Why did Syriza choose to forge an alliance with the right-wing, racist ANEL? There were alternatives. One was to coalesce with a neoliberal, austerian centrist bloc. Another was to form a minority government, although from the responses by Syriza members and supporters, this doesn't even seem to have come up. What is more, since negotiations lasted less than an hour, and given Syriza's previous history of working with ANEL, there are good prima facie grounds for assuming that the deal was done some time ago. And indeed, reports I've seen suggest sections of Syriza were hoping for ANEL to get enough votes to justify such a coalition.
This is, at least in part, the result of a strategic decision by the leadership of Syriza. And we need to understand this in order to avoid reductionist explanations of the following type:
i) it's a tactical expediency, caused by the need to get a parliamentary majority to face down the troika. There is a tactical element, but that tactic already presupposes a strategy based on negotiations and foregrounding national sovereignty.
ii) it's the dirty politics of government, inevitable when you enter the capitalist state and try to administer a rotten system. But this was not a necessary compromise forced by the structure of the bourgeois state or the electoral system. It is an informed gamble. Putting it down to the pitfalls of administering capitalism, which are real, is just a manifestation of Beautiful Soul leftism.
iii) it's the fault of the left-of-Syriza groups, particularly KKE, who have played a rotten sectarian game and left Syriza with few options. The sectarianism of the KKE continues to merit criticism, and a change of attitude on their part could still make a difference to the dynamics. But give Tsipras et al the dignity of having their own strategy: they wanted this outcome, and they'll want bragging rights if it succeeds.
iv) it's original theoretical-strategic sin, as reformists will always place national unity and class compromise ahead of working class struggle. This is the answer of the broken clock left. If it were as simple as this, To Potami would fit the purpose just as well. Or New Democracy. Or Pasok.
The point is this. Syriza is playing a long game. They do want to transform the Greek state, Greek civil society, and of course the EU in a socialist direction. To this end, they seek to coordinate the mobilisation of the popular classes, most centrally in the form of social movements, with a parliamentary strategy of building alliances and 'resistances' in the state.
The reason they don't simply look to win elections and rely on governmental power to solve all problems is because their own political traditions tell them that the state is a terrain of struggle on which the dominant classes enjoy the overwhelming advantage. Winning executive power is almost useless if it is quickly isolated, encircled, and the locus of dominant state power shifted to another apparatus like the judiciary. So, traversing the state means forming alliances with subaltern forces in the state - not just parliamentary parties, but public sector workers, sympathetic civil servants, lawyers unions, reasonable police chiefs who might help constrain, reform or break up authoritarian power networks, and so on. It means using such power as can be gained to modify social relations in the interests of the popular classes, strengthen the social movements and unions, while reciprocally leaning on those movements to bolster their own position inside the state.
The leftist variant of this strategy foregrounds another element, which is what Poulantzas called 'ruptures': sudden offensives both inside and outside the state which enable dominant class power networks to be broken up, state power to be recomposed, wealth and power to be sharply transferred to/taken by workers. This is an antidote to the gradualism of certain 'Gramscian' approaches which are predicated on the idea of developing socialist hegemony in the form of a 'national consensus' before the working class takes political power.
However, the immediate objective is to break the grip of the memorandum and debt servitude on Greek society. Syriza did propose an anti-austerity government of the Left to address this. What is more, at that time their slogan was 'not one sacrifice for the euro' - a slogan pushed by the organisations' left-wing, not at all favoured by its 'realists'. This created the prospect of a popular, left, working class-led government, and it was resonant enough with the mood of Greek workers that Syriza overtook Pasok as the main party of the working class left. They were rebuffed by parties to their left for mainly sectarian reasons and, at any rate, lost the election. This, combined with the subsequent decline in popular mobilisation, strengthened Syriza's 'realists'. And they had an alternative strategic concept, more cautious than that of the 'government of the left': a 'national' government comprising anti-memorandum forces which could break the rule of the troika, restore democracy and reverse key planks of austerity.
As far as I can tell, the Syriza leadership and parliamentary bloc first dabbled with an alliance with ANEL during the Cypriot banking crisis in 2012-13. In his response to the crisis, Tsipras argued that the European leadership was colonising the south
, using debt servitude as its main instrument. This clearly articulated one dimension of the Greek struggle, which is the struggle for national self-determination. Greece's position in the European imperialist chain, the attitude of the troika to Greek public opinion, the effective cancellation of democracy, are all as central as the struggle against the Greek bourgeoisie. And indeed, Syriza distinguishes between different fractions of the bourgoisie - the oligarchs tied to what Pablo Iglesias called the 'Finance International'
, and the 'national' or 'subaltern' bourgeoisie who want capitalism to be made to work again, but for whom the memorandum doesn't work. So this strategic idea of, to give it the 1970s Gramscian gloss, a 'national-popular', cross-class alliance to break the memorandum, has a very definite referent in the nature of the Greek struggle and in Syriza's analysis of Greek capitalism.
ANEL makes a certain sense as a partner in this. It is right-wing in ways that only a UKIP Facebook forum on chemtrails would fully understand and its leader, Panos Kammenos, is a thug. However, it represents the breakaway from the main capitalist party, New Democracy, on the specific axis of the memorandum. And it is in a way ideal for the Syriza leadership because it is anti-memorandum without being anti-euro. Moreover, it also has a 'popular' character: if this election followed past form, its support will have been concentrated in the working class, and weak in the middle class - to this extent, its electoral profile more closely resembles that of a leftist party than New Democracy. So, for almost two years now, Tsipras et al have been maintaning contacts with ANEL on the basis of their shared opposition to the memorandum.
Looking at this coalition, there is a natural concern with what will happen to Syriza's commitments on immigration, civil liberties and social rights. These are indeed central, and there is a lot that can go wrong here. But it's important to recognise the concessions that have already been made. Pursuing an alliance with a right-wing populist party to present the EU with a firmly anti-memorandum government necessitated significantly moderating the programme. This is exactly what happened. The gap between the 2012 '40 point plan'
, and the 2014 'Thessaloniki programme'
is not negligible. And the most significant retreat is dropping the nationalisation of the banks.
Nevertheless, on the 'national' front there is a sense in which this alliance is not moderate. Syriza, having accepted that breaking the memorandum would be a matter of diplomacy and negotiations, decided that they would need a strong majority government with a clear and intransigent anti-memorandum mandate. The alliance with ANEL has given them exactly this. There is no point in prevaricating about this: it has plainly rattled the EU, and in a strictly short-term, realpolitik sense, in terms of negotiating with the EU in the coming months, it is not a stupid move.
This alliance is thus not the result of original theoretical sin, nor a purely tactical gambit, nor something that is forced on Syriza. It is a convergence of a strategic perspective associated with right-Eurocommunism, tactical calculations deriving from the dynamics of parliamentary majorities and negotiations, and contingent elements of the terrain such as the flux of popular struggle, and the attitude of other leftists. It is an informed calculation which can precisely be criticised as such.
It is too early to be comprehensive, or much more than speculative, but with the results finally in, Syriza is just shy of an overall majority in parliament. The negotiations over a coalition government were purely a formality: Syriza and the Independent Greeks (ANEL) had worked out a coalition deal some time ago. So, I just want to make a few points about that.
1) On balance, this is better than working with some pro-memorandum party and it sends a clear signal to the EU and troika, but;
2) ANEL are a hard right split from New Democracy. They've flagged up a possible deal with Syriza months ago, but they made it clear that there were 'national' and 'orthodox' issues that they would not back down on. This means hardline anti-immigration policies, confrontation with Turkey over Thrace, the imposition of orthodox religion in education, and authoritarian measures to assert public order. This doesn't mean they'll get everything they want, but anything they do get hurts Syriza at its base;
3) ANEL are of course not fascist, but nor are they exactly democrats. They've said that they think Greece should be governed by an emergency committee that stands above parties and will restore national sovereignty. If they are true to type, they will be networking with the authoritarian elements inside the state and with reactionaries across the parliamentary benches, from whatever office they're given. They are totally untrustworthy and there will be repercussions from this;
4) This does dilute the overall leftist thrust of the victory. The KKE could have made a difference here, and their insane
stance of refusing to negotiate with Syriza plays a significant role in this outcome. It should be said that the KKE has no problem aligning with the right when it suits, as when it voted
with Golden Dawn, Independent Greeks and others to oppose anti-racist legislation. This stance is purely a product of invested ultra-sectarianism on their part.;
5) But the Syriza leadership does have form in working with ANEL, as it did in 2013 over the Cypriot banks emergency. I think this is partly because the Syriza leadership underestimates the sources of reaction in Greek society. Tsipras has said that he thinks anti-immigrant feeling is not caused by racism but displaced despair over austerity, thus implying that reversing austerity alone would be sufficient to undercut its bases. This is what opportunism means - putting immediate tactical advantage ahead of long-term strategic issues. And this won't be the only manifestation of that.
Current exit polls give Syriza a lead of at least 9%, averaging 12% and possibly as high as 16%. Syriza is on 36-39%, New Democracy on 23-27%.
Unfortunately, there is a dark side of the elections, which is that Golden Dawn did better than expected with 7-9%. The new centrist party, To Potami, did better than expected with 6-8%, and Pasok got the same. The Greek communists (KKE) got 4.5-5.5%, the right-wing nationalist Independent Greeks 3.5-4% and Papandreou's formation 2.5-3%.
It isn't yet clear if this is enough to give Syriza an outright governing majority. This depends on relatively minor fluctuations in the vote. If, for example, Papandreou's bloc gets just over the 3% mark it will get into parliament and thus deprive Syriza of a parliamentary majority. But either way, coalition or not - and we prefer not - this is going to be the first experiment in which a European country is governed by the radical left specifically for the purposes of resisting austerity.
Meanwhile, in Berlin, European leaders are considering their options:
Peter Hain suggests that Labour needs to be more radical
in order to win back voters defecting to the Greens.
No. What it needs to do is shout at, morally blackmail and patronise Green voters a bit more. The best way to win over voters who no longer feel that Labour owns every vote to the left of centre as a god-given right is to belligerently step to them, saying "you what, you what, you what? Come on then! Want some of this do you? Five more years of Cameron, you wankaaaahs."
And then imply that they're basically a bunch of children of privilege who wear hemp clothing and entertain ethereally daffy, socially liberal beliefs, and have somehow forgotten that their role is to take orders from the plain-speaking progeny of soil and toil that run the Labour Party.
Finally, it should be strongly implied that Green voters are irresponsibly trying to undermine the Labour Party because they care more about legalising brothels and making friends with Al Qaeda than saving our NHS. Right? Amirite? Or amirite? Amirite or amirite? Right?
The collapse of the Greek government has finally created the opportunity for Syriza to make the breakthrough that it was denied in 2012. The situation is, of course, very different.
The ruling class has stabilised its position somewhat. The economic crisis has bottomed out. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn are no longer useful to the bourgeoisie, and have faced crackdowns. The state is no longer in permanent deadlock. There is no longer a state of protracted near-insurrection. The balance of forces within Syriza has shifted to the right, and its strategy for government is far more cautious. And the EU elites have had more than two years to prepare for this moment - their current game plan being to work for a weak Syriza-led government dependent on coalitions with parties to its right, and then isolate the left-wing of Syriza so that they can deal exclusively with a more conciliatory leadership.
Nonetheless, there is an insurgent atmosphere in Athens, which no report fails to mention. The anticipation of a breakthrough is not misplaced, and not to be dismissed as yet more parliamentary illusions. The breakdown of the old modes of representation is of huge significance, and its consequences have yet to be fully registered in the parliamentary system. That creates a degree of uncertainty that is unusual in the managed parliamentary democracies of the neoliberal era.
The largest parts of the wage-earning working class have turned to the radical left
, even if Syriza's roots in the organised working class remain weak. This is a huge contrast from the tendency in northern European countries, where the most pronounced tendency is the crisis of the Left, combined with the dynamism of the Right exerting a gravitational pull on a sector of (mainly older) workers. The Greek left turn is linked to a generational shift, in cultural and social attitudes, reflected in Syriza's anti-authoritarianism and egalitarian social politics. Its candidates are more likely than those of the traditional parties to include members of stigmatised minorities - indeed, its refusal of anti-Turkish bigotry and willingness to promote Muslim candidates has generated some of the attack lines of the red-baiting press. It is willing to adopt policies which polls would suggest are deeply unpopular, such as 'naturalising' large numbers of immigrants.
Perhaps one could productively compare the emergence of Syriza (and now Podemos) with the 'pink tide' in Latin America, where a similar combination of immediate anti-neoliberal struggles and long-term generational shifts have not only brought new political leaderships to power, from Morales to Correa, but also transformed the party system and the dominant political culture, enshrining rights for minorities, gays and women, alongside making gains for workers and limiting further corporate encroachments using the language of national sovereignty - without, however, being able to fundamentally break with neoliberalism or even, in Correa's case, to reverse dollarisation.
We can have all sorts of hypotheses about how things will work out with Syriza in office, trying to implement an anti-austerity agenda. There are semi-plausible arguments that Berlin will ultimately be inclined to throw Syriza a bone, the better to avoid generating a new, unnecessary crisis. I think this overestimates how rational the EU elites are, and underestimates their vindictiveness. I think if the situations favours it, they will want to continue to make an example of Greece one way or another, and demonstrate that this left populism stuff isn't going to fly. I think they will be brutal in the negotiations, and that whatever concessions they offer will be deliberately insulting. My guess is that only if Syriza has the strongest mandate possible, an outright parliamentary majority, coupled with a renewed mobilisation of social and workers' movements to try to fulfil the party's promises, will the EU be inclined to cut them a half-away decent deal. Yet even the more pessimistic scenario wouldn't preclude real gains that shift the balance of power in favour of workers, democratise the state, humanise the immigration system, and so on.
However the point, now as before, is to test these hypotheses by getting Syriza elected.
I'll be speaking at this event on Saturday.
Of course, you will be thoroughly familiar with the case of Saïdou and Saïd
Bouamama. Sick as a dog of all the blanket coverage I shouldn't wonder. Wondering when their faces will no longer imprint themselves in your dreams and spoil your fondest erotic fantasies.
Still, hold firm and let's go through this one more aching time. Saïdou is a rapper from the group Z.E.P (Zone d’expression populaire - I know, I thought it very catchy as well). Bouamama is a sociologist and activist. Together, they have insulted the French people, with a song and a book named 'Nique la France'*. This means, 'Fuck France', which is very insulting. To this, Zep added the lyric:
Nique la France et son passé colonialiste, ses odeurs, ses relents et ses réflexes paternalistes /
Nique la France et son histoire impérialiste, ses murs, ses remparts et ses délires capitalistes.
Fuck France and its colonialist past, its smells, lingering stenches, paternalist reflexes /
Fuck France and its imperialist history, its walls, its defences, its capitalist frenzies.
This is about as unpleasant as one can be about a nation-state. Saïdou and Bouamama's irresponsible defenders invoke past examples of insults to France, 'from André Breton’s “nation of pigs and dogs” ("nation de porcs et de chiens")to Léo Ferré’s “time I fucked my Marseillaise” ("le temps que j’baise ma Marseillaise"), from Aragon’s “I shit on the French army” ("je conchie l’armée française") to Renaud’s “Bugger your Republic”' ("et votre republique, moi j'la tringle").
However this, while dangerously close to the knuckle, can ultimately be tolerated as mere ribaldry, a lively commentary on France's foibles. And also, in its perverse way, a form of patriotism. What could be more French than shitting on some soldiers? But Saïdou and Bouamama are worse than scandalous. They defame France. They libel the Republic. They tell the world that France is racist, colonialist and capitalist. As Prime Minister Valls has repeatedly explained, we must not confuse incitement with freedom of speech. Fifty four closed investigations into statements made on social media and elsewhere, alleged in some way to be 'glorifying' or inciting terrorism, have been re-opened by French police. This is how things stand. Incitement will be prosecuted, from the classroom to the tweet.
And thus, following a complaint from a far right group that is nostalgic for the days of French Algeria, the pair are being prosecuted for insulting France. And are appearing in court today. Even if the court has a regrettably politically correct spasm and the prosecution hits the kids, let there be no mistake: France has proven that it isn't some little colonial subject that can be pushed around, especially not by upstarts from the quartiers populaires. It is a national state. And if you insult France, you will be answerable, and at the mercy of its good temper and tolerance.
*Here is a translated extract from the book:
FUCK FRANCE – THE DUTY TO BE INSOLENT
We encounter massive racial discrimination – systemic, structural, institutional – that touches every sphere of life (school, vocational training, employment, housing, relationships with the police, etc.). It turns us into a stigmatized social group, deprived of rights and assigned to the most precarious, most degraded and most unequal positions in French society.
We are the target of regular ideological campaigns branding us as “barbarian”, “homophobic”, “anti-Semitic”, “intolerant of secularism”, “terrorist” and so on. Islamophobia is steadily gaining ground, making us “the enemy within” to be monitored, hunted, punished… Our personal lives are violated by insulting political and media debate, from the law on headscarves at school to the proposed legislation on the burqa, taking in the debates on minarets, on so-called national identity and on the November 2005 revolt of the quartiers populaires on the way.
This systematic humiliation of a whole social group is ongoing and getting worse. The organisation of the French social structure confines us within frontiers that are no less real for being invisible. Made much of in the media, the opening of the checkpoints for a few cannot hide the fact that they are impassable for the great majority.
From the counter of the immigration and nationalization office to the police identity-check, from educational selection to employment discrimination, our everyday life is a constant reminder of these frontiers. We are constantly required to show our allegiance, our submission, our deservingness, our politeness, our worthiness, our unobtrusiveness, our invisibility. And this when our human dignity can be safeguarded only by rebellion, by struggle, by visibility, by impoliteness, by irreverence, by insubordination, by egalitarian impatience. We are called on to love the system that oppresses us. We are accused of “communitarianism” (1) when we seek to organise autonomously. In the context of our oppression, however, this demonized “communitarianism” is a defence against depersonalisation, decomposition, self-hatred.
Why the hell should we be ashamed to be Arab, Black, Muslim…? To be non-White? We are accused of “victimology” when we do no more than denounce the massive racial discrimination we suffer and insist on being treated as equals. We are, objectively, the victims of a racist system that finds expression in massive, systemic discrimination.
Who is this “We”, then? This we is both the legacy of colonization and the ongoing product of today’s French social system. This we is statistically identifiable in the vast bulk of research that has looked at discrimination and inequality. This we can be easily spotted as the target when media and politicians stigmatize immigration status, national origin, skin colour or religion.
This we is made up of the Blacks, Arabs and Muslims of France, whatever their status, whatever their nationality. And it is firstly and above all this community that we hope to speak to here, asking it to raise its head even higher. To organise autonomously. To abandon all illusions in the face of the false promises, the sympathy and the good intentions, and the myths of the Republic – equal opportunity, fraternity, Enlightenment and all – that are recited to us to make us go to sleep. Our future depends first of all on ourselves, on the battles we fight, the relationship of forces we can bring to bear. On the autonomous politics we can construct, with its own demands and its own independent organisation. We are faced with a choice between passivity and civic subordination on the one hand, and struggle and progress on the other.
We hope to speak as well to those Whites who unreservedly reject the racist system that puts its stamp on French society but are nonetheless aware of the privilege they do enjoy as petits Blancs, as non-boss-class whites (2). They are produced, constructed, by a racist social system that puts them in a different situation to us in terms of the advantages and privileges accorded to some and the disadvantages and unequal treatment imposed on others. By maintaining a scarcity of goods (housing, work, training etc.), this social system produces competition between Whites and non-Whites, encouraging the first to think of themselves as petits Blancs, as in colonial days, and relegating the others to the status of natives.
And that is why we demand equal treatment: now, and in every area of social life! Furthermore, we know that France’s colonial history has made a deep imprint on the consciousness of every class and stratum of French society, an imprint that survives today. It is because we want to eradicate these psychological vestiges, which in us express themselves as the inclination of the colonized to shake hands with the torturer, that we demand the same radical uprooting of petit Blanc attitudes, paternalist, civilizing, assimilationist, etc.
Already in 1984, at the time of one of our great marches (Convergence 84 pour l’égalité), we were saying that we lived in the cellars of French society, but could tell, feeling our way through the dark, that there were Whites too in the cellars with us, it was just that they were one floor above. We had no illusions in their paternalism, yet we called for an alliance, for we believed that they, too, being poor, had been confined to marginality. We are nonetheless not surprised to see ourselves confronted, 25 years later, with debates on the burqa and on national identity, with the expulsion of undocumented immigrants amid general indifference, with the multiplication of racist crimes, with discrimination as a system, all evidence of the failure of the quest for inclusion. Given this, there is only one conclusion to be drawn: the need to break radically and unambiguously with all the mystifying discourses produced and circulated in order to legitimate and to maintain the inequalities and injustices of this society, of this France never decolonized. And hence an insistence on our inviolable autonomy in the construction and articulation of our “we”.
That is why we say, calmly, imperturbably: Nique la France. Fuck France! Fuck colonial, racist, unequal France! If the phrase emerged spontaneously on the lips of the young people of the quartiers populaires, and then appeared in the titles and lyrics of songs, it was not on because of a taste for vulgarity, or on account of the sexual connotations some saw in it. For a long time now, the phrase has simply meant a refusal to tolerate the intolerable, to stay where you’re told, to be the object of speech rather than a speaking subject. All the laws and sanctions of the world can do nothing against this refusal of the life of a slave, of a native.
Whistling the Marseillaise or calling out “Nique França” is a political act that has many meanings. It signifies a refusal to accept the place you’ve been given.
Nique la France doesn’t say “I am X or Y” but rather “I refuse to be X!”, “I will not be Y!”, “I refuse the place I have been allotted in life!”
Nique la France is the refusal to be invisible, to be discreet; it is the assertion of our right to be who we are, and not to have to hide it.
Nique la France is the refusal to defer and to be polite in the face of a social system that oppresses us, exploits us, stigmatizes us, and marginalizes us.
Nique la France is the assertion that we alone are responsible for our own emancipation, rejecting the “integration”, the “assimilation”, the “civilisation” that others have defined for us as if we were mere modelling clay, to be shaped at will.
“Fuck France” will be with us as long as there is inequality. It will not disappear, so long as there is oppression and discrimination. It is continuously produced by our conditions of existence, by the physical, social and symbolic violence that characterizes them. No person, no group has the least power to make it go away while its deeper causes still operate.
We no longer want to be on the defensive, we no longer want to justify ourselves, for these attitudes spring from internalized oppression. We will not complain, or negotiate, but simply insist on equality now.
We have only one anger, but it runs deep: anger against injustice. We have only one hatred, but it is deeply rooted: hatred of oppression. We have only one passion, but it is one and all: the passion for equality.
Extract from Saïd Bouamama and Z.E.P., Nique la France – Devoir d’insolence (Paris: Z.E.P., 2010)
1. In France, in this context, communautarisme is a highly pejorative term, equivalent to “tribalism”, signifying identification with a particular community rather than with the supposed state of all its citizens.
2. French colonial society in the Caribbean was divided between grands blancs, the “big whites”, the owners of large property and high officials of state; the petits blancs, the “little whites”, shopkeepers, artisans, small planters; and the gens de couleur, free “coloured people”; without rights in it were Black slaves.
In the aftermath of the massacre, French newspapers lauded a return to the union sacrée, the coalescence of the parliamentary right and left in the name of national unity. Hollande did not waste a second in declaring that there would be national unity, in effect, whether you like it or not.
Of course, national unity is an impossible thing. A survey in 2013 found that 74% of French people believe that Islam is "incompatible"
with 'French values', and 70% believe that there are too many immigrants in France. This was hardly a promising vista for French Muslims once the political class smelled blood. And the anti-Muslim backlash
, ranging from dozens of mosque attacks
to individual assaults to murder
. (Nor has the violence been restricted to France. In Birmingham, where #foxnewsfacts is no longer quite as funny as it was, eight Muslim-owned businesses have been attacked by men armed with guns and hammers
So who would march under the banner of national unity? The fascist Front National demanded its right to be on the platform, with other political leaders. They too were 'Charlie', even if old man Jean-Marie was not. They pointed out that they came first in the European elections last year
, polling at 25%. Hollande avoided having to bring them on board, and risk fragmenting the whole unified front, but a recent poll found that most French people think that they should have been included.
And of what those who did not march, and who did not wish to say 'Je Suis Charlie'? For, in addition to the national unity rally, the government insisted that schools would observe a minute's silence. School children were encouraged to declare 'Je Suis Charlie', just like it said on Twitter. In seventy schools, resistance to this procedure was reported. Many French Muslims, when interviewed
, said they were angry about what was being demanded of them, and at least ambivalent about the hashtag. Why should they pay tribute to a magazine that evidently despised them? What about the double standards? Why free speech for some and not for others?
Here, the media and the state converged. The political editor of France 2
, Nathalie Saint-Cricq
, and the French education secretary, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem
, both declared that these young Muslims need to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. The ones who said they were not 'Charlie', who raised "intolerable" questions about double standards and such - they had to be integrated. The schools were the "front-line" they said: was Althusser so wrong to consider schools the dominant ideological-state apparatus of capitalism?
The hard edge of this policy has been a series of arrests of people for the 'glorification of terrorism'. And this is where 'free speech' unspools into something else.
Free speech must be defended, everyone agrees. Yet as soon as we start to concretise this, there are dilemmas. Consider that, a day after the massacre at the Rue Nicolas-Appert, the Berliner Zeitung published an antisemitic hate cartoon
It was an easy mistake to make in the circumstances. The paper had merely intended to pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo, and make a stand for free expression. The image was actually a faked version of an authentic Hebdo cover, which the Zeitung had thought was real. The original bore the banner 'Sharia Hebdo' and featured a cartoon imam, while the fake bore the banner 'Shoah Hebdo' and featured a cartoon rabbi. As I say, it was an easy mistake to make.
The Zeitung, horribly embarrassed by the gaffe, offered profuse apologies for hosting an antisemitic cartoon but, following the logic of its position to the letter, did not apologise for hosting the Islamophobic cartoons. Because free speech.
This is not a chance outcome. The right to freedom of expression, like every other value held dear by liberal democracy, is always relative and conditional. Rights are only meaningful in situations where they can be convoked and protected by political authority, the state: as such, they are relative, and come with conditions and obligations. It is a naive libertarian fantasy to suppose that the state in a capitalist can simply get out of people's way, or that the right to free speech could be realised in an absolute sense: only absolute monarchs have absolute rights.
Given this, it is logical that the emphases of repression and permission in modern racial states would - especially if conceived in a formally 'colour-blind' sense - would be racialised. And that the invocations of free speech in the dominant media would follow a similar logic.
Never lacking in resourcefulness, the popular antisemitic comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala has thrived on exploiting and showing up this racialised logic. Lately, he attended the national unity rally and then, by declaring on Facebook, "I am Charlie Coulibaly" - referencing the jihadi who killed Jewish civilians at a kosher supermarket - he got himself arrested for 'glorification of terrorism'. Perhaps his defence will be that it was just 'satire', but it was ideal spectacle-positioning for Dieudonné, who builds tremendous political capital by incurring repression, thereby acting out in a spectacular form the victimisation and oppression of Muslims, while offering some sort of compensation through his rebellion. As always, he is heavily invested in the superegoic injunctions of the state that he is rebelling against.
It also gratifies the antisemitism of his supporters, reminding them of his contention that "the organised Jewish community" are suppressing free speech - hence the double standards - and have crowded out the field of victimhood, depriving France's indigenes of their visibility and full recognition as citizens. It is no surprise to see him marching for national unity, in fact, for his argument is that the real obstacle to such unity is the "tribalism" of Jews.
In this context, arguments over free speech become arguments over racial exclusion and privilege. Who is privileged to speak and thus represent the nation, and who must be excluded. National unity is impossible. The Islamophobes blame the Muslims. The antisemites blame the Jews. To externalise antagonism is the reactionary political gesture par excellence. But the reason it is impossible is because the 'root causes' of massacres such as the one we have seen are internal to our societies.
France, of course, is dedicated to secularism. In the name of secularism, it banned the wearing of religious garments at schools, with a particular eye to preventing girls from wearing the hijab. In the name of secularism and women's rights, it banned the public wearing of the burqa, leading to harassment, discrimination, arrests
and a de facto state of house arrest
for many women who would be breaking the law by stepping outside.
It may seem a very strange secularism that involves the state becoming directly involved in the private religious affairs of citizens. But then, like free speech, the separation of 'church and state' is always relative and conditional, and in a racial state it will always be racialised in its application.
It is not a coincidence, perhaps, that the hijab controversy began in 1989, the bicentennial of the French revolution being commemorated after a decade of renewed 'fundamentalisms', and amid the world-historic collapse of 'Communism' and almost all hangers-on. The 1980s had seen a new configuration of imperialism emerge under the rubric of the ethnic absolutisms of the Christian Right and Zionism. Culturally, this defined itself against Arabs but also increasingly against Islam in particular. This increasingly had the effect of forcing Muslims in the imperialist countries into identitarian boxes, a tendency that was sharply increased by the Rushdie affair.
So, the discovery that three school girls wanted to wear a garment that was open manifestation of Islamic affiliation, already seen as problematic, prompted a lot of 'republican' bombast. And the rising arc of French Islamophobia was then punctuated not only by the 'war on terror' and the ludicrous 'antitotalitarian' revival - in which jaded, corrupt old reactionaries took to the public stage like some faded rockers, to reprise a tune that was hackneyed upon first release - but also by the French state's war with the GIA, itself an outcome of France's subversion of Algeria's elections with the result of bombs going off in the Paris metro, and the 2005 banlieue riots in which Islam became the focus of a national moral panic.
Islam came to symbolise both a security threat and a threat to national values, and any garb indicating affiliation with Islam became synonymous with those threats. In this situation, secularism became a tool of counterinsurgency. The response to the massacre has compounded these trends. A particularly silly article
in The Week
is typical in querying whether Islam will ever be compatible with 'liberalism', before ground-breakingly concluding that some versions of Islam will never be rendered commensurate with liberal values.
Yet the author cited, in order to sustain this point, a poll which it claimed showed 1 in 6 French Muslims, and 1 in 7 British Muslims, were in favour of ISIS tactics and goals. It is worth saying, then, that this poll
, carried out by a Russian news agency, actually canvassed all French and British citizens, and the results cited in The Week were actually those from across the board. The Washington Post pointed out
that the proportion of respondents who declared in favour of ISIS was much higher than the proportion of Muslims in each society. Therefore, even if every Muslim responded in favour of ISIS, the majority of those who favoured the Islamic State, were non-Muslims according to the poll. It would suggest, were it accurate, that there was a far deeper disaffection with the political systems of Europe than had previously been suspected. Secularism as counterinsurgency once more offers a means to displace and externalise Europe's own dysfunctions.
Finally, it has offered a means of rendering racism invisible. Prime Minister Manuel Valls recently declared that he will not use the term, 'Islamophobia'
. He repeated the arguments of French intellectuals who aligned with the 'war on terror' such as Pascal Bruckner, who said that the term was used to suppress criticism of Islamists. No doubt it can be used in this way. Yet, the term 'antisemitism' can also be used to suppress criticism of Israel, and indeed is so - but the only people who suggest abandoning that term are antisemites.
The machine that makes jihadis
France is a colour-blind imperial republic. It does not collect information on the race, religion or ethnicity of its citizens, for they are all the same in the gaze, "as blank and pitiless as the sun", of the French state. As such, it cannot tell us how many of its citizens are Muslim, or how many of those are unemployed, or in jail, or killed by police, or being failed at school. It falls to academics and social organisations to do the homework.
We can learn that youth unemployment
in the banlieues where most French Muslims live stands at 40%, or four times the national average. We can find anti-Muslim labour market discrimination
. We can find out that social inequalities in the French school system
are bad and widening every year. Most shockingly, we find that 65% of prisoners in France are Muslims
. That figure rises to 80% in the ile-de-France, the most populous region of France which incorporates the capital. Often, the imprisonment is for petty, morality offences like drug taking. You are not imagining this: France's prison system is actually a far more efficient race-making apparatus than the American prison system
. The prison system is where racist ideology most clearly organises the material infrastructure of the French state.
There is also now an attempt to finally get a measure of police violence against Muslims, as this website
was set up for precisely the purpose of documenting and exposing such systemic violence. The author of the website is a woman whose brother was murdered by police. It is worth noting that, following the logic of France's free speech ideology to the letter, Prime Minister Valls attempted to shut the website down, claiming that it was defamatory. Until rigorous statistics become available, we have only the reports
of the likes of Amnesty International, which document systematic racist violence against French Muslims and immigrants, with impunity
But is it racist? Islam is not, after all, a race. Those who seriously take this view and attempt to justify it will tend to end up like Eddington's ichthyologist: saying, in effect, that 'whatever my net can't catch isn't a fish'. By adopting and sticking to a narrow understanding of racism as being something that is based on a biological conception of race, they will find themselves struggling to explain and identify a great mass of historical and contemporary experience, from the Third Reich to Enoch Powell and beyond. Here, for example, are a list of people against whom, uncontroversially, racism has been directed: gypsies, the Irish, black people, 'Africans' (usually sub-Saharan), Jews, 'Arabs' (usually includes non-Arabs such as Iranians), Nigerians, Pakistanis, Italians, Indians, Chinese, Japanese, and 'Asians' (south or east). Of these groups, how many constitute by traditional racist definitions, a 'race' unto themselves? Jews were held to belong to the race of Semites rather than being a race. Gypsies were held to be members of the Aryan race. All the others are either nationalities or regions. This is just to advert to the messy historical experience that isn't captured in the somatic net.
A flexible, working theoretical account of racism would start from what has almost become a truism. Race does not produce racism; racism produces race. Races are made: the only existence race has is as a social construct, and it not necessarily constructed out of skin colour. There are sites of essentialism other than the body, markers of difference other than melanin. This is a thumbnail sketch of what an account of Islamophobia as racism looks like: i) Islamophobia, at the representational level, involves a set of stereotypes linked to an essentialism (albeit of culture, rather than the body); ii) these stereotypes are linked to an ascriptive hierarchy (in this case, a hierarchy of cultures in which Muslims are deemed culturally inferior to 'the West'); iii) this ascriptive hierarchy is linked to a set of special repressive measures, exclusions, and systems of discrimination in employment and education, as well as imperialist violence; iv) these race-making practices are a crucial means of organising class hegemony, structuring the combinations of consent and coercion.
In this sense, Muslims are undergoing a process of racialisation. They are becoming 'a race'. And this race-making has, as suggested above, clearly informed the political response to the massacre. The narrative was already embedded before the massacre happened, so that as soon as it hit the headlines, people just knew that the murders happened because Islam contains within itself an evil seed, waiting to sprout in the minds of the devout. Only assimilation can help, by as much force as is both plausible and necessary. For example, consider this CNN report
, in which Amedy Coulibaly's problems are traced back to his being an 'unruly' child at school, and a constant 'discipline problem'. The fact that he is the child of an immigrant family is mentioned, the implied inference left unspoken. The French ambassador to the US outlined
the unspoken implication: the problem is that French Muslims aren't integrated. More explicitly, the French correspondent of Newsweek suggested
that the ideology of French youth is that of ISIS. Were this true, it seems, the only question would be why there were not more massacres. This is the racist response to the massacre, and it is not Fox News: it is mainstream.
As we learn more about Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, it becomes obvious that they were no more psychologically prepared to be jihadis, than they were not recruited into a well-oiled global network. If there was an evil seed, it was not in their minds but in the society in which they lived. It was in the racial hierarchy they both grew up in, as second-generation French Arabs, as wards of the state.
The pair first attended the Stalingrad mosque at the age of 20, in the same year that the invasion of Iraq was launched. They met Farid Benyettou, a Salafist preacher. One can have a guess at what he told them. He would have told them that French society was ruined by placing the rule of corrupt men above the rule of God. He would have told them that Islam was globally under attack by America and the Jews, the Crusader-Zionist alliance, and that the people who ruled France and held Muslims down were part of that alliance. He would have said that as Muslims their duty was to fight for their brothers and sisters. He would have warned them that apostate Muslims and revisionists were weakening the faith against this global onslaught, and that to defend it, it would be logical and necessary and just to kill them.
One would surmise that some of this would have been difficult to hear at first, but the more interesting question is why enough of it resonated with their experience and common sense for them to be impressed, keep coming, and gradually be converted. To a politically untrained eye, after all, it could look as though Islam was globally under attack. From Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine to the banlieues of Paris, there always seemed to be a boot on the Muslim neck - be it the boot of a state declaring itself the state of all Jews, or that of the most powerful empire in history. The phases of French moral panic about Islam would seem to confirm the diagnosis. And it might appear on the face of it that the French political class is corrupt and bought, that it is remote and indifferent to the poor, and that it is leading the global offensive against Islam. And, killing apostates? A hard sell, perhaps, but less so if it is understood as a war to the finish, to extinction. Fundamentally, what Benyettou offered the Kouachi brothers is what Islamists always offer potential supporters: the revival of Islam (in this case, a strictly literal Islam) as the means to overcoming oppression, subordination and humiliation. Ironically, the Salafis sometimes do a better job of policing an anti-drugs morality than the state, by offering users an alternative thrill: that of being purposeful political agents.
The religious obscurantism and childish conspiracy theories of Salafism might not have stood a chance in the 19th arrondisement of Paris, and perhaps not even Dieudonné-Soral, were the left able to respond effectively to the facts of racial oppression. That would require an understanding that 'race' is the modality in which the racially oppressed experience their class situation. It would require foregrounding as an axis of struggle ever bit as material as trade union militancy, the building of anti-racist political organisation among French Muslims with a militant, anti-national, anti-statist edge. Something other than SOS-Racisme.
Still, the fact is that there was a political space, the jihadis did fill it, and religious reaction did become the main mode by which the Kouachis and a small group of friends
, mostly poor and unemployed or in bottom-feeding jobs (Chérif delivered pizzas) or engaged in petty crimes, decided to strike back against their oppression. They amateurishly put together "the first jihad school in France".
Like everyone else, they get their information about current events, American war crimes, and how to use an AK-47, from the internet
. And even when they initially embarked on their journey to fight the jihad against the US, they were frightened, panicky, reluctant warriors.
It took the racist structure of French society to make them into jihadi recruits. It took their circulation through the hard, racist prison system to bring them into alliance with Coulibaly. But it took war to make them ready to kill unarmed people at close range. The Iraq war made many sociopaths out of US soldiers, as ample testimony has revealed. But this massacre was justified on the basis of a distinctive political morality forged through Islamist pedagogy and battle. Chérif Kouachi was interviewed
by French media while on the run. Part of Kouachi's training consisted of a political education
and hardening. His jihadi confederates had him closely study images from the US war against Iraq: a lesson in the harsh realities of the world, the better to wear down his resistance to killing, and made a more effective soldier out of him. This is to say nothing of the brutal, hardening experience of fighting US troops in Iraq.
Asked by his interviewer if he intended to kill again "for Allah", he countered his morality to that of the French state. "We are not like you", he said. We can kill people if they insult the prophet, "there is no problem", but we "do not kill women" or children. In fact, a number of women were murdered, but it is true that one of the potential victims was apparently told that she would not be killed because she was a woman, and was told to read the Quran. He went on to say that "you" kill civilians, women and children, "in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan". And on that point, he did not lie.
And rather than panicking about where the next outrage is going to occur, or being mesmerised by the Islamic State, or trying to taxonomise the good and bad in Islam, it seems as if paying attention to the antagonisms and injustices that are immanent to European societies is the single most necessary precondition for finding a solution.