hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Je Suis Charlie…et Maintenant?


Alphen, Netherlands. 8 January. Je suis Charlie! My revulsion against those who carried out yesterday’s murderous attack on the journalists of Charlie Hedbo is complete.  Indeed, whilst at times extreme by lampooning power Charlie Hebdo helps hold power to account.  This is not easy in a twenty-first century world of big, distant pretend-democracy that so belittles the individual citizen. That great French philosopher Voltaire reportedly once said, “I disagree with all you say, but I defend your right to say it”.  That simple mantra is and must remain the essence of free speech in a liberal democracy and must be upheld at all costs.  Another geat French philosopher Tocqueville said that the more freedom one enjoys the greater the responsibility on each individual.  As society becomes progressively polarised between the tolerant and intolerant the boundaries between freedom and responsibility are being redefined and challenging the very cohesion of modern, multicultural societies.  Indeed, this attack was not simply an attack on a liberal, European society; it was also a reflection of it.  Therefore, it is vital that we the European people wake up to the profound challenges implied by this attack at the social, political and indeed geopolitical levels. 

A French friend of mine said to me yesterday, “une infirme partie des mussulmans est composée de vraies fascistes…”  The two most important words in that sentence are “partie” (section of) and “fascistes”.  Fascism is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a system of extreme right-wing or authoritarian views”. There is no doubt that the intolerant views which inspired the killers do indeed represent a form of fascism in that the individuals in question reject any view other than their own and are prepared to kill to enforce their intolerance.  

Here's the rub.  For too long liberal European governments have acted as incubators for such extremism for fear of offending the Muslim community.  They have preferred instead to say such attacks have nothing to do with Islam and focussed on preventing any backlash in the wake of such attacks.  Worse, at times they have financially-supported extremist groups who sit on the border between non-violence and violence in the hope that extremist ideologies could somehow be co-opted. For example, my own country Britain still has no strategy to counter the non-violent extremism which is but a short step from violent extremism. Such absurd political correctness must end.   

The shock of the attack is made all the worse by the unwillingness of European leaders to come clean with their peoples about the nature of the threat posed by Islamism. Indeed, since 9/11 European peoples have been treated like children by their leaders.  For example, British security services are at any one time dealing with between 2-3000 terrorist plots.  People are not stupid. By trying to pretend to people there is no problem a gap has grown between leaders and led to the point in which today citizens no longer trust leaders to act in their best interests.  Therefore, it is time leaders started to come clean with their citizens about the extent of the Islamist challenge European societies face because democracy can only function if there is trust between power and the people.  If not a political gulf will emerge at the heart of politics which will soon be occupied by extreme populists on both the political left and right.

The attack was also a function of the new geopolitics, a chilling example of how the Islamic civil war raging across the Middle East can so easily reach into increasingly atomistic European societies.  Whilst the murders seem to have been carried out by two brothers of French-Algerian heritage there can be no doubt that they are but the foot soldiers on the front-line of a complex web of power, patronage and money.  As they fled the scene one of the attackers shouted to a witness, “Tell the press we are Al Qaeda in the Yemen”.  

Al Qaeda in the Yemen is part of a wider group known as Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP).  If the claim is true they are part of a well-organised group with over a thousand members which has carried out a range of attacks across the Middle East and the West.  The primary aim of this Sunni insurgency is to rid the Muslim world of infidels.  Perhaps the most chilling implication of this attack is that the likes of Islamic State and AQAP now see Europe as part of their world and claim a 'right' to enforce strict Islamist blasphemy laws herein and force the rest of us to bend to their will. 

AQAP’s funding reveals the extent of the threat and the strategic ambiguity of the relationship between European governments, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. The US State Department suggests much of AQAPs funding comes from fake charities, extortion and robbery.  However, the Americans also suggest that a significant part of the funding comes from groups in Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf region.  Saudi money has long been used to buy off the threat posed by extremism to the kingdom via the funding of Islamic schools across the world, including Europe. These are schools that too often espouse an extreme view of Islam and weak European governments have for too long tolerated such extremism within their own borders. That must now stop and the funding chains destroyed.

At the top of this post I cited Tocqueville’s suggestion that freedom and responsibility are inexorably intertwined. So is respect. The attackers are not the whole story of Islam in Europe much though they would like to imply they are. Last night in the centre of Paris thousands of French Muslim citizens also proclaimed themselves as “Charlie”.  Like me they reject extremism and have reached an accommodation within themselves between faith, freedom and responsibility. 

Yesterday, I came under pressure to re-tweet a Charlie Hebdo cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.  I refused.  This is not because I am a coward or some bleeding heart liberal obsessed with reality-warping political correctness. Indeed, I pay a big price for my willingness to challenge power.  However, I have no desire to insult the Prophet, Islam or the decent, law-abiding Muslims who I call compatriots, fellow citizens and friends.  In so doing I exercise my free will, my sense of communal responsibility and express my respect. To me that is the most powerful act of defiance.

Je suis Charlie...et maintenant?

Julian Lindley-French

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