Notes From the Margins…

Copenhagen: it’s Not About Free Speech

  • February 16, 2015
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Whatever motivated Omar el-Hussein to attack a debate on free speech in Copenhagen, it’s probably safe to say that neither he nor the murderers of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists n had spent much time thinking through issues around freedom of expression, secularism and the place of religion within the public sphere.   It’s also doubtful whether they are particularly concerned about Islam or blasphemy.

Apart from his Palestinian origins, the Copenhagen killer appears to be drawn from the same familiar profile: angry, dysfunctional and distinctly impious young men living on the margins of European society with a taste for violence, who move very quickly from a background of petty crime, drugs, gangs, and prison to the singular pleasures of holy war.

Exactly how and why this happens is a mystery, but those who shake their heads at the evils of religion or start quoting from the Qu’ran to ‘prove’ that such acts are only to be expected from Islam are unlikely to shed much light on it.    As the three young Muslims who were murdered in North Carolina last week demonstrated in their short lives, Islam offers many different ways of becoming socially or politically engaged.

For start-up holy warriors like el-Hussein, Merah or Coulibaly however, it’s the fighting, or rather the killing that makes Islam interesting in the very brief time in which they have thought about it at all.   It’s jihad and nothing but jihad, and not for them the inner spiritual struggle of ‘greater jihad’.   For them jihad is violence or it isn’t anything.

It offers the possibility of a heroic – in their eyes – exit from lives that have come to seem pointless and not worth living.   Perhaps some of them actually believe their actions will change the world for the better, but I really doubt it.   On the contrary,   their abandonment of moral or humanitarian constraints,  and their willingness to sacrifice their own lives and the lives of others reek of despair, vengeance and nihilistic destruction.

To some extent these ‘lone wolf’ jihadists resemble the anarchist assassins who terrorized bourgeois Europe in the nineteenth century.   Many of these ‘propagandists of the deed’ emerged from poverty obscurity, and marginalisation to throw a bomb, shoot a high-profile target, or ‘stab a bourgeois’ and earn themselves a brief moment of notoriety before they made their ‘statements’ in court and went to their executions shouting ‘long live anarchy.’

Men like Francois Ravachol, Auguste Vallaint or the Italian baker Caserio had little understanding of what anarchism was, but they directed their homicidal fury at kings, prime ministers, corrupt politicians, judges and policemen.

Here the resemblance ends.   Because the targets chosen by Europe’s ‘lone wolf’ jihadists are different.   It is nine years since the Danish cartoons were published.   Omar el-Hussein would have been eleven years old then.     The idea that he or the Charlie Hebdo murderers have been brooding all these years over the perceived insult to the Prophet does not bear serious scrutiny.

These targets were chosen – or more likely suggested by others – because they were most likely to support the current politico-military agenda of ISIS/ISIL, and because they had a superficial ‘religious’ legitimacy.

As for the killings of Jews that increasingly accompany these episodes of mass murder/suicide by cop, let no one think that such actions were motivated by solidarity with the Palestinians or anti-Zionist zeal.

The Palestinians certainly need support, but they don’t need homicidal nihilists cloaking themselves in religion to murder Jews in a kosher shop or at a bar-mitzvah, or shoot Jewish schoolchildren in the head.

These targets were chosen not because they represented the state of Israel but because they are Jews.    The men who did this and the organizations that inspired or facilitated them don’t care if these actions play into the hands of the racists and Islamophobes and generate more hatred towards Europe’s Muslims.

They aren’t bothered if ‘national security’ governments tighten the screw on Europe’s Muslim communities.   If you asked them they would probably agree that ‘ conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board’, as Douglas Murray once recommended.

For these defenders of the faith, any persecution is good persecution, because Muslims who don’t sign up to their version of jihad are as worthy of contempt as the Jews, Christians and kafir unbelievers who they slaughter with impunity.

Polarisation and division is the whole point here, and is in fact essential for groups like ISIS/ISIL/al Qaeda, because the worse things get for Muslims the more they likely it is that they can get the great war that they have been dreaming about ever since the twin towers were knocked down.

The horrendous beheadings of Coptic Christians serve a similar purpose.   Today some European governments are beginning to think about direct military intervention in Libya to stop it turning into ‘Somalia.’   ISIL’s decision to film and broadcast the murders of the Coptic construction workers was clearly intended as a provocation and also an invitation, because ISIL welcomes ‘intervention’ as much as the interventionists want ISIL.

If young Muslims accept ISIS/ISIL’s invitation to fight for an ‘Islamic State’ they will be joining an organization that offers nothing but murder, desolation, death and tyranny.

But ISIL isn’t the only organisation with a dog in this hunt.   The interventions of Netanyahu are no less cynical and calculating.   If European Jews respond to his invitation to live in Israel to escape the ongoing terrorist ‘offensive’, they will become citizens of a colonial-settler state that has conducted a brutal and illegal occupation for nearly half a century, that is currently looking to expand its population and possibly its territory as well.

So even in these bleak times, when one murder and provocation seems to follow another in dizzying succession, it’s more important than ever that we reject the forces of hatred, division and exclusion, wherever they come from and whoever they are directed against, and that we redouble our efforts to construct a common European home where murderous ‘heroes’ like Omar el-Hussein will have no traction.

Featured Image: Martin Lindner.  Wikimedia Commons

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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