Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Terror, free expression, and the road to workers power

Banning Danish cartoons
is trap for working people
(Reply to a Reader column)
March 20, 2006

Reader Eric Huffman writes that the Militant got wrong the analysis of the controversy over the publication by a Danish right-wing newspaper of cartoons of Muhammad. "The cartoons," he says, "are a furthering of racist and war-mongering attacks on Arabs and Muslims as the imperialists step up their attacks on the Middle East."

But calls to censor the cartoons, pressed mainly by capitalist governments and state-sponsored clerics in majority-Muslim countries, fall into that very trap. They allow the imperialist powers to pretend to take the moral high ground and to appear in the eyes of millions of working people throughout the world as defenders of free speech and democratic rights, and as opponents of attempts to impose religious tenets on them.

Huffman further states, "The genuine outpouring of rage by Muslims is not a call for censorship but a reply to this demeaning assault." The Militant article and the accompanying editorial kept their fire on Washington and other imperialist powers, not on the thousands of Muslims who undoubtedly joined protests because they felt their beliefs had been insulted.

But Huffman ignores the fact that no large protests occurred until several capitalist regimes in the Middle East and international bodies they dominate threw their weight behind them. Washington took full advantage of the tacit backing of the protests by the governments of Iran and Syria—particularly the burning of the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria while police stood by—to advance its campaign of presenting these governments as "rogue regimes" and win broader support across Europe for its "war against terrorism."

The call by the largest Iranian daily for an international competition for cartoons on the Holocaust, and the posting of a cartoon by the Arab-European League of Nazi death-camp victim Anne Frank in bed with Adolph Hitler, further underscored the bankruptcy of the bourgeois leaderships of so-called Islamist movements.

Contrary to Huffman's analogy this course has nothing in common with the mass, proletarian-led social movement against racist segregation in the United States from the 1950s to the early 1970s. As Huffman himself points out that movement focused its fire on the segregationist policies of state governments in the South and the federal government's complicity with them. In doing so it maximized the numbers of people, Black and white, who could be mobilized to take action against racist discrimination. Segregation was ended and racist prejudice was pushed back through countermobilization against racist and fascist-like attacks, not through censorship.

Calls for censorship go in the opposite direction. They close down room for the broadest possible discussion, debate, and education. They undermine the capacity of working people and their allies to politically isolate and defeat those espousing racist, or for that matter religious, hatred. They lead toward advocating laws that make denying the Holocaust a crime as a way to oppose anti-Semitism, and others that proscribe "hate crimes" as the tool to fight anti-woman violence.

All such measures to suppress speech or organizations, "no matter whom they are directed against in the beginning, in the end inevitably bear down upon the working class," Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky explained in the 1939 article excerpted on the facing page. "The workers must learn how to distinguish between their friends and their enemies according to their own judgment and not according to the hints of the police."

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