The Satire and the Faux: Reflections on Charlie Hebdo

France's tragic deaths were not simply payback for Charlie Hebdo's satire of the Prophet.

By Haneul Na’avi

The massacre of employees at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris has fostered growing animosity between Westerners and the Muslim world. In nationalist rhetoric, the champions of French Secularity vowed to cheat the death of free speech and never to bow to terrorism, and the agency retaliated with record sales of its publication, with more insults to the Prophet Mohammed.

Nevertheless, the country did bow, not to the demands of al-Qaeda of the Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni sect claiming responsibility for the attack. Seeing their golden opportunity, French government officials capitalized on the assault in order to incrementally impose a wave of draconian policies to stifle the freedoms of its own citizens.

Shortly after the “Je Suis Charlie” demonstrations, French PM Manuel Valls openly announced the Republic would commission “the creation of 2,680 new positions in French military and intelligence agencies to monitor the population”, which would cost “425 mln EUR over three years, and would rise close to 735 mln EUR after personnel costs.

The bill passed amid condemnation of the recent “Law Strengthening the Provision Relating to the Fight against Terrorism”, in which EU Counterterrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove proclaimed “[it struck a] good balance between the demands of internal security and respect for individual liberties”. The bill, passed in the French Parliament last October, would bolster current UK and German anti-terror initiatives.

The law, opposed by the European Digital Rights organization and others, targets terrorism via “anti-democratic measures […] based on vague concepts whose application can easily be extended, such as “apologie du terrorisme” (apology of terrorism), and that restrict the right to freedom of movement (art. 1), freedom of the press (art. 4), freedom of information and communication (art. 9), the protection of journalistic sources (art. 11), the right to a fair trial (art. 13) or that are simply disproportionate (art. 12, 14)”, La Quadrature du Net stated.

The regional attacks were the perfect chance to implement this new law. Unpopular legislature, pushed by an equally unpopular President (currently 8% according to YouGov statistics), achieved several aims for the struggling figurehead: (1) distracting the public from economic and foreign policy misadventures and (2) strengthening support of the current administration by nationalizing sentiment of the French people. Meanwhile, the Charlie Hebdo massacre suspects, the Kouachi brothers, and Mali-born Amedy Coulibaly, the prime suspect in the kosher supermarket attack, reveal startling connections.

France’s long history with Syria goes back to the Franco-Syrian War, but their open procurement of weapons and cash for “moderate rebels” in Syria and Iraq forms the foundation of the current crisis. A London Guardian article detailed how Hollande’s administration worked to remove Assad, and subsequently, warned about the consequences. “Some of the French cash has reached Islamist groups who were desperately short of ammunition and who had increasingly turned for help towards al-Qaida aligned jihadist groups in and around Aleppo,” Chulov writes.

The French President’s dual imperative of funding rebels in Syria and Libya, but expanding attacks on current IS militants in Iraq, has incited intense anger from IS. “France has suggested that rebels should be given ‘defensive weapons’ to use against the regime and was the first country to recognise a recalibrated political body as the legitimate voice of [the] Syrian people,” the article continues. They were veritably successful, as that ‘recalibrated political body’ is now the Islamic State; an unrelenting enemy with roots in the Mujahideen Shura Council of Iraq.

Shortly after taking office, Holland pushed to invade Mali’s mineral-rich territories under the ruse of fighting terrorism. Just after the Sarkozy’s Libyan invasion, Hollande stepped in to extrapolate France’s imperialist agenda. Using the same tactics as in Syria, France, the US, and UK backed the Salafist, Tuareg al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM), to overthrow Jamahiriya leader Muammar Gaddafi. Asad Ismi writes extensively about this occurrence:

AQIM is closely allied to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), the main proxy used by France, the United States, and Britain in their overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya. The AQIM militants fought alongside LIFG. Currently, France and the U.S. are also arming and financing Islamic fundamentalists in Syria to overthrow the secular government of Hafez Al-Assad.

While warned of refusing to cooperate with Syria or Iran, Hollande has deployed the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in order to follow up on recent aerial assaults on IS targets in northeastern Iraq. Iraqi and Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s sanctioning of the Western-backed intervention has caused further resentment amongst the Islamic State’s Sunni members.

The failures and inertia of France’s intelligence community practically fostered the attack, as they failed to initiate basic protocols for properly monitoring risky security assets. The Kouachi brothers had traveled to Yemen to meet CIA asset Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011, three years after Cherif was released from Fleury-Mérogis prison; experts claim that this was what incited their radicalization. A Telegraph article evidences that they had been monitored since spring 2009 and that “French authorities stopped the surveillance in July – just six months before the Paris attacks – because they were deemed to be of low risk”.

Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan opportunistically admonished France for failing to properly monitor the suspects. In a Jan. 17 speech, he harshly condemned the breakdown in intelligence efforts. “These people served 16-17 months in your prisons. Why didn’t you follow these people after they got out of jail? Isn’t your intelligence working? First, these countries should check themselves”, remarked the PM, whom is also guilty of coddling IS insurgents.

France’s tragic deaths were not simply payback for Charlie Hebdo’s satire of the Prophet, but symbolically reflected the anger of victims of France’s imperial ambitions and deteriorating domestic situation. Victims of aggression on both ends will require deep, reflective meditation to mend their troubled passions, and for the French Republic and other European leaders, they must take a step back from their own dark past in order to illuminate the truth.

– Haneul Na’avi is one of the founders, writers, and radio hosts for the blog “The Last Defense”. He has studied his BA and MA in English Literature, and while living in China and South Korea for the last six years, he studied Middle East and African Politics at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, South Korea, and Chinese at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. He contributed this article to

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