Cartoon by the Greek cartoonist Michael Kountouris. This cartoon was the front page of the newspaper “Efimerida ton Syntaktón”, 8.1.2015
The Charlie Hebdo mass murder can already be considered a 21st century event of great significance in my opinion. The consequences, their extent and duration cannot possibly be predicted within 2015 –both in terms of Islam’s position in Europe and the relations with the Near East, but also in terms of the European integration process itself. Having Le Pen at the helm of France is a cruel punishment for Europe especially if one considers the state of play in Europe today. A punishment that Europe may well-deserve - given recent events – such as leading Islam towards even further radicalisation, by increasing the Jihadists’ appetite. It is precisely such escalation of violence that they desire in order to strengthen their position in their community. The ideal scenario for them is a situation in which the average European citizen will conceive the average Muslim as a Jihadist, in the same irrational manner as some people might conceive all Greeks, for example, to be Golden Dawn members. Let us not forget that the prime enemy of the Islamic Far-Right is anything within Islam that challenges it. Like any Far Right movement, it is against those who stand outside the community, but in practice it aims at the insiders regarded as “internal enemies”.
I acknowledge that when faced with such mass crimes one can follow the usual petty approach of “yes, indeed, but…” where masked behind the “but”, hides the cancelation of “yes”. I would go as far as to start with “but”, in the form of an affirmation: yes, Charlie Hebdo has systematically been unilaterally or even unfairly blasphemous towards Islam and not towards Judaism as it used to do previously. Yes, in Paris, the West paid for its sins once again. France in particular paid for its colonial past. There are many things that can be ascribed to the failures of the French Republic as far as the integration of the second and third generation of French Muslim citizens is concerned, such as the French partiality of laicité; or to see the wider picture, the geopolitical chaos caused for a century by Western imperialism from the western tip of the Indian peninsula to the east Mediterranean coast. And what is more, this occurred by reinforcing radical Islam, either due to oil price demands -predominantly in the case of Saudi Arabia- or by implication or consciously in order for the Islamic regimes, popular amongst the people, such as those of Hamas, Iran, or the Muslim Brotherhood, to be undermined. It is important to remember that the power of the Islamic Far-Right is greater in the West than in the cradles of this religion where a weak minority remains. The Islamic Far-Right has well established its ‘’aura’’ in the West. Its home is in the West and not in the Middle East. This is a historically accomplished fact. The new Islamic Far-Right consists of our fellow citizens, people who are militarised by our violence and frustrated by our familiar deadlocks.
Yet, none of the above –which are facts- can compensate for what happened in Paris. And I say this with as much empathy as possible. The Charlie Hebdo mass murder was a huge blow, the murder of modernity and of the one idea that could unite us: that we can all disagree as far as the future of our society is concerned. That we can live different lives, laugh and cry at different things, like and dislike, love and abhor whatever we want without being threatened. That we have the right to express ourselves, even by blasphemy. Naturally, even by blaspheming either our own religion or that of the others, although I appreciate that the insult of other’s religion may hide prejudice. In the end of the day, this is part of Enlightenment. One cannot claim a generalised right not to be insulted. If we accept such a right, we are not far from turning into a tribal community of cannibals. At this point, I expect some Muslims to shout “I’m Charlie”, as some of us shout “we are Palestinians” when Israel is pounding or “we are immigrants” when people suffer.
To conclude, I am not a fan of some of the Charlie Hebdo sketches myself, but this is beside the point. The Charlie Herbdo murders are a victory for the dehumanisation of politics, of absolute censorship caused not only by the cessation of speech but also by the physical annihilation of its subject. And, naturally, the next step would be self-censorship through terror. This is the reason I believe this to be the most abhorrent terrorist act –maybe even more abhorrent than the act which leads to accidental death.
This mass murder case signals the mutation of European islamophobia, previously anchored in the Far-Right, into a generalised aversion towards Islam diffused across the whole European political spectrum. In the hard times we live in, the attack on Charlie Hebdo is the perfect fertiliser for the European Far-Right seed which is searching for other walls to climb up to grow.
POST SCRIPTUM I: The shame of the Greek prime minister
Speaking of walls, ten days before the Greek national elections, the Greek Prime Minister’s statements about Charlie Hebdo (“Syriza wants to massively give citizenship and social security to all immigrants. Do you see what is happening in Europe? Today there was a massacre with twelve victims in Paris and here some people are inviting illegal immigrants to stay”) bring great shame upon the Greek conservative political party. No other politician of the same European family dared to say such things. The only expected exception to the above were the leaders of the nationalistic Right to whom Antonis Samaras has always belonged. Let me recall: it is 1993, Samaras, leader of a small nationalist-populist party named Political Spring caused the conservative government’s fall from power. He supported forceful and aggressive nationalism against the neighboring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the claim that Greece should determine the name of this state. Antonis Samaras is one of the key players responsible for this adventure from which Greek people and their Governments are still involved in.
POST SCRIPTUM II: “All is forgiven”.
I wrote this piece in Greek two days after the murder. The English translation was completed the day Charlie Hebdo first published an issue after the murder. I think that, at last, the most magnificent, the most outstanding answer was the front page featuring the image of the prophet Muhammad crying, saying “All is forgiven” and the explanation given by the cartoonist Renald Luzier: “We have found the front page, we have at last found this damned front page and it was our front page, not the one the world wanted us to do, but the one we wanted to do.” The reckless magnanimity of blasphemy... Respect.
Dimitris Christopoulos, is an Associate Professor Panteion University, the Vice President of the International Federation of Human Rights
Translated by Anastasia Chalkia