The terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo are in direct conflict with the interests of all workers everywhere. These same methods are also used against the workers’ movement, for instance against the Awami Workers’ Party in Pakistan.
(NOTE: This article has been edited. Originally, we commented that it appeared to us that some cartoons in Charlie Hebdo appealed to anti-Muslim bigotry. We clearly said that this in no way justified the attack, but it does now appear that this view was mistaken. We have received this article, for instance, which says that CH had numerous cartoons attacking Israel’s war in Gaza, etc. Comrades in France appear to agree with this view. From this distance, and not speaking French, it is impossible to be definitive. However, in a majority Christian – and imperialist – country [France], we tend to think that “insulting” Christianity is not the same as “insulting” Islam. Also, as socialists, we have to ask what is the best way of breaking the working class from various capitalists and of uniting all workers. Given all the circumstances, we think that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons lampooning Muhammed do not help; we think they will only strengthen the hand of the reactionary Islamic fundamentalist leaders and further divide the working class.)
Beyond that, though, our task is to understand, and we can’t make sense of this situation without some review of history. Why did these brothers who apparently were responsible for the attack on Charlie Hebdo turn to Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism as a means of expressing their anger against Western imperialism’s interventions in the predominantly Islamic world?
This photo was taken in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the occupation during the “Arab Spring.” The man on the left is a devout Muslim. He and a friend gave the author of this article (pictured here) a long lecture about how Zionism controls the US. (At first they said “Jews” and several people in the crowd corrected them and said “Zionism”, not all Jews, to which they agreed.) They said that the US had invaded Iraq at the insistance of Israel.Our reply was that Israel was important to US capitalism to keep control over the region and the region was important because of oil. If it weren’t for oil, US capitalism wouldn’t care so much about Israel. They talked about the crimes of the US government in the region – how the US “hates Muslims”, and I replied by listing many of the crimes of this government throughout history – slavery, genocide against the Native Americans, machine gunning striking US workers, coups in Latin America, Vietnam, etc. It was nothing against Muslims in particular, it was just the striving for world domination on the part of the world’s most powerful capitalist state. After all of this, this man above told me he hopes I read the holy Koran one day. I thanked him and said I hope he reads the Communist Manifesto, to which he agreed. (That got a good laugh from everybody, including him.) He then said I’d “entered into his head” (evidently meaning I’d made a strong impression on him) and insisted on having this photo of the two of us taken.
First there was the increased role of these reactionary forces – especially al Qaeda – in Afghanistan, mainly through the support of the CIA and their counterparts in Pakistan, in the struggle against the Soviet Union’s role in Afghanistan. In the first place, al Qaeda got funding which helped them recruit, train and indoctrinate thousands of young men from different mainly Muslim countries in West Asia and northern Africa. Also, when the Soviet Union was driven out of Afghanistan and an Islamic state was founded, this further boosted the prestige of al Qaeda throughout the Muslim world. Now, we are seeing the continued influence of al Qaeda and similar groups.
Islamic fundamentalism also got a huge boost with the rise of Khomeini to power in the late ’70s. That occurred through the triumph of counter-revolution in a revolutionary situation, following the fall of the Shah. That counter-revolution involved a classic case of the role of Stalinism, through the Tudeh Party. Although the Iranian working class was striving towards a workers’ revolution, their party, Tudeh, held them back and led to the triumph of the reactionary mullahs.
On a wider scale, we saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and also the decline of an independent role of the working class. All of this led to a situation where it was almost impossible for millions of people to see the workers movement as a force that could counter the attacks of global capitalism.
But on a wider scale, who is there to put this sort of perspective forward? Do the “representatives” of the US working class – the labor leaders? Don’t make me laugh.
The other point is this: Whether intended or not, the CH cartoons do nothing to discourage racist bullies. They and the reactionary Islamic fundamentalist terrorists actually rely on each other. They would find it much more difficult to exist if the other side didn’t.