By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
In the aftermath of the killings of staff at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, there has been near universal outrage, and correctly so. The murders were brutal and indefensible, and whether coordinated or not with any terrorist organizations, were acts of terror. Yet, there is something very disturbing about what seems to have been forgotten in this moment. While France would like to present itself as a freedom loving country, its overseas policies are much more complicated and have led to a situation of simmering hostility within large chunks of the planet.
France had an overseas empire that it achieved through indisputable acts of violence. It retained its colonial possessions – until it could no longer do so – through open repression. In 1947, in the face of an anti-colonial uprising, France conducted a legendary and ignominious assault on the people of Madagascar, killing upwards of 100,000 people, as well as engaging in other brutal acts, such as rape. In the 1954-1962 Algerian War of Independence, at least 2 million Algerians were killed in their quest for freedom. In both cases France faced no consequences. The lives of the colonial people simply did not amount to much, and outside of the French-speaking world, little attention was focused on either of these massive atrocities.
Understanding history in no way excuses acts of terror. What it does do, however, is to put it in a much larger context. The demand for a cessation of terror must involve a recognition that terror did not start with the Parisian killings. Whether it was historic cases, such as the Madagascar massacres or the repression of the Algerians, or more recently the French involvement in the overthrow of Libyan President Qaddafi, violence has been used as an instrument of intimidation by the land of the tri-color flag.
While in no uncertain terms condemning the murders of the Charlie Hebdo staff, people of conscience in France – and around the world – must also examine carefully the policies of their own nations. The extent of hypocrisy, whether regarding freedom of the press, freedom of movement, or freedom from terror, that we have seen displayed in the days since the Parisian killings is more than unsettling. Parisians were killed; the French government declared its own war against terror, yet remains silent about terror and repression committed by its allies and by its own forces, thereby reinforcing the cynical view that might makes right. Such a view does not terminate terror. Rather, it gives a potent excuse for even more deadly terror in order to take on the mighty. That is not the 21st century for which we should be fighting.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.