A neighbour brought Ed Vulliamy’s thoughtful and informative Saturday article to the writer’s attention.
He opened by recalling a procession of 600,000 people winding along the Paris boulevards in December 1986, outraged at the killing of a Franco-Algerian student in police custody, after his arrest and allegedly severe beating during demonstrations against a proposed education law.
Arab France, liberal France and leftwing France, linked arms: “The militants of mai ’68 and the sons and daughters of the Algerian war of independence – the Latin Quarter and the poor, immigrant suburbs – united in common cause”.
Last week there were marches by Muslims behind banners reading “Non à la fanatisme” and parades by Muslims singing the Marseillaise. Business Insider records a mourner holding a candle next to a note stapled to a flower reading “Not in my name (from a Muslim)” during a gathering at the end of Shabbat called by the Jewish Student’s Union of France (UEJF) association on January 10th.
But Vulliamy observes that “this is not the welded, blood-brotherhood between the liberal left and Arab Paris that characterised that day in 1986”. Three decades later, “these two communities are at best ill at ease in each other’s company, at worst riven by mutual hostility”.
He asks why Charlie Hebdo, a “sworn enemy of the establishment“, which had incorporated those who challenged imperialism, combatted racism and supported Algerian independence, began to target ‘so ferociously’ others who oppose that same establishment.
An answer appears to lie in the profound conviction and commitment that religion has no right or role to influence in society, most strongly held by the Left Front, Front de gauche, or FDG – the closest, Vulliamy explains, that Charlie has to a political home: “No other leftwing movement in Europe puts quite such emphasis on a determined stance against the influence of religion”.
In December 1986, Vulliamy points out, the language of conflict was that of class and race, but “by the time the Kouachi brothers reached adulthood, that discourse was replaced by Islam versus the west”.
‘Freedom of speech’ – a myth
He described “Massacre of the insolents” as the best of last week’s many headlines, in La Voix du Nord and yet Jean Plantin, cartoonist for Le Monde, insisted: “We have to do this work of impertinence.” But the much-trumpeted ‘freedom of speech’ is a myth; statutes restrict ‘hate speech’ relating to ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation and courts convict those using libellous speech and revealing state secrets.
This ‘work of impertinence’ has added insult to the feelings of French Muslims – who take the brotherhood injunction seriously – and are already suffering from the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, the accounts of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and the civilian deaths by drone strikes in Afghanistan.
So are protestors today actually defending the freedom to make use of hurtful, provocative language which 19th century statesman Charles-James Fox described as ‘repulsive and bitter’ – and calculated to inflame people with whom we should seek to live in peace?
The article may be read here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/10/paris-attacks-france-liberal-left-protest-arabs