French government carries out mass arrests

Coinciding with Wednesday’s publication of the first issue of Charlie Hebdo since last week’s terrorist attack, the French interior minister announced legal proceedings against 54 individuals accused of “glorifying terrorism.”

The arrest of the controversial French comedian Dieudonné, coming just days after a mass march in Paris supposedly called in defense of freedom of expression, was widely covered by the media.

Dieudonné had posted “I feel like Charlie Coulibaly” on Facebook, joining the “I am Charlie Hebdo” slogan popularized in the wake of last week’s terrorist attack on the newspaper with the name of the gunman who was killed along with four hostages and a policeman in a Jewish supermarket last Friday. The French government had previously banned Dieudonné’s comedy shows, charging that they were anti-Semitic.

Among those arrested were many young people who have spoken out via social media against the “I am Charlie” campaign. One young man was arrested Tuesday evening on charges of “glorifying terrorism” and forced to begin his prison term immediately. The 22-year-old had posted a video on Facebook in which he allegedly referred disparagingly to a policeman who had lost his life during the terrorist attack.

On Saturday, a 34-year-old man was sentenced in a summary procedure to a four-year term in prison. He had caused an auto accident while drunk and afterwards attacked a policeman with the words, “There should be more Kouachis (the terrorist brothers). I hope you are the next victim.”

Many of the statements made by young people leading to their arrest give expression to popular opposition and hostility to the police and the courts. The mass mobilization of heavily armed police and military units since the attack on Charlie Hebdo is widely perceived by youth and workers as a provocation.

On Monday, the French defense minister ordered 10,000 soldiers onto the streets, ostensibly to maintain law and order and to protect public buildings. The government also made an additional 4,700 policemen and gendarmes available in Paris for the purpose of protecting “especially important institutions.”

These mass arrests underline the cynical character of the “I am Charlie” campaign. The publication of racist anti-Muslim caricatures is being glorified in the name of freedom of opinion and the press, while those who oppose it and speak out against the police-military mobilization are declared enemies of the state and thrown in prison.

On Wednesday, a week after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the Yemeni branch of the Al Qaeda terror network claimed responsibility. “Heroes were recruited and they took action,” proclaimed Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Nasr al Ansi in a video that appeared on the Internet. The assassination of the editorial staff was revenge for the publication’s insulting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, he said.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung commented that AQAP may have claimed responsibility for the attack without actually having played an active role in an attempt to bolster its standing in relation to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Saïd Kouachi and his brother Chérif reportedly received weapons training in Yemen. They are thought to have traveled through Oman to Yemen in the middle of 2011 and stayed at an Al Qaeda camp near Marib, 100 miles east of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.

Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi felt compelled to issue a statement insisting that his country was not an exporter of terrorism. He pointed to a suicide attack on the police academy in the capital of Sanaa that occurred only a few hours before the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Thirty-seven people were killed in the Sanaa attack.

There are many indications that the terror attack on the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo is being exploited to prepare a stepped-up military intervention by France in the Middle East, something that has been widely opposed by the French public.

Yesterday evening, French President François Hollande addressed soldiers and officers aboard the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, declaring, “We can carry out the intervention in Iraq with even more intensity and greater effectiveness if necessary.” The carrier works in close collaboration with ground troops, he emphasized.

France was the first country to join the US in the attack on ISIS. The French operation in Iraq, which goes by the name “Chammal,” consists of 800 soldiers, several fighter jets and a tanker aircraft.

Yesterday’s publication of an eight-page special edition of Charlie Hebdo took place against the backdrop of large-scale support from the state and a gigantic media campaign. In the space of a few hours, the print run of 3 million was sold out and increased by a further two million. Normally, the circulation for the magazine is around 30,000 copies, but for this edition it is being produced in 16 languages, with 300,000 copies for export.

The daily paper Libération made an entire floor available to the Charlie Hebdo editorial staff. Radio France and France Télévision offered logistical support. The French government pledged 1.2 million euros in financial support.

In addition, Google has donated 250,000 euros and the Guardian Media Group has donated 130,000. Le Monde and Vivendi SA Canal Plus, the largest French media corporation and private commercial station, among others, have donated additional sums of an unknown quantity.

The newspaper L’Obs reported yesterday that Charlie Hebdo had maintained close contact with the French government for some time. At the end of September, it reported, four leading members of the editorial staff visited President Hollande at the Elysée Palace to discuss the financial difficulties of the magazine and ask for support. Among the visitors to the Elysée were the cartoonists Stéphane Charbonnier and Jean Cabut, as well as Bernard Maris and Patrich Pelloux, who were responsible for finances. They were all pleased that the president took an interest in their concerns, L’Obs reported.

The decision to publish the special edition with a caricature of Mohammed on the front page was an intentional provocation backed by the highest levels of the state. On the inside pages, the newspaper features additional vulgar and obscene caricatures, including half-naked Muslim women wearing veils.

Leading representatives of Islamic associations warned that there would be consequences. According to the Lebanese Daily Star, the spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry, Marzieh Afkham, said the Charlie Hebdo cover “could provoke and hurt the feelings of Muslims worldwide and lead to a vicious circle.”