The world woke to a new horror at the hands of terrorists on January 7th 2015. Warriors of Muhammad, with their faces covered and wielding automatic weapons, stormed the offices of a satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris. These Warriors of Muhammad slaughtered 12 innocent people, journalists who poked fun at everyone, not only Muslims and their fanatical doctrines. No one escaped the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, no religion or politician. Its circulation was a mere 30,000 which in itself was a demonstrator that the mainstream audience rejected Charlie Hebdo's sense of humour. Still, it is the basic foundation of a free society to permit freedom of speech and expression even when it is against the general flow of acceptance.
Terrorists often claim that their acts are justified as they stand against an enemy wielding greater power. Yet the taking of innocent lives is never justified, regardless of what the struggle may be. In Paris there was no formidable enemy; only journalists and cartoonists. If any weapon was to be claimed to have been wielded it was a pencil.
Innocent blood was spilled in the name of a religion that sees no need for tolerance or acceptance of others. No justification can exist for such an act, not even among moderate Muslims. This barbarous act of terror brought about an outcry of revulsion from around the globe, as politicians joined hands to walk the streets of Paris and journalists everywhere declared that they will not be silenced by the threat of terror. Survivors at Charlie Hebdo declared that they were preparing their next issue in defiance and in honour of their comrades who had been taken from them.
As human beings we raise our voices in the face of a tragic or particularly violent act, as much in gratitude that we were not the victims as in defiance to the terror. In Paris, the terrorists attacked a symbol of free speech; the victims were not villagers in Africa, they were journalists. At the time of the event it did not matter whether anyone agreed with the style of journalism at Charlie Hebdo, the simple fact that journalists were mercilessly butchered meant our combined freedoms were attacked.
Hundreds of thousands, even millions of people in Paris and around the world gathered to raise signs declaring that they were all 'Charlie'. A gathering of international political figures willing to hold hands and walk the streets of Paris in apparent support of journalistic freedom became headline news in every corner of the globe. But what was the real motivation behind such a public showing of detente between these world leaders?
Journalists have faced bullets and artillery fire lighting the night skies to bring stories and photographs that have stayed in our memories for generations. In recent years it has not been war that has extinguished such endevours: it has been the need to silence truth and fact. Torture, threat and coercion have been tools to both terrorise and control journalistic freedom. In North America, the use of SLAPP suits, Strategic Lawsuit(s) Against Public Participation, have taken the place of guns and torture. America itself woke up to reports of journalists being threatened by police officers during coverage of the racial tension in Ferguson, Missouri.
Regardless of which single or combination of acts aimed to silence free speech one was to examine, none had brought such an outpouring of public sentiment. Charlie Hebdo was never a part of the mainstream media; co-founder Henri Roussel had criticised the direction it had taken and in turn was condemned by Richard Malka, Charlie Hebdo's lawyer. Still, the massacre of these twelve cartoonists and journalists brought Parisians together. It brought a promise from France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls that the fight against terrorism and jihadism shall be a long battle.
The attack on the staff of Charlie Hebdo was France's equivalent of the bombing of New York's World Trade Center. Granted, the scale and number of innocent casualties were not the same, but the shock on a nation was equal.
It had been possible to get direct reaction from French citizens through social media. Cherif Bouargue, living in Le Havre, Normandy, explained how the people of France were affected by January 7th, “for the beginning sorry for my english. You first have to know what kind of newspaper was Charlie Hebdo. It was very satiric and a few people read it. The illustrators were really talented. The 7th January sound like a storm, it was so unbelievable it look so like a movie. I'm living at Le Havre in Normandie. Its about 200km from Paris. I went to the Place de la Republique in Paris on the 7 January. I meet two friend of mine. The people were like a boxer which is near the KO, but everybody was taking strength from his neighbour. “Je Suis Charlie” was an obvious fact even for people who had never read it.”
Amelie Dufaut, an artist from La Rochelle, France, said “my friends called me in the morning to tell me, I was like shocked. I think there is no word to describe what I felt on the moment, I was touched and feeling attacked in my liberty cause those were great and smart guys who got killed for “no” real reasons!” Amelie went on to say, “when I got back to France, one week after the event, there were still some kind of unity between people but it is terrible to say but it faded away days after days. Now back to normal, like really normal, no difference with before the events kinda sad!”
French men and women had survived the shock and terror of January 7th and continued on with their daily routines. Family and friends of the innocent victims of this terror will grieve much longer and carry the pain of their loss forever. Charlie Hebdo as a publication had gone from an obscure satirical newspaper to a print run in the millions and awards bestowed for its 'courage'. Yet France will never be the same after these events.
Article 1 of the French National Assembly states, “France shall be an indivisible, secular Democratic and Social Republic. It shall assure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs.” Since the events of January 7th, the French government has tabled the Bill on Intelligence, a bill that gives intelligence agencies new and frightening powers.
Edward Snowden, who leaked to the world how America had spied not only on its own citizens but that of the whole world, once said “It's in times of panic that we lose rights.” In America the World Trade Center bombing brought massive hysteria across the country. Within this climate of fear came aberrations with the Patriot Act, Homeland Security and Guantanamo Bay. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) found that it was not only Edward Snowden who was an enemy, but also truth itself with the release of a report on the methods of torture employed by the CIA at Guantanamo Bay.
'Truth Seekers' in the name of freedom and for the purpose of protecting the American way of life, dehumanised individuals in the most barbaric and horrendous fashion. Dick Cheney, former Vice President of the United States, publicly said that he would do it all over again and even more. This report describing the actions of the CIA found public airing and comment, but quickly died. None of the individuals who committed the torture would ever face any consequence while the American public are more interested in the economy and baseball. After the release of the torture report, Ines Pohl, editor-in-chief of the often satirical German newspaper Die Tageszeitug said, “This report is the proof of how a country can be misled when it becomes ruled by fear.” (CommonDreams.org by Lauren McCauley, January 14th, 2015 'Days After Free Speech Rally France Arrests 54 People for Offensive Speech')
French Prime Minister Valls claimed that “this is not a French Patriot Act.” Under this new law, surveillance will be the jurisdiction of the administration without a judge's approval. The Bill on Intelligence will also provide previously unheard of power to the Prime Minister to authorise any form of monitoring without judicial oversight. Mass surveillance is no longer a fictional bogeyman, the 'ISMI Catcher' spy devices will be permitted to be used in so-called 'exceptional cases'. These devices are able to blanket a specific area and capture all types of phone, internet or text messaging conversations. In addition to the surveillance, spy agencies will be permitted by this bill to hack computers and other devices, again without any judicial control.
Human Rights organisations such as Privacy International, Amnesty International, the International Federation of Human Rights, the League of Human Rights, and Reporters Without Borders have expressed serious concerns about this Bill on Intelligence. Only a few months after the huge Unity March, people gathered in protest in the streets of Paris, displaying their fears of losing their rights to freedom and privacy. France now faces the greatest threat to its freedom and democracy but it's not from terrorists.
America established the Patriot Act after the 911 bombings, resulting in the CIA torture camps and a new rationale in its government which permits anything as long as it's in the name of security. Canada has also decided to follow as a dance partner in this conga line pulsating to a beat of security in the face of world terrorism. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had introduced Bill C-51, or the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015, a “proposed legislation to amend over a dozen Canadian laws, including the Criminal Code, to permit Canadian government agencies to share information about individuals with ease, and broadens the mandate of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).” (Wikipedia – Bill C-51 41st Canadian Parliament, 2nd Session)
In Canada there was nothing equivalent to the horror of the World Trade Center bombing, nor was there anything like the events surrounding Charlie Hebdo. There is a statement by Defense Minister Jason Kenney, “I think it's obvious that the attacks in October were at least inspired by the insane vision of ISIS... a genocidal terrorist organization that has explicitly, and on several occasions, said that it's targeting Canada.” The first attack Kenney referred to was on October 20th 2014. Martin Couture-Rouleau deliberately rammed a car at two Canadian soldiers at a shopping mall in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. On October 22nd 2014 a shooting at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario by Michael Lehaf-Bibeau left a Canadian soldier dead as well as the suspect. In addition, the RCMP had claimed that between 2013 and 2014 there were 12 “threat-to-VIP” incidents, yet the RCMP had not provided any details as to what kind of threats or who were these 'very important people.'
After all the debates and even demonstrations against Bill C-51, it is the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association's (BCCLA) condensed analysis that puts the whole thing into perspective. The BCCLA provided 8 clear and simple points which break down the over 60 pages of the Anti-Terrorism Act. They are as follows:
1. Bill C-51 drastically expands the definition of 'security'.
2. It gives the government too much discretion to pick and choose which individuals and groups to target for further scrutiny.
3. It criminalises speech acts that have no connection to acts of violence.
4. It will severely chill freedom of speech.
5. Canada's no-fly list would become a secret list compiled with secret evidence, only reviewable through court proceedings that may also be secret.
6. It will allow government institutions like Health Canada and the Canadian Revenue Agency to share information about you with the RCMP.
7. Canada already has a troubling regime of preventative arrest and detention; Bill C-51 proposes to make it even worse.
8. It would give CSIS the power to act like a police force, while still allowing it to operate secretly as an intelligence gathering service.
(posted on March 11, 2015. By Alyssa Stryker, BCCLA Caseworker, and Carmen Cheung, BCCLA Senior Counsel)
Protests against Bill C-51 had been wide ranging with 100 law professors who had written against it. Thomas Mulcair, leader of the federal NDP Party said, “Canadians should not have to choose between security and their rights.” Elizabeth May of the Green Party of Canada stated that she had “a number of concerns with the proposed legislation” and wants it “scrapped entirely.” In addition, four former Prime Ministers; Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, Joe Clark and John Turner, had published a joint statement that in part said “serious human rights abuses can occur in the name of maintaining national security.” Others who signed the statement were five former Supreme Court Justices, seven former Liberal Solicitor Generals and Ministers of Justice.
Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, said on February 14th , 2015, “It was only a few months ago that I stood in this very room to address Canadians in the wake of the shootings here on Parliament Hill. The horrific events in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa will not soon be forgotten, nor should they be. They were cowardly acts, unarmed men were murdered in cold blood at close range. These attacks on both our military and our most cherished democratic symbols were designed to frighten us. They were meant to embed within our minds an image of terror. They were meant to make us think differently about our surroundings and fellow citizens.”
Whether it was the horror of the World Trade Center bombings in New York, the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, or a lone, home-grown, mentally disturbed individual in Canada, freedom had taken one step closer each time to George Orwell's vision. Fear had become the rule of law, with supposed security as the main criteria over democracy. Rhetoric like that of Justin Trudeau is meant to perpetuate fear when only inspiration can be pointed to, rather than any concrete evidence.
German magazine Der Spiegel published an article by journalist Christoph Reuter on the apparent secret blueprint hidden within the actions of the Islamic State. The Haji Bakr documents were given to Der Spiegel by an individual wishing to stay anonymous, fearing the Islamic State's death squads. Amongst all this fear and reaction from western nations to the terrorist threat, a nagging question begs to be acknowledged. Is it possible that a master plan exists which uses Islamic fanatics to keep the western powers occupied while a more sinister and dangerous scenario unfolds?
Both Der Spiegel's article and another on Vox raise serious questions on just how much do our analysts and government leaders really understand or know about what could be the real threat to our freedom and security. Are our governments more interested in Patriot Acts, Bills on Intelligence and Anti-Terrorism Acts for their own reasons and blindly ignoring 'the bigger picture?' Our world began to change after September 11th, and Charlie added to the hysteria. We should not allow the memory of all these innocent victims of terror to become soiled for political machinations.
Turning back to the statement by Cherif Bouargue of Le Havre, Normandy, “The way is that the government is making a sort of 'French Patriot Act' but we don't know really what's inside the law. Everything is sinking on a big wave of informations and desinformations. From a long time people are not interested by this, we are feed with stupidities on TV and now it's more important to know the name of the last bimbo on a reality show than knowing how they are going to take your data. I'm sad of that! Has said Benjamin Franklin; “Those who abandon an essential freedom for a small and temporary safety do not deserve either the freedom or the safety.” So that's what will happen us. The way they want to fight this problem is not the good for me.”