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Jan 8, 2015

Rundle: Charlie Hebdo, terrorism and the distortion of popular memory

The violence against French journalists and cartoonists has shaken the world -- but the reaction is something Charlie Hebdo itself would've mocked.


The news hit London around morning teatime, a grainy image popping up in the Twitter feed. Pretty soon, the news made clear what it was part of — a violent attack on the offices of Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly, or, Your Average Weekly), with at least 11 dead, and more injured. Barring bizarre events, there wasn’t going to be any doubt who had done it. Charlie Hebdo is more free-wheeling in its satire than Private Eye, its UK counterpart, and has been especially willing to go the tonk on religion, in old-fashioned, gauchiste anti-clerical style. From the ’60s until Charlie Hebdo closed in 1981, that target was usually the church. When it came back in 1992, and in the wake of the Rushdie affair, and the rise of Islamism as a political movement, Islam began to get the same treatment. But it wasn’t a huge focus for them, with their attention turned more towards embedded French political power, showbiz and literary gossip (never really separated in French life) and cartoons more or less incomprehensible to anyone not up with Parisian idiom.

The magazine had received violent threats before, from both Islamist groups, nationalists and a French zionist terrorist group called the “Jewish Defence League” (not the US group) — which objected to some low-taste “holocaust humour” cartoons which might be an unpleasant surprise to many of Charlie’s newfound friends. Other threats followed republication of the Danish Muhammad cartoons in 2008. In 2011, it produced an issue ostensibly guest-edited by Muhammad — “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter” — after which its office was firebombed and obliterated. It was back in action immediately with rising sales, and ever more brio, until this.

Three masked, black-clad men wielding AK-47s got into the building mid-morning, by hijacking a staff member as she was going in. They didn’t kill her, and ran down the corridor and into offices shouting the names of people they were after. They found most of them in an editorial meeting, killing 10, three writers and editors, and seven of the country’s leading cartoonists. On the way out, they shouted “we have avenged the prophet!”, were blocked off by an arriving police car, and shot it out, killing a wounded officer execution-style, before getting away. They are still on the loose, having hijacked another car.

Hours later, Europe was still reeling from the shock — not merely of the attack itself, but of the sudden loss of half the country’s great cartoonists, including two national treasures, Cabu and Georges Wolinski. It would be like, in one hit, losing Bruce Petty and Michael Leunig. And Coopes and Moir and First Dog and David Pope. Shocking also was the smooth professionalism of the attack, with video footage of the three killers suggesting that they had military training. The West likes its Islamist killers suicidal or deranged or both. This attack was like the sort of terror Paris is well-accustomed to — the black-clad, right-wing OAS of the ’60s, brazenly gunning down opponents of Algerian independence, Mossad assassinating Black September and other Palestinians, Turks taking out Kurds, and the bombing campaign by Carlos “the Jackal” Ramirez, trying to prompt release of his guerrillas in the 1980s. Early afternoon, the world held its breath for 10 minutes.

Then the usual imbecility began, the sort that the now departed staff of Charlie Hebdo would have pilloried remorselessly. Thousands reading their Twitter feed in line waiting for a hazelnut latte tweeted “#istandwithcharliehebdo” — cost-free, zero-content pseudo-solidarity that flatters the issuer. Politicians, commentators etc made sententious statements about freedom of speech being absolute, a right etc — as if the attack was some sort of opening gambit in a debate about religious vilification laws. American neocons issued effusive words of support, perhaps unaware that several Charlie Hebdo cartoons had ended up in Iran’s “Holocaust Humour” exhibition of a few years ago issued statements. French politicians, some of whom had tried to close down the magazine using draining legal assaults, now had to stand in solidarity — including President Francois Hollande, last seen on the cover with his dick hanging out of his pants, the membre petite with a speech balloon saying “Moi, Presidente”. All of them had, years earlier, asked Charlie Hebdo not to publish the Danish Muhammad cartoons. Now, with the act done, they were suddenly supporters in retrospect.

“That the killers did not randomly shoot uninvolved strangers was a clear political act too. They wanted it to be clear that specific individuals, and the police, were the targets …”

US Secretary of State John Kerry, whose government has unquestionably received French DGSE buggings of the Hebdo office, said “we are all Charlie Hebdo”. Queen Elizabeth II, whose family have variously been depicted as vibrators, tampons, and everything else, issued her condolences. Peak asinine was reached when people gleefully remarked that the killers had only served to make Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons more widespread, declared that they had not won, and intimated that they were too stupid to have done so.

This was ridiculous. Of course the terrorists had won. They set themselves a narrow operation — they harmed no one when they initially barged into the wrong office — which was to obliterate the magazine’s staff, and they did it. The suggestion that there was anything “medieval” about such an operation was simply drivelling self-congratulatory liberalism on autopilot. What’s “medieval” about killing people who traduce your idea of the truth? Europe spent most of the 20th century doing that. That’s not an exception to modernity — it’s most of what modernity has been. The shock in France relates in part to the very, well, French character of the event. Exemplary political terror is more or less a Parisian invention after all — indeed the liberal republic from within which the right to free speech is intoned, was founded on terror. By 6pm, on BBC Radio, someone was quoting Voltaire “I disagree with what you say, but …’ etc. Voltaire never said that, but he did express hope that the last king would be strangled with the guts of the last priest, so he appears to have had a soft spot for terror too. All very confusing, isn’t it?

So of course they prevailed in this encounter. They punched a hole in French national culture. There’s nothing fair about one’s status in death and so it is cruelly true that to take out a bunch of the country’s most loved cartoonists is a harder hit, even though killing 12 random people on the street would have been no less tragic. But it’s important to understand what sort of a cultural attack this was. Charlie Hebdo didn’t have the cultural reach of Private Eye, with 200,000, still less of someone like Jon Stewart or The Chaser. It had sales of 50,000 a week in a country of 50 million. For a mainly Parisian elite, it was indispensable, part of the furniture of life that we call culture. Millions of French people have never heard of it, never seen a copy. For three young attentive Muslims — no doubt freshly re-enraged by each succeeding issue featuring imams with their dicks tied into turbans etc etc — Hebdo, one suspects, represented not the West en masse, but the elitist metropolitan culture that negated their faith by refusing to recognise its rules as sacred. Hebdo’s been as excoriating of the West’s imperial wars as any leftist publication. and there are plenty of French right-wing tabloids that are effectively fascist in their attitude to Muslims, triumphant examples of the Crusader West. The sophistication of the operation suggests not merely Islamic State-style field training, but proper military training. Survivors reported that they had spoken in native-tongue French, and they were later identified as two brothers, Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi and a teenager Hamyd Mourad. At time of going to press, there were reports that they had been captured in Reims, East of Paris.

By nightfall in Europe, the full absurdity of trying to say something meaningful against such a successful act of political assassination was becoming clear. For decades the Hebdo crowd had been pilloried as corrosive and cynical, enemies of society and especially of La Patrie. And for all that they are described as satirical, their humour had more than a touch of nihilism about it. The sort of gags that got the Chaser hunted down for months on end by the right-wing media were the weekly trade of Charlie Hebdo — the name itself was the third it had had, after being twice banned by the French state, and having to re-emerge in another form. Indeed, their ragging on imams etc was starting to become a little obsessive. Though it was always pretty funny, there was a Richard Dawkinsesque quality to it, in which all the frustration that young men of the 1960s had had with the very powerful Church, was transferred to the pretty marginal institutions of European Islam, as their moralising began to contradict the secular 60s dream. But they were always good for a dick joke.

By late evening, Hollande was calling these late ageing enfant terribles “heroes of the nation” which was the last thing they had wanted to be. It was the sort of twist — satirists enrolled as representatives of the state — that would have been the sort of thing dreamed up by Charlie Hebdo.

For journalists everywhere, this unquestioned act — which was first and foremost a targeted political assassination — was also an act of terror. Less so for civilians. That the killers did not randomly shoot uninvolved strangers was a clear political act too. They wanted it to be clear that specific individuals, and the police, were the targets. For journalists, it was the sudden realisation that someone might be out there, reading everything you’d written or that your work was just appearing beside, and planning their move. Attacks in the weeks previous had been utterly random, with several Muslims driving trucks into crowds on the street. Crazed and far from effectual, they don’t sharpen the sense of threat overmuch.

The Charlie Hebdo attack prompted an almost manic release of statements of things that by their very nature should not need to be stated — that free speech is a principle on which our societies are based, that we should not let fear start to determine what we write. Commentators outdid themselves in otiose stupidity, the best of which was Suzanne Moore at The Guardian, suggesting that “we should ridicule” the killers instead. But ridicule works in exactly the opposite direction to all the other ineffectual things people were saying. What could you possibly say about the killers that was both a) belittling and b) true, when they had succeeded absolutely, and the whole of the West had now reorganised the meaning of its being around these events? Like it or not, for the next while, this event is the black hole around which our universe turns.

Given the satanic darkness of the event, it is tempting to call it nihilistic. It is nothing of the sort, simply an extremely ruthless political act, founded on a set of fervent and concrete beliefs, not on a nothingness. We call it nihilistic because there is an asymmetry between the ungroundedness of our contemporary culture, and the fervent certainties of theirs. Indeed the sort of terror that violent Islamists can provoke is due to their radical refusal of any sort of common ground. Much of the terror that Paris has played host to over the decades and centuries was part of a dialogue, however violent, over the broad direction of modernity, and the claims of right of different groups. But violent Islamism has not the slightest interest in that dialogue. The more from the other side that you insist that a simple meta-political rule like freedom of speech is the sacred value to which you hold, and that you will not be intimidated, the more you emphasise how little is actually sacred in your culture, how contentless it is. Putting a meta-meta-practice like satire — especially the undermining satire of a mag like Charlie Hebdo — at the centre of your culture, is to say you have almost no culture at all.

“Violence is a refusal of dialogue, and any complex modern society will always contain a small number of people willing to make that refusal at any given time.”

This conundrum is one of the reasons that culture conservatives with a dash of Islam-envy — people like Niall Ferguson or Andrew Bolt or Nick Cater — put such emphasis on the idea of a Christian revival in the West, and it’s also why they regard organisations like Charlie Hebdo or the Chaser or whoever, as the true enemies of the Western cultural revival. But the weakness of our culture, its ungrounding by the forces of capital and technology over recent decades, means that we can no longer make a response of silent dignity and resilience to such acts. We have to have the whole theatre, the logo, the marches, and now god help us, laying out pencils as some sort of symbol of something or other. None of the routine terror that made its way across Europe in the post-World War II years drew out this desperate need to make meaning through jerry-built symbols. Words of defiance will do nothing to the killers. They’ll either go out in a blaze of suicidal glory if cornered, or they’ll go out on a Eurolines bus to Germany and disappear into the crowds of the cities. Even capture and lifelong imprisonment would be lit by the glow of their act. There’s something deeply pathetic about this search for a way in which to undermine a single focused act of terror whose meaning is complete, and doesn’t require any more inadvertent bigging up. I’m writing this from a city that was bombed for more than 500 days during World War II, waking many mornings to 500 deaths. My mother walked to school, aged seven, during the winter into spring 1944-45, when first the V1s and then the silent V2s missiles rained capricious mass death down on London. Had they stopped to put flowers on every obliterated terrace of houses, no-one would have got anything done. Resilience against that had little to do with obsessing on what the Nazis didn’t get. It was about the country itself was, understood in terms of itself, and not defined against a force it had already seen as negating.

In Australia, the situation is much worse, since we have been willing to wear down the resilience that our culture once prided itself on, with a ceaseless performance of public emotionality, and a weird celebration of fear as a form of collective being. Our culture is so atomised and so depresso-genic, that a mainstream media desperate for public events takes any occurrence, wraps it in overkill, and then puts a Beyond Blue message at the end of it. Having spent two weeks mourning a cricketer killed in a freak accident, we then tried to turn a fucked-up hostage taker — whose complaint was that the High Court would not recognise his loyalty to Australia — into a terrorist mastermind. What will we do if we have to face a Charlie Hebdo situation on our own soil? The systematic undermining of our self-possession — done for the most obvious political purposes — suggests that we would be consumed by it.

For those who would like to avoid that, if/when a well-planned and executed terror event is visited upon us, we need to start talking back to this attempt to enrol every aspect of society as a “hero” in defence of its “values”, a sort of soft militarisation of the pluralist and untotalised way of life that is ostensibly the thing we value. Violence is a refusal of dialogue, and any complex modern society will always contain a small number of people willing to make that refusal at any given time. Shaping your discourse around their acts is pointless and stultifying. For some people, changing aspects of your life to respond to such threats is not giving into fear, it is a simple recognition that the notion of universal consent to “democracy” is pure rhetoric, and hides the fact that there is no ultimate court of appeal where a turn to violence can be rebuffed by an act of speech. There is never a point, or never for very long, when every group in society has renounced violence as a legitimate act, and trying to “disprove” their claimed legitimacy as if it were an error in maths is futile. They must simply be treated as crimes, even if they have a political dimension, prevented where they can be, apprehended where not. It is the few who are exposed to excess risk that should be taking extra precautions not the many, uninvolved, who should be mobilised in a form of pseudo-national defence, with its denial of pluralism, and conscription to what usually comes with it — an imperial vision that threatens mayhem over the next hill, against the next other.


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115 thoughts on “Rundle: Charlie Hebdo, terrorism and the distortion of popular memory

  1. Colleen Murrell

    Why be so sneering, viz “a ceaseless performance of public emotionality”. People in France have gathered together in crowds quite spontaneously (as well as online, about which you are so dismissive). Harking back to the Blitz and the stiff upper lip is just plain odd – different times. Let people who want to speak up in support of free speech do so. Charlie Hebdo is more outrageous than Private Eye, but it represents a whole different culture and history of satire. Private Eye has no sacred cows either, and I would argue neither should we. But you’ll probably mock in answer as per usual…

  2. Norman Hanscombe

    Once again Crikey seems to show more interest in the reactions of the denizens of Twitter-world than it does in supporting the efforts of Australian and other Democratic Western Governments to deal with Fundamentalist Terrorist.
    Not a surprise of course.

  3. Ken Lambert

    Guy has produced an extraordinary array of ideas – many well expressed in what must have been a short few hours.

    Needs a re-read Guy, but Colleen’s objection to the ‘stiff upper lip’ blitz bit was interesting.

    I agree with you: “a ceaseless performance of public emotionality” is what I find most disturbing about our ‘culture’ – as if orgy of mourning of recent tragedies from a safe distance somehow makes us vicarious players in the real events. This plays out with the mawkish excesses of the tabloid media and the indignity of our politicians.

    The French pen has been smitten by the sword…at times a pretty unappealing pen, but for sure an ominously well targeted sword. What we have here are the certainties of the Nazi SS ‘death’s head’ killers. They swore a personal oath to Adolph Hitler as their secular deity. He was their conscience.

    What we have here are their god’s deaths head boys.

    So Guy are you going to defend to the death the right of
    the next Charlie Hebdos?

  4. HB

    “the black-clad, right-wing OAS of the ’60s, brazenly gunning down opponents of Algerian independence” – my recollection is that the OAS were opposed to Algerian independence

  5. Jill Baird

    People often want to publicly acknowledge their reaction to major public events. We haven’t all got a megaphone like you, Guy.

  6. Barry Levy

    I have never read such (left wing) apologist crap about a very serious issue in my life (I think even most lefties (not already crying) would be embarrassed). I see now that Guy Rundle and Crikey when it comes to issues of Islamic fundamentalism are irredeemable. As a result – and this editorial is actually making me shake it is so horrid and appalling, I am cancelling my subscription forthwith. There is obviously no rationality or sense of reality and truth left at Crikey on this issue of Islam (the biggest issue in the world). I will be advising my friends to do the same, and advise others to follow suit. Fortunately, very fortunately, although it is very inflated with self-importance, Guy Rundle and ‘the team’ at Crikey only have a very meager reader base.

  7. aswann

    This is great form for Rundle – only the last couple of paras seem like something written a couple of weeks ago and pasted on. Ended weak on “They must simply be treated as crimes…” Otherwise strong and more interesting analysis than i’ve read elsewhere.

  8. David Camfield

    it’s a highly polarized and reactionary world at the moment.. I agree with Guy – best not to try to concoct ludicrous narratives

  9. Norman Hanscombe

    Sadly, as a lifetime member of the Left who remembers when its membership was less emotively-blinkered and bereft of intellectually-demanding analytical skills, I can empathise with your plight, Barry.
    Why not encourage those you know who have the backgrounds needed to deal with Crikey’s egregious support for nonsense causes to take out the short-term free subscription deals used by Crikey in the hope they’ll result in potential Crikey Acolytes becoming paid up devotees?

  10. RoseL

    Bravo Guy. Worth the subscription, as always.

  11. Kristian

    What sanctimonious drivel.
    Guy, the next time we have an event like this, where innocent people in a normally safe location are killed by gun-wielding psychos, and we’re drip-fed macabre details of the scene, I’ll be sure to check with you on how I should react.
    It must be nice up there in sneer-town.

  12. Glen

    Bye bye Barry, and good luck with that. Rundle’s piece, for all its random errors and weirdness, is by far the most thoughtful and interesting I’ve seen on the matter … globally.

  13. Wexford

    What Glen said, and Barry – stop reading this and just leave. We all know you’re still here. Guy’s random errors are almost an endearing feature of his writing at times!

    I wish I had something less glib to say.

  14. Bartlett Geoff

    Thoughtful yes, but wrong.

    The killers succeeded in their immediate goal. This was just one act in longer goal of fundamentally changing our Western civilisation. The direction we go from here is not decided. The expressions of solidarity might lack in style but should not be sneered at for that. Many of teh expressions are genuine for all all thelack of effort required to tweet or repost an image. If our reflex now is to refute the long goals of the killers, is that bad?

  15. Lehan Ramsay

    Translation: They were asking for it.

  16. Norman Hanscombe

    Glen (assuming you want to be reasonably well-informed?) and you’re serious when you say this article “is by far the most thoughtful and interesting (you’ve) seen on the matter … globally”, you clearly need to seek out better quality materials.

  17. Lehan Ramsay

    That does illustrate very well your opinion of free speech. It’s excellent as long as they don’t go as far as you have the right to.

  18. Peter Hannigan

    Good article that gives a different perspective. I shake my head at the extreme emotional reaction and blanket media coverage of what are horrific acts of violence – but are not exactly new elsewhere in the world. Working in Pakistan where a good day is only 20 or 30 dead, there is a temptation to just say that some broader perspective is needed.

    A particular aspect of maintaining perspective is media coverage – the incessant coverage and wallowing in ‘the horror of it all’ means the media acts as the terrorists PR arm by magnifying their acts.

    This response is to a degree unfair, because the lack of this kind of violence in our society leads to these strong responses to it – and that lack of violence makes Australia a great place to live. But it does mean a distorted view of what the world is like – it is not a place where people from developed countries are exempt from the violent currents in the broader world society.

  19. Norman Hanscombe

    You’re correct, Peter, in mentioning the very real differences re Terrorist threats between Australia and many parts of the world; but I’d argue that the Australian media (including its Left-Wing sections) are doing a disservice to the Nation when they fail to support serious efforts by politicians to reduce threats by introducing legislation aimed at dealing with such threats.
    The faux civil liberties cabals bear scant resemblance to those I knew who were involved in defending our freedoms when I was a youngster, more’s the pity.

  20. David Hand

    We live in an era where everything is sensationalised, everyone is outraged and if it bleeds, it leads the national news.

    We used to get media reports about extreme weather. We now get extreme media reports about the weather. We haven’t had a serious hurricane in Queensland for a year or two now but can confidently predict that when the next one comes, a couple of jocks from today tonight will risk themselves and soak up scarce resources in order to be the first to report from that flattened banana plantation that was at the epicentre.

    Because all this is understood by most of us, it is doubly disappointing that Rundle has chosen to give us a rambling diatribe against pop culture and the rules politicians seek to follow in order to survive the fury of the twitterati should they take a misstep.

    Good grief, does Guy actually think Hollande can do anything else but to express solidarity with the slain?

    There is nothing in this article that actually discusses the issue the rest of us are thinking about, namely how is the free and liberal democracies of the west going to expunge this violent, medieval (yes Guy, medieval) danger that has emerged in our midst. Unintegrated young muslim men who are being radicalised by fundamentalist nutcases into killing us.

    Guy may make the good point that the killers were looking for named people and not random victims, but this in no way delineates this from all the other violent acts occurring around the world at the hands of radicalised muslim men.

    No I expect more hand-wringing from the likes of Rundle et al in defence of people who have actually done severe damage to our way of life such as Snowden and Assange. I expect more resistance to reasonable measures governments may take at this time to protect us.

  21. John

    Well written Guy. I think depresso-genic says it all.Sorry to see that Barry’s reading of the article caused him so much angst. I think cancelling his subscription is the best thing for his mental health. It would be so terrible to consider other’s views. They are obviously left wing and lefties whatever those expressions mean.

  22. brewer

    What was Guy Rundle on about? Normally a challenging but worthwhile read, his latest contribution was inscrutable. Perhaps the backhander directed at Richard Dawkins was a clue: “they deserved it ‘cos they offended dangerously superstitious primitives”, otherwise known as those who derive meaning from a deluded belief in ʾĒl. In that he subscribed to one group reaction to the murders in Reims. There were other reactions ranging from Abbott’s crass and repetitive exploitation of tragedy, to those with lines of pencils symbolising resilience, much as Rundle doesn’t want to accept that. Grief manifests itself differently amongst us all, pompous universal condemnation is just one of those manifestation I suppose.

  23. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Next time the state of Iran or Hamas or Islamic Brotherhood urge their followers to ‘wipe Israel off the face of the Earth’ (or words to that effect), let’s just be calm. They are only spoken words. Judging by the global response to the Paris atrocity we supporters of free speech must now demonstrate, by our own actions, that we can cop it just like we can dish it out. Let’s stop ourselves from nuking Iran (as any number of commentators have urged), let’s call the dogs off Moslem asylum seekers and let’s not wallow in grief about innocent bystanders in one of ‘our’ neighbourhoods when our own people are bombing the crap out of innocent bystanders from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria all the way to Yemen. Oh and we’ve upgraded the visitor danger status of another Islamic nation, Indonesia.

  24. kir smi

    It would be nothing like Bruce Petty, Michael Leunig, Coopes, Moir, First Dog and David Pope be killed. All these cartoonists have been long time apologists for Islamic Terror. The French cartoonists killed are more like our national treasure Bill Leak.

  25. kir smi

    ‘The reach of The Chaser…..’

  26. Norman Hanscombe

    John, before using what seem difficult words for you such as “angst”, why not consider finding their meanings?
    Barry’s ability “to consider other’s views” isn’t the problem, John. You, however, illustrate a problem with your inane reference to views that “are obviously left wing and lefties whatever those expressions mean.”
    I fear that when YOU use them they become meaningless.

  27. rhwombat

    Well thought, Guy. This attack is just part of the ongoing war – remarkable only ’cause we can’t pretend it didn’t happen “here”. I’d take the outrage and deflection of the usual suspects as a compliment. It’s not as if this is not a direct and predictable (and, I suspect, eagerly awaited) consequence of the Cheney administration and it’s acolytes – like Blair & the Rodent. Breivik & McVeigh (and in their time OAS) killed more, but the partisans cannot see themselves.

  28. zut alors

    ‘Our culture is so atomised and so depresso-genic, that a mainstream media desperate for public events takes any occurrence, wraps it in overkill, and then puts a Beyond Blue message at the end of it.’

    No commentator has made this point as incisively as Rundle.

  29. kir smi

    Interesting to see former cartoonist of crikey the so called ‘First dog on moon’ Calls French Cartoonists killed racists for depicting the prophet in their drawings the day after they are assassinated.

  30. Jan Forrester

    Thanks Guy. And thanks Peter Hannigan for that important perspective, which I share.
    I am not so sure that some of the sentiments in this New Yorker article are so different from Guy’s. But I always appreciate Guy’s larger historical context.

  31. CML

    So let me get this straight – the Israeli Mossad, the USA CIA, the UK MI6 and various other groups run around the world exterminating targeted ‘suspects’ for so-called political and security reasons. Equally unacceptably, Moslem extremists do so for ‘religious’ reasons.
    At the end of the day the victims are still dead. So what is the difference? The perpetrators are all RWNJ’s, but some deaths are more equal than others perhaps???

  32. michael crook

    Good article, well done, and very thought provoking. Sadly, reading the comments on this one it looks as if the Crikey readership has taken a lurch to the right. Have missed quite a few daily news bulletins lately so may be wrong in this. With regard to the fundamentalist terror threat, I think that if you have a look at the respective body counts, we ( and our big brother) are in fact the biggest terrorist threat facing the world today, indeed we have been for some time.

  33. Humphrey Bower

    Guy, I agree with your critique of the mass and social media response, but feel you glamourise the act itself by describing it as ‘simply and ruthlessly political’. War and/or terror may be politics by other means, but the difference between the two (violence as opposed to persuasion) remains worth insisting on. Nor do I agree that the act can be attributed to ‘the fervent certainties’ of ‘their’ culture as opposed to ‘the contemporary ungroundedness’ of ‘ours’ (whoever they or we may be). This inflates it to a spurious ‘clash of civilizations’ which I think you’ll agree is pure ideology. Terrorism (individual, group or state) is neither cultural nor ‘simply’ political. It is also profoundly pathological, and needs to be analysed and treated as such, whatever religious, cultural or political-ideological trappings it wears. Nor must such acts be ‘simply treated as crimes’, but also more deeply as symptoms of illness (with social as well as psychological roots). This applies to acts of Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, right-wing and left-wing fanatics, as it did in the past to anarchists, nihilists, fascists and totalitarians. None of this is negates the necessity for justice, politics, culture or other forms of collective response (from legal proceedings to legislation or even writing articles like your own). It is simply to acknowledge the fundamentally pathological dimension of the acts themselves. Dostoyesvky does this incomparably in my view in THE DEVILS. The task remains to conceive of their effective (psychological or social) prevention, treatment or cure. Perhaps an impossible task, but one that can only be attempted – legally, politically, culturally – one step at a time, case by case, and on all fronts. Best, Humph

  34. Jane Stafford

    As a soi-disant ‘writer at large’ Rundle of all people should realise the influence of the monumental changes that have taken place in communication and media since his mother was a gal, gallantly walking to school in war-torn and flowerless London. He should recognise that living through a blitz and a long world war is vastly different to living in a time of peace which is shaken by sudden and unexpected atrocities. People behave very differently in such circumstances. He should also comprehend the need to feed the perpetual news cycle of which he is a part, and was very quick to get his oar into in this case. Like it or not, that is the beast we live with, and the beast is fed by social media whose purpose is to promote a sense of participation in the news cycle. We no longer just read it days later or listen to it, heavily censored, on the wireless, as his mother did: we ARE it, we create it. I have no doubt that if his mother had had an iphone she too would have been tweeting like mad, as would my parents, who incidentally fought in that same war. I too have experience of living amid London bombings during IRA terrorism, and I can assure Rundle that although we all got on with our lives in a fairly calm and matter of fact way, we did lay flowers and we were anything but insouciant.

    Rundle says the terrorists have ‘of course’ won. Won what exactly? In murdering a group of free-minded journalists they have won nothing, because others will step up: maybe as talented, maybe not, but they will be many and they will come from all free countries, not only France. For that same reason the West can never ‘win’ the ‘war’ against Islamic extremists: bomb them, gun them down, more will surface. You cannot win when you fight ideas with violence, and France is and always has been a nation that both celebrates and venerates ideas and the life of the mind. Rundle certainly does not understand France or French people as he seems not to have grasped the whole point of the rallies and show of solidarity there and indeed elsewhere…. it has nothing at all to do with the opinions expressed by the magazine nor if they were funny or not, or went too far, nor how many people, Parisian elite or otherwise, read it. All that is utterly irrelevant against the plain fact of a violent attack on journalistic freedom and murder of a number of people who refused to be censored. Rundle carps ” that free speech is a principle on which our societies are based, that we should not let fear start to determine what we write” is something that “by (its) very nature should not need to be stated” and dismisses it as a “‘simple meta-political rule”. What pretentious rubbish that is. Free speech is a fundamental human value, it is the thing that many many people for many many centuries have died, fought and suffered for. This is a time to not just ‘state’ it but to YELL it.

    Rundle speaks of “the sort of terror that violent Islamists can provoke”. I suggest that far stronger than terror, what the free world is feeling right now is profound anger, and a strong sense of resolution. I reiterate: they have won nothing.

  35. Norman Hanscombe

    Michael, what you see as “a lurch to the right”, is more a matter of a minority of subscribers suggesting it’s not enough to simply pretend a cause is ‘noble’, then ignore any evidence which doesn’t help your prejudices.
    Nor does it make any intellectual sense for you to adopt the Queen of Hearts approach re word meanings, and simply re-define terrorism so that you can apply it to your emotively decided enemies.

  36. mikehilliard

    Yea, agree a good article, reminds me again of why I subscribe to Crikey and avoid the the mainstream media. Todays Daily Telegraph front page which I caught a glimpse of is case in point for me.

  37. Geoffrey

    This article is why I will continue to subscribe to Crikey

  38. hdlacey@mgs.vic.edu.au

    I agree with so much of what Barry Hand says in his comment and I feel Barry Levy has grossly overreacted to Rundle’s challenging piece. This is complex stuff and has come to be because of over a century of the European world stuffing up the Middle East. Nonetheless the Middle East IS completely wrecked and us peaceful (mostly) people in Western democracies are paying the price for it all and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. What to to about this and continue to live in relative peace and freedom? Buggered if I know but I take heart from the fact that many Muslims want to live in Western democracies and are surely doing so because they like what they see. I think two things; non radicalised Muslims living in Australia, Europe and the US should be demonstrating, protesting and doing whatever they can to denounce violence and carnage carried out by Islamic extremist thugs all over the world- I don’t think they speak out enough. Secondly we in the West should be more stoic and restrained in our response (I love the spontaneous but quietly dignified demonstrations all over Europe standing up against these heinous crimes) and I agree with Runddle that the Brits were brilliant in WW2- but, hey, times have changed and our media is a 24/7 variety now and they can only make $ when we are constantly shocked- can we really expect the media to stay quiet and deny the terrorists their moment in the sun?

  39. Phill Black

    Guy Rundle is just a bourgeois grump, no better than the metro elite he criticises.

  40. Norman Hanscombe

    Hdlacey, while it’s true that much of the Middle East quagmire results from the grossly unfair treatment of the Palestinians in the 1947 U.N. imposed boundaries, there’s little anyone can do to resolve that problem. Even before 1947, however, there were centuries of bloodshed in that area, and the tribal mentality which dominated the region didn’t help.
    While, as you say, “many Muslims want to live in Western democracies”, that doesn’t mean they want to accept our values. We’re seen rightly as soft touches, so why wouldn’t Fundamentalists take advantage of our perceived weakness to eventually establish a Sharia State?
    I expect the media to adopt approaches which help them compete for audiences; but I’d prefer to see the media supporting Governments and Institutions which are attempting to reduce the Terrorist threats to our citizens.

  41. Guy Rundle


    absolutely. Meant gunning down their opponents, supporters of Algerian independence. Apologies

  42. Mr Denmore

    Guy’s right in refusing to join the knee-jerk analysis of these events – “an attack on our freedoms, will will not be silenced, they hate our way of life”. That doesn’t preclude people feeling outraged and shocked and aggrieved. But the job of a journalist is to challenge our easy assumptions. Rundle says what needs to be said – this is a cooly executed, political act. It’s just too easy to write these people offf as medievalists. And sitting around expressing solidarity with hashtags may feel good but it isn’t going to change anything.

  43. The Old Bill

    The terrorists have won Guy. That is because there is no more time left for hand wringing and touchy feely turning the other cheek. Fundamentalist and mainstream religion is destroying our secular world and no one is doing anything constructive about it. America and the Arab states are already lost to fundamentalism. Countries like Australia and most of Europe need to immediately ban religious schooling, take away the tax free status of churches and stop pretending that there is a place in civilised society for ignorant savages who base their lives on writings from several thousand years ago.
    Another good start would be to ban any commercial flights that use countries like the UAE that actively support this crap as a stop off point. Why fly via Dubai when you can savour the wonders of the orient?

  44. Colleen Murrell

    Well said Jane. I too grew up in London during IRA times, and later covered those stories in London and in Belfast. You did just get on with it but people grieved, they protested and they got together. If Twitter had existed then we’d all have been using it for the same purposes as it’s being used now. And, nobody can organise a quick rally or demo like the French. Nothing is lost while people are prepared to gather together and fight to improve things. I would never have believed there could be change in N-Ireland.

  45. John

    Norman Handscombe,
    I would suggest that my use of the word “angst” was correct.
    “Angst” can mean anxiety or apprehension, which was the context in which I used it.
    I do appreciate your concern.

  46. Norman Hanscombe

    John, if you do know what angst means, then your interpretation of Barry’s comments in post #6 are odd to say the least. Barry may have been irritated by the article’s bias, but he was NOT expressing angst.

  47. Lubo Gregor

    FFS Troll Hanscombe “why wouldn’t Fundamentalists take advantage of our perceived weakness to eventually establish a Sharia State” – have you swept to commies from under your bed already? Get a grip man.

  48. John

    Norman Hanscombe,
    An old friend once warned me ” Never have a pissing contest with a skunk”

  49. Rortydog

    Guy – thinks for highlighting the hypocrisy. A left-wing satirical weekly, pilloried by the establishment and gagged and shut down twice, has now been labelled a shining light of self-sacrifice, integrity and patriotism. Paradoxically by the presidential member himself.

    This crime is barbaric and vicious, but let’s not compound the damage by wrapping ourselves in flags. It is in the terrorists’ interest to provoke racial or religious intolerance. Marine Le Pen’s poll numbers must be soaring.

  50. Rortydog


    but I’d argue that the Australian media (including its Left-Wing sections) are doing a disservice to the Nation when they fail to support serious efforts by politicians to reduce threats by introducing legislation aimed at dealing with such threats.

    If the legislation was clearly intended for that purpose it would not be an issue. The problem has been the Government is pushing dual use legislation which is far more about collecting data on ordinary citizens than preventing terror attacks. And they keep neglecting judicial oversight.

  51. Norman Hanscombe

    1. Lubo Gregor, growing up in a Communist family in the 1940s and listening to their absurd dreams about a coming proletarian revolution I’m well aware those types are now in other organisations, so there’s nothing to be “swept” from under that bed. On the other hand decades of observing emotively driven well-intentioned but intellectually-blinkered posters such as you helps me have a far better “grip” on social issues than would otherwise be the case.
    2. Rortydog, judicial oversight doesn’t mean the judiciary simply doing what YOU would like to see. It needs to be a tad more sophisticated than that.
    3. Liam Thomas, where people break laws in other countries Australia can no more effectively tell those countries what to do than they can tell us what to do when laws are broken in Australia. The sooner that sinks in with the bleeding hearts the better.

  52. Jane Stafford

    Thanks Colleen. It’s easy to forget that there have been so many other acts of terrorism and violence perpetrated by champions of other (often long forgotten) ’causes’. London during the IRA bombings was a pretty scarey place and you never knew who and where would be the next target.

    There was indeed a time when peace in and with Northern Ireland seemed impossible. It would be good to think that one day education and ideas will triumph over fundamental Islamism and the senseless violence it provokes, but I fear there is a very long way to go. In the end I think change has to come from within Muslim communities around the world.

    Also, I’m heartened to see that I am not alone in disliking the sneering tone and pseudo-intellectualism of this article.

  53. Ken Lambert

    Jane Stafford

    Well said Jane. But you have to remember that Guy is a guy who thinks Mao just made ‘mistakes’. So all he writes is coloured with a prevailing leftist middle finger raised at whatever the reasonable person would accept as legitimate authority.

    There will certainly be a ‘Rushdie’ effect wrought by the ‘deaths head’ muslim murderers. Who will be brave enough to publicly cartoon or take the piss out of muslim crazies now? Who wants to be a Rushdi or a Aayan Hirsi Ali (as admirable and brave as they are)?

    The French have a serious problem with their secular republic’s sacred rules and fundamentalist Islam; to some extent do all liberal democracies.

    It might be a long Northern Ireland type long haul policing, but I would not rule out a ’round-up and deport’ policy applied to those with any links to Islamic fundamentalism if these murderous outrages are repeated.

  54. Guy Rundle

    1. colleen-

    because the whole idea of free speech, should just be a given, not a rallying cause to be reaffirmed. it’s not a rally to have something happen (tighten gun laws after port arthur, e.g.). its like having a rally after a murder, against murder.

    3. ken – i dont understand what your last line means. i think murder plots with or without a political dimension should be thwarted or punished, for the record. once again a given.

    5. jill – bit pointless though, isnt it? In Paris, fair enough. everywhere else – why not mourn the 35 people killed in yemen the same day

    6. so my attitude to an attack on free speech was so divergent from yours, barry, that youll forgo money youve already paid, just so theres no danger youll see what you disagree with? freedom hero.

    13. geoff b – really? i get no sense they have an agenda for western civ. if theyre al-q, they want to sew terror in the west, to get nato etc out of the east

    18 – david – of course the targeted political killing is different to random terror. the whole point of the suicide bomb, a la 7/7, is to say that we’re all guilty. these guys were killing people for their specific actions. morally, killing is killing. but it’s otherwise a different sort of act.
    given yr opinions of assange and snowden youd have been no defender of charlie h. they published plenty of leaks. quite sure youve got the hang of this free speech thing

    21. kir smi – no it wouldnt. im saying the cartoonists killed were all leftie darlings. leak doesnt occupy the same cultural space anymore.

    22. whats yr question? charlie h sells 50,000 copies. the chaser gets half a million viewers in half the population. yes, they’ve got a reach, like it or not.

    24. it’s not a war rhw. just ongoing low level political insurgency and everyday violence, best treated as criminal

    29. hb – why pathological? it was an act whose ends you disagree with, exercised with ruthless means. in what sense is it not rational? of course it draws on certainties. how else could one gun down 12 people without being certain. just as US troops will gun down civilians in iraq, based on the ‘certainty’ – wobblier, as we’ve seen – of their rightness. Just as, if youd been young and Italian in the 70s, youd have known someone willing to join the red brigades and kill for communism.
    what could you poosibly draw on for ruthless action from our culture. the programming of the next film festival? filter vs espresso? so, thus, asymmetry.
    the devils was a libel on brave russian revolutionaries fighting tsarism. by a fervent orthodox christian.

    30 – jane – come on jane, people didnt have #iama birminghampub marches after the ira bombings. and they didnt do it half a world away. yes, im well aware that society has changed. im saying its changed for te worse, and we should simply refrain from these kumbayah displays in support of the bleeding obvious. free speech isnt a fundamental value. its a recent invention, which we like as a rule to frame the sort of society we want. hence a meta-rule. it has no content of itself, which is why people like you grasp so futilely to fill it with content.
    yes, the bad guys won: they wanted to killcharlie h, it’s dead. whatever’s revived, wont be what it was.

    38 o.b – how has our secular world been destroyed? thats just hyperbole. in what way does religion intrude on my life if i dont want it

    39 colleen – people may have protested, but thats the point isnt it? they created movements against the britisj, or against the ira, not guff involving laying pencils down etc. utterly different process

  55. AR

    Grundle – I’m sure you know better but your syntax has let you down “the black-clad, right-wing OAS of the ’60s, brazenly gunning down opponents of Algerian independence,” – the OAS WERE the opponents of Algerian independence, a bunch of pissed off pieds noirs resentful of having lost their colonial power over Arabs… Day of the (not Carlos) Jackal and suchlike.

  56. Brenton Atkins

    Brilliant article in such short time, this is why I subscribe

  57. Bohemian

    Just a bigger Martin Place folks. Same narrative – different actors. Next will be one of the other nations with troops returning to Iraq. Sadly people always die in these events.

    The skill level of the actors inthis are equivalent to ISIS and the equipment is certainly impressive and of course they have disappeared without a trace never to be seen again although apparently a service station owner spotted them 80 ks out of Paris with Jihad flags all over their stolen vehicle? Right?.

    How long are people going to fall for this crap..I guess a long time from the list of suspicious events that the state has later admitted to having a hand in?

  58. GF50

    Guy, At your best, off the cuff, love it! Brilliant! Agree!

  59. Paul

    ffs, Norman Hanscombe, “fail to support serious efforts by politicians to reduce threats”?

    What serious efforts? All I see is pointless legislation that reduces our own rights, which does nothing to make us safer.

    If our government really wanted us to be safer, we would stop blindly joining American military expeditions into regions that we have no business being in, which serves no purpose but to radicalise these people.

    And beyond all that, why should Crikey support what the government is doing? I’m paying for Crikey because it is independent media, not another cheer squad for successive governments.

  60. AR

    Sorry HB -you’d already made the point, since acknowledged by Grundle.
    It took me so long to read & digest this superb piece that I’ve had to paste it into Word for another go.
    The Dianafication of our society is a perfect example of modern Western society having ceased to take it self seriously and if everything is equally heart rending & trivial then small wonder that it fails to respond to reality when bitten on the bum.

  61. Norman Hanscombe

    1. Paul, @ #61, Crikey shouldn’t be a “cheer squad” for any government; but surely it should be trying to adopt a less partisan/subjective approach in its articles?
    Study the world scene more rigorously and you might understand what very real threats there are to Western Democracy, and why Governments need to take steps to meet technologically ever more sophisticated Fundamentalist efforts.
    2. Guy @ #56, it’s interesting to see you felt no need to point out where I’d been inaccurate. Thanks for your support.

  62. Guy Rundle

    yes, norman, that’s exactly why i ignored your 15 comments. Complete agreement. Boy, you really got me a good one there.

  63. Guy Rundle


    the argument that Mao just made a few mistakes would have been pretty much shared by most of the Hebdo crowd. You’d have to look long and hard over the 1969-1981 run of the mag to find an anti-communist cover.

  64. Norman Hanscombe

    Guy, as is your customary modus operandi, when you have no intellectually-supportable defence for your positions, you avoid issues via a ‘joke’. This often works when the person doing it has control of the microphone OR the site?

  65. rhwombat

    “24. it’s not a war rhw. just ongoing low level political insurgency and everyday violence, best treated as criminal.”
    It is a direct consequence of Bush’s (?Bushs’) war – albeit asymmetric cold warfare with memetic (“Islamic”), rather than genetic (“untermensch”) filter. Viewed from the pointy end of a JDA, Hellfire or other “humanitarian munition”, it’s how the disenfranchised use the Fox-Prop fear to get heard.

    By all means use French civil law regarding violent crime to counter it, but I note that Le Pen and the Rightists are already calling for the death penalty. The real test of French (and, by extension, “Western” culture) will be how the actual perpetrators are treated if and when they are apprehended (provided they are not killed in the crossfire as with Monis – and, probably others of the Lindt Cafe victims). If France reacts like Norway did with Breivik (rather than as the US did with McVeigh), then we can talk about civilisation. We might even start talking about the antecedents of demonising opposition to Western capitalist imperialism, and less about the atavistic fears of pathetic old reactionaries like Spiny Norman (ex Labor aspirant for Gordon 1968).

  66. tonysee

    Cultural narratives are full of paradox and down right contradictions and were so in the times of world wars as they are now. To some how allude to more ‘resilience’ then, as compared to now is strange. That was full on war, it doesn’t compare to relatively rare (although seemingly increasing in frequency) terror attacks in a time (yes, it’s all relative, I know) of peace. A contemporary Guy Rundle would have had even more fodder for critical cultural examination in the 40s and 50s than now. For example, the criticism of ‘public emotionality’ in the wake of these attacks is fleeting compared to the ongoing outpouring of emotion we experience in Anzac Cove and other places on 25 April. And isn’t a national flag — the oft-used symbols of defiance and resilience during the world wars — a ‘jerry-built symbol’?

    Notwithstanding that, it is important to see a clear difference between the attacks in Paris and Sydney, a difference that escapes our ‘good guys and bad guys’ PM.

  67. Lubo Gregor

    Well there you go, I’m intellectually blinkered because unlike Normie I find the idea that sharia law could be introduced in a country where even the traditional catholic/protestant churches are almost dead utterly preposterous. Each to their own.

    Btw. I grew up in an actual communist country. You wouldn’t believe how much are you RWNJs similar to the apparatchiks. Almost mirror image like…

  68. CML

    I was moderated yesterday for daring to mention the untouchables!
    Read #31 and tell me I am wrong???

  69. Ken Lambert


    “The Dianafication of our society is a perfect example of modern Western society having ceased to take it self seriously and if everything is equally heart rending & trivial then small wonder that it fails to respond to reality when bitten on the bum.”

    I couldn’t put it better myself.

  70. Ken Lambert

    Guy #56 & #65

    Its a pity Chris Hitchins is not here to put this French massacre into the Islamo-Fascist story with greater clarity than I possess.

    While it might appear a given, there seems confusion in your writing about what is criminal and what is political.

    There is a very clear difference between a criminal murder, and murders motivated by political ideology which deems that physical threat, terror and killing of your opponents is justified for some greater purpose (a crude supernatural one at that).

    These acts can only be described as evil, as evidenced by a sad history of Stalinism, Maoism, Pol Potism, Nazism and any number of tribalisms including balkanism and now Islamic supernaturalism).

    The Enlightenment was partly about disarming the Pope and putting religion into the arms of science.

    Its got out, and just like the evil secular religion of Nazism got sway over an advanced industrial society and had to be opposed by a weakened Liberal democracy, these Islamo-Facists must be similarly confronted and defeated.

    Guy, as a public writer and intellectual of note (or notoriety for some), I was asking the simple question…are you prepared to put yourself at risk arguing for the right of the French Charlie Hebdos to keep publishing their (at times) rather crude and unfunny satire? Because the reality of the ‘Fatwa’ is just that.

    Are you going to do a Hitchins or try finding something to mitigate or justify the evil we have just witnessed in Paris?

  71. James O'Neill

    For a different, and I would suggest, better perspective on the events in Paris resulting in the deaths of 12 persons at the hands of alleged Islamic fanatics, people should read the following commentaries:
    Pepe Escobar Who Profits from Killing Charlie? asia times online 8 January2015.
    Chris Floyd Conflict Not Cartoons chris-floyd.com
    Juan Cole Sharpening Contradictions at juancole.com
    I am NOT Charlie vineyardsaker.blogspot.

    I will quote briefly from the last of these. The writer says “I am under no illusion whatsoever about the fact that the cui bono clearly indicates that the French regime either organised it all, or let it happen, or at the very least, makes maximal political use of it all. But most of all I am disgusted with those who play along and studiously avoid asking the right questions about all this.”

    As to making the most of all this, the head of MI5 has already asked for additional powers and I have no doubt that ASIO and their brethren will be queuing at the PM’s door for the same.

  72. rhwombat

    J O’N@72: cui bono indeed. Hilton Hotel anyone?

  73. David Hand

    That’s right Guy, I just don’t get this free speech thing. Because I believe governments should be able to retain secrets to enhance our protection, somehow that makes me unappreciative of free speech?

    I am appalled about what happened to the cartoonists in Paris. But I am equally appalled that someone like Snowden can publish secrets that alert enemies of our society to methods used to find them and track them. Hey, you’re in London. Have you read the stories in the media about how Snowden’s leaks have caused organised crime to change its communication methods to avoid surveillance? Ah probably not because you only read the Guardian.

    Snowden is the hero of people who have watched too many “evil military-industrial establishment” movies, and committed lefties like you. The Chinese and the Russians have got more intelligence from Snowden than they got in the entire cold war. Massive changes in intelligence gathering have been required and authorities have lost sight of many people who might wish to harm us.

    I know this.

    But all that’s a side issue. Jane absolutely hit the nail on the head. Your snide criticism of the what people in all walks of life are doing and saying in response to these killings just shows you are a one track record. Our liberal western society has been invaded by a foreign, primitive culture that has now mobilised its impressionable young men to start killing us and you have absolutely nothing to say about it.

    Just another swipe at your political enemies.

  74. Guy Rundle


    let’s face it most of the people doing the public emotionality this time are journalists from liberal publications you don’t have much time for – like the Guardian – holding up ‘je suis charlie’ signs. If criticism of silliness equals snideness, then you give people pretty limited scope to talk about current events.

    The Charlie H attack was a lightning raid with Ak-47s, done by a former rapper and his brother from the French banlieues. Doesn’t look very primitive to me. Simply because it’s done in the name of a monotheistic God.

    Tonysee – Anzac is a good example. When actual WW1 diggers were alive, and a lot of WW2 vet marching, the ceremony was more constrained (and the post march pissup was epic). But as they started to die, the ceremony became more exhibitionistic – people marching with their grandad’s medals, trips to Gallipoli etc. So yes, things have changed.
    I think there’s a difference between your own symbols and ceremonies, and pggybacking on someone else’s. Of course Parisians were right to rally etc. But really, how much of the rest of it around the world was about something else.
    James – building 7, man, building 7.
    Norman – ah you got me again! You just keep kicking goals don’t you!

  75. Jane Stafford

    David: I agree there need to be some limits set when national security and lives may be threatened but I also think there is a fine line between what is in a nation’s interest and what is in the interest of a particular regime. I don’t think there are easy answers here.
    Guy: I certainly acknowledge that people didn’t generally hold rallies or create hashtags in support of those killed by IRA bombs but there is hardly a comparison to be made. The attacks were frequent, ongoing and anticipated. Social media did not exist at all and the news cycle was much less immediate.
    The Charlie Hebdo attack has resonated because it was an attack on – yes I’ll say it again – free speech. You evidently don’t understand France/ the French or the hugely important role in French life and culture of such things as the life of the mind, philosophy, secular values and the right to question political and religious dogma. I suggest you go and read some French history, read Voltaire and lean about the Enlightenment for starters. You also don’t understand I think the connection that so many people who are not French feel to France.
    If free speech isn’t a fundamental value then what is? It’s a ‘recent invention’? – hogwash. Human beings have fought and died for the right to hold and promulgate opinions since forever. What else give you the right and the platform to spout the impenetrable waffle that you do, and what else gives ‘people like me’ the right and the platform to challenge you? If that alone ‘fills it with content’ then so be it. If you find that ‘futile’, why are you writing?

  76. Norman Hanscombe

    Guy, kicking goals against your ‘analyses’ is not dissimilar to the Monty Python sketch of the quadriplegic knight’s efforts to defend his position. It’s certainly not a significant achievement is it?

  77. James O'Neill

    Guy, “building 7”. The Rosetta Stone of the 9/11 events. A day when 19 alleged Muslims were so clever they were able, among other fantastic feats, to defeat the laws of physics. Is it not ironic that in the journalism fest about “freedom of speech” those self same organs of the fourth estate are themselves guilty of repeated censorship of stories that do not fit the official narrative?

  78. David Hand

    It’s the culture and the values it teaches that’s primitive, Guy. Method of execution at Charlie H was well done but that’s not what I’m talking about.

    Your suggestion that these guys were sophisticated killers rather than stupid killers is just sophistry – as if it means anything at all in the struggle we have against this toxic presence in our midst.

    Anyway, we have more dead in an attack by an associate of the Charlie H killers. That one doesn’t look so targeted and sophisticated, does it? I doubt he took their names and let people not on his list go.

    What I truly don’t get is why you are doing no more than criticise today’s pop culture and media behaviours when most of us know how banal and shallow it all is. I think it’s because you have a compulsive need to avoid any solidarity with the values of our western society and the efforts by those in government to protect us.

  79. Jack Robertson

    Finally subscribed so I could read this straight away, Guy, after years of tacky freeloading and occasional drive-by blind ramble-comments (in the pain-free chatter mode you – and Helen Razer – have lately been identifying as a primary symptom of our contemporary cultural predicament). So at least it’s a revenue-neutral article if that other paying bloke really has cracked the shits and walked.

    I’m glad I did. I think the reason we spend so much time and energy talking about free speech as a noun – which you get to defend, yay- is to avoid talking with free speech, as a verb. Which as Guy points out neither needs nor affords any explicit defence except in the doing. You either choose to speak freely, or you choose not to. The rest is just chattering about consequences.

    Speaking freely about the latest faux-Islamist massacres, then…how are we going to stop ourselves from cooking the planet?

    The ‘war on terror’ has always been an economic fight – bit of a giveaway that, targeting the WTC – so we really ought to be thinking about whether the cheap-energy-through-third world exploitation/military strength economic model which has made the West so free, stable, sustainable and çivilised over the oil century is really any such thing. Otherwise 100 years or so from now these murderous goons with their balaclavas and goddy shrieks might have claimed an altogether different place in history.

    More on economics, please GR! It’s the only debate there’s ever been, isn’t it, whenever people have started killing others on any ideologically-unified basis.

  80. Kevin Herbert

    Note to Barry Levy 6:

    The breathtaking bigotry you have displayed means you will definitely not be missed as a fellow Crikey poster .

    For the record, the biggest threat to world peace is clearly not Islam, but ethno religious Zionist supremacism…think the US Federal Reserve & Wall St ably supported by their AIPAC boosters along with the ‘permanent war’ boosters of the MIC & MSM.

  81. Kevin Herbert

    Norman Hanscombe: you’ve posted 12 times out of 77 posts to date i.e. 16% of posts.

    Personally, I don’t read your posts anymore, as they’re clearly vacuous self promotion.

    At this rate, I reckon you’re Crikey’s resident troll…which is a long way from being Prof Henry Mayer’s undergraduate poster boy as you’ve claimed.

  82. Kevin Herbert

    David Hand:

    In post 74 your ingrained, vile bigotry is on full show when you say:

    “Our liberal western society has been invaded by a foreign, primitive culture that has now mobilised its impressionable young men to start killing us and you have absolutely nothing to say about it”.

    You see David, western society has been invaded by a foreign, primitive (your view) culture” simply because the West invaded their culture 130 years ago, and has pillaged & decimated it to this day…..blowback is what it’s called you idiot.

    Bigots like you are reason events like this continue to happen…you disgust me.

  83. Norman Hanscombe

    David, I’m sure you’re not surprised poor Kevin hasn’t understood your comments because, as he acknowledges, he can’t cope with anyone who fails to share his prejudices. As for what he believed happened in 1885 [“130 years ago”] that justifies Muslim Murderers, who knows — or cares?
    Barry Levy probably has to expect Kevin’s “Zionist” rants, because he does have a Jewish name.
    But I’m sure Guy feels his prejudices are ‘noble’.

  84. John

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. My feelings about the comments of those three “gentlemen” in a nutshell.

  85. David Hand

    Ah yes, that’s right Kev,

    It’s our fault, even possibly my fault (gasp!). You’re saying that the Charlie H crew were murdered by us.

    One of the ongoing aspects of the way lefties think that I find almost endearing is their amazing ability to blame western society for everything. Of course, that’s what Guy was trying to do with his obtuse commentary of how pop culture has responded to the killings. You just come right out and say it.

    No, nothing to do with boys with AK47s. Nothing to do with a primitive world view that makes it ok to kill people who disagree with you. Nothing to do with the high likelihood that it’s going to happen again. Absolutely no practical contribution at all to the problem we face. Just like Guy.

    I thought your suggestion that my bigotry has caused people to be murdered particularly inventive. I didn’t realise I had so much influence. Hey, maybe the pen is truly mightier than the sword!

    Be disgusted. Another feature of lefties is their ability to sit so far up on the moral high ground that the atmosphere becomes too rarefied and they lose the ability to argue a point but just abuse people.

  86. Ken Lambert

    Spot on David Hand.

    Perhaps I should repeat myself:

    “But you have to remember that Guy is a guy who thinks Mao just made ‘mistakes’. So all he writes is coloured with a prevailing leftist middle finger raised at whatever the reasonable person would accept as legitimate authority”.

    Dear Helen Razer runs away with incoherent drivel on this Paris massacre too; after all she has admitted she writes with her lady parts, a bit like Marlon Brando acting through his prostate.

    Razer and her lady parts need to take a few pointers from Aayan Hirsi Ali who has first hand experience with opposing Islamic extremism and its embrace of a new dark age especially for women.

  87. Guy Rundle

    jane s – you appear to continue to concede to my points about how mass political killings are treated in times and places where the threat is more real, yet also say it doesnt matter. my point is that these displays of public/support emotion etc dont have much to do with the events themselves, but with a need for meaning, that people latch onto. it appears that 2,000 dead nigerians dont rate a hashtag.
    As to free speech, you are simply factually wrong. no society based its rules on absolute freedom of speech until the 18th century. and not even then. In Australia until 1974, hundreds of books and thousands of films were banned. Until the 1960s only a handful of people disagreed with this. So in what sense is it integral to our culture?

    david h -the point i’m making is that most of this enforced solidarity is an expression of weakness, and a need to generate meaning. It goes without saying that you shouldnt change your laws, based on one violent attack. or it should do. i affirm a pluralist free speech culture by interpreting events. you seem to want to defend pluralism by having everyone repeat the same sentiments, parrot-like.
    i dont see violent monotheism as more primitive or less modern than killings by Pinochet, the khmer rouge, anders breivik or the baader-meinhof.

    ken – you say of me:

    So all he writes is coloured with a prevailing leftist middle finger raised at whatever the reasonable person would accept as legitimate authority”.

    So free speech is fine as long as you don’t attack an objectively defined legitimate authority? You do realise that the way you’ve described my writing is a pretty good description of charlie hebdo, don’t you? You are one confused dude.

    norman h – you’re on fire. Tsssssssss!

  88. Norman Hanscombe

    Interesting Guy, at 6.30 a.m. today that gentle comments posted 7.00 p.m. yesterday are still awaiting moderation yet quite abusive posts by some have long been cleared.
    And still your ‘best’ response to substantive questions raised is your customary sort of “Tsssssss.”
    You don’t seem to be “on fire” intellectually when you concentrate on responding to the safe options only?

  89. Jack Robertson

    ‘You do realise that the way you’ve described my writing is a pretty good description of charlie hebdo, don’t you? You are one confused dude…’

    Pretty much the start, beginning and end of anything that needs to be said about CH and free speech. The magazine’s writers are entirely safe to appropriate as a collective faux-symbol of free speech now, because of course they’re all bloody dead and can no longer verb it. Keep affirming by doing GR.

  90. Jack Robertson

    Actually even that last limp attempted handshake borders on cloying redundancy and meaning-search coat-tailling, doesn’t it. Of course you will. Still, everyone needs groupies.

    Really enjoy your writing. Well worth the subs.

  91. rhwombat

    Norman Hanscombe @ every bloody post: You are more pathetic and needy than Lambert or Hand.

  92. Bohemian

    @James O

    All official narrative stuff here James.. it’s righteous indignence within the officially sanctioned limits.

  93. David Hand

    I partly agree with you Guy. This enforced solidarity is not so much weakness as an expression of the superficiality and banality of modern pop culture. Believe it or not, I agree with the thrust of your article.

    I even agree with you that the Charlie H killings have some parallels with Pinochet and Anders Brievik who demonstrated that terrorism is not uniquely from radical Islam

    What I challenge you over is that these are side issues. You are avoiding any comment at all about the risks we have today of going out for coffee or to the supermarket and not coming home alive. This is the impact of terrorism. Our governments are doing their best to protect us and you drift off into a general critique of western pop culture.

    It’s as though you can’t say that radical Islam is a clear and present danger to us.

  94. James O'Neill

    In an earlier post I suggested that Asio would be queuing at there PM’s door seeking more powers. Lo and behold, Abbott has just announced that their powers (and money) would be expanded.

    The fact of the matter is that the more evidence that emerges, the more this looks like a classic Operation Gladio style exercise. for those unfamiliar with the term, I suggest it is required reading (start with Ganser’s book “Nato’s Secret Armies) if one is to have even the beginning of an understanding of what is being done in the name of the so-called War on Terror.

    Keep asking the wrong questions and you will surely get the wrong answers.

  95. Ken Lambert

    Guy of me:

    “So free speech is fine as long as you don’t attack an objectively defined legitimate authority? You do realise that the way you’ve described my writing is a pretty good description of charlie hebdo, don’t you? You are one confused dude.”

    Indeed it would probably be a petty good description of Charlie Hebdo. So what? Free speech means that you can attack anybody with a pen, short of inciting violence. It carries no guarantee that you might not make a fool of yourself, or be offensive and unfunny.

    But Guy, you would probably support laws against being offensive like 18C, would you not?

    Attacking objectively defined legitimate authority (maybe the acts of a democratically elected Govt under constitutional laws guarded by an independent judiciary is a good enough definition?) is indeed your right of free speech. It is no guarantee of you not making a fool of yourself, or others pointing our the fallacies of your arguments.

    I think you are confusing free speech with dud argument. I would always support your free speech right to make stupid and offensive argument.

  96. Ken Lambert


    I take it all back. In the case of rhwombat, I am making an exception – there should be special constitutional powers to put a fatwa on the irrepressibly feeble minded.

  97. Norman Hanscombe

    Ken, don’t be too harsh on poor rhwombat. At least he hasn’t held up posts which suggest Guy deal with substantive issues analytically with lengthy ‘moderation’ delays, or (as all too often is the case with Guy) where he does ‘respond’ relied on making inane comments such as “Tsssssssss!” about them.
    But finally, after days of delay, Guy condescended to clear some posts, which may be a small step for mankind, but is an enormous leap for some?

  98. Norman Hanscombe

    In case post #99 is also delayed unduly, I should have mentioned it was done at 8.50 a.m. on 12/1/2015.

  99. Jack Robertson

    ‘Free speech means that you can attack anybody with a pen, short of inciting violence.’

    No, freedom of speech means that you can express whatever you want. It’s an inherent existential human capacity, functional software that arrives inextricably bundled with sentience. What isn’t and shouldn’t be is what we all end up arguing about (and rallying to ‘defend’) redundantly in ‘free speech’ debates (largely as a sophisticated exercise in meta self-censorship): consequence-free speech. The distinction is fundamental because of the impossibility of causally linking the expression of any abstract idea with any material world action (particularly now when every thinkable idea is expressed pretty much immediately it is thunk, with global accessibility).

    By all means make it ‘illegal’ to shout ‘fire’ in a theatre if there’s no fire, but recognize that in doing so what we are doing is not trying to stop people shouting ‘fire’ as such (we can’t), just force upon those who make that choice a consideration of a set of competing consequences of doing so. The tricky bit is devising consequences that will reduce the individual motivation to shout it, not increase it. (Obviously the second you legally proscribe the expression of any given idea you magnify its potential impact.) The really tricky bit is that we got to where we are today precisely by the expression of abstract ideas that came with whopping consequences attached. Being burnt at the stake, lynched, drawn-n-quartered, shot, etc. Crucified even, if that’s your thing.

    Anyway. How are going to stop ourselves cooking the planet? In the long sweep of history if it turns out that what did it was the disruption-by-goddy-war of an unsustainable (and apparently unself-stoppable) economic suicide run, at this current epoch we’ll all look pretty much equally bloody and prehistoric in the rear view mirror, I suppose.

  100. Norman Hanscombe

    Jack, your confused comment that “freedom of speech (is) an inherent existential human capacity, functional software that arrives inextricably bundled with sentience”, shows you really need to learn what the terms you use actually mean.
    A cockroach, not to mention numerous organisms even a long way down the biological hierarchy, is a sentient being. I assume you don’t believe it has a fundamental right to free speech?
    Best of luck should you decide to tackle the meanings of the relevant abstract ideas you like to use.

  101. Jack Robertson

    Not gunna quibble over semantics, Norm. You know what I mean.


    If you prefer use ‘consciousness’. Though it’s not precisely what I mean, it’s perfectly adequate for your boorotariat purposes. As you well know.

  102. rhwombat

    102: #scaredoldwhitemen.

  103. Norman Hanscombe

    Jack, precision in language is NOT merely semantics as you well (I’d hope?) understand. If you’re unwilling to tackle the substantive issues, it’s understandable; but pretending to do so, while it may protect your self-image, doesn’t help you develop what sets you apart from other sentient creatures, i.e. your intellectual potentials.

  104. Jack Robertson

    Norman. Here’s the sentence you object to (you should know it because you flung it at me in a supposed GOTCHA moment, but since you clearly missed it first time around, I have put the relevant qualifier in CAPITAL LETTERS).

    ‘Freedom of speech’ is an inherent existential HUMAN capacity, functional software that arrives inextricably bundled with sentience.’

    Now we could argue all day about whether or not a cockroach has sentience, Norman, or indeed mere consciousness (or is it vice versa), and if so, whether it bundles with itself a existentially SLUGGY inherent capacity for free expression. (There is an interesting discussion to be had here; reason I linked where I did was to run a bit with the animal rights straw-man you introduced. A dog is sentient. It barks when it’s left all day inside, to express the abstract ideas/sensations generated via its sentience. Neighbors complain. Owner is lazy and cuts its vocal chords rather than taking it for a daily run. Some argue that’s a suppression of the dog’s inherent right to free expression. But I digress!)

    What’s obvious, unless you’re just looking for any old tedious fight you can contrive, is that the slug – or the dog – isn’t ever going to have HUMAN sentience. To which my first clause limited my second clause with very great precision.

    Go and fight your straw-men on your own, Norm. That’s what they’re there for.

  105. Jack Robertson

    Sorry, Norm, my sloppies: your straw-man was a cockroach, wasn’t it, not a slug. (They kind of look the same from up here.) ‘Pologies.

  106. Norman Hanscombe

    Jack, please try to understand that when you asserted freedom of speech “arrives inextricably bundled with sentience” you were talking nonsense. Freedom of speech is something a society may or may not grant its members. I found most students found little difficulty understanding this once they were prepared to put aside their prejudices for a moment and analyse what’s involved.
    On one point you are spot on in your post #106, Jack, is when you conceded that you digress.
    The only virtue of your post #107 is that you let us know you don’t know what straw-man argument is either.

  107. Jack Robertson

    Norman, happy to side-step the condescension, pomposity, red herringry etc and readdress the substance of my first post: I just don’t agree with your (granted, tediously common) misapprehension/convenient assertion that ‘freedom of speech’ (ie of expression) is a quality (an abstract noun) that is under the agency-control of anyone – except an individual human being with sentience themselves. Human history shows this again and again. You cant stop ideas getting out. Censoring/prohibiting a freely expressed idea after/before the fact isn’t the same as preventing its free expression. The only agency with the power to do the latter is the generator of the idea. And it’s this – self-censorship – that external agencies are really seeking (can only seek) to impose when they attach consequences to the free expression of this or that idea, up to and including death. But even killing someone because they express x, or to stop them expressing x at all (an epistemological nonsense, as the Blasphemer Stoning scene in Life of Brian demonstrates) doesn’t have any external impact on the freedom of person y to choose to express x, too. The freedom to speak x remains perfectly unchanged, and absolute. What has been imposed by the external agency is simply a certain (extreme) consequence of expressing x. Person y just has to weigh up the competing consequences.

    Crucially, the incorrect idea that freedom of speech can be vaguely approximated as consequence-free speech – the hoary old Voltarian cop-out – is (I think anyway, ‘scuse my presumption if not) what underpins the thesis GR has been developing for yonks, this epistemological vacuum at the heart of western politics, as so hilariously revealed in the Hebdo pantomimes. The key point about freely-expressed ideas – especially in this babblingly incontinent age – is that, almost by definition, they must not be consequence-free. You want consequences. That’s how politics gets its meaning. You certainly don’t consequence-free speech masquerading as free speech; the abstract, self-referential mode du jour, a massed chorus doing little with their collective inherent freedom to express ideas but express the one idea that doesn’t need to be expressed, which is that we all must be free to express whatever idea we want.

    We fucking are. Move on. Say something with/of consequences. Freely.

    Norman, it’s your and every other sentient person’s business alone to make material world decisions about what you choose to say, weighing up the competing consequences of exercising your speech genuinely freely. Be as free with your ideas as you choose. Publish and be damned, don’t and pay your mortgage, do a little bit of both like most of us. Just don’t embrace the pissant cop-out that any one of us ‘can’t express’ this or that idea just because some external Big Bad Bruvver – guvmint, terrorist, HREOC, teacher, your boss, your mates at the pub, the Crikey comments-moderator (curse you Mary Whitehouse…sorry, Norm, bit of an in-joke) – might impose this or that consequence. They’re not restricting your free speech. They might be imprisoning you, killing you, fining you, putting you in the naughty corner, sacking you, laughing at you or simply not publishing your tacky personal attack on a fine fellow commenter in their thread – but…oh, boo-hoo-hoo. That’s got nothing to do with your capacity to express your ideas anyway. Nothing to do with your ‘freedom to speak’.

    Now if that’s not an orthodox reading of the concept of freedom of speech that you teach your students, fine. It’s mine, though, and in the Internet age, when there’s not a single abstract human idea anyone can think up that doesn’t already have its own website and rolling twitter account, maybe the orthodoxy is (conveniently, safely) redundant.

    Cheers, Norm.

  108. Norman Hanscombe

    Jack, I accept you mean well, but your adoption of the Humpty Dumpty Dictum that words mean whatever YOU decide they will mean, while amusing in Alice in Wonderland, isn’t how complex issues are resolved.
    Lewis Carroll isn’t around to help you out, so I guess you’ll simply carry on, while others try to deal with substantive issues?

  109. Jack Robertson

    All good, Norman. Nice chatting.

  110. GideonPolya

    The following 17 journalists have been killed by US- and Australia-backed neo-Nazi Apartheid Israel’s IDF while working in Apartheid Israel’s Gaza Concentration Camp (see “These 17 journalists were killed by Israel in Gaza”, Countercurrent News, 29 August 2014: http://linkis.com/countercurrentnews.com/Z0HdQ ) but there have been no mass rallies around the world over “freedom of expression” and no protests from the Neocon American and Zionist Imperialist (NAZI)-perverted, anti-Arab anti-Semitic Western Mainstream media and politician presstitutes:
    1. Hamid Abdullah Shehab – “Media 24″company.
    2. Najla Mahmoud Haj – media activist.
    3 Khalid Hamad – the “Kontnao” Media Production company.
    4. Ziad Abdul Rahman Abu Hin – al-Ketab satellite channel.
    5. Ezzat Duheir – Prisoners Radio.
    6. Bahauddin Gharib – Palestine TV.
    7 Ahed Zaqqout – veteran sports journalist.
    8 Ryan Rami – Palestinian Media Network.
    9 Sameh Al-Arian – Al-Aqsa TV.
    10 Mohammed Daher – Editor in al-Resala paper.
    11. Abdullah Vhjan – sports journalist.
    12 journalist Khaled Hamada Mqat- Director of Saja news website.
    13. freelance journalist Shadi Hamdi Ayyad.
    14 photojournalist Mohammed Nur al-Din al-Dairi – works in the Palestinian Network.
    15. journalist Ali Abu Afesh – Doha Center for Media.
    16 Italian journalist Simone Camille – photographer in the Associated Press.
    17. Abdullah fadel Murtaja.

  111. David Legge

    Now everyone knows that religion is politics. The Charlie Hebdo religious murders and the demand that the female staff (who were “spared”) follow sharia, is the usual religious demand to “Submit’ or we the faithful will kill you.”

    Christianity is the same. A priest forces an alter boy to submit, under the threat that “Jesus won’t love you.”

    I understand if I can’t be published, these thoughts do better in private conversation.

  112. David Hand

    Christianity is similar to Islam to the degree that there are a few fundamentalists, mostly in America, who want Christian laws to hold force in the world but even they are prepared to wait until the second coming. By and large, the reformation in the 1500s to the 1700s that ushered in the enlightenment, eliminated the church from secular government apart from ceremonial rituals.

    So today, the Pope can express a view and governments say “Thankyou for your input”

    The Islamic world still mostly sees the religious authorities as exercising political power. So we have the Saudis giving a blogger 1000 lashes for expressing a view. We have Iran where the supreme authority is the Ayatolla and now we have the Islamic State. We have Islamic communities in the west demanding the right to live under Sharia law, where I guess men can have up to 4 wives and they chop thieves’ hands off etc. and we have the extreme end of the Islamic community who want to impose Sharia law on the rest of us.

    They will fail to do this but that’s what in my view the CH shootings were about.

    Islam needs its own reformation.

  113. Norman Hanscombe

    David Hand, I’d like to accept, “They will fail”, in Australia, but close interaction with different Muslim groupings in this country leave me far less sanguine than are you.
    Many well-intentioned Australians underestimate the fervent certainty involved in many local Muslims’ aspirations, and it doesn’t bode well for Western Style democracies anywhere if too many of us simply continue (as has been the case)to ignore the signs, and make excuses for fundamentalist terrorists.

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