I originally wasn’t going to write anything about the massacre at Charlie Hebdo because I was under the naïve assumption that there wouldn’t be people posting with the hashtag “#NoTearsforCharlieHebdo” because they’d realize how absurd they were…but I was wrong. Recently, the blog Fuck Yeah Marxism-Leninism posted an essay by a one Eric Struch wherein he compared Charlie Hebdo to Der Stürmer (a Nazi-era publication) and concluded with “‘freedom of expression’ really is, is just a continuation of colonialism in a new form”. Before we get into the nitty gritty of this after the jump however, I shall quote Struch’s entire post below (image included):
“The inability of liberal ‘humanists’ to understand racism and national oppression, and the transformation of this ostensible ‘humanism’ into a propaganda tool of imperialism:
“If a Filipino Catholic ‘guest worker’ (AKA modern-day slave) in Qatar, who has no rights and probably lives in a non-air-conditioned sweatbox with 50 other workers (and has seen plenty of his fellow workers go home in pine boxes), wants to make fun of the hypocritical way the al-Thani family purports to be ‘Muslim’ while abusing other Muslim workers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, etc.— that’s one thing.
“But in France, which still has a neocolonial relationship to Muslim countries like Algeria, Mauritania, Senegal, and others, and has housing projects filled with poor immigrants from these countries, where French cops get to go into these projects and get away with shooting whoever they want— then what this so-called ‘freedom of expression’ really is, is just a continuation of colonialism in a new form.”
– Eric Struch
Graphic via IS Horst
If you made it this far, I applaud you for being able to stomach Struch’s “commentary” and hope that you will be able to stand my own response.
There are a few problems with Struch’s commentary, but the first issue starts before he even gets around to writing anything. The issue arises from the mere image and equivocation between Charlie Hebdo and Der Stürmer. The largest and most glaring difference between the two is that Der Stürmer was published in Nazi Germany under a very specific set of racial conditions whereas Charlie Hebdo is published in multi-cultural France who’s president, François Hollande, is a member of the Socialist Party (radically opposed to Nazism).
Ignoring the simple fact that the two were published in radically different places at radically different times, however, there’s another issue with Struch’s comparison. Where Der Strümer attacked Jews specifically, was responsible for popularizing the phrase Die Juden sind unser Unglück! (The Jews are our Misfortune!), and who’s publisher evidently called for the annihilation of the Jews, and was executed for crimes against humanity, Charlie Hebdo makes fun of everybody. The magazine has mocked the Pope and Catholics (fig. 1), French politicians (fig. 2), and even the Jews (fig. 3)! The magazine is guilty of, if anything, pissing off every major group (a tactic that got it’s predecessor banned by the French government until it changed its name). Hell, the comparison Struch makes would almost be laughable if 12 cartoonists weren’t dead.
Moving on from the cover image, however, the commentary is painfully incorrect on a few other points. Struch claims that the only legitimate criticism of Muslims or Islam can come from those who are suffering under so-called “Islamic Rule”, but not only is this contradictory, but an essentialization of entire cultures. Allow me to explain.
When Struch points out the hypocrisy in some Muslim countries, he is doing so from a Western position of privilege, that is, the same position he says ought to have no voice when it comes to critiquing other cultures. He recognizes that there are issues in these countries and he implicitly condemns them but then leaves the overt condemnation to the modern-day slave who probably doesn’t even have a voice (that abdication of responsibility that Struch partakes in is problematic for its own reasons, but there’s no need to go into those here lest this post become too long).
What’s worse, however, is that in his explanation of the situation in France, Struch essentializes all the cartoonists as White Frenchmen who are complacent in the supposed random shooting of Muslims that goes on in French project. Not only does he provide no evidence that this is the case, but he ignores the history of Charlie Hebdo which is a history of mocking everything bad the French government does (protip: that would probably include killing civilians). While France may have a neo-colonial relationship with other countries (that is up for debate), the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo do not and to assert that they do because they live within a country that might is the same logic that genuine Islamophobes use when they say all Muslims are like members of ISIS because they “live near each other”.
Congratulations Eric Struch, you have just legitimized the claims that all Muslims are terrorists (or all Blacks are criminals, or all Jews are rats, etc.). Congratulations.
Finally, Struch’s claim that “‘freedom of expression’ really is, is just a continuation of colonialism in a new form” doesn’t get easier to stomach no matter how many times you read it. I’ve now read his commentary a few times and whenever I get to the last sentence I still cringe. Why? Because freedom of expression is not only one of the most important freedoms individuals can have (yes, I am ad hoc asserting this), but it also been one of the largest source of resistance against tyranny in history. Freedom of expression helped democratic fighters during the Iranian elections. Freedom of expression has been the cornerstone of the resistance to anti-LGBTQ peoples in Russia and is currently under threat (think Pussy Riot). Shit, absent freedom of expression the Civil Rights movement in the United States would have been nothing!
Eric Struch, when you claim that “‘freedom of expression’ really is, is just a continuation of colonialism in a new form”, not only are showing how ignorant you are about the histories of oppressed peoples, but you are quite literally advocating against free speech in favor of some slippery slope of political correctness whereby all you are doing is giving credence to the claim that “Free Speech is so Last Century”.
I want to leave you with one final thought as you stew over the racism in France and Europe as a whole — Islamophobia; is the fear really that irrational when 12 cartoonists are dead because of a God damn picture?
And to extremists who get offended by cartoons: learn to take a joke. If you can’t lighten up, your religious ideology has even less of a place in a secular 21st Century world than it already does.