After Charlie Hebdo: Terror, Racism and Free Speech

After Charlie Hebdo: Terror, Racism and Free Speech


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783609383
Publisher: Zed Books
Publication date: 12/15/2017
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Gavan Titley is a lecturer in media studies at Maynooth University. His books include The Crises of Multiculturalism: Racism in a Neoliberal Age, also published by Zed Books, and Racism and MediaDes Freedman is professor of media and communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of The Contradictions of Media Power and The Politics of Media Policy. Gholam Khiabany is a senior lecturer in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. Aurelien Mondon is a senior lecturer in French and comparative politics at the University of Bath.

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Aurélien Mondon and Aaron Winter

The attack against Charlie Hebdo in Paris on 7 January 2015 took place in a context in which Islamophobia had become increasingly mainstream in France. The widespread albeit uneven use of the slogan 'Je Suis Charlie' across France and the Western world represented for many an assertion of solidarity, and more specifically identification, with Charlie Hebdo and its championing of liberal Enlightenment and Republican values of freedom of speech. This reaction, we were told, was in response to the threat posed by Muslim extremists and terrorists. However, the boundaries between a critique of extremism and terrorism and that of Islamophobia (and anti-Muslim hate), as well as that between the defence of liberal values, Islamophobia and securitisation, have become increasingly blurry. The string of deadly attacks by those identified or self-identifying as 'Islamist' and linked to IS (however tenuous that link may be) which have taken place since in Paris, Nice and Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray have rendered them ever fuzzier. It is for this reason, and the mapping of these discourses and practices as they relate or are deployed in relation to Islam and Muslims, however loosely defined, that we employ our concepts of illiberal and liberal Islamophobia (Mondon and Winter 2017).

The illiberal articulation of Islamophobia, or 'anti-Muslim' hate, is closest to traditional racism based around exclusivist notions and concepts of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and religion, as well as identity itself, and is commonly associated with the extreme right and authoritarian treatment of minority groups and rights. Liberal Islamophobia, on the other hand, apparently rejects but in fact displaces and conceals traditional racism and overt prejudice by constructing a pseudo-progressive binary and narrative. It constructs a stereotypical notion and image of Muslim or Islamic belief and culture inherently opposed to some of the core values espoused in a mythical and essentialised culturally homogeneous, superior and enlightened West, or specific Western nation. In this fantasised picture, the West is argued to embody progress, such as democracy, human rights, free speech, and gender and sexual equality, and, ironically, particularly in terms of the way in which Muslims were and are targeted, tolerance. Although liberal Islamophobia claims to target religion and belief (Islam) on behalf of liberalism as opposed to people (Muslims) to claim its liberal credential and non-racist defence, it does retain the same target – Muslims – as its illiberal counterpart, often under the auspices of 'culture', and is part of a long legacy of anti-Muslim hate in France and wider Europe, dating to colonialism. It can also be used to justify illiberal practices, such as the racialisation, profiling and securitisation of Muslims and Muslim communities, as the boundaries between the two are at times functional and thus blurry. Even before the attack, Charlie Hebdo used its satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to prove the point about a fantasised version of Islam and Muslims' 'backwardness' (recalling, in a French context, not just liberal Enlightenment Republican ideals, but racist colonial and neo-racist particularist 'cultural' discourses), in an expression of free speech.

In the aftermath of the attack, Charlie Hebdo appeared as a flagbearer for such a civilisational project: 'Je Suis Charlie' was the assertion that the West and France in particular identified with the magazine as its symbol or proxy for freedom of speech, and stood together in solidarity with the West and France for freedom of speech and the attack on it/them/us. However, this was accompanied by developments that would seem contradictory to the liberal values of freedom that Charlie Hebdo allegedly championed and to which Islamists posed a threat: securitisation, states of emergency in which civil liberties would be suspended, a crackdown on so-called 'extreme' speech and a boost for the extremists on the right. In this context, the extreme right Front National (FN), long the standard-bearer of racist hate and right-wing authoritarianism, was able to normalise itself further. By strategically embracing a liberal form of Islamophobia in defence of the Republic, the FN has now placed itself in perfect alignment with the mainstream.

This chapter will examine these developments, focusing on the rise of the FN and the mainstreaming of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate in France under the banner of liberalism. It will argue that, while Islamophobia has often taken an illiberal shape, a more mainstream, acceptable and accepted form within a liberal framework has become commonplace within the mainstream political discourse of twenty-first century France, particularly in relation to discourses about Republicanism. It will examine such developments in light of tensions in the Republican tradition between liberalism and reactionary politics that go back to the founding of the Republic and throughout French history. These are revealed and articulated in responses to social and political crises: for example, the transformation and mainstreaming of Islamophobia in the context of and response to the Charlie Hebdo attack, and the debate surrounding freedom of speech, which should be seen in the context of a wider crisis of faith in democracy that lends itself to hate and scapegoating, as well as extreme-right opportunism. Finally, it will examine the development and changes to this discourse in response to attacks that followed the one on Charlie Hebdo.

The Republic has fallen, long live the reactionary Republic!

To understand the current situation and the normalisation, if not normalcy, of Islamophobic discourses, both liberal and illiberal, in mainstream political debates, it is essential to place the return of reactionary politics in France in a broader historical context. Since the late nineteenth century, France's history has been marred by the struggle between the Republic and its own contradictions, and reactionary ideologies and movements, such as those based on various iterations of racism. From the Dreyfus Affair and the role played by Charles Maurras' Action Française and colonialism, to the interwar fascist leagues and the failed coup of February 1934; from the Vichy Regime to the post-war nostalgic and anti-decolonisation movements, the French extreme right's virulent opposition has played a key part in defining the Republic as the progressive alternative, despite its own shortcomings and responsibility with regard to systemic racism (see Selim Nadi's chapter in this book). In this context and with more radical alternatives in disarray, the Republic was constructed as the ultimate symbol of progress in mainstream discourse, but also as the strongest barrier against the extreme right: where the Republic prevailed, it was argued, the forces of reaction would be defeated. This led, in the second half of the twentieth century, to the creation of a Republican Front against parties of the extreme right, which took its real meaning in the 1980s and1990s as the FN began to gather momentum. The idea of a Republican Front was particularly prominent when Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right FN, reached the second round of the 2002 presidential elections. Interestingly, despite media hype around the rise of the FN, the novelty was not so much Le Pen's results (similar to1988 and 1995), but the fall of the traditional governing parties and the rise of abstention (see Figure 1.1). In 2002, almost as many people turned to abstention as those who trusted the three traditional governing party families.

In an era of post-democracy (Crouch 2004), this concerning trend was for the most part ignored and solace was found in the phantasmatic fight staged by almost all parties between good and evil, between the Republic and the fascist menace. In the second round, la 'bête immonde' was defeated and Jacques Chirac, at the time involved in various corruption scandals, was re-elected with 82.21 per cent of the vote. Here again, French commentators praised Republican unity in the face of what was advertised as the irresistible rise of the FN, once more ignoring Le Pen's party's failure to appeal to more than 17.79 per cent of voters (or 13.4 per cent of registered voters) when faced with a less than popular candidate. Left- wing newspaper Libération's front pages were symptomatic of the amalgamation of extremely diverse ideologies within the Republic, stressing the vital necessity to vote for right-wing Chirac "For the Republic's sake". At the same time, popular magazine Paris Match's front pages praised the 'hope' triggered by 'Republican enthusiasm' "to say no to Le Pen": 'the wounded Republic' wasultimately victorious. Apocalyptic language abounded, with words such as 'shock', 'bomb', 'catastrophe', 'nightmare' across front pages and throughout the news. L'Express (25 April 2002) summarised the union of the press against the FN, calling for a vote for Chirac "for France, for the Republic, for Democracy". Le Monde (2 May 2002) concluded that it was not so much Chirac, but 'the Republic being re-elected'. That abstention now equalled the same number of votes as the main governing parties in post-war France was ignored in the mainstream debate. The threat to the Republic and French democracy was thus not to be sought within the failure of mainstream parties, but rather in the exaggeration of the 'success' of the FN, and in turn in the legitimisation of its discourse as a prominent political alternative.

As it seemed to triumph over fascism in 2002, the Republican Front and the legitimation of the FN as the alternative to 'politics as usual' made Nicolas Sarkozy an appealing candidate on the right. Sarkozy's aims were clear: no more compromises with the old order; he would instead choose to bring FN voters back to his party even if it meant he had to go and get them 'one by one' (Sarkozy 2006). By positioning himself in opposition to the establishment, despite being very much part of it, Sarkozy successfully appealed to many of those who had chosen the FN as a protest vote, and in doing so dealt a lethal blow to the Republican Front. His insistence on breaking taboos freed much of the neo-racist discourse central to the FN's strategy, particularly with regard to Islam. The presence of the Republican Front had not negated racism in its many guises, but prior to the arrival of Sarkozy, such utterances had remained marginal and overwhelmingly condemned in the mainstream political discourse, albeit useful to appeal to parts of the electorate (Mondon 2013: 7-8).

The creation of what Thomas Deltombe termed 'Imaginary Islam' can be traced back to the 1970s (Deltombe 2005; see also Hajjat and Mohammed 2013); however, its positioning as the natural enemy of the secular Republic in the mainstream discourse fully took hold in the 2000s. Following the polemics around the same issue in 1989 and1994, the 2004 law on 'conspicuous' religious symbols in schools was not so much about secularism as it was about an essentialised view of Islam: Muslim communities were assumed to be worthy of suspicion and those most affected were not given the space to express concerns or agency (Tévanian et al. 2008). As highlighted by Pierre Tévanian amongst others, this was very much a non-issue at the time, since "the number of headscarf-related disputes, according to the French Ministry of Education, fell from 300 in 1994 to 150 in 2003 [with] 146 of these incidents quickly resolved through compromise" (Tévanian 2005). Nevertheless, the Republic and secularism increasingly became repressive tools used to entrench discrimination, in opposition to more emancipatory meanings (Mondon 2015). Mention of laïcité and the law of 1905on the separation of church and state no longer referred to the text itself and its focus on the protection of individual rights. Both were used to pursue some identitarian project based on an imagined clash of civilisations. Such debates were reminiscent of the mission civilisatrice central to the French colonial project and processes and to the Third Republic's self-righteous outlook on the world and its duties to civilise all, even against their will. It is telling that when the 2010 law against the burka was passed in France, the office of Éric Besson, then Minister of Immigration and National Identity, commented that this law was necessary for "life in society and civilisation to be explained" to those guilty of wearing the attire (Leprince 2010). Nuance was nowhere to be seen; Republican emancipation was to be imposed and agency limited to those like 'us'.

In a global context where Islam was constructed as the global threat, Sarkozy's campaigns and presidency normalised this neo-racist perspective in much of the political discourse in France. He brought with his leadership of the centre-right UMP two elements central to this mainstreaming. On the one hand, contrary to his predecessors and mainstream opponents, his use of such tropes was unrepentant and his stance based on the constant struggle against so- called 'political correctness' and taboos imposed by a self-righteous elite. On the other hand, while much of his discourse on immigration and Islam was borrowed from the FN's repertoire, his position as leader of a mainstream party and his subsequent presidency added legitimacy to such themes and gave them an aura of authority and acceptability, if not normalcy. For Sarkozy, the Republic was no longer the rampart against the extreme right, but a nationalist project based on an emotional attachment to la patrie: "to become French is to subscribe to a form of civilisation, values and mores" (Sarkozy 2009).

Sarkozy's discursive strategy based on nationalism and the stigmatisation of Islam proved successful in 2007, but played a part in his demise in 2012 as he was ultimately unable to satisfy the deeply divided parts of his electorate. By the end of his presidency, Sarkozy had shifted the line between what was acceptable and what was not, what could be discussed and envisaged by the President, what was taboo and what was the new normal. In his attempt to outbid the FN in promising that no debate would be out of bounds for his government, Sarkozy allowed for extreme right discourse to both gain an increased amount of coverage and, more importantly, to become part of the Republican and democratic sphere from which it had been excluded since the Second World War. In 2012, Sarkozy could break the ultimate Republican taboo, saying what no other mainstream party's leader had dared and what the media in unison had revolted against in 2002: that the FN was part of the 'Republic'; it was a 'democratic' party (Mondon2013).

As the Republican Front weakened, the FN evolved. In the twenty-first century, and even more so under the new leadership of Marine Le Pen, the party has continued to redefine its discourse, if not its ideology, in its ongoing attempt to reclaim key concepts of the French national psyche (Crépon et al. 2015). This change required a refining of the old narratives that had been core to Jean-Marie Le Pen's politics, placing him throughout his political life as the 'outsider'. The rise of Islamophobia within the mainstream allowed the FN to join the Republican camp and to reshape key concepts such as laïcité in its own image. Marine Le Pen has thus positioned herself as champion of the hegemonic values seemingly abandoned by mainstream parties, forcing them in turn to toe the line. This shift has seen a further escalation in the 'vocabulary war' the party launched in the late 1980s, under the influence of Nouvelle droite think tanks and their right-wing appropriation and use of Antonio Gramsci's theories. In her counter-hegemonic struggle, Marine Le Pen has made the themes of the Republic and secularism central to her discourse: the Republic is now understood as the nation in the traditional extreme right manner, and secularism as the weapon against the divisions caused by the nation's new primary enemy: Islam.


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Table of Contents

Introduction: Becoming symbolic: from Charlie Hebdo to ‘Charlie Hebdo’
Gavan Titley
Part I: The Contested Republic
1 Charlie Hebdo, Republican secularism and Islamophobia
Aurélien Mondon and Aaron Winter
2 The meaning of ‘Charlie’: the debate on the troubled French identity
Philippe Marlière
3 After the drama: the institutionalization of gossiping about Muslims
Valérie Amiraux and Arber Fetiu
4 A double-bind situation? The depoliticisation of violence and the politics of compensation
Abdellali Hajjat
Part II: The Long ‘War on Terror’
5 The Whiteness of innocence: Charlie Hebdo and the metaphysics of anti-terrorism in Europe
Nicholas De Genova
6 The visible hand of the state
Gholam Khiabany
7 Symbolic politics with brutally real effects: when ‘nobodies’ make history
Markha Valenta
8 Extremism, theirs and ours: Britain’s ‘generational struggle’
Arun Kundnani
Part III: Media Events and Media Dynamics
9 From Jyllands-Posten to Charlie Hebdo: domesticating the Mohammed cartoons
Carolina Sanchez Boe
10 #JeSuisCharlie, #JeNeSuisPasCharlie and ad hoc publics
Simon Dawes
11 Mediated narratives as competing histories of the present
Annabelle Sreberny
Part IV: The Politics of Free Speech
12 Media power and the framing of the Charlie Hebdo attacks
Des Freedman
13 We hate to quote Stanley Fish, but: “There’s no such thing as free speech, and it’s a good thing, too.” Or is it?
Bill Grantham and Toby Miller
14 Jouissance and submission: ‘free speech’, colonial diagnostics and psychoanalytic responses to Charlie Hebdo
Anne Mulhall
Part V: Racism and Anti-Racism in Post-Racial Times
15 Not afraid
Ghassan Hage
16 ‘Je Suis Juif’’: Charlie Hebdo and the remaking of antisemitism
Alana Lentin
17 Race, caste and gender in France
Christine Delphy
18 The ideology of the Holy Republic as part of the colonial counter-revolution
Selim Nadi
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