In my Charlie Hebdo piece I tried to understand how the anti-bourgeois left will use the affair to promote it’s agenda. Obviously, I have little sympathy for the positive ideals of the heirs of Robespierre and Lenin. But their negative critique of bourgeois society, and their sense of the crying injustice done to the weakest and poorest is very powerful. There is much distortion in it, yes, much misunderstanding, a good amount of inconsistency and self-contradiction; but there is also much truth, and this is the source of the enduring allure of radical leftism. By far the most powerful and moving piece on the Charlie Hebdo murders that I have read is by Sam Kriss. Much of what he says is questionable, but much more of it is clearly true:
Who is it that threatens free speech? When the French government bans all Gaza solidarity demonstrations at the height of a vicious massacre in Palestine, it’s not a threat to freedom of speech: it’s a public safety measure. When the French state bans Muslim women from wearing the veil in public, it’s not a threat to freedom of speech: it’s a defence of secularism. When fanatical Zionists plant a bomb under the car of a French Jewish journalist who won’t toe the party line on Israel, it’s not a threat to freedom of speech: it’s a criminal act, certainly, but not an existential threat to the general ability for you or for me to say whatever we want. In the UK newspaper offices are raided by spies and kids are sent to prison for burning artificial poppies; this isn’t a threat to free speech either. It’s strange. The capitalist state, once the existential enemy of all freedom, a monster to be kept constantly under watch, is now the armed guarantor of liberty. Threats to free speech don’t come from the powerful any more. It’s “the Muslims”: a mass both hydra-headed and faceless, like a handful of worms. A persecuted minority, the suffering conscience of Europe. (Did you know that it’s now illegal to build minarets in Switzerland? Or that several towns in Italy have banned non-Italian restaurants? Whose freedom is under threat?) Or if it does come from a state, it’s one far away, surrounded by barbed wire and guns pointing inwards. The poor and the despised: this is who we must defend ourselves against? […] What does free speech do? It offends, and there’s no such thing as a right to not be offended. Fine. But why is it assumed that what really offends “the Muslims” is the mere depiction of the prophet Mohammed, that if all other things were equal “they” would still fly into a murderous fury at stick-figures? France has been killing and occupying in Muslim lands since 1830. Across Europe Muslims are subjected to discriminatory laws and police surveillance; outside Europe Muslims are slaughtered by the hundreds from the air; Muslim-majority countries are plunged into chaos and bloodshed on the whims of a paternalistic Atlantic elite – and all of it is done in the name of freedom, a freedom that quickly reveals itself as the freedom to mock the victims. Such bravery. It’s just cartoons, it’s just satire: but it’s not; it’s bombs and missiles.