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Comrades in Harms: Charlie Hebdo and the Western Liberal

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mahmoud Omidsalar

The “West” has discovered a new skin color in Islam. As a French blogger points out, the word “Muslim” no longer denotes a religion in the western mind. Instead it represents a race and invokes the idea of a different species, an alien monster that may be derided, demeaned, or destroyed without moral or ethical trepidations. The abuse and racist mockery that were once directed toward the black, the Jew, or the aborigine are now redirected toward the “Muslim.” The famous “Political Correctness” has turned out to be a realm that borders on Islam.

In a well-reasoned and intelligent essay that was published in the Intercept, Glenn Greenwald has criticized liberals who defend the French journal, Charlie Hebdo’s “freedom of speech” in publishing offensive cartoons that ridicule Islam. As a lawyer and a journalist with a long and distinguished history of progressive activism, Greenwald makes a crucial distinction between defending the right to express repellent ideas and condemning those ideas themselves. He gives the example of the American Civil Liberties Union that while defending the right of the neo-Nazis to march through neighborhoods where Holocaust survivors live, does not itself identify with neo-Nazi ideology. This crucial distinction seems to have escaped the liberals who flocked to the side of Charlie Hebdo. Their support of the journal goes beyond merely defending its freedom of speech. It has morphed into an identification with the grotesque message of its cartoons and the well-documented Islamophobic stances that it has assumed quite often since 9/11. Olivier Cyran, a former Charlie Hebdo employee, has detailed the gradual descent of the journal into Islamophobic racism in a well documented piece of writing.

There may be no doubt that all normal human beings are shocked and disgusted by the violence of the Salafist murderers who turned Charlie Hebdo’s offices into a slaughterhouse. So, my aim here is not to justify, condone, or in any way excuse this horrific crime. I rather intend to point out that the leading rank of mourners who were photographed while marching in protest of the outrage, proves that when it comes to the West’s new form of racism (Islamophobia), there is really no difference between the western liberal and the western conservative. The spectacle of the Prime Minister of Israel, who presided over some of the most horrific slaughters of innocent civilians in the post war era, marching arm in arm with other dignitaries, many of whom defended his actions and equipped his forces to carry out the slaughter, is almost as shocking as the atrocity at Charlie Hebdo’s offices. 

The scene of the sea of grieving French citizens walking behind these powerful men and women who lead the march is grotesque in its own way. It is grotesque because many of these leaders are directly or indirectly responsible for jailing, torturing, and assassinating journalists either in their own countries, or in states where they actively support dictatorial regimes. Therefore, what unites the western liberal and conservative in their protest against the horrifying murder of the Charlie Hebdo journalists cannot be simple concern for “freedom of speech.” Rather, it appears to be that peculiar form of neo-racism that manifests itself as Islamophobia these days. Those who identify with the grotesque message of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons and hold up signs that read: “Je suis Charlie,” end up crossing a line: They do not understand that it is one thing to defend the right of a journal to publish whatever filth it chooses to publish, and quite another to identify with either that journal or with the filth in its pages. Let me go back to the example that Glenn Greenwald provides: defending the right of the neo-Nazis to march through a Jewish neighborhood is a very different thing from wearing a swastika and holding up a sign that reads: “Je suis Nazi!”

*Mahmoud Omidsalar obtained his Ph.D. in Persian Literature from the University of California, Berkeley in 1984, and joined the Encyclopaedia Iranica as a consulting editor in 1990. He was appointed to the Supreme Council of the Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopedia (Tehran). In 2006. Together with the late Iraj Afshar, he edited the series Folia Medica Iranica and Persian Manuscripts in Facsimile. His most recent English books are: Poetics and Politics of Iran’s National Epic, the Shāhnāmeh (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), and Iran’s Epic and America’s Empire: A Handbook for a Generation in Limbo (Santa Monica: Afshar Publishing, 2012).

More By Mahmoud Omidsalar:

*Israel’s “Final Solution” for Gaza and the Cadaverous Conscience of the West: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Israel-s-Final-Solution-for-Gaza-and-the-Cadaverous-Conscience-of-the-West.htm

*Pre-emptive War with Iran and the Proverbial 800 Pound Gorilla: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Pre-emptive-War-with-Iran-and-the-Proverbial-800-Pound-Gorilla.htm

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

Link For Further Reading:

*Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie Hebdo: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-brenner/je-ne-suis-pas-charlie-hebdo_b_6693386.html

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