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Who’s Afraid of Charlie Hebdo?

As this is being typed out the dust is just beginning to settle on the events following the slaughter of the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ staff, the killing of the Jewish supermarket hostages and their attackers. The newspaper and TV reporters covering the atrocity - carried out apparently to avenge a long dead ‘prophet’ who has become prone to the gags of mickey-takers and critics due to the absurdities of his followers - all emphasise the point that the right to free speech is not negotiable, and is the very essence of democracy.

And they are right of course. Ridiculous people and ridiculous ideas inevitably attract ridicule. And the most absurd idea still being bandied about in the 21st century as an answer to modern day capitalism and its problems is religion. Despite the claims from its various apologists of their moral superiority, and the insistence that they should be accepted, unchallenged and unquestioned, as examples of how we are to live our lives, they are, in fact, the socially useless remnants of a long-gone world, a world of ancient social conditions and ideas, mass ignorance and superstition. And far from providing answers to today’s problems they have nothing say, other than to tell us to put our faith in the imaginary gods and their magical powers, of an ancient era.

The fact that believers in such gods obviously consider their deities to be so weak and helpless, however, as to need their critics to be silenced by Kalashnikovs says as much about the god’s impotence as does any Charlie Hebdo cartoon.

And, while it seems clear that the intention of the attackers was to silence the critics, this has backfired. Already gatherings of outraged people protesting at the barbarity are taking place all over Europe. More moderate Muslims too, this time more than ever before, are expressing their outrage.   

‘Everyone should be offended three times a week’ someone once said, ‘and twice on Sundays’. And that seems about right. There’s nothing like a bit straight talking, and a bit of offence to remind us that not everyone shares the same views. And while believers in ancient myths have every right to feel offended that their ideas are sometimes ridiculed, the rest of us reserve the right to be equally offended at religious stupidity and barbarity.

Socialists, too, feel quite offended at the way in which the working class are recruited, hoodwinked and persuaded to fight the wars of others in which they have no personal interests. ‘We’ve been sent from al-Qaida in Yemen’ claimed the Charlie Hebdo killers (who were born and raised in a poor neighbourhood of Paris).

But while the killer’s intention to stifle criticism and free speech will come to nothing, there is a different threat to our freedom. On the day after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo’s office, despite the fact that the killers were already known to the French intelligence agencies, and the Woolwich killers were already known to MI5, Andrew Parker, the head of MI5 wasted no time in asking for more surveillance powers for the intelligence agencies. Because terrorists used the internet, email and social messaging, he said, so intelligence agencies ‘have to have the power to intercept, particularly, international communications’. George Osborne readily agreed saying MI5, MI6 and GCHQ would receive the resources they need. (Guardian 10 January 2015).

Let’s hope that makes you feel more secure.

NW