The aequa Community Centre is in danger of closing. Please help save this vital community space by donating or by sharing our campaign.
aequa is a community of people united by our shared vision of a world in which everyone can thrive. Despite diverse experiences and perspectives, we are brought together by our desire to learn, and to share what we have learned on our individual journeys. We exist to build and support movements that meet people’s material and emotional needs. We do this through collective education and by creating alternative support systems based on interpersonal exchange. Together, we explore both our individual potential and our collective power.
Much of that work happens at aequa Community Centre in Wedding — a space we took over in March 2020. Finally, we had a space of our own — for workshops, community organising, film screenings, a library, a garden, marketplaces, open mics, late night studies, early morning conversations and so much more. The timing was challenging, but we have seen so much grow here already, and we are not deterred from our mission!
If this resonates with you, we’d appreciate your support! Stay connected, support each other and stay well this winter.
A translation of the French Declaration of the Brigade against Negrophobia, Representative Council of Black Organizations, The Voice of Roma, French Jewish Union for Peace
The awful murder of teacher Samuel Paty on 16th October 2020 ought to have brought about a moment of real national unity in support of his family, the teachers and pupils at his school, and the whole town of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine . It should have be an opportunity to think about those excluded from the Republic and to consider the causes of such crimes including the effects of exclusion and marginalization under which a murderous fanaticism develops. This radicalisation affects only a tiny minority of marginalized people and has nothing to do with vast majority of French Muslims.
Instead of this, in the last week we have seen a huge and generalized anti-Muslim tide set into motion by the French government. The”national unity” being called for is one of exclusion. It is a real crusade, which claims that all Muslims are guilty of this crime. It demands that Muslims should publicly reject a crime which in fact has nothing to do with them, and which affects them as much as it does the rest of the French people. They are treated as collectively guilty, their institutions are attacked, and violent police raids target their organizations. Organizations which are now threatened with being prohibited. Is this how the Republic sees the future?
At the time of the murder, the long term policy of division used against Muslims had just reached a turning point with the proposed law “against separatism”, which was meant to finish off the (first) Coronavirus crisis.
For years, this policy has been preparing the ground: accusing Muslims of not respecting the separation of state and religion; accusing Muslim communities of being the cradle of murderous fanaticism taken up by a minority claiming to act for Islam; accusing them of rejecting freedom of expression and putting religious law ahead of the law of the Republic. The terrorist attacks of January 2015 allowed the emergence of a generalized mistrust of Muslims, supported by the government and the media. It was easier to build this distrust since claimed to be based on democratic values such as the secular state and freedom of expression, ideas which the five million Muslims in France were alleged not to respect. What group of people would accept being taken hostage in this way by the murderous acts of a few fanatics, and told they were responsible for such crimes?
All the reports of the CNCDH (the National Consultative Commitee on Human Rights) in recent years have shown a rise in racist acts against Muslims. The authorities denied that Islamophobia even existed, and now announce that they want to prohibit the organizations which fight against these racist attacks, which challenge discrimination and work for social harmony.
The victory of the terrorist attacks has been to allow the development of a poisonous discourse against Muslims and against Islam, and to have made democracy retreat. And it is precisely these Muslims, who are not allowed to speak out ( we have heard little from Muslims in the media this week), who are threatened on a daily basis, and deprived of their civil rights.
The banning of Muslim organizations which has been announced, including that of the humanitarian charity Barakacity and of the human rights organization CCIF ( Collective against Islamophobia in France) is all the more scandalous since it is being carried out in the name of defending democracy under threat. We denounce the unfounded accusations leveled at the CCIF, an organization which is a member of our antiracist platform. It is libellous to suggest any link between the CCIF and anti-democratic criminal fanaticism .
We are member organizations of an antiracist platform which will not tolerate racism in any form. We refuse the logic of the war of civilizations which has been relaunched by the recent murder of a teacher. So that this crime does not win out, we call for a true national unity in support of all victims of racism and exclusion.
BAN, CRAN, UJFP, Voix des RRoms 20.10.2020
Translation by John Mullen
Film Review – Against the tide (Gegen den Strom)
A review of the film which is on next Wednesday, 4th November at 7pm. Because of lockdown, it will no longer be in the Moviemento Cinema, but we will be livestreaming both the film and a Q&A with Thomas Walter and Pablo Mal Éléve.
A South American river. A man sits with his back to us at the bow of a canoe. Cut to: the director Sobo Swobodnik in a plane. He narrates: “Thomas Walter, my daughter’s uncle has been on the run for almost 25 years. Since then, Germany has a warrant out for his arrest.” Swobodnik is reading a newspaper with the headline “Once a terrorist, always a terrorist?”
The narration goes on to explain that Thomas has been accused of being a member of a radical left-wing terrorist organisation and of planning to bomb a deportation jail. In 2017 he suddenly emerged in Venezuela, and applied for asylum. He made contact with his family for the first time in 22 years. In 2019, taking just a camera and a tourist visa Swobodnik boarded a plane to Venezuela.
As the camera pans through the Venezuelan countryside, we hear Thomas singing: “Don’t ask my name. I don’t know who I am”. We first meet him watching archive news reports of the alleged bombing which he’s never seen before. He is astounded by the inaccuracies: “they even got my eye colour wrong. They could’ve just looked at my passport.” As a tax payer, he is appalled at the waste of resources.
Thomas’s co-accused – Bernd Heidbreder and Peter Krauth – live nearby. They have maintained contact throughout their time of exile. None of them regrets fleeing Germany. They say that they have some political differences, but would always support each other. It is good that they don’t live on top of each other, but also that they are in close proximity.
Rafael Uzcategui, the Venezuelan activist who helped the three apply for refugee status is interviewed. He describes them as activists who denounce war. You can’t call advocates for peace – “terrorists”. Indeed, the act they are accused of – bombing a detention centre which represents war – was itself an act of peace.
Thomas explains what flight has meant for him – leaving his partner and all his friends was heart-rending. In one of his songs he sings “I still have a suitcase in Berlin”. But flight also meant a permanent state of self-censorship, and feeling unable to speak out as his identity might be revealed. Even going to sleep carried with it the fear of being woken and dragged from his bed in the middle of the night. He has learned to live with this fear.
And on the other hand, he was able to experience a sort of solidarity that most people only read about in books. People who didn’t know him were prepared to protect him. Thomas’ survival depended on local activists. He explains: “the people who set it up can be your best friends. The people who help you have to be total strangers.”
This is not just Thomas’ story. We are also presented with a critical view of modern Venezuela. In the middle of an interview, the power fails and the light goes out. A local farmer explains how people are dying from hunger, saying they need a new president before there can be change. No-one votes for the Chávistas any more, he says. But he is still a supporter of Hugo Chávez, putting the blame on his successor, Maduro.
Thomas is also a Chávez fan, explaining how Chávez successfully transferred wealth to the poor. After the unsuccessful putsch in 2003, Chávism became hegemonic. But, he argues, the party tried to channel everything and ruined it all. Politics in Venezuela has turned into waiting for the government to benevolently hand out favours, and is no longer about a world view. But you can’t have socialism if it doesn’t come from below, from the people.
Since Thomas emerged from hiding, he’s been working with Pablo Mal Éléve, the singer of the Berlin band Irie Révoltés, exchanging song ideas by skype. Thomas’ songs reflect his experiences of exile and are full of both hope and despair. Pablo’s seem angrier – slamming Frontex and the corpses left behind by Fortress Europe. We see footage of Pablo performing at the Unteilbar demo for refugees wearing a life jacket.
Pablo is finally able to visit his collaborator. They are delighted at being able to see each other live for the first time. They discuss how they can use a recording studio during the many power outages. Through their work together they realise that although they practise quite different musical styles, there is much more common ground than they’d thought. There is some basis for bringing the different musical and political generations together.
They discuss their respective musical backgrounds. Thomas comes from the autonomous scene. That saw music as something a little bourgeois, that kept you away from the fight. Pablo, on the other hand, has experience of fans who say that his music gives them strength and inspires them to get involved. Yet both say that music is the way in which they express resistance.
Pablo relates his political experiences. Once you’ve been arrested once at a demo, he says, the next time they’ll charge you with something bigger – obstructing police or assault. This has nothing to do with what you’ve actually done. Facing 4 weeks in a juvenile home, Pablo fled to Thailand before his mother and brother convinced him to return. Now he runs an all-gender sport group which is challenging prejudices by bringing people together.
Pablo and Thomas also discuss recent developments in German politics. Thomas reads the German press every day, but Pablo is the first person to ask Thomas, not about how he’s changed but how Germany has changed. He thinks that the German Republic has evolved – the Left is less impressed by violence and now tries to solve conflicts peacefully.
On the other hand, in Germany at least, discussion has become more polarised. The questions “Are you with us or against us? Are you German or Taliban?” accompany every discussion. With this background state violence is instítutionalised. Thomas rejects unnecessary violence, he comes from the peace movement, but also asks: “How come they’re allowed to use violence but I’m not, even though my cause is noble and theirs is reprehensible?”
‘Against the Tide’ covers a range of issues, but the subject that keeps coming up is that of flight. Of Thomas’s and Pablo’s flight from German “justice”, of the flight of refugees without papers. But it also has a message of hope and solidarity, of building a better future, on creating a society which isn’t based on repression and putting the strongest at the top.
As such, this is a film about the downfall of Chavism in Venezuela, but it’s about much more than that. It’s about creating a better world wherever we are and of building international solidarity through politics, through sport, and through music.
Demonstration for the “Comfort Women” statue in Berlin-Moabit, 13 October 2020. Photos: Hossam el-Hamalaway
A bronze “Statue of Peace” was erected in Berlin-Moabit on 28 September. The statue, created by Kim Seo-Kyung und Kim Eun-Sung. remembers over 200,000 women and girls who were raped and forced into sexual slavery during the Asia-Pacific war (1931-45). Many were from Korea, then a Japanese colony. They were euphemistically called “comfort women”, “Trostfrauen” in German.
Nataly Jung-Hwa Han from the Korea Verband says that “the statue acknowledges the courage of the survivors in breaking their silence. And it stands against sexual violence in armed conflicts worldwide.”
On 1 October, the Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi demanded that his German counterpart Heiko Maas remove the statue. The Bezirksamt (district authority) Mitte, which includes Moabit, complied.
On 13 October, the Bezirksamt Mitte made a semi-U-turn, announcing that the statue can stay temporarily. This was the result of local protest. The same day, hundreds of people marched from the statue to Moabit town hall to hand in a petition demanding that the statue stay.
The mayor of Mitte, Stephan von Dassel (Bündnis 90 / the Green party) accepted the petition and addressed the rally. However, he insisted that he had received complaints from his Japanese constituents, saying that they were offended by the statue.
The LINKE fraction in the Berlin-Mitte parliament has spoken out in defence of the statue. Andreas Böttger from the fraction said: “the ‘comfort women’ are a historical fact and the Statue of Peace in Moabit reminds us of this terrible part of history … the removal of the statue would be a disastrous signal for a critical discussion about sexualised violence in martial conflicts”.
Clearly the campaign to keep the statue is not over. Phil Butland spoke to some activists campaigning to keep the statue and to oppose sexual violence worldwide.
Firstly, can you quickly introduce yourself? Who are you? Why are you involved in this campaign?
Mugi S: I have a Japanese passport and I was born in Tokyo, but I grew up abroad for most of my life. I’m a filmmaker, who’s also involved in various political groups and activities. I am not directly part of this campaign, but I wholeheartedly stand by the statue and those who are fighting against sexual violence and historical revisionism.
Fumiko Mia Yamamoto: I’m a Japanese-French artist and academic. My PhD research is about the role of art in feminist and anti-colonial anti-war movements in Asian diasporas in Europe and North America, specifically in the context of the after-life of Japanese imperialism and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Thu Nguyen: My name is Thu. I work in healthcare technology. I joined the Korea Verband last year after attending their screening of the movie “Shusenjo: The Main Battleground Of Comfort Women Issue” in attendance with director Miki Dezaki. I had heard about the “Comfort Women” issue before; but didn’t realise there’s such a big resistance to acknowledge this issue by the Japanese government and revisionist groups.
I just couldn’t bear the thought of all the pain and suffering that these girls and women had to endure; and then to have their experiences be considered lies; and see the continuation of this exact mechanism today with victims of sexual assault. That’s why I try to help out this incredible association as much as I can. Currently I am involved in the social media team of the “Trostfrauen” action group.
What does the statue mean to you?
FMY: The Statue of Peace is made by a very brilliant and lovely, kind South Korean artist couple Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung. It commemorates the womxn and girls from the countries/regions occupied, attacked, colonised by Japan. They were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese army, in mass rape camps during WW2. The statue is located in a very quiet, residential neighbourhood of Berlin. Many of the neighbours said they love the statue, many have taken photos with her, left flowers and toys in her lap and at her feet.
MS: The statue is beautiful for various reasons. The Japanese government and the conservative bunch of the population are up in arms, because they are afraid and they damn well should be. I think this monument radiates with strength and resilience, at the same time allowing space for learning/unlearning and building altruistic connections with one another.
TN: For me, the Statue of Peace is a memorial to commemorate all victims of sexual wartime violence, especially those in the Asian-Pacific War. Their pain and courage should never be forgotten. The war crimes should be visible, remembered and discussed, so that this will never happen again.
What was your reaction on hearing that the Japanese government and German foreign ministry had intervened?
MS: Angered, but not at all surprised.
FMY: I was angry, but it’s not at all surprising. The Japanese government and Japanese nationalists have often tried to censor statues that commemorate the “comfort women”. Sometimes successfully like in Manila in 2017 and 2019. Germany’s stance is revolting, but also not that surprising. By removing the statue, Germany is taking the side of the perpetrators. It is also actively suppresses the visibility of institutionalised sexual violence as well as sexual violence in general. We want Germany to take an unequivocal stance against sexualized war crimes; and to be a country that values the hard work of historical remembering. Maintaining smooth diplomatic relations should not take precedence over the survivors’ right to commemoration.
The Japanese government characterizes this issue as only about Korea, but the victims came from many countries, including from Europe (the Netherlands and Britain). Some of the survivors are still alive, and they have bravely come forward. We must continue to protect this statue as a tribute to all survivors and victims of sexual violence. Such violence not only during WWII, but also for those still fleeing violence around the world today.
TN: First I was surprised how fast the news spread to such a high level. But knowing how the minister of exterior found it so urgent to speak directly to the German minister, made me realise how important and right the installation of the Statue of Peace is. It is a shame that the Japanese government is so unwilling to acknowledge the atrocities they did to so many countries and even tries to rewrite history. Some Japanese nationalists say that the Japanese government already apologized. If it was a sincere apology, they wouldn’t have a problem with the Statue of Peace. The Comfort Women issue is still being silenced.
The reaction of the German ministry was also not surprising. Germany also has issues acknowledging their war atrocities. Why was the Sinti and Roma memorial only built after years of begging by this minority? Why is it now in danger of being removed? Why don’t they acknowledge that there’s a huge right-wing highly trained network operating right now, which is the direct result of selective memory culture and silencing of the victims. So both countries would benefit of this statue and they should be grateful that the Korea Verband has done this important work and raised awareness to this issue.
How do you react to Stephan von Dassel’s statement that opposing the statue is not the same as justifying sexual violence?
MS: I understand that his position is somewhat comparable to a pawn in a game of chess, but I think that’s just an easy excuse to justify guilt.
FMY: His statement is truly absurd. How can censoring a memorial against sexual violence be understood as anything else but suppressing the perspectives of victims/survivors, and hence justifying sexual violence? Post-WW2 Germany has never been about “justice”, only “order” – and at best some kind of minimal performative self-flagellation discourse that always, always centers and re-legitimises and elevates white Germanness.
TN: It’s insincere. Removing the statue is like silencing victims of sexual violence. The stories of so many victims can be heard in Berlin-Moabit right now. People who have never heard of the “Comfort Women” issue are now being exposed to it. They can see the clear continuation of sexual violence decades ago and how it is now. How are victims handled then and now? Did something change?
Looking at how Stephan von Dassel presents himself, this decision does not fit into what he stands for. He presents himself as someone who fights against nationalism, colonialism and seems to be a feminist. This is exactly what the Statue of Peace is about. During the celebration to renaming the M-Straße in Berlin he admitted to having a knowledge gap about German colonialism. Here we present another knowledge gap on which he can work. What is he doing to raise awareness against sexual violence? Again, Berlin can be grateful to have this statue.
Von Dassel also says that he has received complaints from Japanese people in Berlin about the statue. Who are these people and what are their arguments?
MS: I don’t know who these people are, because I have almost no connection to the Japanese community here, except for the few expats I’ve met through my past restaurant job. Let’s not forget that we have people like that in Germany too. Like the ones who are whining about the recently installed monument for the victims of police violence in Oranienplatz.
TN: I got to know a few of them hate-commenting on twitter about the Statue of Peace. Looking at their profiles, you can tell they are Japanese nationalists. But even Japanese people who aren’t nationalists are against the statue. But who can blame them, if the government and the history books all tell the story about how the “comfort women” were prostitutes? If they have been taught this all their lives and the consensus in their Japanese surroundings is the same, then it’s hard to expect them to reflect this.
“The Japanese government already apologized”.
Yes, there was an apology in 2015 but the actions taken from then on spoke a whole different story. The victims also felt like it was not adequate because it didn’t mention violations of human rights by Japan, nor accept legal responsibility. Further, the apology was negotiated without full participation of the victims. Lots of legal cases against the Japanese government by victims have been dropped and there’s an active campaign about hiding or re-writing this part of history in school books in Japan.
“These girls and women were prostitutes who got rich”.
This is false. They were abducted and lived on the bare minimum.
“It’s all a lie by South Korea to damage the image of Japan because of jealousy, greed, inferior complex etc.”
FMY: He presented it as if it were only Koreans – and said that he also must listen to the Japanese citizens of Berlin, many of whom complained to him. We started yelling “We’re also Japanese! They don’t speak for all of us!”. It’s so annoying and telling on so many levels. Of course we totally centre and support our Korean comrades and friends but we don’t want the media, the Mitte Mayor, and the Japanese government to use their centrality in this group as a way to twist the truth; to make it fit that false narrative that it’s only a “Korea vs. Japan” thing, and that our group is somehow connected to the Korean government.
One of the hurtful problems is also that the Berlin Mitte District and its Mayor, and the media, see a lot of East Asian faces and they think “OK everyone’s Korean here”. And they also assume that they can’t possibly be German, that we are all foreigners and that therefore our issues do not concern them and should not take up any space within their realm of pure Germanness.
We are not a “pro-South-Korea group”. I don’t know what that even would mean. We are ANTI sexual violence and ANTI historical revisionism. Many members of our group are South Korean, and many are Japanese; and many are German, and many are from other places. And we are PRO the womxn in/from Korea and 13 other countries who were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military. And we are PRO everyone who has experienced sexual violence and is being threatened and silenced by the perpetrator(s), worldwide.
All of humanity is supposed to identify with Rachel from Friends or whatever and Michaelangelo’s David is seen as representing a male ideal, but a person in a hanbok (Editor: traditional Korean dress) must necessarily be political propaganda by the South Korean government? This reveals the white gaze and Eurocentrism at play in the logic of the Mitte District Office’s distrust and dislike of the statue.
The Korea Verband has stated that it expects the red-red-green coalition to show more backbone. What are your demands on politicians in Berlin-Mitte?
TN: If Germany is sincere about accounting for the past, it should set an example to Japan:
Be an ally to sexual violence victims and show them that perpetrators shall be held accountable
The truth should be heard and don’t play into the hands of revisionists and nationalists
Take an example of San Francisco and just keep the statue
Germany is in the right power position to be able to keep the statue, unlike the Philippines for example because of their economic power
MS: I demand that the statue stays. I also think that the queer feminist spaces like liebig34 which recently got evicted should have also been allowed to stay.
What are the next steps in the campaign. And how can people help?
FMY: the fight is not over. The city authorities didn’t decide to keep the statue, they just couldn’t legally force its removal on the day they gave as ultimatum (October 14th) – because the group formally challenged the decision in court. It’s not like the district office that ordered its removal changed its mind. It now depends on the process and outcome of the court’s deliberations, which may take weeks or months.
MS: This is not some dust-collecting dispute between wartime Japan versus Korea. I think for those who are new to this topic, it’s important to start by actively paying attention and listening to the victims and those who are supporting the victims. For example, there are so many unnamed and un-commemorated victims of sexual violence and genocide during the German colonial rule in places like Namibia and Tanzania. Many countries still struggle to acknowledge and heal the scars of their colonial past and this of course includes both Germany and Japan. Colonialism isn’t a thing of the past. We are still actively fighting for justice, because there’s never been justice.
TN: There are seven action items you can take to support the campaign listed on our website.
Now that the Statue is allowed to stay for the time being support in form of funding would help to cover the legal costs. Spread the word about this issue in your social circles. Inform yourself further about this issue.
After the brutal murder of a schoolteacher who had shown caricatures of Mohammed to his pupils, and the exploitation of the event by Islamophobic forces, we asked Paris activist John Mullen (JM) for his views on the situation and what should be done.
Left Berlin: What was the context of the murder of a history teacher last week?
JM: The horrific murder took place after the middle-school teacher, Samuel Paty, had shown in a civics class some of the infamous caricatures of Mohammed produced by a right-wing Danish newspaper some years back and popularized by Charlie Hebdo. The teacher was much appreciated by parents and pupils of all backgrounds. Not understanding that these caricatures are racist is very common indeed on right and left in France, and the caricatures are on the school curriculum, so showing them in class as illustrations does not mean that this was a racist teacher. He had shown them in previous years, but this year some parents complained, and the school inspectorate organized a discussion meeting of some sort. Naturally, No one imagined all this would come to the ears of a teenage fanatic who lived 50 miles away and was ready to kill and die for this.
LB: How has Macron’s government reacted?
JM: This event happened at a time when the presidential elections of May 2022 are beginning to interest political parties. In the last elections the fascist candidate Marine Le Pen got ten million votes, so the pull to win over racist votes is extremely strong, in particular since all the traditional parties of Left and Right are in very deep crisis. Macron is unpopular after the mass strikes of last year, and his disastrous management of the Covid crisis. Instead of opening more hospital beds and training more health staff in the few months respite between the two waves of the epidemic, the government has been going ahead with planned hospital closures!
Macron has four aims in his exploitation of this tragedy: to portray himself as the spokesman of a united nation, to give the impression that he can be effective against such terror attacks, to win over votes from Le Pen by attacking Muslims, and to divert attention from his vicious neoliberal austerity programme, which he has slowed down this year but has certainly not given up.
So, he organized a national homage to the murdered teacher, who has been awarded a posthumous legion of Honour medal. A minute of silence will be organized in all schools immediately after the school holidays. His government is banning Muslim organizations accused of being involved with “political Islam”, a usefully broad expression which allows charities, legal aid organizations and antiracist groupings to be targeted.
The Interior Minister, Darmanin is demanding the banning of several organizations. These include the Collective against Islamophobia (CCIF), an organization which helps provide lawyers for those defending themselves against Islamophobic discrimination at work or elsewhere. A mosque in Pantin which in previous weeks had shown sympathy with criticisms of Samuel Paty’s teaching has been closed down although there is zero evidence that the mosque leaders supported any violence. In the days after the murder, the Interior Minister Darmanin stated openly that they were hauling in many people unconnected with the murder investigation “because they wanted to get the message over “. Macron has declared “fear must now change sides”.
Last month, Macron began preparing a law “against separatism”, which claimed to be about many groups including white supremacists but is in fact aimed at Muslims and creates a new crime of “separatism”. This is an invented danger. In fact, Muslims are, for example, far less keen on having separate schools for their children than are devout Catholics or Jews. There are In France 9 000 private Catholic schools, 300 or so private Jewish schools and around 20 private Muslim schools. This is theatrical gesturing hoping to retain or attract Islamophobic voters, (who may well have previously voted Left or even far Left).
A number of political leaders of the traditional parties are now jumping on the racist bandwagon. The Interior minister just declared he was shocked by halal or kosher sections in supermarkets. These, he said are based on people’s “lower instincts” and represent “the beginnings of communitarianism”. A few weeks ago, the same minister declared “Islam in France must be certain that all its believers accept that the laws of the Republic are superior to the laws of their God”. But it is common for believers in many religions to think of their God as superior to human institutions – this does not make them killers! Darmanin just wants a witch hunt.
The traditional Conservative party and the Socialist Party, both swept aside by Macronism in the last parliamentary elections, each have their own proposals. Ex presidential candidate for the Conservative Républicains, François Fillon, demands that Muslim headscarves be banned in universities. The leader of the collapsing Socialist Party, Olivier Faure, said that much firmer action against “islamism” was required and that any parent “who questioned what was being taught” in school should be taken to court… The Socialist Party mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, wants there to be a special “secularism week” in every school in the country. In the Eastern region of France a booklet of caricatures of religious figures (“those most remarked upon”) will be distributed in every high school, and other regions will probably follow suit. The booklet will include anti Catholic caricatures too, but its main aim is Islamophobia. Town halls in major cities have been projecting on the walls of their buildings Charlie Hebdo cartoons, avoided the most insulting ones, but portraying mocking Islam as a brave blow for freedom. On the front page of Le Monde the renowned cartoonist Plantu compared the strength of Islamic terrorism in France today with the Nazi occupation during the second world war. Former left-wing novelist turned racist ideologue, Pascal Bruckner, denounced on live TV the Black antiracist journalist and activist Rokhaya Diallo, saying she “had armed the killers” by her ideas.
As the French Jewish Peace Union put it in its press release
“From denouncing a few fanatics, the discourse has moved onto calling entire groupings Islamist. Then they denounce any independent organization based on Islam (in the same way as the Catholic charity Secours Catholique is faith-based). … Previously the authorities spoke of “the enemy within”, now they accuse Muslims of “separatism”, of wanting in the long run to create spaces in the country where the laws do not apply, in which only laws inspired by the Koran will hold sway, replacing those of the Republic. This accusation is just an old theme of the far right, dressed up in new rags.”
LB: What has been the effect on teachers?
JM: For many teachers this feels like the last straw. For years, staff cuts, a pay freeze and constant curriculum change have made working conditions ever harder. Everyone is shocked and many are frightened by this murder. Teaching unions called a series of successful rallies on Sunday. Most of these were made up of large numbers of people with almost no placards banners or slogans. It was good to see only a few old people brandishing caricatures by Charlie Hebdo (and even these avoided the most insulting drawings). The declarations of the teaching unions have explicitly warned against the targeting of the Muslim community.1
Sad to say, there is plenty of Islamophobia among teachers in France. An insignificant if brave minority opposed banning the hijab in high schools. In teacher activist forums today, many suggest that showing the caricatures of Mohammed should be compulsory in every school. One teacher recounted his amazement when all of his 20-year-old students thought it was better not to insult religion out of respect for believers. Multiple comments from old and bitter secularists ensued. Teacher activists who want to oppose Islamophobia have their work cut out, but some good initiatives and union motions are being prepared
LB: What about the Left? It is well-known that fighting Islamophobia is not a strong point of the French Left…
JM: The most important of the Left reformist groupings is the France Insoumise, which got seven million votes in the last presidentials on a Corbyn-style programme. The movement called last week for “All the people of France to gather round teachers and parents and join the rallies around the country”. It also underlined the fact that “this crime, committed in the name of God, has wounded millions of our fellow citizens who refuse to see their religion linked to such atrocities”.2
The FI is a real electoral danger for Macron, and he and the Right are seizing this opportunity to try to smear the movement. In the present frenzied public debate, the reaction of the biggest radical the France Insoumise, is important. This is a rather heterogeneous movement, aiming at winning the presidency for a radical Left programme. Some hard-line secularists were among the original founders, so contradictory pressures are obviously present – the press release also calls for a fight against “obscurantism”. Leading figures such as FI Member of Parliament Danièle Obono have been in the forefront of the fight against Islamophobia for years, and persistent work by a minority has led to real progress on Islamophobia in the organization. Most notably, Jean Luc Mélenchon, ex-presidential candidate of the FI insisted, against considerable internal opposition, that the FI should officially support the first ever mass demonstration against Islamophobia in Paris last November. (Far left organizations also supported, though there too, only about half their members were convinced they should).
In a McCarthyite atmosphere, The FI is now being attacked as “islamo-leftist” and guilty of encouraging terrorism. Ex Socialist Party -Prime Minister Manuel Valls has accused Mélenchon of being “complicit” in the rise of Islamism. The Education minister, Blanquer added his voice to the fight against “islamo-leftism” which he claims is causing “enormous damage” in universities and in the France Insoumise. It is crucial for Left wingers to defend the organization against these attacks, despite the fact that the FI, like all parties on the French Left, has still a long way to go to become a consistent fighter against Islamophobia, and that its use of “left patriotism” is not something revolutionaries can agree with.
Although much of the Left and the unions have declared that Muslims in general must not be blamed, they will probably not organize to defend Muslim charities and other groupings from being banned: the leaderships will be treading carefully so as not to provoke sharp reactions among their members.
LB: Marine Le Pen must be delighted. How has she reacted?
Le Pen’s fascists have had a bad couple of years. The Yellow Vest movement, involving poor workers and small businessmen, could have moved towards Le Pen’s ideas, but did not, because of the work of left activists. The mass strikes to defend pensions were so popular that Le Pen did not dare openly oppose them. And the health crisis did not leave her any free space for a distinctive position. This new political crisis is on her favourite terrain, and she is hoping people will vote for her because she hated Muslims before the others began to do so so openly. This week she has called for “wartime legislation”, and demanded a freeze on all immigration and on all processes for immigrants taking French nationality. A number of her fascist co-thinkers are regualrlyinvited on prime-time TV shows or asked to write columns in establishment newspapers like Le Figaro
LB: What do you think anticapitalists should be doing?
It is a bit of a nightmare situation in some ways. I think it was right to go to the big rallies called by the teaching unions last week, and I was not convinced by the many revolutionaries who said we should not go because the education minister and other bigwigs would be there.
The situation is in rapid flux and many questions are being thrown up. Some require patient explanation, and some require a sharp polemic. The most important task is to build as broad an alliance as possible to defend Muslims against Islamophobia. There have already been attacks on mosques this week. The oldest mosque in Bordeaux was vandalized by a far-right gang, and a mosque in Montélimar was also smashed up. There is a far wider section of the French Left ready to oppose Islamophobia than has been the case for several decades. If the McCarthyite atmosphere intimidates it into silence, we will have missed an opportunity which we will not see again soon.
We have to keep on with the general explanations, about the role of French imperialism, the massive sales of arms to dictatorships which support terrorism, and the meaning of national unity. We need to explain political Islam and contest the idea that all political Islam can only lead to terrorism, and so on. But unity against Islamophobia is the immediate task. The banning of the CCIF, of Barakacity and others will be challenged in the courts (and at the United Nations), as will the closing of the mosque in Pantin also. We must mobilize to defend them. This will be the test – is good to see most trade unions and Left groups insisting that Muslims should not be blamed, but will they be willing to defend Muslim organizations and mosques?
LB: What can we do in Berlin?
As well as fighting Islamophobia where you are, official declarations of support from trade unions and political organizations are very important. These can be sent to the CCIF and to Barakacity, or to the mosque in Pantin.
John Mullen is a revolutionary activist in the Paris region and a supporter of the France Insoumise.