|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Issue 185 February 2015
France: counter the terrorist threat with workers-led mass unity
The shocking terrorist attacks in Paris, mainly at the journal Charlie Hebdo and in a Jewish supermarket – with 17 victims – were met with mass revulsion and outrage. The Socialist Party too condemns these attacks, as with previous terrorist attacks, including 9/11 in the US and 7/7 in London.
These atrocities have been directed at ordinary working people and do nothing to counter oppression. On the contrary, they serve to promote division and polarisation and aid the interests of the capitalist class, whose biggest enemy is working-class unity and strength. Across France 3.7 million people turned out on the streets on Sunday 11 January to express horror and anger, including up to two million marching in Paris.
But sickeningly, government ministers in France, across Europe and beyond – whose policies in power have laid the basis for terrorist atrocities to occur – hypocritically rushed to be seen on the Paris demonstration. David Cameron and Ed Miliband, whose parties were as one in the UK parliament on participating in the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan in which hundreds of thousands were killed, joined the Paris march. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended also, fresh from last summer’s terrible slaughter of over 2,100 Palestinians in Gaza. Successive French governments have sent troops into west and north Africa many times, in the economic and strategic interests of French imperialism.
All these interventions, and many others by the world powers, as well as killing, maiming and displacing millions of people, have increased the threat of acts of terrorism in the west. Much of the basis for the present bloody conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya was laid by imperialist interventions which have been regarded with outrage by much of the world’s population, not least in Muslim communities.
These conflicts have become military training schools for aspiring jihadists from around the world and created the ground for the rise of particularly brutal, reactionary and authoritarian Islamist formations like al-Qaida and Islamic State (IS). The present US-led air attacks on IS – involving French and British forces among others – are helping IS and al-Qaida to recruit new followers, as well as worsening the carnage on the ground.
In addition, western capitalist governments are imposing another kind of destruction at home: of jobs, services and workers’ living standards, while the rich become richer. In France, poverty-stricken immigrant populations are particularly concentrated in the ‘banlieues’ – large, rundown estates in the city suburbs. These communities face high levels of unemployment, police harassment, racism and discrimination. Far from being aided by the terrorists’ actions, they now face worse state repression. Also racist physical attacks by far-right groups and individuals have increased, such as attacks on mosques.
In Britain, right-wing populist Nigel Farage added to the racism after the Paris attacks by saying: "We in Britain, and I've seen some evidence of this in other countries too, have a really rather gross policy of multiculturalism... we do have a fifth column within our countries". In France the far-right Front National will try to make gains out of the situation – further whipping up anti-immigrant, racist sentiment.
However, last weekend, capitalist politicians across the board were trying to take advantage of the mass mood of revulsion in order to boost their own popularity; French president François Hollande saw a 10% increase in his very low approval rating. Now it is urgent in France, as the demonstrations subside, to develop the building of workers’ unity – across all religions and none – to quickly organise against attacks on democratic rights in the name of fighting terror, and against scapegoating of minorities.
In Britain, the head of MI5 has used the Paris killings to call for new powers for the security services. However, the police already have powers to investigate, arrest and charge terrorist suspects without new laws being introduced that can in the future be used against trade union activists and anti-austerity campaigners. Cameron wants to increase powers to intercept and listen in to communications, which also will be used against more than just terrorist suspects.
Head of UK counter-terrorism policing, Mark Rowley, declared: "At this stage, there is no UK connection", but added ominously that "the threat levels remain unchanged, at severe for the UK". The MI5 intelligence service assesses that around 600 people have gone from Britain to the Middle East to fight with IS or the al-Qaida linked Nusra Front. Around half have returned, many disillusioned with jihad, but not all.
Nevertheless, past attacks like 7/7 in 2005, Woolwich in 2013 (both in London), and now the Paris attacks, show that the terrorism danger exists in any case from alienated individuals who have never fought abroad. All three of the Paris attackers were France-born and had not fought abroad.
Charlie Hebdo, regarded as a left-leaning journal, has based itself on ferocious irreverence to religious leaders, prominent politicians and authority in general, desiring to shock and outrage. Its blunt satire has been deliberately provocative, including by publishing cartoons of Mohammed.
The Socialist supports the right of individuals to be part of any religion, or none, free from discrimination and oppression. At the same time we defend freedom of speech, including through satire. This is not only for cultural reasons but also because censorship can and will be used against trade union activists and socialists by state institutions, hampering our ability to expose exploitation and class interests.
This does not mean there should be no boundaries. Few people would support turning a blind eye to material that deliberately and consciously promotes rabid racism or sexism, for example. However, who decides what is not acceptable? We can’t trust censorship bodies appointed by governments that are at present almost entirely composed of pro-capitalist, pro-austerity politicians. The boundaries of what is acceptable should be democratically decided, which in a socialist society would be by regularly elected representatives of ordinary people, subject to recall at any time.
Countering terrorism is not largely the task of ‘moderate’ Muslims as some commentators argue. The very small minority in society who consider turning to it can come from any background – for instance, Norway in 2011 saw far-right terrorist Anders Breivik kill 77 people in a shooting spree.
Instead, unity and leadership by working-class people are essential. Mass movements of workers, the unemployed, pensioners, etc, acting together in an organised way for improvements in living standards and challenging the whole agenda of capitalist governments, can and will turn the tide against the growing threat of terrorism. Terrorism will not be eliminated by the capitalist ruling classes and governments. They have created the conditions for it in the first place and are now incapable of removing them. No amount of increased state repression by them will end the threat.
The ongoing crisis of the world economy leads governments to be even more hell-bent on launching attacks on the majority, and is serving to increase imperialist division and armed conflict. In France, Britain and across the globe, new mass workers’ parties need to be built, putting forward socialist ideas that can show the only way out of this nightmare scenario. Public ownership of the key industries, socialist economic planning and democratic decision making at all levels of society would lay the basis for ending war, oppression, exploitation, poverty, and terrorism on a permanent basis.