How should communists understand the recent controversy over the vile racist and anti-muslim cartoons published in a Danish newspaper, and subsequently republished around the world?
Even within a liberal perspective, the double standards involved were blatant. Why was it okay for a newspaper to refuse publication of a cartoon lampooning Christianity, but a dreadful offence against press freedoms to suppress this provocative racist filth? Why are attacks on the fascist ideology of zionism stigmatised as anti-Jewish racism, while clearly racist caricatures of muslims are beyond reproach?
Such appeals for consistent liberalism at least have the merit of highlighting the cynical hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy, which upholds the watchwords of ‘liberty’, ‘equality’ and ‘fraternity’ only to the extent that they assist the brotherhood of capitalists in exercising their freedom to exploit the labour and resources of the world.
But even the most consistent liberalism runs into a brick wall at this point. How are these double standards to be resolved? Should ‘we’ abandon all social constraint on freedom of expression, opening the floodgates to child porn, racism and the rest? Or should ‘we’ achieve consistency by widening the net of censorship to cover anything that might offend anyone ever, suppressing anything more contentious than a weather forecast?
The sterile absurdity of this kind of ‘moral maze’ debate, throwing dust in the eyes of those who sincerely seek to oppose the war, shows what folly it is to rely upon liberalism to make sense of degenerating, crisis-stricken imperialist society. While the french newspaper France Soir tries to pressgang poor Voltaire in justification of its reprint of the cartoons, the working class will no doubt draw its own conclusions from the spectacle of the bourgeoisie in its imperialist dotage making a pigsty of its own revolutionary origins.
The revolutionary mantle having long since passed to the proletariat, we would do better to examine the practice of the real inheritors of all that was progressive in the Enlightenment – the Bolsheviks. They were second to none in demolishing idealism of all stripes, not least every form of religious obstacle to the consistent materialist viewpoint. Yet one of the first decrees they pushed through was the guarantee of freedom of conscience in matters of private religion. At a stroke this lifted a key support of the Tsarist yoke that had lain across the muslim peoples of Central Asia. Did this decree represent a step backwards from the militant atheism of the Bolsheviks? On the contrary, the emancipation of the masses from all forms of false ideology was enormously advanced by this decree, removing as it did the obstacle of national oppression from the path of development.
It is just the same with the cartoon wars. By denouncing the publication of this racist filth, do we communists propose to exclude Islam from our vigorous criticism of all religious obstacles to the consistent materialist viewpoint? Evidently not. On the contrary, it is by exposing the national-oppression content of these cartoons that we clear the ground for future ideological advances.
Truth is concrete. We are not concerned here with ‘pure’ democracy or ‘pure’ freedom; we need to understand the concrete reality, the actual context for these cartoon wars.
So what is concrete? The ownership and control of the ‘free press’ by capitalist monopolies, which perform guard-dog duty for imperialism, exercising press ‘freedom’ within the strict limits dictated by the propaganda requirements of the exploiting class.
What is concrete? The invasion of Iraq, the slaughter of over 200,000 of its people, the continued flouting of its national sovereignty through colonial occupation and the imposition of a puppet regime, while its illegally ousted government stands ‘trial’ before a kangaroo court imposed by the war criminals in Washington and London.
What is concrete? The salt that is rubbed into the wound of conquest by the mass publication of cartoons that seek to ridicule, demonise and dehumanise the vast masses of the Middle East and their co-religionists within the home territories of imperialism.
In short, the publication of the cartoons is no less an act of imperialist aggression than every other facet of the imperialist war effort against the peoples of the Middle East, now threatening to extend to the people of Iran.
The growing Anglo-American imperialist campaign of warmongering intimidation against the peoples of the Middle East is being answered by the corresponding growth of anti-imperialist militancy in the region and beyond. The wind that fills the sails of the anti-war protests erupting inside the home territories of imperialism does not originate in the hot air exhaled by bourgeois pacifism or pink-tinged liberalism. What lends wings to the anti-war movement in the West is the fact that imperialism is suffering one humiliating setback after another, most signally at the hands of the patriotic forces of the Iraqi resistance.
Such is the correct response to the cartoons provocation.
The anti-war movement at home most shows its weakness and immaturity every time it shies away in panic from the anti-imperialist watchword: Victory to the Iraqi Resistance! Conversely, the anti-war movement will find itself the more firmly grounded to the degree that the central role of that resistance is understood and embraced.