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Free Speech and the Massacre of the Charlie Hebdo staff


Firing to death a whole editorial board - that of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo - is a political action, both real and symbolic, so insane and so destructive as to defy human language. It is an extreme-right-wing political act both abhorrent, in itself, and also unfortunately running the risk of provoking, in general, the worst of reactions. And this provocation of worse reactions is despite the “unification” of two million protesters in the Paris march. Participants in the Paris march, in their vast majority, were quite rightly opposing this act of brutality.

But the march was led, the fact remains, by, of all people, the leaders of the very States that, themselves, sow death and destruction on a massive scale, having recently in cold blood, killed civilians by the tens of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan and perpetrated assassinations by drone in countries like Yemen and Pakistan. The leaders of the march certainly have the blood from “acts of terror” on their own hands. Benjamin Netanyahu, though it has now been found that French President Francois Hollande formally requested him not to be present, also attended; he is the man responsible for the killing of 13 journalists in Gaza in the Israeli Army’s Operation Protective Edge. When Haaretz published a cartoon about the 13 journalists assassinated in Gaza, in order, quite rightly to expose his hypocrisy (10 killed in Charlie Hebdo, and 13 killed in Gaza, the cartoon showing four pencil strokes then crossed out by the 5th, symbolising and comparing the counting process), the staff of Haaretz immediately received terrifying death threats.

The act of terror against the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo was designed, no doubt, to provoke a split in French society between the Establishment and the Anti-Establishment, which it failed to do. It was no doubt an action planned also to detonate acts of terror against Mosques, which it has and will probably continue to do, thus further dividing French society.

But the main effect, provoking the massive street demonstration is not what was planned by the gunmen.

However, it was a paradoxical march, to say the least. The march gathered everyone behind those very leaders whose aggressive and murderous politics create the conditions for the kind of “blow-back” that the shooting of the journalists was. The term “blow-back” was first used by Rosa Luxembourg, one of the few analysts to predict the scale of what was at the time looming, later called the First World War. She linked the kind of genocidal violence of colonization, though perpetrated at arm’s length, as inevitably involving the return to home soil of this very violence.

LALIT presents its condoleances to all those journalists’ families. They have sacrificed their lives, been assassinated by right-wing politico-religious currents, all of which they so bravely exposed. The importance of satirical journalism is that it pokes fun at the irrational and the hypocritical, and these are often found in extremists who use religion to mask their aggression.

LALIT has, in the past, suffered threats from extreme-right political currents, hiding behind a veneer of religiosity, and using as a pretext for their threats a novel written by LALIT member, Lindsey Collen. So, as a party, we have had to study the importance of free expression, not just in theory, but in order to save the lives of some of our members. In 1987, when he was in LALIT, and was editor of our newspaper, Vijay Ram was arrested with other journalists in a demonstration against the then Jugnauth government’s anti-press law, later repealed. And in 2000 and 2002, respectively, we successfully opposed the Public Security Act, which never came into being, and very nearly stopped the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was only finally proclaimed after two Presidents of the Republic had resigned – our opposition being, inter alia, because of the limitation on free expression.

Free expression, and press freedom, is vital to protect. To do this, it is important not to encourage fundamentalism and other forms of religiosity that, in turn, mask extreme right wing politics.

And the right to free expression must include the rights of those who do not get support from the likes of Angela Merkel, Francois Holland, David Cameron, Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders on the Paris March: victims of censorships laws, including Edward Snowden, who is living in hiding in Russia, Julian Assange, living under siege in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and Chelsea Manning (born Bradley Manning) locked up in US jails for 35 years. And, with General Petraeus under threat of being charged under the very same 1917 Espionage Act that Snowden and others were charged under.

LALIT once again calls for a Freedom of Information Act in Mauritius, and for the repeal of all the anti-free speech laws in existence. To start with, the 2013 Geoffrey Robertson Report should be implemented. (See our brief analysis of it

Freedom of speech needs to include a genuinely free MBC, and a new form of press that is not subsidized by advertisements paid for by vested interests and by State ads, but by those who subscribe to and buy the publication. LALIT member Lindsey Collen, for example, had an interview about press freedom banned by L’Express, which had sought the interview in the first place.

It is also important to take note of the important step the new Lepep Government has taken in not allowing Government members of Parliament or Ministers to speak at religious and communalo-religious gatherings. But this is not enough. In the context of attacking institutionalized communalism, and promoting free speech, it is important that the State puts an end to subsidies on religious and para-religious bodies. These institutions must, like all other institutions, rely on the funds that they themselves raise. Socio-cultural organizations (in fact they are more accurately described as communalo-religious organizations) have become the main form of institutionalized communalism in the country. When working towards the removal of the communal Best Loser System, it will now be vital to remove these subsidies at the same time.