Solidarity with ‘Charlie Hebdo’ and the people of France

I planned to write something entirely non-political this month – about the latest conservation news on the Gulf islands – but now feel compelled to offer a few words on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. While the tragedy is in many ways rather unique to the particular political and social circumstances in France, it certainly raises questions for everyone living in a modern, multi-cultural society – including ours. On that note, comments by Derek Fox of the Maori Party supporting the self-proclaimed ‘Jihadist’ killers were frankly rather sickening, but not entirely surprising.

What I found even more disappointing were the reactions of some liberals, thankfully a minority, whose response was along the lines of “I’m not trying to justify mass-murder…[well that’s nice to know], but…” and who then went on to criticise the dead journalists – in effect rationalising their murder.

While this ‘but’ argument was somewhat more delicately put than Derek Fox’s Fascist-like outburst, if such thinking is indicative of more than a few here in New Zealand then surely we have challenges ahead maintaining our hard-won secular, democratic political culture. A culture based on post-enlightenment rationalism – a cultural legacy, as a matter of fact, we very much owe France.

I personally don’t go in for purposely offending anyone but I salute the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and journalists as brave men and women taking on a brutal ‘Jihadist’ tyranny with their pens, despite the dangerous consequences. As the French say they had ‘cran’. In other words ‘guts’.

It is pertinent to point out that this outrage did not come out of nowhere; and must be viewed in the context of the current political state of the Middle-East and North Africa. The whole region is now a running sore as the result of hard-line Israeli expansionist policies on the one hand, and on the other, years of meddling by the US and NATO, particularly in the violent overthrow of secular regimes in Iraq, Libya and Syria. This has created absolute chaos and given free rein to the extremists. From time to time I recall the lead up to the fateful US-British invasion of Iraq in early 2003, and marching up Queen Street, with my wife and hundreds of other Aucklanders chanting, ‘No blood for oil’. Little good did that do but at least the Clark government kept us out of it. That no doubt took some courage, especially standing up the United States and its foolish ‘coalition of the willing’.

Speaking of courage, I have to say how much I admired the position taken by commentator Paul Thomas in his thought-provoking article in the NZ Herald on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Thomas poured scorn on the ‘instant experts on satire’ and what Salman Rushdie called the ‘But Brigade’, those rather self-righteous liberal souls who in this case couldn’t wait to criticise the dead journalists, even before they had been laid to rest; their fashionable political correctness, I noted, laced with a dash of old-fashioned Francophobia.

 I agree with Thomas, there should be no ‘buts’ over murderous attacks on the freedom of expression. Like millions of other around the world I express my deep sympathy and solidarity with the families of the victims and the people of France.

 (This article was published in the February edition of Ponsonby News.)

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