The deplorable attack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in which terrorists killed 12 and wounded 11, incited several reactions from the public, the sensitized media, and heads of state who hope to extract political gain from the matter. Amidst the generalized panic, Islamophobia has risen once again (due to the religious motivations of the attack) and Charlie Hebdo has been raised to icon status — contra the newspaper’s celebrated iconoclasm — with the #JeSuisCharlie campaign.
The human tragedy here, however, tends to multiply manyfold with its political exploitation by western governments, which have already started agitating their propaganda machines to foster a civilizational clash. French president Francois Hollande states that the attack was an act of “exceptional barbarism” against “a newspaper … in other words, an organ of free speech.” According to Hollande, it was an “act against journalists who had always wanted to show that in France it was possible to defend one’s ideas.”
US president Barack Obama doesn’t forget to highlight the obvious fact that terrorists, in sharp contrast to the state he represents, “fear freedom of speech and freedom of the press.” According to him, terrorists nevertheless will not be able to silence the fundamental idea shared by French and American peoples, “a universal belief in the freedom of expression.”
UK prime minister David Cameron reinforces that Britain stands “united with the French people” in opposition to terrorists and in defense of free speech. To German chancellor Angela Merkel, the shooting was also an attack against the “freedom of the press.” Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, not to be left out, declared the shooting an “unacceptable attack against a fundamental value of democratic societies: the freedom of the press.”
Despite the barbarism and extreme violence of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, it’s not surprising to find that western governments are absolutely ecstatic with this event, which easily lends itself to their narratives of intrinsic western superiority relative to Muslim backwardness. Maybe they’ve waited for this all along: Something that makes their “they hate our freedoms” rhetoric sound less puerile.
After all, none of the countries so collectively outraged are prime examples of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Charlie Hebdo itself adopted its current name in the 1970s to sidestep a ban on the newspaper put in place by the French government. France today occupies the unenviable 39th spot in Reporters Without Borders’s World Press Freedom Index, which highlights the weak source confidentiality protections in the country and steps the French government took to censor corruption-related recordings. The French state’s reiterated attacks on the Internet slide into the path of handing over total power to bureaucrats.
The USA, always looking after western freedom, apparently has no problems with suppressing information, seizing journalistic institutions’ phone records without warrant or due process, and arresting whistleblowers and journalists themselves. Not to mention the draconian and frankly ridiculous “intellectual property” laws used to silence dissent and maintain the corporate status quo.
We should ask ourselves if the UK’s new pornography censorship laws would allow some of Charlie Hebdo‘s covers to be published. Germany’s politicians can barely control their happiness in censoring the Internet. And if Charlie Hebdo’s political cartoons appear harmless, what should we say about the extensive modification and mutilation of video games to match German bureaucrats’ sensibilities?
It is true that terrorists hate freedom of speech. But in that they differ little from western countries. They only employ different methods.
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