After the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, which killed 12 people including the editor and four other cartoonists, and the murder of four Jews at a kosher supermarket shortly after, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared "a war against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom, solidarity." Millions of people demonstrated in condemnation of the atrocities, amplified by a chorus of horror under the banner "I am Charlie." There were eloquent pronouncements of outrage, captured well by the head of Israel's Labor Party and the main challenger for the upcoming elections, Isaac Herzog, who declared that "Terrorism is terrorism. There's no two ways about it," and that "All the nations that seek peace and freedom [face] an enormous challenge" from brutal violence.
France ordered prosecutors around the country Wednesday to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism, announcing that 54 people had been arrested for those offenses since the Paris terror attacks. The order came as Charlie Hebdo's defiant new issue sold out before dawn around Paris, with scuffles at kiosks over dwindling copies of the satirical newspaper fronting the Prophet Muhammad. Like many European countries, France has strong laws against hate speech and especially anti-Semitism in the wake of the Holocaust. In a message distributed to all French prosecutors and judges, the Justice Ministry laid out the legal basis for rounding up those who defend the Paris terror attacks as well as those responsible for racist or anti-Semitic words or acts.
We have engineered the rage of the dispossessed. The evil of predatory global capitalism and empire has spawned the evil of terrorism. And rather than understand the roots of that rage and attempt to ameliorate it, we have built sophisticated mechanisms of security and surveillance, passed laws that permit the targeted assassinations and torture of the weak, and amassed modern armies and the machines of industrial warfare to dominate the world by force. This is not about justice. It is not about the war on terror. It is not about liberty or democracy. It is not about the freedom of expression. It is about the mad scramble by the privileged to survive at the expense of the poor. And the poor know it. Caught between two worlds, they drift, as the two brothers did, into aimlessness, petty crime and drugs.
As politicians drape themselves in the flag of free speech and freedom of the press in response to the tragic murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, they’ve also quickly moved to stifle the same rights they claim to love. Government officials on both sides of the Atlantic are now renewing their efforts to stop NSA reform as they support free speech-chilling surveillance laws that will affect millions of citizens that have never been accused of terrorism. This is an entirely predictable response – as civil liberties advocates noted shortly after Wednesday’s tragic attack, the threat of terrorism has led to draconian laws all over the world over the last decade – but this time around, the speed and breadth by which politicians praised free speech out of one side of their mouths, while moving to curtail rights out of the other, has been quite breathtaking.