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Issue #1669      January 21, 2015


There are no absolute freedoms

The murderous attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris has been rightly condemned by people around the world. Those producing the magazine lay claim to “freedom of expression”, meaning to them the right to say and portray any thing and any one regardless of offence given. In this case the insult is a slur against a religion observed by many millions of peace loving followers of Islam.

To put it in focus, one French citizen, a Muslim, when asked by a reporter in regard to Charlie Hebdo publishing images of the prophet Mohammad, stated: “This is not freedom of expression – to humiliate and insult is an attack.”

There are no absolute freedoms. In the complexity of a society there are, by necessity, limitations. In this context the material published by Charlie Hebdo is at times gratuitous and irresponsible.

Objectively, the producers of the magazine have found themselves in the camp of the class enemy. Their actions have helped fuel division, are adding fuel to imperialism’s drive to domination. The French Prime Minister’s declaration last week, that France was “at war with terrorism”, highlights the role that Charlie Hebdo knowingly or unknowingly played in the big power strategies of imperialism.

It reveals the tactic of having public focus directed at a sham conflict and away from the real, class war taking place. Terrorism is as old as politics; it is a tactic. It is not possible to prosecute a war against a tactic. Imperialism is waging war against the working class and working people around the world.

It is cutting a swathe through countries in the Middle East using proxy jihadist forces and out-and-out mercenaries, bringing about regime change and causing utter havoc with widespread death and disaster to civilian populations. Almost 20 years of ongoing conflict – led by the United States – have resulted in the displacement of more than 55 million people in the world.

The gathering of heads of states in Paris following the attack on Charlie Hebdo was also revealing in that it demonstrated where the Western powers that make up the main imperialist block have their allegiance – to another “coalition of the willing”. Obama has since expressed regret for not participating. It shows up the divide between them with their agenda for global domination and the rest of the world.

In Nigeria, where the week before the Paris incident the Boko Haram terrorist group had slaughtered an entire village of 2,000 people, a Catholic archbishop, whose diocese the village is in, sent a message: that those leaders were in the wrong country. France, he said, as a rich developed country has the means to defend itself. But Nigeria, a former colonial possession, oil rich but with a poor population, had no means to defend itself against a substantial and ruthless insurgency. His call, of course, fell on deaf ears.

“Free speech”

In a weird and twisted take, PM Tony Abbott used the attacks in Paris to push his government’s “free speech” agenda. Posing with a copy of the latest Charlie Hebdo magazine he stated, “I believe in free speech – I absolutely believe in free speech”. Abbott denies wanting to return to his government’s attempt to scrap section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, which saw Attorney General George Brandis demand the “right to be a bigot”. Section 18c puts limits on the use of offensive language.

But the fact is that far from being the champions of free speech, the Abbott government has put legislation in place meant to gag people, including a law that allows for the jailing of journalists for up to ten years for reporting details of any activities of police and spy agencies that the government deems to be national security operations.

This is, after all, a government based on bullying and secrecy. As the ruling class enters a new phase in the system’s inherent crisis, the means are being put in place to quell growing public opposition and to gag public speech itself; to drown out the voice of the people.

This is the class nature of “free speech”.

Next article – An appeal in the defence of political prisoners in Iran

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