Yesterday, 12 cartoonists from the racist, imperialist French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were slaughtered at their offices by apparent “Islamic extremists.” The event is being broadcast as a terrifying oriental aggression on the West’s Right of Free Speech, and we’re all meant to bow our heads in remembrance to stupid men who drew and published vicious harmful things.
There will be all kind of “consequences” and “justification” analyses from left and right. Like, here’s why “al-Qaeda” (cool to see them back out with a new single after ISIS has spent the last year topping the charts) attacked, says Juan Cole. Don’t take this distraction bait.
Who fucking cares about this or that tactic or battle when this is, yes, a clash of civilizations. But not in the way liberals claim: the forces of enlightened modernity against benighted barbarism. Countries who drop bombs into caves whose purpose is to suck the oxygen out of and cauterize shut the lungs of all in its path don’t get to label anything barbarous. No, it’s but a pin prick of resistance against the Western beast — whether it was a result of political calculus, street-level rage, or some mixture of the two. Resistance, on the part of those who identify as victims of a global conspiracy to destroy, downgrade, devalue, destitute their values and customs and completely obliterate any power not yet rendered unto Caesar.
And that’s my actual interest here. Not useless questions about the immediate attack, not “why oh why!?” or “to what end!?” or “what next!?” punditological handwringing but real observations on just what exactly our morality is based. Just how much degradation and humiliation do colonized peoples have to endure? They’re defenseless in the face of waves of murder, torture, plunder, and then if that’s not enough, their centuries-enduring tormentor says it’s morally more righteous, better than they are, because it values, inherently, its right to say terrible shit in favor of destroying their civilizations above their right to fight against it? And forget fighting: the right to express their own similarly (in a very small way) violent opinion? Tarek Mehanna translated al-Qaeda materials and is in jail for 17 years. Anwar al-Awlaki was assassinated by drone in Yemen for the crime of saying mean things about America on YouTube. For good measure, his 16-year-old son was also evaporated. Javed Iqbal got 5 years in prison for broadcasting Hezbollah’s TV station inside the US. There were no #IAmTarekMehanna campaigns because nobody gives a fuck about a Tarek Mehanna.
All the power, all the power in the world is stacked against the victims of empire, and undisentanglable from this is the lack of power to make their case in defense. Maybe the assholes at Charlie Hebdo weren’t the politically worst that could be found — lots of reminders that they have “left-wing origins” — but they proudly made themselves figureheads of European menace against Muslims. So, in a global dirty war with the odds stacked dramatically against them, do we need to get bent out of shape because some Muslims, driven to the brink in a very psychological war, punished one manifestation of this all-inundating imperial mire of which a huge, integral part is propaganda?
Propaganda also helps the cultural mop-up job after events like this. Western Muslims, especially of the journalist class, routinely fall over themselves to condemn anything any Muslim does in the world. The latest attack provided new colonized supplicant fodder:
I’m expected now to insert some boilerplate about the tragedy of lost lives and the pain of the cartoonists’ families. But with a limited amount of political attention, I can’t find the space to give too much of a shit about this racist trash. Would Andrew Breitbart’s heart exploding be any less welcome on the left if al-Qaeda blew it up and not one too many cheeseburgers? Same for the journalist scum who plumped America for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. If Judith Miller found herself at the wrong end of a Kalashnikov, would I suddenly cease loathing every fiber of that horribly shitty collection of cells because they mercifully were made to stop their mitosis? Nah. If Dick Cheney ended up too close to a directed EMP, I wouldn’t condemn this “terror” attack despite him never, after all, having physically lifted a finger against his victims.
Check out these dumb, unoriginal, trite cartoons in response to the massacre. They are exactly the kind of simplistic, idiotic thinking that helps delete all background and make it so that history began yesterday. As if Western Civilization’s mighty pens were the only missiles pointed at Muslims. The West is just minding its own enlightened business and these jihad crazies come and assail our absolute greatest right. It’s what makes it possible for us to identify firstly with the dead cartoonists and not the millions of people, many their own countrymen, whom they proudly and routinely made feel less than human in a very real way. This matters because this dehumanization carries with it other consequences including death.
On a complimentary note, you could always count on the Free Speech religionists centered around the Great Infodad to shovel plenty of coal into the liberal #JeSuisCharlie train. From Wikileaks
to Freedom of the Press Foundation
to First Look’s earnest gaggle of also-rans
the priggish moralism of the Greenwald star system never disappoints.
The WikiLeaks tweet is an excellent example of why, by the way, we can love and appreciate a real act of whistleblowing and not be required to sign on to the whistleblower’s specific politics. Tarzie said it best:
Snowden’s political philosophy illustrates a problem with whistleblowers: they’re the kind of people who get into the sort of deep, dark places from which whistles customarily get blown. Places that are uniquely attractive to patriots, ultra-conformists, imperialists and sociopaths. Ellsberg was deep inside the war bureaucracy after hanging out in Vietnam with his mentor, notorious psychopath Edward Lansdale and other thugs. Manning was an Army Intelligence Analyst in Iraq. John Kirakou had spent a decade in the CIA before blowing the whistle on torture. Snowden has spent his entire working life in various arms of the security apparatus. I appreciate their service to the truth, but with all due respect, these are not my kind of people.
Unless they significantly repudiate their past lives, some residue of what took them into Empire’s belly is going to stick. This would be fine, were some of them not also inclined to offer opinions on how the world should work, and their admirers exceptionally inclined to take them seriously because of their heroic deeds.
The point is, “mere” words aren’t benign. Politics is run on words. Wars are launched on words. It matters who is using them. We should defend the right of the powerless to rail against their tormentors. The powerful — and this includes people using words in support of powerful people — don’t need or deserve our support.
The title, some may have already realized, is an homage to the as-it-happened critical coverage of the Snowden spectacle by Tarzie before anyone else I knew was doing so. That he turned out to be SO prescient is as absolutely stunning as his pillorying has been relentless. He was also ahead of his time in attacking the sacrosanct ideal of Free Speech with no consequence — for power only, of course. He doesn’t get nearly as much recognition for this as he deserves, all done against a torrent of Twitter-troll pigshit and smear campaigns from quite on high.
Here’s a discussion of whether or not the attack can be considered “resistance.”