Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

From the French Left, on Defending Charlie Hebdo, Pierre Rousset.

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Charlie Hebdo Rally: Generous and Open Republican Unity.

“Had the sect which was rising in Paris been a sect of mere scoffers, it is very improbable that it would have left traces of its existence in the institutions and manners of Europe.” “laughing at the Scriptures, shooting out the tongue at the sacraments, but ready to encounter principalities and powers in the cause of justice, mercy and toleration.”

Ranke’s History of the Popes. Thomas Babington Macauly. 1840

“An Englishman who professes really to like French realistic novels, really to be at home in a French modern theatre, really to experience no shock on first seeing the savage French caricatures, is making a mistake very dangerous for his own sincerity. He is admiring something he does not understand. He is reaping where he has not down, and taking up where he has not laid down; he is trying to taste the fruit when he has never toiled over the tree. He is trying to pluck the exquisite fruit of French cynicism when he has never tilled the rude but rich soil of French virtue.”

French and English. C.K.Chesterton. 1908.

In The Flying Inn (1914) G.K.Chesterton imagined a Britain in which Compulsory Temperance is introduced under Progressive Islam. A Muslim Preacher Misyra Ammon, the Prophet of the Moon, has appeared. He announces “English civilisation had been founded by the Turks; or perhaps by the Saracens after their victory in the Crusades.” Vegetarians, philanthropists, aristocratic Suffragettes, and Ethical Societies don fezzes, unite behind his Cause and the Imperial Commission for Liquor Control. Inns cannot serve alcohol without a sign. But all the signs have been abolished. Humphrey Pump and Captain Patrick Dalroy defy the order with an ambulant barrel of rum. Its location, shifts, “flies”.

Chesterton added that the League of the Red Rosette, “the formidable atheist and anarchist organisation” interrupts the new Prophet’s services. The novel approaches its end, when a “a coarse strip of red rag, possibly collected from a dust-bin” is “tied round the wooden sign-post by way of a red flag of revolution”. The ‘Turks’ are driven back.

The Flying Inn can be criticised in many respects –  not least of which is that I don’t find it very amusing. Its Edwardian racial and class stereotypes – and jokes – have not worn well. Recently another novel that imagines Islamic government in Europe has been published. I have not read Michael Houellebecq’s Soumission – a qualification that in British left terms gives me the right to talk about it for several paragraphs. It’s about a Muslim ruled France in 2022. President Ben Abbes, with the consent of his ‘centrist’ Prime Minister François Bayrou, introduces a through-going programme of Islamisation. The economy is run on “distributionist” lines, the (small) property-owning capitalism advocated by…C.K.Chesterton.

Whether the author of The Flying Inn would be charmed at this is less than certain. He would perhaps have felt more warmly towards this statement, “The real enemy of Muslims, what they loathe and fear above all, it’s Catholicism: it’s secularism, laïcité atheistic materialism.” (Soumission. Review. Christopher de Bellaigue. 7.2.15).

A Month After the Paris Murders.

Over the last month, after the slaughters at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket at the Porte de Vincennes, secularists and laïques have discovered friends, and many enemies. All are ‘appalled’ at the murders. But……laughing at the Scriptures, in this instance, by “savage caricatures”, has caused great offence. In Britain much – not all – of the left has been appalled by the “pornographic” representation of the Prophet. Many of them, as we have noted on this Blog, have become stern Instructors on the Noble Art of Satire, finding fault in the magazine’s ‘sadism’ and attacks on the apparently powerless institutions of the Mosque, the memory of the Church, and the faith of the marginalised and oppressed. Alain Badiou has even compared Charlie’s lapses of taste to Voltaire’s rudeness at the Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc.

The most persistent theme has been to call the paper racist. This is not confined to the English-speaking world, although this smear is frequent enough in certain circles here. Camille Emmanuelle, married to Charlie cartoonist, Luz, resumes the list of charges against the Weekly, “Charlie Hebdo «est devenu un journal raciste, homophobe, transphobe, sexiste et tout particulièrement islamophobe ». (Charlie Hebdo: être aimé par des cons, c’est dur, être haï par des amis, c’est pire). If it’s less common in France to say that Charlie ‘had it coming to them’ (a statement that immediately evokes…..and the people at Hyper-Cacher ?…) one can still sense that something of that spirit is there amongt the ‘leftists’ who rail against the Charlie ‘laïcards’ – god botherers.

In this context the intervention of Pierre Rousset, a veteran of the Trotskyist movement (Ligue communiste révolutionnaire, Fourth International) and the broader French left, in his article Après Charlie Hebdo et l’Hyper Cacher : penser le neuf, repenser l’ancien (11th February 2015) assumes its significance. Rousset begins his article by thanking those, (himself, and François Sabado included), who immediately expressed solidarity with Charlie. (1) He then passes to those who equally swiftly seized on the demonstrations of ‘national unity’ to fall back on their « routine » criticisms of the French state. Most importantly Rousset is concerned with those who attempt to « morally assassinate » the people who were « assassinated physically » the Charlie team.

Much of the piece is a response to another person associated with the Fourth International, Gilbert Achar, and his comments on the events. (What caused the killings? 3.2.15.) Achcar has claimed that French response was ‘what anybody would expect’ – although he adds that one should not exaggerate any parallels with the attack on the Twin Towers. Nevertheless a lot of police repression, and Islamophobia was aroused. The ‘core issue’ that emerged was the ‘condition of populations of immigrant origin inside France.’ The SOAS-based academic rejects out of hand any talk identifying Political Islam with Fascism. The responsibility for the emergence of violent jihadism lies with ‘the imperialist powers, and above all, the United States’.

While Achcar does not indulge in the ‘but…..’ analysis of the majority of Charlie’s enemies, he still lays into the weekly, “Charlie Hebdo is a blatant illustration of the left-wing arrogant secularism”.

For Rousset, on the contrary, the reaction in France was far from what “one would expect”. The great demonstration of January the 11th expressed a ‘non-exclusive solidarity’. They refused any amalgamation between Islam and terrorism. While there have been assaults on Muslims it was significant that this was decisively rejected by those saying Je Suis Charlie. Many immigrant and minority community  associations backed the post-‘attentats’ commemorations.

The Left’s Failure to Confront Fundamentalism.

The heart of Après Charlie Hebdo lies in the statement that the radical left is ill-equipped to deal with fundamentalism. In large part this is due to their own weak links with immigrant populations, or those (3rd generation) of migrant descent. But perhaps more significantly this left’s strategy is awry.

The far-left is, in Rousset’s eyes, fixated on the ‘main enemy ’ imperialism, and unable to see these political movements as forces that act in their own right. He notes that we are not dealing with unknown quantities, « Le rôle de l’islam politique au pouvoir (Egypte), puis des islamismes « radicaux » contre les révolutions populaires dans le monde arabe ont dans une large part clarifié le débat sur la nature progressiste ou non de ces courants politico-religieux. » The role of Political Islam in government (Egypt), and that of radical Islamists against the mass revolutions in the Arab world, has largely clarified the debate about their progressive nature of these political-religious currents.”

Political agents on the fringe of Islamism, the ‘sects’ that commit acts of terrorism, and the sectarian state of the Caliphate, have their own internal logic. They are the enemies of progressives – and the enemies of Muslims. The world, he notes, is not bounded by Chinese Walls: what happens ‘there’ affects us all ‘here’. We have to fight the Islamist reactionaries, and struggle against discrimination and racism, with Muslims, for a society of solidarity.

One group’s strategy is signaled out by Rousset, the British SWP. He notes their communiqué after the January massacres. It condemned the slaughter but found time to lay responsibility on Charlie Hebdo for its ‘ racist’ provocations.

This is what he has to say,

« On comprend que le SWP britannique réagit ainsi, car il lui faut effacer ses traces et faire oublier ses propres responsabilités. Il a été l’une des principales organisations de la gauche radicale à présenter la montée du fondamentalisme islamique comme l’expression d’un nouvel anti-impérialisme ; il a aussi rendu inaudible la parole des femmes qui, en Grande-Bretagne même, appelaient les milieux progressistes à les soutenir face à l’emprise fondamentaliste. »

It is understandable that the SWP reacts in this way: they had to cover their tracks, to hide their own responsibilities. The party has been one of the main organisations on the radical left to present the rise of fundamentalism as the expression of a new ‘anti-imperialism’. In this way the SWP has stifled the voices of women, who in the UK itself, have called on progressive groups to back them against the power of the fundamentalists

Defending Charlie, a Generous Republic and Secularism.

Rousset defends Charlie, without admiring every one of its cartoons, or contributors. He underlines their left-wing commitment, describing them as a slice of the left, not ‘one’ group. The accusation of racism is simply risible. The veteran Trotskyist notes that some of the cartoonists published in his own journal Rouge (Ligue Comministe Révolutionnaire). The victim, Charlie, is not ‘perfect’ he rightly says.

There are questions about who to satirise and who to not. It is right to be able to blaspheme, it’s the right of a free society based on laïcité. Whether it is worth giving such prominence to lampooning religious symbols so relentlessly remains an issue. One does not need to cede to Anglo-American cultural imperialism to become bored – even for this English admirer of French ‘savage satire’ – with 3rd Republic anti-clericalism. And yet…..there are indeed – all too visible – religious « principalities and powers » that need criticism in the name of justice.

The generous spirit of Rousset is displayed in the sorrow with which he considers the fate of those who fell in January, the individuals and their friends. There is not a shred of ‘arrogance’ in his writing. His optimism and humanity stands out in  Rousset’s endorsement of « unité républicaine » « une certaine idée généreuse de la République, d’une citoyenneté commune. » embracing those who lives in the margins, and for a fight against all the racisms (all the other forms of prejudice and discrimination, against the Rom onwards)  that exist in France, is profoundly stirring. We are far from harvesting the last crop from the  rich soil of French virtue.

(1) They observed of the 11th January demonstration, “Whatever the confusion in the minds of participants, their reaction and behaviour showed that the demonstrations were a tremendous expression of fraternal feeling. Participants chatted amongst themselves and helped one another move along amidst the crush of the masses of people who had gathered. Some scenes on the short-lived afternoons of the 10th and 11th brought back memories of the demonstrations of 1995 or even 1968, with solidarity as the dominant theme.”

“We are all Charlie” burst out as a cry of human solidarity against the murders. It captured a range of opinions. The idea of a “working-class Charlie” was even put forward – in order to link solidarity with the murdered journalists with the need to mobilize in defense of social rights. The formulation is open to debate, but the idea is a correct one in that it seeks to inject social and democratic content into the anger and sadness.

This is the groundswell from French society that has been expressed since January 7th and anti-capitalists should be part of it, engaging in dialogue with the millions of people who have been involved. These were not reactionary demonstrations. The dominant themes were not support for cross-party national unity or the law-and-order and anti-democratic measures announced by the government. Society went into action, spontaneously, and with a great deal of confusion, but in a progressive direction all the same. This is the starting point for our thinking and it’s in this framework that we must assess the problems that now confront us.”

I could not agree more – in my very bones!

Charlie Hebdo – And now what? The events, their impact and the issues at play. François Sabado, Pierre Rousset  23rd January. 2005.

5 Responses

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  1. Pierre Rousset is one of our best, this older piece is also quite good: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article16931

    entdinglichung

    February 16, 2015 at 10:14 am

  2. Rousset’s excellent piece seems to have been first published, in French, 11 February on the website of Europe solidaire sans frontières, just as you linked to, Andrew. They have now translated it into English, posting it on Tuesday, 10 March. The Fourth International’s ‘International Viewpoint’ re-published it the day after.
    http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34512#nh9

    Reading it now I would draw attention to three things:

    1) Rousset criticises his own NPA for being soft on indigenous oppressors, professed Muslims, & instead focusing on Johnny Foreigner, the Big Bad Imperialist Wolves. No. Responsibility, & their causal origin, must be ascribed:

    “We never tire of repeating the fact that imperialist wars (such as the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003) have created the fertile ground on which the Islamic State has prospered. Quite right, and we have to keep repeating this so that no one believes that imperialist war is the answer. But another cause are the policies pursued by ruling classes in the Muslim world. A recent issue of the NPA’s French-language weekly l’Anticapitaliste takes up this question, but only with great trepidation. [6]”;

    2) as you noted Andrew, & to give the whole paragraph, he criticises the Brit SWP in a similar way:

    “The British SWP pushed things particularly far in this area. The Central Committee statement released following the Charlie Hebdo massacre is written from start to finish in such a way as to minimize the responsibility of the assassins, even if the attack is described as ‘wrong and completely unacceptable’ and the killings as ‘horrific’. Alongside imperialism, Charlie Hebdo comes off as a major guilty party due to its ‘provocative and racist attacks on Islam,’ adding for good measure that while ‘that does not justify the killings, but it is essential background.’ The only task of the hour is therefore to ‘unite against racism and Islamophobia’. [12] It’s easy to understand why the SWP would react in this way, given that it has to erase its tracks and blind readers to its own responsibilities. It was one of the main organizations of the radical Left to describe the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as the expression of a new anti-imperialism. And when women in Britain itself called on progressive forces to support them against the fundamentalist threat, the SWP made it nearly impossible for them to get a hearing on the Left.”; &

    3) he makes a point about the f-word that may interest the AWL – & its critics. Am I correct in saying this is the first time an FI comrade has spoken in the same breath of fascism and Islamist politics & practice, albeit as a type rather than the beast itself?:

    “The backdrop for religious fundamentalisms is evolving rapidly and past analyses, however relevant they may be, have to be brought up to date. The Islamic State, for example, is a recent development and may itself be undergoing rapid change. To be sure, none of the affected countries resemble the Europe of the inter-war period. Still, these movements fulfill functions (against the Arab revolutions, for example) comparable to those of European fascisms (against the workers movement). Some of these movements, in Pakistan at any rate, have built a real mass base within extremely reactionary segments of the educated middle classes [8], and also within ‘plebeian’ layers through Koranic schools. Perhaps we should speak of fundamentalist political-religious movements of a fascist type. It’s not that I want to come up with a one-size-fits-all term, but I feel there is a need to update our analysis of fundamentalisms (in the plural).”

    Finally, there are two things to note about the English version published this week. First, Rousset adds an interesting footnote (#14) summarising what is perhaps the only study of Charlie Hebdo frontcovers:

    “Two sociologists have looked at 523 cover pages of the magazine from January 2005 to January 2015. The main target is the Right. Religion is addressed in only seven percent of coverpages. Of these, more than half are mainly about Catholicism and fewer than 20 percent Islam (for a total of 1.3 percent of coverpages in the last ten years). So religion was a minor topic, with Catholicism getting the lion’s share of attention. See ESSF (article 34419), Les ‘unes’ de ‘Charlie’ analysées sur 10 ans: Non, « Charlie Hebdo » n’est pas obsédé par l’islam:
    http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34419
    Other sociologists have taken a different approach and come up with different numbers. But they all acknowledge that the lack of serious studies ‘leaves the door open to simplistic interpretations and solutions’. Unfortunately, snap judgements about Charlie Hebdo are all over the place, leading in particular to one-sided condemnations from organizations and individuals who haven’t actually read the magazine, hadn’t heard of it, and are unaware of any serious review studies about it (with good reason, since none exist).”

    This Mignot & Goffette analysis was originally in Le Monde, 24Feb, & on europe-solidaire the next day.

    Less importantly, e-s say which English footnotes were added to the French original: # 4, 10, 14, 23 & 28. (The IV post has one less footnote, e-s’s #9, because a reference was published by IV, so it made sense to use instead a link embedded in the text.)

    Jara Handala

    March 13, 2015 at 2:03 pm

  3. Rousset’s excellent piece seems to have been first published, in French, 11 February on the website of Europe solidaire sans frontières, just as you linked to, Andrew. They have now translated it into English, posting it on Tuesday just gone, 10 March. The Fourth International’s ‘International Viewpoint’ re-published it the day after.
    http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34512

    Reading it now I would draw attention to three things:

    1) Rousset criticises his own NPA for being soft on indigenous oppressors, professed Muslims, & instead focusing on Johnny Foreigner, the Big Bad Imperialist Wolves. No. Responsibility, & their causal origin, must be ascribed:

    “We never tire of repeating the fact that imperialist wars (such as the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003) have created the fertile ground on which the Islamic State has prospered. Quite right, and we have to keep repeating this so that no one believes that imperialist war is the answer. But another cause are the policies pursued by ruling classes in the Muslim world. A recent issue of the NPA’s French-language weekly l’Anticapitaliste takes up this question, but only with great trepidation. [6]”;

    2) as you noted Andrew, & to give the full paragraph, he criticises the Brit SWP in a similar way:

    “The British SWP pushed things particularly far in this area. The Central Committee statement released following the Charlie Hebdo massacre is written from start to finish in such a way as to minimize the responsibility of the assassins, even if the attack is described as ‘wrong and completely unacceptable’ and the killings as ‘horrific’. Alongside imperialism, Charlie Hebdo comes off as a major guilty party due to its ‘provocative and racist attacks on Islam,’ adding for good measure that while ‘that does not justify the killings, but it is essential background.’ The only task of the hour is therefore to ‘unite against racism and Islamophobia’. [12] It’s easy to understand why the SWP would react in this way, given that it has to erase its tracks and blind readers to its own responsibilities. It was one of the main organizations of the radical Left to describe the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as the expression of a new anti-imperialism. And when women in Britain itself called on progressive forces to support them against the fundamentalist threat, the SWP made it nearly impossible for them to get a hearing on the Left.”; &

    3) he makes a point about the f-word that may interest the AWL – & its critics. Am I correct in saying this is the first time an FI comrade has spoken in the same breath of fascism and Islamist politics & practice, albeit as a type rather than the beast itself?:

    “The backdrop for religious fundamentalisms is evolving rapidly and past analyses, however relevant they may be, have to be brought up to date. The Islamic State, for example, is a recent development and may itself be undergoing rapid change. To be sure, none of the affected countries resemble the Europe of the inter-war period. Still, these movements fulfill functions (against the Arab revolutions, for example) comparable to those of European fascisms (against the workers movement). Some of these movements, in Pakistan at any rate, have built a real mass base within extremely reactionary segments of the educated middle classes [8], and also within ‘plebeian’ layers through Koranic schools. Perhaps we should speak of fundamentalist political-religious movements of a fascist type. It’s not that I want to come up with a one-size-fits-all term, but I feel there is a need to update our analysis of fundamentalisms (in the plural).”

    Finally, there are two things to note about the English version published this week. First, Rousset adds an interesting footnote (#14) summarising what is perhaps the only study of Charlie Hebdo frontcovers:

    “Two sociologists have looked at 523 cover pages of the magazine from January 2005 to January 2015. The main target is the Right. Religion is addressed in only seven percent of coverpages. Of these, more than half are mainly about Catholicism and fewer than 20 percent Islam (for a total of 1.3 percent of coverpages in the last ten years). So religion was a minor topic, with Catholicism getting the lion’s share of attention. See ESSF (article 34419), Les ‘unes’ de ‘Charlie’ analysées sur 10 ans: Non, « Charlie Hebdo » n’est pas obsédé par l’islam:
    http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34419
    Other sociologists have taken a different approach and come up with different numbers. But they all acknowledge that the lack of serious studies ‘leaves the door open to simplistic interpretations and solutions’. Unfortunately, snap judgements about Charlie Hebdo are all over the place, leading in particular to one-sided condemnations from organizations and individuals who haven’t actually read the magazine, hadn’t heard of it, and are unaware of any serious review studies about it (with good reason, since none exist).”

    This Mignot & Goffette analysis was originally in Le Monde, 24Feb, & on europe-solidaire the next day.

    Less importantly, e-s say which English footnotes were added to the French original: # 4, 10, 14, 23 & 28. (The IV post has one less footnote, e-s’s #9, because that {a} reference was published by IV, so it made sense to use instead a link embedded in the text.)

    Jara Handala

    March 13, 2015 at 4:37 pm

  4. A really very useful contribution Jara.

    Apart from your points the first thing that struck me is I didn’t notice the different footnote noting the coverage of the covers.

    This is a real issue.

    In my own writing about Charlie I cite the fact that the weekly is 16 pages long – so apart from the covers there are plenty of other cartoons and articles to analyse.

    Andrew Coates

    March 13, 2015 at 6:59 pm

  5. Thanks Jara for offering a very useful way of looking at this.

    The SWP, Counterfire and the clique around Livingstone – not to mention Galloway – indeed cling to this threadbare political analysis.

    Their approach to Islamism was wrong from the start: this is a mouvance (broader that ‘a’ movement) of the right to far-right (ideologically comparable to similar protean ‘populist’ and racist European groups) linked to the class interests of the pious Moslem national bourgeoisie.

    It can appear ‘anti-imperialist’ only in so far as these sections of the pious bourgeoisie conflict with the international strategies of the US, the “West”. Domestically every single Islamist movement, group, and sect, is pro-business. Their appeals for ‘social justice’ are Islamic versions of Christian democracy and Corporatist (anti-class struggle) extreme-right solidarism.

    The Islamic State is a disciplinary totalitarian machine which most closely corresponds to classical fascism.

    These features have become more and more apparent over the years.

    But since the ‘alliance with the Islamists against ‘the state’ is pretty ingrained these groups have been unable to face political reality, and above all they search domestic allies on this terrain.

    The pathetic figure of Galloway and the reactionary results of Respect count as nothing for them

    Back to Charlie….

    The footnote is extremely important – though I doubt if any of those who wish to rescue dusky maidens from the evil clutches of Charlie and French secularists ever cared much about the reality of the Weekly.

    It is, as I have said, 16 pages long.

    To go beyond the Covers (the only bits available on the Net) is to see that Charlie is a left paper in about, oh, five minutes.

    This is the reason I produced a couple of translations of their more serious articles (the humorous ones are as hard to render into English as Private Eye’s Dave Spart, or Viz, would be into French).

    Andrew Coates

    March 14, 2015 at 12:29 pm


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