SACC Statement on the Paris Shootings and Islamophobia

Vigil for Charlie Hebdo staff, Lille

We condemn the recent murderous attack at the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo magazine, which resulted in the death of twelve innocent people and injury to a number of others.

People cannot under any circumstances be considered legitimate targets for assassination, whether by death squad or by drone, whether in Paris, in Yemen or in Pakistan, because of their involvement in works of art, journalism, culture, propaganda, humour, political comment or any other intellectual activity.

We also condemn the subsequent hostage-taking by the attackers and their associates. Hostage-taking is unacceptable in any circumstances, but was in this case particularly repugnant because one of the hostage-takers selected a kosher supermarket for his action, telling a TV station that he had chosen the shop "because it was Jewish." His action resulted in the death of another four innocent people. Crimes committed by the Israeli Government cannot under any circumstances justify crimes against Jewish people.

We offer our sympathy and condolences to the survivors of the attack and to the friends and family of the victims.

The attackers targeted Charlie Hebdo staff because of the magazine's record of publishing satirical material insulting to Islam. It is perfectly clear that they saw their action as part of a wider struggle, political as well as religious. They sought a target in France because of the long involvement of European powers, as well as the US, in wars and acts of aggression in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. Imperialist war and intervention destroys lives, undermines the self-determination of the peoples of the affected regions and threatens world peace. It must stop.

We do not support the publication of material that depicts Islam and Muslims in the derisive way favoured by Charlie Hebdo. It is blatantly islamophobic, and is symptomatic of the prevalence of islamophobia in Europe, and in particular of the failure of large sections of the French left to make any serious effort to challenge this mood.

This kind of material browbeats the Muslim community, contributes to its marginalisation, and tends to inhibit Muslim self-expression and engagement with other communities. It is a collective echo of the way that US interrogators use derisive treatment of the Koran as an adjunct to other forms of torture in an attempt to undermine the psychological health of their victims.

The wide circulation of islamophobic images from Charlie Hebdo, in supposed solidarity with the murder victims, looks very like an attempt to impose collective punishment on the Muslim community.

SACC has no collective religious affiliation, but we recognise that this kind of imagery, as well as being offensive to anti-racists of all races and religions, is on religious grounds especially upsetting to Muslims.

Besides its impact on Muslims, and perhaps even more importantly, this sort of material is likely to incite anti-Muslim hatred within the majority community. It reduces opposition to legislation that impacts adversely on the Muslim community, reduces opposition to institutional islamophobia, promotes public distrust and antipathy towards Muslims, and risks encouraging violent attacks against Muslims. Muslims are at much greater risk of this sort of thing than are the followers of most other religions, so special care is needed in creating or publishing material that might have these effects.

Islamophobic imagery lends strength, regardless of the intentions of its creators, to far-right and fascist parties that threaten other minorities besides Muslims, and in the end threaten the rights, freedoms and living conditions of working-class people of all communities.

Especially when appearing at the same time as headlines like "Assault on Democracy" (Guardian, 8 January), islamophobic material creates an atmosphere conducive to further acts of overseas aggression by our government and its allies. The sensational headlines pay scant heed to that fact that the Paris attack was far smaller than the 9/11 attack (2,996 dead), which itself generated an overblown and counter-productive response, and the 2011 fascist attacks in Oslo and Utøya by Anders Breivik ( 77 dead, mostly teenagers, and 319 injured).

We do not advocate any change in the law to make it easier to prosecute the kind of islamophobic material published by Charlie Hebdo. But we urge everyone to desist from creating, supporting, encouraging or circulating this kind of material. We are appalled at the recent announcement by Guardian Media and Google that they will be making substantial donations to Charlie Hebdo.

We are opposed to the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill currently progressing through Parliament, and we would deplore any attempt to use the tragic events in Paris to drum up support for it. It creates a range of new powers that are wide open to abuse. It gives police the power to seize people's passports, and gives the Government the power to bar British citizens from entering the country. Shockingly, it also gives Prevent officials the power to have children taken away from their parents so that they can be subjected to a "deradicalisation" programme.

We remain opposed to the whole body of UK anti-terrorism legislation enacted since 2000, almost all of it on the understanding that it would primarily target Muslims. Terrorism is best dealt with under the ordinary criminal law, not under laws that create new offences, put whole communities under suspicion, and create "terrorists" out of people who have no intention of carrying out actions that would otherwise be regarded as criminal.

No to Violence. No to War. No to Racism.

Photo: Michel G