A brief note on Ireland’s “real socialists”.

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Most people who oppose water charges have no difficulty paying taxes, or paying into public coffers for public services, as voluble Labour Party councillor Dermot Lacey puts it above. What is habitually ignored, by those who classify this position as ‘anti-tax’, or the product of an unholy alliance of ‘Tea Party and Trots’, as one Labour deputy put it in the Dáil, is the particular context in which the water charges, and prior to this the household tax, was imposed.

These things were not imposed as part of a shift towards a more progressive tax model. They were imposed as part of a shift away from progressive model of taxation and towards a model that relies far more heavily on indirect taxes and user fees. They were imposed in the context of tens of billions of euro in public money being shovelled into the coffers of speculators, in order to maintain the viability of a parasitical financial sector.

There is nothing progressive or socialist about such a shift, and there is nothing progressive or socialist in actively denying that such a shift is taking place, or in pretending that such a shift is the normal operation of democratic government, when it is in fact the deepening of private unaccountable power over the lives of everyday people.

There is nothing progressive or socialist in covering up the fact that spending on public services as a % of GDP is due to fall in Ireland to levels below that of even the US. There is nothing progressive or socialist in classifying resistance to this situation as unnecessary at best and reactionary at worst.

The simple fact is that none of the social democratic conquests that the “real socialists” celebrate could ever have been achieved without militant resistance and activism, and the idea that there is no need for any such resistance and activism at the current moment is, like this whole attitude to the water charges protesters, anti-socialist, pro-capitalist and pro-neoliberal.

Perhaps the biggest irony here lies in the fact that the socialist tradition has always been concerned with the self-conscious history of human beings, and against obscurantism. Yet this “real socialist” denunciation of the “anti-tax” hordes fails to engage in even the minimum examination of the political moment, or the slightest use of a sociological imagination, preferring headlong attack against a crude caricature instead. It is pathetic.

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The Vilification of The Reasonable

This is a version of a comment I left on an analysis by Irish Times political correspondent Harry McGee, titled ‘Imprisonment will galvanise support in anti-water charge groups’.

Regime

Harry McGee’s piece, typically for a political correspondent, purports to be the work of an impartial observer of a wider fray.

But the function of this piece, as with others of its kind, is to actively shape public perceptions along particular lines.

McGee wonders how the ‘public mood’ will be affected by the jailing of water protesters. He does so as if Ireland’s media apparatus -of which he and his paper are part- had no role in shaping the public mood, whether in general or, in this specific case, through its representation of the water charges protesters.

No doubt the pearl-clutching frenzy that followed Joan Burton’s minor inconvenience -farcical when considered in light of the brutal damage inflicted on Irish society by her government- ‘alienated some moderates’, as McGee claims. But many such ‘moderates’ exist only in the collective imagination of political correspondents and establishment politicians anyway.

The concern with ‘moderates’ here is but the expression of an urge to divide and conquer. It is a matter of separating the ‘reasonable’ opposition to water charges from supposedly unsavoury characters like Derek Byrne. McGee in his article reserves especial vitriol for Byrne, despite the fact the behaviour he alleges bears no relation to the reasons for Byrne’s imprisonment. What is more, these details about Byrne have nothing whatsoever to do with the stated reasons for the imprisonment of the other protesters. Still, just as the Irish Times speculates about the public mood, one might also speculate as to the ways the presentation of anti-water charges protesters in the media, including the uncritical repetition of claims that they were “fascist” and a “threat to democracy”, to quote the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach in turn, influenced the mood of the presiding judge.

The reasonable opposition to water charges lies in the fact that they amount to the punishment of the poor for the money-grubbing activities of spivs and speculators. Such activities are endorsed by the Irish Times, through its property supplements, its business columns and the economic sensibility that informs the paper’s analysis.

The reasonable opposition to such punishment comes from the same place as peoples’ movements across Europe who recognise the destructive and fundamentally anti-democratic character of austerity policies, and the fact that their governments act in the interests of bankers and business elites first and foremost. But the Irish Times rarely, if ever, gives voice to such reasonable opposition. When its political correspondent Stephen Collins travelled to Athens in 2012, he omitted to make any mention of Syriza in the articles he wrote on the visit, despite the fact they were top of the polls at the time. Opposing austerity policies, according to Arthur Beesley in today’s paper, is “dogma”: as if the policies his newspaper has consistently recommended as a self-evident necessity were not!

The vilification of Derek Byrne, and by extension, the broad mass of water charges protesters, comes from the same place the grim economic sadism inflicted by European and Irish policy elites. It has nothing to do with worries over decorum or “shocking words” such as “scumbags” -the protesters’ regular portrayal as “scumbags” by Fine Gael and Labour supporters on social media would scarcely cause a moment’s pause for thought. It has everything to do with the vertiginous sense of dread felt by the political and media establishment when confronted by a mobilised public, as has been the case in recent months, and with the need to make people divided and unsure about the consequences of challenging neoliberal rule on the streets. Or anywhere else.

Hence those who think the Irish Times or the wider media establishment is only concerned with the ‘unreasonable’ and supposedly ‘nasty’ few would need to wise up, and check their wallets.

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What Manolis Glezos told us

This is a translation of a text by Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop, originally published on his blog Iohannes Maurus, Wednesday 18th February.

What Manolis Glezos told us

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It’s an honour to be up close to a monumental figure in Europe’s history. I had such an honour recently, during a talk on debt and the policies of Syriza and Podemos on this and other questions related to the restoring of democracy, when I sat on a panel with Manolis Glezos and Eric Toussaint. Manolis Glezos is now 94 years old and the oldest member of the European Parliament. He is also one of the most active, and among those who take their role the most seriously. Manolis is a deputy for Syriza in the European Parliament. He was never a docile activist and always argued against the steps taken by the Syriza leadership that he did not agree with, based on the enormous common sense he draws from his experience of rural life, of activist life, but also from his solid training as a scientist in mineralogy. This man knows what a people is -he was mayor of his village on the island of Naxos- and he also knows what a mineral is: he showed us samples of marble and emery from his island. He also showed us, in a fabulous parable, the strength that lies in diversity, taking as his example emery, a dark rock, composed of 30 minerals, which might therefore seem fragile, but which is tougher and more resistant than diamond. He hurled it against the ground at force, and the diverse compound showed not the slightest scratch.

Esmeril

Manolis is famous in Greece for a feat he performed: in the midst of the Nazi occupation, when the German forces were struggling to maintain control in the face of a constant civil and military resistance from the Greek people, he climbed up the Acropolis and tore down the flag of the swastika, replacing it with the Greek flag. After this feat, all that remained for him was to join the guerrilla army of ELAS (Greek People’s Liberation Army, in Greek. This people’s army would go on to liberate Greece and defeat Hitler’s war machine, in an era full of examples of dignity. Among them, the solidarity networks set up in the face of the economic catastrophe created by the Nazis and Greek collaborators. Everyone remembers the more than 100,000 deaths from hunger in 1941, when Nazi Germany extracted a tax from Greece under the paradoxical form of an “occupation loan” under which the Greek people had to fund their own submission and exploitation. Resistance proved widespread and had epic tones, such as those demonstrations in Athens that defied the Nazi army and though they ended with dozens dead this did not prevent them from repeating, or such as the material solidarity in the distribution of the scarce food that was available. Or the popular self-organisation (people power, λαοκρατία) that ruled the large areas liberated under the co-ordination of the Mountain Government).

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Manolis is a synthesis of all of this, and though he comes from a political tradition that is authoritarian and Stalinist in origin, he is a huge defender of direct democracy and of pluralism. When he was elected mayor of his village, he said to his fellow villagers who came to congratulate him and express their trust, that “I’m not the one in charge now, it is now up to you to decide”. People withdrew from him shyly, since they were not accustomed to such things: following the war and the long past experience of self-organisation during the resistance, nothing remotely similar had occurred again. There was a need to go back to learning to take direct citizen responsibility. This is what happened during one of the first minor conflicts relating to the village cemetery. According to reports from the council technicians, the cemetery, which was very close to the centre, was also too close to the sources of water used by the village and could contaminate them, and hence they recommended moving it to somewhere a bit further off. Manolis put this to the neighbours’ assembly, but one of the women present said: “if you move the village cemetery away, I will no longer be able to see my husband every morning from my window”. Other neighbours agreed with the widow and it was agreed that the cemetery would not be moved from where it was. This meant having to seek out other sources of water, but the principle of popular decision against the opinion of the mayor and the technicians had prevailed. From then on, despite the initial reluctance, it was a normal practice. Looking me in the eye and gently grabbing me by the lapel of my jacket, Manolis said to me firmly: “You call yourselves Podemos [We Can], but you have to ask yourselves: what is it you can do? Without the people and their direct participation you can do nothing.” Manolis singled out an important task for us.

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Following his intervention, Manolis told an anecdote that is a veritable parable for the current situation in Greece. On one occasion, during the semi-dictatorial period that followed the Greek Civil War, he was taken prisoner by the gendarmes. He escaped for a first time from the dungeon and they arrested him again. This time, to teach him and the other communist prisoners a lesson, they let it be known that in the cell where Manolis was held there would be a guard pointing a gun at him night and day and that he would be on his knees with his hands cuffed behind his back. And this is what they did. As the first guard aimed at Manolis, Manolis said to him calmly: “You have a gun and I am unarmed. You are pointing it at me and I’m here with my hands cuffed. I suppose you think you are free and I am the prisoner, but you’re wrong.” The guard showed his surprise with this declaration and Manolis explained: “You are here because you receive orders from your superiors, but I receive orders from no-one. I am free and you are under subjection.” This gave rise to a long conversation between the two. When the shift of the next guard began, the first one said to him to wait for a moment as he wanted to finish the conversation. Finally the second guard arrives, somewhat surprised, and points the pistol at our man. Manolis begins a disquisition on the handcuffs placed on him. He explains in detail what metals they are made of, how the metals have been melted and the different pieces of which they are made up. Meanwhile, he fiddles with the cuffs until he manages to take them off. He tells the guard that he is tired and that he cannot sleep with the cuffs on: he hands them over to him and says: “I’m tired and I’m going to sleep, if you want to shoot, shoot…” The second guard did not shoot and after a while, they end up setting Manolis free. Many years later, Manolis was in Athens walking down the street and he saw a person approaching him, greeting him from afar. The unknown person said: “perhaps you’ve forgotten about me, but I know who you are: you are the man who one day told me that I was a slave when I thought I was free, and thanks to whom I am a free man.” The former prisoner and the former jailer gave each other a strong embrace.

The ancients said of Greece under Roman rule that “Graecia capta ferum captorem cepit” (Captive Greece defeated its fierce conqueror). Glezos’s anecdote operates in the same way: the dignity, wisdom and calm of decent and lucid people such as Manolis Glezos, such as Alexis Tsipras or Yanis Varoufakis, whom the world looks upon as prisoners, in the hands of their fierce and illegitimate creditors, is showing once again in the current negotiations with European partners and EU institutions just who is the free person and who is the slave.

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Fear and Anger, and the Spectre of a New Beginning

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From Dublin Opinion, 2011

Michael D Higgins got called a “midget” and a “parasite” last Friday. Somehow, it has only made its way into the papers and onto the airwaves on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. It has elicited comment from the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and from Health Minister Leo Varadkar. Labour Party Senator Lorraine Higgins ventured on Today With Sean O’Rourke that it was an ‘attack on democracy’ Liveline was devoted to the topic today, two days before Funny Friday on the 30th of January, but also, and more importantly, three days in advance of another round of anti-water charges mobilisations, this Saturday, 31st January.

Why has it happened thus? You don’t need to be a genius to work out that the concern here, on the part of both the media and the political establishment, is not some grievous act of lèse-majesté from which they have spent the last 5 days reeling in shock with the smelling salts only now kicking in. Nor is it horror at the use of ableist abuse. Rather, it is, purely and plainly, the potential for keeping numbers down on the 31st.

Did you notice that opinion polls of the 12th and 13th of January showed a rise in support for the coalition parties? As RTÉ noted at the time, ‘January is a month when Government parties fare slightly better in polls because of the Dáil break’. Before Christmas, however, support for the coalition was on the way down. One factor in this was revealed in a headline in the Irish Times noted on December 4th: Government parties pay price for water charges. When water charges are the focus of public attention, the government flounders. Hence the more the government can keep water charges off the agenda, the more it can diminish its sense of importance, the better its chances of remaining in power. Simple. As a consequence, it makes urgent sense, from its perspective, to strive to keep the rabble in line.

This concern was clear in the words of Leo Varadkar on Morning Ireland today, when he said that “what strikes me, is that as the water protesters get fewer, they’re getting nastier”. Varadkar’s claim about the water protesters has no basis in fact. It is akin to saying there is less rain nowadays because it is not raining outside. Needless to say, his claim was not challenged by his interviewer.

Varadkar, moreover, like Lorraine Higgins, sought to criminalise dissent altogether. He claimed that the President was ‘above politics’ and that hence such protests were a de facto attack on the constitution. Needless to say, the contradiction in Varadkar’s claims -here was a Minister using the President for transparently political purposes- was left unprobed by the questioner.

I should stress here that it is not the content of the insult –“midget”, “parasite”, “traitor”- that Varadkar was denouncing as an attack on the constitution, but the very fact that the figure of the President was being challenged. It is important to remember that Varadkar –described last week in an Irish Times editorial as “such a refreshing and popular politician” with a “reputation for candour and straight talking” has form in intervening on the question of water. It is he who came up with the image of the “sinister fringe”. He spoke of how it “really bothered him” that people might protest about water charges when there were other things, like “Áras Attracta, the fact that there over 300 people on trollies this morning in our hospitals” that were far more important. Back in 2012 he claimed that people who did not pay the household charge –the household charge- would have their water cut off, and that a “bomb” would go off in Dublin unless bondholders were repaid in full. ‘Straight talking’. ‘Refreshing’. ‘Popular’.

Neither Varadkar nor Lorraine Higgins, for her part, had anything to say when her government colleague Charlie Flanagan, who is the Minister for Justice, let it be known on Twitter that another public representative was a “cunt”.

The idea that Michael D Higgins is “above politics” is contradicted somewhat by Higgins’s own pronouncements, which seldom receive more than the most superficial of treatment in the regime press. Michael D Higgins is to the regime media, roughly speaking, what the Pope is to the Iona Institute . An important figurehead, a symbol of authority and power, worth celebrating the fact of his popularity, but well worth studiously ignoring anything he has to say.

Consider, for instance, these remarks:

there are great risks inherent in both the very responses that might emerge from fear and anger among our citizens, and then too in the obvious potential for political exploitation of these passions

Which come from Michael D Higgins’s remarks to the Parliamentary Assembly to the Council of Europe, hier matin. These remarks, from Ireland’s supposed ‘first citizen’, will be given less media attention than a man giving a qualified apology for calling someone else a midget and a parasite.

What Varadkar is doing, of course, as are Enda Kenny and Lorraine Higgins, and the regime press, is political exploitation of fear and anger par excellence. They seek to locate the source of fear not in the institutions stripping people of their “effective enjoyment of social rights” (Michael D Higgins) such as the “modern panopticon” of ratings agencies, “not bound by any democratic requirement”, but in individuals whose anger brings them onto the streets.

There’s a Greek word for this: metonymy. They single out a part, and they make it stand in for the whole. Through this approach, the abusive language of a few is what really characterises the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets to object to policies imposed by the government and produced a vertiginous collapse in the government’s credibility as a consequence. The message: don’t go onto the streets, they’ll eat you alive. What are you, some sort of thug?

What these double standards show is that the government has conclusively lost the political argument about water charges. It cannot argue that water charges are anything other than regressive. Hence it is seeking to sap numbers from vocal opposition to the charges, in the hope that resignation will set in, and it can hang onto power.

Fine Gael and Labour politicians in government must be especially conscious of the fact that the government in Greece, composed of politicians from its own European Parliamentary party groupings, met an ignominious end the other day, swept away by a political party buoyed aloft by militant social movements. The reverberations from this will continue for a long time. It is a major popular repudiation of the kind of policies exemplified in Ireland by the imposition of water charges, of the idea that debt must hold sway over life.

That such a thing might happen in Ireland is not at all unthinkable.  The prospect of the current political order being swept away is, in fact, a spectre that weighs heavier on the brain of ruling politicians and their scribes than it does on most people. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the creeping fear of a new beginning might turn these political animals into the most rabid of attack dogs.

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This Woman Just Explained Economics In A Nutshell. And It’s So Neo-Liberal It Hurts

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A link keeps cropping up in my Twitter and Facebook feed. It is titled ‘This Woman Just Explained Economics In A Nutshell. And It’s So True It Hurts’. It is getting shared shitloads of times.

It hurts all right, but not because it explains economics in a nutshell. In fact, it doesn’t explain economics at all. Also, the woman mentioned in the title doesn’t even explain anything.

The text is supposed to be a kind of allegory for the financial crisis. It uses a familiar narrative account: that the crisis was caused by sub-prime lending on the part of greedy mortgage lenders, to people who were never going to be able to pay off their loans because they did not have the means to do so..

But instead of sub-prime lenders and poor people it uses a woman called Mary who runs a pub, and unemployed alcoholics. It does not locate the origin of the crisis in the US, which is where this narrative normally starts, but in Ireland. Why a woman? Why a pub? Why alcoholics? Why Ireland?

I don’t know the answer to these questions but it’s worth thinking about the effect of narrating the crisis in these terms. The initial responsibility in this account is placed upon a woman. Now, when you imagine a woman in Ireland called Mary, the chances are you imagine a white woman. But women of colour in the US were disproportionate targets of sub-prime lending. Whilst everyone else in this nutshell explanation -the “young and dynamic vice-president” at the bank, the naive investors, the risk manager, the wine supplier etc all go nameless, Mary is named repeatedly. She is the linchpin of the tale. Why is this?

What about the unemployed alcoholics? A few things jump to mind here. First of all, the nutshell account contrasts the unemployed alcoholics with ‘employed, middle-class non-drinkers who have never been in Mary’s bar’ who end up paying more taxes as a consequence of bank bailouts. So this is a tale of injustice, and the suggestion is that whereas punishment might have been justified both for bankers and unemployed alcoholics, there was certainly no justification for punishing those who kept their appetites in check and who worked hard.

Then there is the difference between shelter and alcohol. Shelter is commonly recognised as a fundamental human necessity, and, among the more enlightened parts of humanity, a right. Alcohol is not. Some months ago, an economist appeared on a news programme on the Irish public broadcaster, RTÉ. He said that water charges were necessary because you wouldn’t let people drink free beer. If you have children, I am sure that you, like me, regularly bathe your children in beer, and brush your teeth with it.

The idea that sub-prime borrowers were insatiable in their desire for credit obscures a couple of important facts. David McNally notes in Global Slump that fully ’60 percent of those who received subprime loans actually qualified for less onerous mortgages’. So, sub-prime lending cannot be explained through a simple transaction, whereby one person finds a profitable way of meeting the insatiable, pathological desire of someone else. In reality, the whole structure of subprime mortgage lending was intended to bilk people, mainly poor people, and disproportionately people of colour. In the nutshell narrative, however, the racial dimension is wished away, because we are now in Ireland. And the class dimension is wished away too, because whereas the ‘unemployed alcoholics’ belong to no class, the ‘employed non-drinkers’ are middle-class. So this ‘explanation of economics’ is firmly within the neoliberal imaginary of crony capitalism, regulators asleep at the wheel, we all partied (we’re in Ireland, and everybody loves a party in Ireland, right?), and so on. But more than that, it actually echoes the remarks of CNBC reporter Rick Santelli, whose “it’s time for another tea party” rant is thought of as a catalyst for the Tea Party movement.

How about this, Mr. President and new administration. Why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers mortgages? Or would they like to at least buy buy cars, buy a house that is in foreclosure … give it to people who might have a chance to actually prosper down the road and reward people that can carry the water instead of drink the water?

Finally, none of this ‘explains economics’. In fact, despite its apparent disdain for expert opinion, it hides the role of economists, by having you believe they had nothing to do with creating the intellectual tools for financial deregulation and sub-prime mortgage products. And it tacitly suggests that whereas economics in 2015 is something unfathomably crazy and unjust, there was an economics of bygone days where ‘employed, middle-class non-drinkers’ were the main object of concern, and we really need to get back to this, through proper regulation, through attending to the needs of the ‘squeezed middle’, and so on. To top it all, the idea that the funds for the bailout are obtained by taxes on the ‘employed, middle-class non-drinkers’ obscures the fact that taxes are also levied on those who are unemployed -often in the form of regressive taxation that hit the poorest most, whether they fell prey to predatory lending or not- and says nothing about the withdrawal of public services -health care, education, transport, social supports- which have the same effect as taxation measures. Again, these hit the poorest most of all, but they also hit large sectors of the population habitually classified as ‘middle-class’ but working class in terms of lived reality. Thus the characterisation of the bailout reinforces the idea that there is no such thing as class, and also the idea that there is no such thing as social rights, or citizenship.

So, what initially appears like a populist samizdat against government and banking elites turns out to be a text that rallies support for neoliberal orthodoxy. Genius.

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A Note on Marxism and Freedom of Speech

In a discussion of one of my posts from a couple of days ago, Dan writes:

Overall, it seems to me a Marxist view of the world – and apologies in advance if I’m (unintentionally) mischaracterising your politics slightly – can be useful when critiquing the banks, the political system, or American foreign policy. But less useful when discussing other matters. In the Charlie Hebdo shooting, the key, and opposing, issues in play are religious fanaticism and freedom of speech. (Neither concept figures large in Marxist ideology, so your instinct appears to be to ignore or dismiss these aspects.) Issues like immigration, multiculturalism and the history of Western misdeeds in the Middle East are also relevant to the controversy to a certain degree. The perfidy of property ownership, however, seems to me to have fuck all to do with anything here. Freedom of speech is the fundamental principle of a free society. It is the surest defense against tyranny. Religious fanaticism is among the worst blights on the modern landscape. In the words of the late Pete Seeger then, which side are you on?

Clearly there are some matters where Marxist traditions of thought are of little use. Like when unblocking a drain, or making your home energy efficient. But I think Dan’s wrong to dismiss them when it comes to the Charlie Hebdo shooting. I doubt they can be used to explain everything about it, like the ballistics, or the precise thought processes that went through the killers’ minds. On the particular issues that Dan cites, however, Marx and others along those lines do have interesting things to say. I’m referring to ideology.

Dan is right to say that neither ‘religious fanaticism’ nor ‘freedom of speech’ figure large in Marxist ideology (I’d just say Marxist thought). But the reason for this is that Marxist thought by and large (and not just Marxist thought) is very suspicious of allowing abstract ideas taking hold.

For Marx, writing in The German Ideology, the ruling ideas in every epoch are the ideas of the ruling class, which is also the ruling intellectual force. That’s not to say such ideas are the only ideas in circulation. It is just that the ruling class, when it comes to concepts like ‘religious fanaticism’ and ‘freedom of speech’, will seek to present its version as the only ‘rational, universally valid’ ones.  Hence when we talk about religious fanaticism and freedom of speech in the everyday, there’s a good chance we are talking about the ruling class’s version of those concepts. So, ‘religious fanatic’ will apply to political leaders in Iran –for example- but will far less likely apply to the rulers of Saudi Arabia or the Prime Minister of Israel, since the latter are strategic allies of ruling elites in the West. Which side are you on?

Dan thinks property ownership has fuck all to do with anything. But it is property ownership, perhaps above anything, that is the fundamental principle of the society in which he and I live. We appear to agree elsewhere in our discussion that the amount of money –a form of property- you have behind you has a large bearing on how free you are to speak about things. A media billionaire can say what he likes. His employees are not so free. In many parts of the world where freedom of speech is brandished as the highest of values, the words “let’s join a union”, for instance, can land you on the breadline.

Now, whilst Dan thinks that this sort of situation sucks, and so do I, where we differ is that I don’t think ‘well-at-least-it’s-not-North-Korea’ is a good enough justification for this state of affairs. For me, but not just me, this isn’t an adequate description of what a free society looks like. Marx also notes in the same text that in ‘ordinary life every shopkeeper is very well able to distinguish between what somebody professes to be and what he really is’. But when it comes to freedom of speech, or even just freedom, we are far more inclined by habit to accept the official merchandise as the genuine article.

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They should go ahead and publish the cartoons

I have changed my mind. It is time to throw complexity out the window. All newspapers in Europe ought to publish those Charlie Hebdo images. No, I don’t know which ones precisely and I don’t know why I just said Europe and didn’t include Africa or Asia or Latin America.

Anyway, all newspapers in Europe, including: all those that support capitalism and the rule of the market; all those that are owned by rich white men; all those with a history of publishing scare stories about Muslims; all those that generate consent for the bombing and occupation of predominantly Muslim countries by Western forces; all those that are indifferent to the systematic unravelling of Europe’s democratic fabric that was forged through decades of struggle from below, and through the struggle against fascism; -I think I’ve covered about 90% of newspapers and media outlets here- all these, and the rest, should publish those images.

When I say they should publish those images, I make no demand for them to provide any kind of background information about the original context in which they were published. They have no duty to inform in this regard. I make no demand for them to consider the effect their publication might have on people who may be interpreted as being represented in the cartoons. Not on Muslims in general, not on Muslims living in areas where their mosques might get bombed, and certainly not on people whose appearance might lead them to be identified with a picture of pregnant Boko Haram slaves demanding their government benefits. No: to make any such consideration would be a betrayal of free expression, the bedrock of our free society.

In calling on newspapers and other outlets to publish these images, I make no demand that any thought should be given to the way newspapers and other media institutions actually shape public opinion. I make no demand that any thought be given to suggestions that the ruling powers in countries like US, France, and the UK are only too happy to present themselves as beacons of civilisation, and their weapons of war as the means of bringing democracy, enlightenment and freedom of expression to other benighted regions. I make no demand of the rich men who own newspapers that they or their employees bring any history into it other than the history of attacks on free expression perpetrated by Muslims. Those perpetrated by the governments of the European countries in question, for example, are not the issue here. Also the history of Western imperialism, colonialism and racism need not be spoken about here. As a white European, I should know.

I should also stress, in calling on these institutions to publish these images, that they make no effort to distinguish between the people and the State. Britain is David Cameron. France is François Hollande. Germany is Angela Merkel. Whatever they say is good enough for the whole of the people they represent. The threat to free expression is so urgent, so overwhelming, that any plurality, diversity or dissenting views could prove fatal.

Then, once the images have been published and freedom of expression has been protected, we need never speak of any of this again, and the world will be safe again for satire. Do not fail us, journalists!

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