We were very enthused that Alexis Tsipras, the new prime minister from Greece's leftist Syriza party, in his first act after being sworn in today laid flowers at the National Resistance Memorial in the Athens suburb of Kaisariani, where the Nazis executed 200 Greek communist partisan fighters on May 1, 1944. (Sky News) An unsubtle message, both to Greece's own resurgent neo-Nazi right, and to contemporary German financial imperialism. We applaud. Especially since the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (its leadership in prison awaiting trial for running a criminal organization) came in a highly disoncerting third in the election. This is a sign of polarization, with the pro-austerity "center" collapsing, and far right and radical left in a contest to seize the populist space. What's not so good is that Tsipras and Syriza, just short of the outright majority needed to govern alone, have quickly formed a bloc with lawmakers from a right-wing anti-immigrant populist party, the Independent Greeks. (AP)
This is why UN hearings on anti-Semitism are a very, very bad idea. The General Assembly "informal" conference opened Jan. 22 with a keynote address by French philosopher (of Sephardic background) Bernard-Henri Lévy—yes, the same who was recently in the news over having pressured Charlie Hebdo to fire an anti-Semitic cartoonist, was a few months back the target of angry protests in Tunisia over his supposed intrigues against the post-revolutionary government, and also made headlines in 2011 with his unseemly defense of accused rapist Dominque Strauss-Kahn. A choice perfectly designed to turn the whole affair into a counter-productive farce. Arab and Israeli diplomats did not fail to deliver opportunistic obfuscation that just makes everyone stupider.
A dangerous social consensus can be seen consolidating behind the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie. France just announced it is sending its Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to support military operations against ISIS in Iraq. This comes after al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the Paris attack in a video message by commander Nasr Bin Ali al-Anesi on the Qaedist website Sada al-Malahim (not on Google, seemingly). Al-Anesi said the attack was carried out under orders from al-Qaeda's global leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. (Yemen Post, Reuters, CNN) Reprisal attacks are sweeping France. Abdallah Zekri of the National Observatory Against Islamophobia said that since the Charlie Hebdo massacre, 26 Muslim places of worship around France have been attacked with firebombs, fired at, or desecrated with pig heads. There have been many more insults and threats. (AP) We have heard of no arrests in these cases, but French authorities have detained 54 for violating the country's strong laws against anti-Semitism and racism—seemingly all preceived apologists for Islamist terrorism. Among the detained is comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, who has repeated convictions under the hate speech laws. Prime Minister Manuel Valls has declared Dieudonné "no longer a comedian" but an "anti-Semite and racist." He was arrested after posting a Facebook comment playing on the popular hashtag to suggest that he "is" one of the slain assailants in the Charlie attack. (AP, AFP, Foreign Policy, Jurist) However repulsive Dieudonne's post, the cognitive dissonance is overwhelming. An attack on free speech is being used to justify further attacks on free speech... all in the name of protecting free speech.
European Union government ministers met in Paris Jan. 11 to condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo. But there is an Orwellian aspect to their reaction. A joint statement (PDF) issued by twelve EU interior ministers, including Bernard Cazeneuve of France and UK Home Secretary Theresa May, included the following text: "We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the Internet to fuel hatred and violence... With this in mind, the partnership of the major Internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible." In other words, pressure on ISPs to shut down websites deemed objectionable by EU ministries, and rat out their producers to the Euro-cops—a notion rendered especially problematic due to the elastic nature of the word "terrorism." (To provide just a few examples, see here and here and here and here and here and here and here.) The statement was signed in the presence of US Attorney General Eric Holder. (Global Guerrillas, Jan. 12; The Register, Jan. 11)
By now we've all heard. Gunmen today shot dead 12 people at the Paris office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, apparently while shouting "Allahu Akbar" and "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad!" Editor Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier is among the dead; he had received death threats in the past and was living under police protection. Charlie Hebdo’s offices were bombed in 2011, after the magazine released an issue in which the Prophet Muhammed was satirically billed as "guest editor." The issue included cartoons lampooning Muhammed and was redubbed "Charia Hebdo," a reference to Shariah law. The new attack is said to be the deadliest in France since 1961, when rightists who opposed Algerian independence bombed a train, killing 28 people. (BBC News, NYT)
An arsonist set fire to a mosque in the Swedish town of Eskilstuna Dec. 25, injuring five people. Some 20 worshippers were attending midday prayers when the fire broke out. Police said the blaze began when assailants hurled an incendiary device through a window of the mosque, on the ground floor of a residential building. The attack comes amid a fierce debate in Sweden over immigration policy. The far right wants to cut the number of asylum-seekers allowed into Sweden by 90%. On Dec. 3, the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats brought down the minority governing coalition after it had been in power for just 10 weeks, refusing to support its proposed budget and forcing a special election. The new election is scheduled for March. (BBC News, Al Jazeera, Dec. 15; EurActiv, Dec. 18; Daily Mail, Dec. 3)
France is boosting police patrols and mobilizing army troops over the Christmas holiday following a string of three seemingly unrelated attacks. A man died from injuries suffered Dec. 22 in Nantes, when a van plowed into shoppers at an outdoor Christmas market. The driver stabbed himself after the incident, but is expected to survive. The day before in Dijon, a driver shouting "Allahu Akbar" ploughed into pedestrians, injuring 13. The day before that, a man issued the same war-cry as he attacked police with a knife in Joue-les-Tours, before being gunned down. French media are emphasizing that ISIS issued a call urging Muslims around the world to kill "in any manner" people from countries in the anti-ISIS military coalition, especially singling out the French. Among the helpful suggestions from ISIS was "run them over with your car." (BBC News, BBC News, RFI, CNN, France24)
Spain's conservative-led parliament, the Cortes, passed an anti-protest bill on Dec. 11 despite harsh criticism from opposition politicians and activist groups, who say it violates the right to demonstrate, limits freedom of expression, and gives undue power to police. The measure, dubbed the "Ley Mordaza" (Gag Law), limits demonstrations to officially permiited gatherings and imposes heavy fines on unauthorized protesters. It also bans taking photos of police during protest demonstrations. Spain has seen a rising tide of mostly peaceful street protests and strikes against Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's austerity program, which includes harsh cuts to public health and education.