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We Say No to the “Sacred Union”

In the aftermath of the killings at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher, critical voices have largely been drowned in the general sea of undifferentiated outrage. But this statement by French colleagues, which recently appeared in Le Monde, is a major intervention and a welcome exception. A clarion call to reject pressures for “unity,” it offers some materials for a critical analysis and an emancipatory political response. I only wish we’d heard more such voices in the U.S. in the aftermath of 9/11. But perhaps this piece can inspire us now to figure out how we can help switch history onto a different track. -Nancy Fraser

We share the feelings of all the people who marched on January 11th. However these demonstrations have been hijacked by arsonists turned into firefighters, who have no shame in using the deaths of the victims to their own political advantage. Manuel Valls, François Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy, Brice Hortefeux, Jean-François Copé, Angela Merkel, David Cameron, Jean-Claude Juncker, Viktor Orban, Benjamin Nétanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, Naftali Bennett, Petro Porochenko, officials representing Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Vladimir Putin, Ali Bongo… : an abject showing of hypocrisy.

This indecent masquerade can not hide the 5000 bombs dropped on Iraq by NATO on the very order of these heads of state over the five days preceding the march; nor can it hide the thousands of dead people in Gaza, where Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister considered using the atomic bomb, while Naftali Bennett (economy and diaspora Minister) was proud of having killed so many Arabs; nor the millions of victims of the blockade in Iraq; and so on. Those who led the demonstration in Paris were the driving forces behind such bloodshed.

Everyone must come to the demonstration,” declared Prime Minister Valls, loudly calling for “freedom” and “tolerance.” The same man who forbid the demonstration organized in solidarity with the Palestinian people, who ordered the use of tear gas against railway workers on strike, and the baton-charging of high school students demonstrating to help their deported classmates, is now lecturing us about “free speech.” As Mayor of the city of Evry (a suburb of Paris), Valls lamented the lack of “whities” (blancos), and he is now insisting on his love for multiculturalism. The same man who prides himself on breaking records for the deportation of Roma families, is now talking about the values of “civilization.

In France, free speech is said to be sacred, we are thus supposed to be allowed to blaspheme: however the extent of this right to blasphemy is opened to interpretation: “offending the national anthem and the national flag” is punishable by heavy fines and a prison sentence. The ruling Socialist Party and the conservative opposition’s stance against religious fundamentalism contradicts their strong support of arm sales to Saudi Arabia, a country where women have no rights, where apostasy leads to the death penalty and migrant workers live in conditions close to slavery.

We will not join this Sacred Union. History has shown us how this very term, used to justify World War One, can lead to the worst slaughters. Right now, national unity is being used as blackmail to divert social anger away from socioeconomic policies that have been very unpopular for many years.

We were told by Manuel Valls that “We are all Charlie” and “We are the police.” First, no, we are not Charlie. Indeed, while shocked by the death of these cartoonists and journalists, we do not share the recent anti-Muslim obsession of this periodical, in which Muslims have continuously been portrayed as terrorists, as “assholes” or as State-dependent individuals. For us this periodical wasn’t showing real anti-conformism but rather a conformist form of anti-conformism that keeps stigmatizing the most stigmatized.

We are not policemen either. The death of three policemen is a tragic event. But it won’t lead us to sing the praises of the police institution. Ethnic profiling, raids against illegal immigrants, day to day humiliation, the sometimes fatal beating in police stations, the use of flashballs that mutilate people, or of offensive grenades that actually kill — all of these make it impossible for us to support the police unconditionally.

And if we are to light a candle at our window to mourn the victims, we will also light some for Éric, Loïc, Abou Bakari, Zied, Bouna, Wissam, Rémi, all victims of a state violence perpetrated with total impunity. In a system where inequalities are on the rise, where the indecent accumulation of wealth occurs alongside crushing poverty, we will also light a candle for the six homeless people who died in France over Christmas.

We stand in solidarity with the people who have been feeling increasingly unsafe for the last few days, as hate calls, cries of “death to the Arabs,” and arson attacks on Mosques, multiply. We are outraged by the demand made on all Muslims to publicly affirm their difference from the terrorists: do we ask Christians to express their disagreement with the crimes perpetrated in 2011 by Anders Behring Breivik in the name of the White and Christian West? We also stand in solidarity with all the people who suffer from a growing wave of anti-Semitism, expressed so dramatically by the attack of January 9th.

Our shock at such horrible acts cannot make us forget how such outrage is selective. We say no to the Sacred Union. Together we must act to keep one another mobilizing independently from such governments, which are responsible abroad for criminal policies in Africa and in the Middle-East — and also responsible at home for unemployment, economic precariousness, and social despair. Should this collective momentum lead to a subversive, dissenting, and oppositional action making another society imaginable, it would revive what Charlie Hebdo had been standing for all these years.

~ Ludivine Bantigny, historian; Emmanuel Burdeau, film critic; François Cusset, intellectual historian; Cédric Durand, economist; Eric Hazan, publisher; Razmig Keucheyan, sociologist; Thierry Labica, historian; Marwan Mohammed, sociologist; Olivier Neveux, art historian; Willy Pelletier, sociologist; Eugenio Renzi, film critic; Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc, philosopher; Julien Théry, historian; Rémy Toulouse, publisher; Enzo Traverso, historian.

This article was translated by Cédric Durand and François Cusset for Public Seminar from the original French published in Le Monde on January 16, 2015.

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