So the Wahhabi Sunni militants in Yemen, who are theoretically at war with the Yemeni dictatorship which is aligned with the Saudi dictatorship (although elsewhere in Arabia these militants are usually aligned with, and often funded by, the Saudi dictatorship) decided that they could take no more of the massacres perpetrated against them. (These massacres are sometimes committed by Yemenis in the pay of the dictatorship, more often by Americans; the Americans and the dictatorship, however, are mostly fighting against the Shi’ite rebellion against the Yemeni dictatorship, although the Wahhabi Sunni militants are elsewhere mostly concerned to suppress Shi’ite rights and indeed to massacre Shi’ites, as in Syria and Iraq.) Doubtless murmuring under their breath “In the name of Allah the merciful, the compassionate”, these Wahhabi Sunni militants therefore hired some people who had been fighting against the Assad government in Syria on behalf of other Wahhabi Sunni militants, and sent them off to murder some French journalists in Paris.
If you think that makes any sense, you have not been paying attention (for which the Creator forgives you).
We should, first of all, clear all sense of outrage from our minds, which means that we should ignore virtually all commentary about the Charlie Hebdo massacre. There is a war going on, the war to sustain the supremacy of the United States in the world; a large part of that war is armed aggression against Muslim countries because it happens to be easier to legitimate such aggression in American eyes, and also because (purely coincidentally) there is a lot of oil under Muslim sand. There is a war within that war, in which Saudi Arabia is attempting to expand its influence in the Arabian peninsula and in Mesopotamia by promoting instability and fomenting Wahhabi violence in the region. In these wars the laws of war have been suspended; civilians are slaughtered without quarter or even concern and illegal weapons may be used. Hence, butchering unarmed people in Arabia or Mesopotamia or Paris cannot be condemned because there is no basis for condemning it.
Of course, we may say that the war should not be happening, that the laws of war ought to exist, and if we say that then we can certainly condemn the Charlie Hebdo massacre (like all the other related massacres) on moral grounds. Some have earned the right to do that. Nobody engaged in the war, however, has any such right.
Disregarding all that, however, it seems obvious that murdering the staff of an anti-government periodical is a very foolish thing to do under the circumstances. What is worse — publishing a cartoon, or exterminating a wedding-party? Logic suggests the latter, and yet the perpetrators of the Yemeni bloodbaths sit peacefully in their air-conditioned offices twiddling controllers and watching screens, joking with each other as their missiles blast civilians into sprays of blood, shit and flesh, while the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo were themselves turned into such amorphous “bugsplats” by rifle and rocketry. Why the one, and not the other?
It’s not going to be possible to say, because, as is customary these day, the perpetrators were murdered by the French state. This raises the possibility that the perpetrators might have been employed, not by the Yemenis at all, but by the French state itself. A common characteristic of Arabian guerrilla movements is their eagerness to take credit for things which they did not actually accomplish; meanwhile, the French state had its own reasons both for attacking Charlie Hebdo and for promoting fear and loathing of Muslims. The speed with which the assassins were identified suggests that the French state must have had a good deal of information about what was going on, unless the assassins announced themselves (in which case why did they bother to wear ski-masks?). However, although such speculation is entertaining, it probably should not be assumed to be true.
Charlie Hebdo was engaged in what appears to be another war entirely from the one being waged in Arabia and Mesopotamia (and North and Central and East Africa). This is the war against sacredness, the idea that there are some things which can and should be deemed special by virtue of their very nature. Ridiculing sacred figures such as Mohommed and Jesus is a tactic in this war, which is an extension of the Enlightenment and an attempt to strip the world of any worship at all — except, perhaps, the worship of money and those who possess it. Understandably, pursuing such tactics outrages people whose world revolves around the sacred and who also view the modernisation in the name of the Enlightenment as simply a form of intellectual colonisation — as indeed it usually is.
So, although it might seem absurd to attack a magazine for making rude references to a religious prophet, it probably doesn’t seem so to those who financed the attack or those who launched it. They cannot, after all, get at the drone pilots, safe in the United States, or the other drone operators safe in Djibouti under French protection. They cannot get at the people who order these things in Washington, London or Paris. They can, however, get at people whom they probably conceive of as among the propagandists for a war against the Islamic world. Particularly those ones who do not receive protection (whereas official propagandists certainly would receive such protection, at least better protection than a couple of lightly-armed beat cops.
Still, the attack seems strikingly pointless. It only makes sense if you believe that the enemies of Islam are all essentially the same — that Charlie Hebdo is just one tentacle of an octopus of religious bigotry, and that by slashing at the tentacle you can cause the octopus to wince. In reality, most of the other enemies of Islam in France do not much like Charlie Hebdo. After all, despite its anti-Islamic fervour and its Zionism it still made frequent and pungent criticisms of the French state and the state religion. French leaders are glad to exploit the magazine’s suffering by mobilising anti-Islamic fervour around the massacre. Meanwhile they can delight in the massacre of its journalists and cartoonists; enemies of neoliberal uniformity are dead! Best if all is the fact that the massacre was carried out by Muslim gunmen who, when push comes to shove, were trained, equipped and commanded by forces under the indirect control of the United States which is allied with the neoliberal French state! So the neoliberal state arranges massacres which benefit it, but which it can use to justify its existence and tighten its grip on the throat of the people! What could be more perfect?
Naturally, although the gunmen may have believed in the octopus theory (which is just a mirror-image of white Western conspiracy theories about Muslims fostered by the neoliberal imperialists) their leaders probably did not. They did not believe that the massacre would accomplish anything to reduce the suffering of Muslims in the world. Rather, they believed that it would have two effects useful for them. Firstly, it would fool French Muslims into thinking that someone was sticking up for their interests, thus bringing them more fully under the Sunni-Wahhabi umbrella and thus increasing the tyrannical power of the Saudi dictatorship and its allies. Secondly, it would empower and encourage French Islamophobia, and thus build a sense of paranoia and oppression all around which would not only force French Muslims more fully under the Sunni-Wahhabi umbrella, but also make French Islamophobes and their dupes more subservient to the American anti-Islamic campaign, and thus less critical of neoliberalism. What could be more perfect?
Oh, Creator, you’re such a beastly cynic and conspiracy theorist. What hard evidence have you for all these things? (Disregarding, as one must, the entire tendency of neoliberal foreign policy since at least 1967, that is.)
Well, let’s consider the “We are Charlie” movement. According to the propaganda organs, a million people marched over the weekend in protest against the massacre. That’s an impressive number of people, all in absolute conformity, under the protection and with the encouragement of government officials of course, demonstrating in support of non-conformity and rejection of government. You don’t really believe that, do you? If that were the case, it would be 1968 multiplied (which the founders of Charlie Hebdo would approve, being old soixante-huit veterans themselves) and the government would collapse after the street fighting began.
No, they were marching against these filthy, corrupt Muslims who are seeking to take away our grand freedoms — the ones donated by the benevolent regime which has taken away our working rights, our privacy, our social mobility, our access to the media and our ability to change from one kind of government to another. We may have lost all our rights, but we still have freedoms, which are under threat from Muslims who must be bombed, or something. Maybe we can go fire-bomb a mosque tonight to show how we value our freedoms. The police won’t object.
Notice how much bigger this march was than the march against the Iraq war in London in 2003, and that was big enough (and if Jonathan Steel is to be trusted, was establishment enough). Of course, this is a march without a real objective, because nobody was urging anybody to make any demands or sacrifices or pursue any goals. Just a protest against gunmen shooting journalists, carefully drained of any context. You won’t take part in the march? Good Lord, are you in favour of gunmen shooting journalists? What do you mean, nobody marched against NATO’s murder of Serbian journalists in 1999, or of al-Jazeera journalists in 2001 and 2003? What has that got to do with anything?
It is, in short, a march of delusion. It changes nothing, except that it flings a wet, stinking blanket of conformity over the populace, like one of Napoleon III’s plebiscites. (“Do you support law and order and national harmony? Answer yes or no.”) And of course the current French government, like most governments nowadays, has about the same legitimacy as Napoleon III had.
Would the Saudis be able to turn out similar proportions of people in support of murdering French journalists? Probably. But they don’t need to bother.