We hear much about bloody events in Paris being an attack upon Western traditions and freedom of the press, and I am sorry but such claims are close to laughable, even though there is nothing remotely funny about mass murder. It certainly is not part of the best Western tradition to insult the revered figures of major religions. You are, of course, technically free to do so in many Western countries—always remembering that in many of them, a wrong target for your satire will get you a prison term for “hate crimes”—but it does represent little more than poor judgment and extremely bad taste to exercise that particular freedom.
What Charlie Hebdo does is not journalism, it is sophomoric jokes and thinly disguised propaganda. Hebdo’s general tone and themes place it completely outside the mythic tableau of heroic defender of free speech or daring journalism, it being very much a vehicle for the interests of American imperialism through NATO.
Of course, the best Western traditions don’t outlaw what garments or symbols people may wear for their beliefs, as France has done. Note also the history of some of the politicians making grandiose statements about freedom of the press. Nicolas Sarkozy was involved a number of times in suppressing stories in the press, even once getting a journalist fired. Sarkozy is a man, by the way, who took vast, illegal secret payments from the late Muammar Gaddafi and from France’s richest heiress to secure his election as president. David Cameron had police seize computers at Guardian offices and allows Julian Assange to remain cooped up in the Embassy of Ecuador to avoid trumped-up charges in Sweden. Cameron is also best buddies with Rupert Murdoch, the man whose idea of journalism appears to be what he can dredge up to exchange for what he wants from government. His Fox News in the United States enjoys a reputation for telling the truth only by sheer accident. Barack Obama is a man transfixed by secrecy and ready to use all of his powers to punish those who tell the truth, a man who holds hundreds in secret prisons, and a man who regularly oversees the extrajudicial execution of hundreds and hundreds of people in a number of countries.
The parade celebrating the good things of Western tradition—which Obama missed but which saw now-potential presidential candidate Sarkozy shove his way to the front—also included such luminaries as the foreign minister of Egypt’s extremely repressive government, which, even as the minister marched proudly, held innocent journalists in prison simply for writing the truth. The prime minister of Turkey was there celebrating, a man who has put a number of journalists in jail. Celebrating rights and freedoms also was King Abdullah of Jordan who once saw a Palestinian journalist sentenced to hard labor for writing so simple a truth as that the king was dependent upon Israel for power.
We shouldn’t forget, too, that Israel targeted and killed a number of journalists in its Gaza invasions, that the United States’ forces in Iraq targeted and killed a number of journalists, and that “NATO” deliberately targeted Serbia’s state television service with bombing, killing many civilians. Free speech and Western traditions, indeed.
There are more doubts and questions in the Charlie Hebdo affair than there will ever be answers. In part this is because the French security forces silenced witnesses, killing three assumed perpetrators in a display which seems to say that Dirty Harry movies are now part of French training programs.
And then we have the sudden death by apparent suicide of a police commissioner in charge of the investigation just as he was writing his report alone at night, an event which received little mainline press coverage. A man in his forties in the midst of likely the biggest case of his career just decides to kill himself?
We should all be extremely suspicious of a trained killer, seen as being informed and exceedingly efficient at his work, leaving behind his identity card in an abandoned car. It really is a touch more serendipity than we would credit in a mystery story. We should all be extremely suspicious of men so obviously well trained in military techniques, about men who were well informed about schedules at the offices they attacked, and about men heavily armed in the center of Paris. People serving in notorious killer outfits like America’s SEALs or Britain’s SAS rarely achieve such complete success as twelve victims, all shot dead, and an easy get-away.
And just to add to the confusion we have the video of one of the armed men shooting a police officer lying on the sidewalk. The armed man, face covered, lowers his AK-47 to within a couple of feet of the victim’s head and fires. The head goes down, but we see no blood. Have you ever seen photos of someone shot in the head with a high velocity weapon? That’s what the Zapruder film is about, and the results are more like an exploding pumpkin than a death at the end of a stage play. Even the propaganda-ridden BBC now has expressed doubts about the video.
We need to be more than suspicious about anyone or any event which has any connection with ISIS. ISIS is one of the terror groups assembled, armed, and supplied by Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States for the deliberate and wanton destruction of Syria. The two brothers killed in Paris both fought in Syria. It certainly would be easy enough for someone to have obtained an ID card there from one of them. Remember, the excesses of ISIS we all read about—at least those that aren’t clearly staged propaganda stunts such as video of a hostage beheading—are the direct result of assembling large bands of cutthroats and fanatics, arming them, and setting them loose to terrorize someone else’s country.
It is the simplistic view of ISIS that the involved intelligence services want us to have that it is a spontaneous fanatical rebellion in favor of one extreme interpretation of Islam. Despite many recruits for ISIS holding what are undoubtedly genuine fanatical beliefs, they almost certainly have no idea who actually pays their salaries or provides their equipment—that is simply the way black intelligence operations work. And those participating in such operations are completely disposable in the eyes of those running them, as when the United States bombs some in ISIS who perhaps exceeded their brief.
Every society has some percentage of its population which is dangerously mad, and if such people are gathered together and given weapons, their beliefs are almost beside the point, except that they provide the targeting mechanism used by those doing the organizing.
We should all be extremely suspicious about any event when a man such as Rupert Murdoch is quoted afterward saying, “Muslims must be held responsible for jihadist cancer,” as he was in The Independent. In case you forgot, Murdoch is a man whose news organizations for years lied, stole, and violated a number of laws to obtain juicy tidbits for his chain of cheesy mass-circulation newspapers. Murdoch also is a man who has had the most intimate and influential relationships with several prime ministers, including that smarmy criminal, Tony Blair, and that current mindless windbag and ethical nullity, David Cameron. Publicity from large circulation newspapers, which can swing at a moment’s notice from supporting to attacking you, plus campaign contributions buy a lot of government compliance. Murdoch also is one of the world’s most tireless supporters of Israel’s criminal excesses.
And speaking of David Cameron, Murdoch’s made man in Britain, David, felt compelled to chime in on the Hebdo publicity extravaganza with, “Muslims face a special burden on extremism. . . .” Now, why would that be? No less than Murdoch’s creepy words, Cameron’s statement is an indefensible thing to say.
Who has a special burden for the massacre of students at Columbine High school in Colorado? Who has a special burden for Israeli Baruch Goldstein who murdered 29 Palestinians as they worshipped? Do Noweigians bear a special burden for Anders Breivik, who shot 69 people, mostly children, perhaps the most bizarre mass murderer of our times? Does the American Army bear a special burden for Timothy McVeigh’s horrific bombing in Oklahoma City, killing 168, he and his associates having met in Fort Benning during basic training, two of them having been roommates? Perhaps, in both these latter cases, Christianity bears a special burden since these people were exposed to that religion early in life? As was Hitler, as was Stalin, as was Mussolini, as was Franco, as was Ceaușescu, as was Pinochet, and countless other blood-drenched villains?
The late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was responsible for a great many murders, including about a hundred people bombed in a terror attack on the King David Hotel. He also was responsible for the assassination of the distinguished Swedish diplomat, Count Folke Bernadotte, and he started the invasion of Lebanon which eventually left thousands dead, but you’ll have a hard time finding him described anywhere as a “Jewish terrorist” or finding prominent people asking who has a special responsibility for his extraordinarily bloody career.
There is something hateful and poisonous in conflating the religious background of a criminal or mentally unbalanced person and his violent crime. We seem to do this only in cases involving violent men with Muslim backgrounds. Why? How is it possible that even one decent Muslim in this world has any responsibility for the acts of madmen who happen to be Muslim? This gets at one of the deep veins of hate and prejudice in Western society today, Islamophobia, a vein regularly mined by our “free” press and by our ‘democratic” governments. Our establishment having embraced Israel’s excesses and pretensions, we have been pushed into worshipping the mumbo-jumbo of Islamic terror, a phenomenon virtually invented in Israel and perpetuated by Israel’s apologists as a way of stopping anyone from asking why Israel does not make peace, stop abusing millions of people, and return to its recognized borders.
Well, we do have an entire industry exploiting every event which may be imagined as terror. I read an interview with the great cartoonist, Robert Crumb, who happens to live in France. When asked if any other journalists had approached him on the topic of controversial cartoons, he said that there weren’t any journalists in America anymore, just 250,000 public relations people. That is precisely the state of American journalism. It digs into nothing, at least nothing of consequence, working full time to manage the public’s perceptions of government and its dreadful policies, from murdering innocents with drones and remaining quiet on the many American and Israeli atrocities of recent decades to manipulating fears of “terrorism” and saying little about such domestic horrors as the many hundreds of citizens shot dead by American police every single year.
The French government is reported to have been quite concerned about Benjamin Netanyahu showing up at the Paris march and making volatile speeches, and they specifically asked him not to come. At first, Netanyahu’s own security service, Shin Bet, agreed that he should not go because the parade in the streets represented a difficult security situation. But neither the host government’s formal request nor the security service’s concerns can stop a man like Netanyahu. France was advised he would come, and the French made their displeasure clear by saying they would then also invite Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestine Authority to the parade, which they did.
Netanyahu not only marched for the cameras at the front rank of a parade where he had no business, he made arrangements with the families of four Jewish victims for an all-expense-paid showy funeral in Jerusalem. None of the victims was even an Israeli citizen, yet at this writing they have all been buried in there with pomp and plenty of publicity. But Netanyahu didn’t stop there, he went on to make speeches that the French and other European Jews should leave their countries riddled with anti-Semitism and come to Israel, their true homeland. In diplomatic terms, this was what is termed unacceptable behavior which in almost any other case would get you thrown out of a country. In ordinary terms, it was outrageous behavior, much like seeing a seriously drunken guest loudly insulting his host at a party to which he was not even invited.
The ineffectual current president of France, François Hollande, sent notice to Jerusalem that the four dead shop victims were being awarded the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor. The nation’s highest honor, founded by Napoleon over two hundred years ago for exceptional contributions to the state, awarded for the act of being murdered by thugs? Simply bizarre.
I don’t pretend to understand everything involved in this complex set of events, but it is unmistakable that we are being manipulated by a number of unscrupulous and unethical people who use murder victims and the public’s natural sympathies for them as board pieces in some much larger game.
There is even a trivial side to these bloody events with many Parisians carrying signs which read “Je Suis Charlie,” surely the kind of asininity posing as deep feeling that long has been established in the United States where Walmart teddy bears and plastic flowers, with cheap slogans, are regularly tossed in piles here and there as memorials to this or that. Perhaps Euro-Disney has had a more devastating influence on French culture than I realized.
John Chuckman is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. He has many interests and is a lifelong student of history. He writes with a passionate desire for honesty, the rule of reason, and concern for human decency. John regards it as a badge of honor to have left the United States as a poor young man from the South Side of Chicago when the country embarked on the pointless murder of something like 3 million Vietnamese in their own land because they happened to embrace the wrong economic loyalties. He lives in Canada, which he is fond of calling “the peaceable kingdom.” John’s columns appear regularly on Counterpunch, Media Monitors, Politics Canada, Baltimore Chronicle, Intrepid Report, Scoop (New Zealand), Asian Tribune, Aljazeerah.info, Smirking Chimp, Dissident Voice, and many other Internet sites. He has been translated into at least ten languages and is regularly translated into Italian and Spanish. Several of his essays have been published in book collections, including two college texts. His first book has just been published, “The Decline of the American Empire and the Rise of China as a Global Power,” published by Constable and Robinson, London. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.