of the current leader of the National Front, served as a paratrooper and tortured Algerians in their war for independence. Post-9/11 Islamophobia has increased, and been part of the justification for bombing Afghanistan, Libya, Mali and now Iraq.
Islamophobia has also been a tool to divide the population within France. The attack on school girls wearing hijab emerged in the 1990s when the government was facing mass strikes against neoliberalism, and the ban came into effect in 2004—two years after the National Front surged in the polls. After his election in 2007, President Nicolas Sarkosy tried to outflank the National Front—calling racialized protesters in the suburbs “scum” during the 2005 riots, and banning the niqab in 2010. Islamophobia has further infected society, creating barriers for Muslims in employment, sports accessing public services, and even participating in their children’s school activities.
State-sponsored racism abroad and at home has created the anger and desperation behind the latest attack. France has also joined other Western powers in backing counter-revolution to the Arab Spring, which has spawned ISIS and encouraged individual acts of violence against imperialism.  
The social democratic “Socialist Party” of François Hollande were elected in the hopes of an alternative to decades of neoliberalism, but have only brought more austerity and war. This has encouraged the growth of the far right—who have mobilized against immigrants as well as gay rights. Last elections saw the National Front increase their vote, which sparked mass protests, but there’s a real danger fascists across Europe will use the latest shootings to increase their threat. We need to stop racists and war mongers from highjacking tragedy, and keep building mass movements that offer the best alternative to capitalism and war.

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