Who Is Charlie?

I’m going to begin with an olive branch: not all of Sunday’s “Unity March” in Paris was a proto-fascist omen (Marine Le Pen and her National Front goons were, after all, cheerleading and hurling scatological slogans from the sidelines, which is a lot like when coaches of certain national soccer teams keep their divas or sexual predators off the field in spite of their universally acknowledged talent). Nor was all of it an insidious spectacle of war criminals and their lackeys attending to a rite of imperial violence, though it certainly was that (were Hitchens alive he at least would have spared an atavistic guffaw for the particularly unpleasant specimens of repressive state apparatuses: today’s liberal “laptop bombardiers” don’t even bother anymore with the old routine of “I can say bomb the shit out of the Middle East because I once said Kissinger shouldn’t have bombed the shit out of Southeast Asia,” as if the denunciation of one genocide comes with a “support another genocide free” card). A lot of it was just a risible recapitulation of the banality, the pathetic prostration, and the toxic consensus politics of the Stewart-Colbert “Rally for Sanity,” at which, with the country on the verge of a right-wing coup, the majority of the liberal class stood up jingoistically for the right to smoke pot, say that gays aren’t so bad, adulate the agitprop of shitty American culture, and beg for the restoration of reasonable white dude power, which, last year, sunk to a new low when its latest plenipotentiaries became the irrepressible hack James Franco and his flabby sidekick, Seth Rogen. Then as now we heard about the lurking dangers of yellow peril or Islamist intolerance, an innate disposition on the part of our enemies (the non-Charlies, or the inexplicably humorless North Koreans) not only to lapse into savage pique at so-called satire—that Voltairean product of the Enlightenment—but to spread epidemiologically, while a demoralized or feckless western populace submits to its own racial and cultural destruction. In France, this obsession with “humor” as a talisman for a quasi-biological western capacity for free society is tinged with a rank sexual nuance, exemplified in the overwhelming popularity of the novels of Michel Houellebecq. Thus all the outrage over those well-circulated photographs of terrorist femme fatale Hayat Boumeddiene in a bikini, posing sweetly with her black husband, and later in a burka, the inevitable racial metamorphosis proof of the specter of Islamic duality: a habitual oriental sexual license/tendency towards miscegenation that inevitably leads us into sharia totalitarianism. This may seem contradictory for certain liberal empiricists who demand “consistency” in all things, but it’s the classic schizophrenic discourse of all fascism, racism, and xenophobia: we are obedient to the law (while secretly not wanting to obey the law), while they have access to an unfettered jouissance, therefore we have to defend our law in an orgiastic release of violence in order to fight off their law, the bad law which prevents us from enjoying ourselves like they do. This dynamic can be found particularly in the neoliberal racism of the old or reformed European left, particularly the French left: it is the insubordinate swarthy masses of the banlieues who took away the republican golden age, they tell us. In this sense, the installation of Manuel Valls as Prime Minister last year was prophetic. He was brought in to entrench the ongoing austerity program of Hollande’s government (and bury the unregenerate left-wing of the Socialist Party), a program he justifies with a kind of Blarist ideology of expansionist military projects abroad and anti-immigrant “realism” at home. Valls has been the most hawkish politician in recent days, claiming, as Bush never did, perhaps out of a lingering decency if not in the man then in the times, that France is at war with radical Islam.

Speaking of Le Pen, it wouldn’t be too much to say that she acts as the repressed id of the new consensus in the same way that Hitler acted as the repressed id of the panicky Prussian Junker class in the 1920s until the eve of Hitler’s chancellorship. In fact, like many good fascists who sense they have the upper hand, it is Le Pen who today is sounding more reasonable (if you only listen to the tone and to the buzzing of her words), speaking of “solidarity” and “indecent polemic.” Meanwhile the left, both in the United States and in Europe, calls for blood.

Anyway, Le Pen’s absence on Sunday was more than made up for by a gallery of infamy that includes Mahmoud Abbas (with Gaza still in ruins), Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davotoglu (henchman of a government seemingly intent on annihilating a free press along with every other trace of civil society), and of course the literally shameless Netanyahu, whose presence should make all these newfangled leftist Charlies blush, but of course won’t, because—I hate to say it—white journalist lives matter (what, after all, provided the casus belli for Obama’s new adventure in Iraq and Syria but the murder of James Foley and Steven Sotloff?).

The bad faith of these leftists is astounding, sickening. They want to know how much they should be expected to “tolerate.” Is their paper solidarity (a word that has been covered in shit this past week) making them look bad in front of their more apolitical friends? Wasn’t it enough that they stood up for the Mexicans, the good disenfranchised, clamoring to become citizens, while these banlieues kids supposedly reject everything to do with French citizenship, which, it should be said, might not be worth saving, like all citizenship (I’m writing this from the battlefields of southern Chile, where everyday Mapuche Indians are fighting for their physical and cultural survival against what is essentially the same republicanizing project). Must they really be forced to look at a woman in a burka, that noxious vestige of difference that stands between them and their empty, homogenizing “solidarity?” If the genocidal legacy of the Bush wars that they once supported (and I’m not trying to be recriminatory here about the past, I’m talking about the present) turned out to saddle them with guilt and ignominy, can’t they at least have this bellicose outburst of moral clarity as a consolation prize?

But for better or worse these leftists have made their choice. They want to be Charlie, they want to be republicans, they want to be citizens. Perhaps it’s too much to expect them to come around to the utopian (or simply non-dystopian) demand of the Zapatistas for un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos (one world in which many worlds fit). That is the only world worth fighting for, obviously, or at least it’s obvious to me. But for that world to come into being, certain other worlds (single worlds, totalitarian worlds) need to disappear. Or rather, the world that exists needs to disappear, because despite the best efforts of Empire’s ideologues, there never has been and never will be a clash of civilizations. Salafi nihilism is not even the flipside of imperialism, it’s just further along the Mobius Strip of imperialism. The atrocious loss of life in Paris last week was the product of the very same processes, the very same corrupt order, that produces atrocious loss of life everywhere. That’s the trauma that needs to be addressed, not the superficial trauma of a wounded West. But to address that trauma, like all traumas, we need to give up our hypnotizing neuroses, our worthless narcissism, our infantile rage. I’m not optimistic, but I should be. The quoted-into-triteness dictum of Gramsci was wrong. In the face of an ongoing intellectual suicide, we need to cultivate not only optimism of the will, but optimism of the intellect, too.


From January, 2015