Freedom of speech is not under threat in Paris, so can we please change the narrative?



The Charlie Hebdo massacre has quite rightly provoked outrage and condemnation throughout and beyond the Western world. It was a despicable attack for which no justification is possible.

The response of the Western media (both mainstream and alternative), Western political leaders and popular protest movements is, however, causing me more irritation by the day. What began as a natural outcry to the heinous crimes has steadily become irrelevant, misguided and counter-productive. Charlie Hebdo magazine and those closely associated with it are the direct victims of this crime and have the right to keep saying, writing and drawing what they like about what has happened. It’s time, though, for the rest of us to stop banging the popular liberal drums and start talking about the real issues.

As we enter the second week since the murders, the news continues to be dominated by an ongoing and vociferous defence of freedom of speech, represented most significantly the “Je suis Charlie” campaign, but repeated ad nauseum in newspapers and other media throughout the Western world. It’s not that I object to free speech (of course, I don’t) or particularly disagree with anything that has been written, drawn or shouted in its defence. I just think that all of this completely misses the point because, quite simply, THE ATTACK ON CHARLIE HEBDO WAS NOT AN ATTACK ON THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH. I will elaborate on the actual motives of the attackers in a moment, but for now suffice it to say that Charlie Hebdo was simply one of many potential victims of Islamic jihadist outrage; a fact made abundantly clear later in the same week with the jihadist attacks on the Jewish supermarket in Paris and the massacre by Boko Haram in Nigeria.

As well as missing the mark, the scale of the free speech’s defence has been totally disproportionate. Is free speech really under serious threat here? The fact is that this terrorist attack has failed to slow down even a single small magazine, much less strike a blow at the heart of this fundamental Western value. So, why are we marching down the streets in its defence and why the ongoing torrent of commentators falling over themselves to state the bleedingly obvious point that freedom of speech is a good thing? When Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of school girls in Nigeria in April last year, the world was rightly shocked, but I failed to notice any liberal stampede in defence of the right to education.

When taking time-out from defending free speech, the liberal media’s other favourite response has been the rush to defend Islam as a predominantly peace-loving religion and to distinguish extremists as a tiny, non-representative minority of all Muslims. As someone who has lived in three different Muslim countries and spent time in half a dozen others, I endorse this message thoroughly. But, despite the importance of this point, THE LIBERAL MEDIA’S DEFENCE OF MUSLIMS RINGS HOLLOW. As Western liberals, it offends our values that people would ever be discriminated against on the basis of their religion and it pricks our sense of justice that members of any social group would be tormented because of the actions of a few of its members. So, at times of crisis, we are obliged to rush to the defence of Muslims. But, for the rest of the time, we are content to ignore the fact that Muslims are increasingly marginalized members of global society.

And here is the crux of the whole issue. Here is the point that should be expressed loudly at this time. A huge proportion of Muslims in the world are victims; victims of a ruthless dictatorship in Syria, victims of post-war chaos in Afghanistan, victims of appalling poverty in Somalia, victims of atrocious working conditions in Bangladesh, victims of Israeli occupation in Palestine, victims of climate change in Sudan and victims of urban ghetto-life in Western metropolises. Victims, in one way or another, of living on the margins of global society; in the places – be they far away or close to home – that the rich-world does not care enough about.

Muslims are not the only marginalized people in the world and, of course, not all Muslims are marginalized. But, in the same way as urban gangs in America and armed mobs in the Congo offer the disenfranchised a sense of purpose, belonging and economic gain, so does Islamic extremism provide a raison d’etre for young men on the fringes of society who have little else to live for. The men recruited by jihadists are not inspired by strong religious beliefs; they are not driven by their hatred of Western values, by contempt of Jews or by some deep-seated opposition to free speech. They are motivated by hatred of the hopelessness of their own situations. It is this hatred leads them to join the Taliban in Pakistan, to fight for ISIS in Iraq, to blow up buses in Kenya, and to murder cartoon satirists in Paris.

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This message is not new, of course. It has been obvious for decades, but still nothing is being done about it. More than ever before, the governments of the world should be uniting to address the horrific issues of poverty in Africa which provide breeding grounds for terrorism and the appalling situation for immigrant communities in numerous Western countries, which is – quite literally – now resulting in a home grown jihadist threat that is arguably only just getting itself warmed up.

Charlie Hebdo is, to state the obvious, not the first terrorist act committed by Islamic extremists in the West. The public and, in particular, the political response to it has, however, been markedly different from earlier tragedies. Although not entirely absent, the predictable status quo narrative, which calls for an increase in counter-terrorism resources and powers has been, for the first time, largely drowned out by the liberal voice. What a crying shame that the liberalism has achieved this victory through loud repetition of hollow and irrelevant messages, instead of talking about the issues that really matter.


  1. Why not crop-dust everywhere with MDMA ? And I mean everywhere . We have the technology . Why not ?

    The worst that could happen is that some people might die in a dance frenzy or get crushed by hoards of fellow huggers .

    Because I’m telling you . I’m fucking over this shit . This violence and Hate . And all those goony, loopy placard holders with God complexes preaching peace while marching up and down .

    Bomb the fuckers with Ecstasy . Sure , some might swoon in front of trains while others might marry telephone poles but honestly ? It’d be worth the risk to the arms manufacturers profit margins to give Drugs a go . Hugs AND Drugs I say because if this is a good as ‘reality’ gets ? Then fuck this for a joke .

    How’s that for expressing my right to freedom if speech ?

    • Shit what a flashback I just had tonight.

      As for tolerance here I got a reality check when I sat down to watch a movie, and on Sky 33 on came the 1986 movie “The Naked Gun” with Leslie Nielson as Captain Frank Drebbin of Police squad, and his sidekick OJ Simpson. as he tackles all the Arabs at a terrorist meeting and confronts Idi Amin, and all other top Arab leaders plotting a terrorist campaign in NY as an undercover cop and physically attacks them!

      Fuck how would this satire go down today as a statement to Arabs?
      Would they have banned the move back then?

      What a wake up call that movie is.

  2. Love ya, but this is a very weak analysis.

    There most certainly is a freedom of speech issue because the magazine was published for, well, speaking freely.

    “The men recruited by jihadists are not inspired by strong religious beliefs; they are not driven by their hatred of Western values, by contempt of Jews…”

    The jihadists themselves are telling us the exact opposite.

    Sure, there’s much more to it. But we should at least pay attention to what they are telling us that their motivations are. Or at least pay attention to their actions when they target Jewish people for murder.

    I’ve been arguing vociferously with people all week, saying that the Free Speech angle is shallow and hides very important nuance. But there’s not doubt that it’s present.

  3. Although I understand your point in writing that the motivation for joining or affiliating oneself with groups such as AQAP or ISIS by young disaffected males, I disagree with the conclusion that this means that the attack wasn’t an attack on freedom of expression.

    Yes, many young men (and some women) are attacked, marginalised or suffer the consequences of harsh conditions across the globe. A general malaise that affects some of them may make them more inclined to join such groups as AQAP or ISIS, but you are mistaking the reason for them joining the group for the reason for the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

    They may have become affiliated with AQAP due to being marginalised and being increasingly unhappy in a world which belittles or actively seeks to limit their options for betterment. However, the gunman are quoted as saying they have avenged the prophet after the attack, this seems indicative of the reason for this particular assault on the offices of a magazine. They were offended by the depictions of Mohammed in the magazine and those like it who chose to publish similar. This attack was their way of striking back against the offence caused.

    Freedom of expression is not limited to non-offensive material, in fact by it’s very nature some of it will be offensive. That they chose to conduct a brutally violent attack on unarmed civilians because they were offended is not justified by that offence, nor is it justified by their position in the world, no matter how unjust that might also be.

    Murder is never justified.

  4. When I started reading this post, I thought I could share the criticism. But when reading on, I can only share some criticism of the media, of the over-reaction, of the selective symbolising of actions and reactions, and of the still very prevalent “herd behaviour” in much of “western” society.

    I do not agree that Muslims are generally marginalised on a global scale. If they are marginalised or discriminated against, or have their freedoms curtailed, then this is happening in some countries, where they may be a minority. It is though more often happening in countries that profess to be predominantly “Muslim” themselves, where ordinary Muslims are exploited, suppressed and somehow socially “marginalised”, and that is by the governments, the regimes and the wealthy elite that control the levers in such states.

    Also is there not ONE Muslim faith, there are the main streams of Sunni and Shia, there are the rather extreme Wahhabis, who again are not one homogenous group, there are also smaller branches of Islam and Muslims practicing their faith. Some are suppressed in countries that are dominated by either of the great streams of Islam, like in Iran Sunnis may experience some discrimination, while in Saudi Arabia it is the other way around, where the Shia minority is discriminated against. Go to Yemen and Syria, and it gets really “messy”, where they are now fighting each other, not just along tribal lines.

    Afghans, Sudanese, Algerians, Moroccans, Jordanians and so forth are also diverse populations and countries, and there are all kinds of frictions and issues, not just due to “marginalisation” of some branch of Islam.

    The attacks in Paris are condemnable, same as similar ones elsewhere, and in my view it was of course also an attack on free speech or free expression. Even if Muslims in France have reasons to raise valid issues, there are peaceful and less violent ways to take a stand and take action.

    And while of course some Muslims, or many of them, feel marginalised in the US, some countries or regions in Europe, and for that also in Myanmar, Mainland China, Thailand, and the list can go on, the sad phenomenon is that majority ethnic, religious or other groups of people that identify with each other, no matter what religion, are marginalising others all over the globe.

    What about the Yasidis in Northern Iraq, the Christian minorities, they would also have a reason to be disgruntled, against Muslims, who discriminate against them.

    And while Israel treats its native Palestinian Arab citizens as second class in some ways, there has also been centuries of discrimination of Jews.

    I wish there was an easy answer to all, and it makes me feel stronger about keeping religion in one place, and not allow religious people try and dictate to others, how things should be done and run in places, also here in NZ.

    Re Charlie Hebdo, I am sick of politicians and “leaders” exploiting the sad incident, for their own ulterior means and goals. Mr Hollande in France is a real hypocrite, like many others, going around talking “strong” now.

    Also the media, otherwise not bothered with the suppression of free speech, or with reporting on REAL news and topics, they should stand before the damned mirror and look at themselves, while they tend to otherwise report on so much trivial crap, and ignore other important developments and problems in society.

    Free speech is to them a convenient slogan, to exploit, to get more circulation and attention, more viewers to present advertising to, to earn money, nothing else. Shame on such practices, but sadly many fall for the hypocritical stuff that is happening, see the sudden “interest” in the Charlie Hebdo magazine, previously near broke.

    Re Muslims, they make up about a quarter of the world’s population, growing fast, hardly “marginalised”:

    • This is the comment ,Mike, that I have wanted to read all week but have lacked the words to express myself. I can only add that the mindless demonstrations and the lack of objective thinking in France and beyond are leaving us wide open to manipulation by unscrupulous hate-mongers.
      Compared with all the lives lost in the religious conflicts around the world, this tragedy, awful as it is, pales into insignificance. If we dont step back and take a detached view of this event, we are going to get to drawn into a conflict much, much worse than any ofg the present ones. Think how little it took to start WWI.

  5. “…The men recruited by jihadists are not inspired by strong religious beliefs; they are not driven by their hatred of Western values, by contempt of Jews or by some deep-seated opposition to free speech. They are motivated by hatred of the hopelessness of their own situations…”.

    I don’t see media reports of disaffected youth in the favelas or the Delhi slums massacring journalists and Jews and shouting “Allahu Akbar”. This insidious aspect of fanatical Islam is to blame.

  6. The racism & radicalism is merely a product of our corrupted world we now live with forced on us all by the Global Elite as they plot their “One World Government “of us all after marginalising us all with the current Global Economic crisis and inflicting social hardship and a growing poor and vanishing middle class.

    Your summary here spells the end result of social decay that we are headed toward now.

    Try studying the Bilderberg Group agenda as the worlds most secretive black ops power made up of the most influential elitists in the world.

    “— a New World Order with no middle class, only “rulers and servants (serfs),” and, of course, no democracy;” so even us once middle class are now being marginalised too!

    “Muslims are not the only marginalized people in the world and, of course, not all Muslims are marginalized. But, in the same way as urban gangs in America and armed mobs in the Congo offer the disenfranchised a sense of purpose, belonging and economic gain, so does Islamic extremism provide a raison d’etre for young men on the fringes of society who have little else to live for.”

  7. To say that the CH attack was not an attack on free speech would be a fairly extreme form of reader response criticism when the attackers themselves were quite clear that they were avenging the speech published in CH.

    But to even frame this as something to do with Islam or colonialism is to fall into their trap. France is one of a small group of countries that has made huge inroads into eliminating violence as a legitimate way of resolving grievances. This is the core societal value that was violated. If you have a problem, you don’t hit the person who offended you, and if you do, the full force of the law will come down on you.

    Dealing with islamists who revert to violence should be dealt with in the same way as men who use violence against their female partners. (Incidentally, the number of women in France who are shot by their partners per year is about 20, with a similar number being knifed, followed by other methods. So in terms of threats to society, men killing women is a greater problem then radical islamists killing people who have offended them.)

    We don’t care why you think your problems make you a special case who is allowed to use violence, nobody is allowed to behave that way.

  8. If you really dig deeply, you’ll find that the CIA have a hand to play in any terrorism around the world. They use warmongering as their propaganda machine to distract the world from what they’re really doing, then as hypocrites use the politicians to say action needs to be taken, in turn, provoking more violence around the world. This Charlie Hebdo saga is just another secret means for the CIA and Obama administration to get a reaction and to picking a fight with whoever they can bully into submission and make money from in the process.

    No, freedom of speech is nothing to do with the recent acts happening in Paris, but a distraction on whatever the Obama/CIA game players are really up to. Maybe it’s a warning to France that the Obama/CIA are watching France. It’s something that just doesn’t surprise me at all.

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