Milo Rau: Je suis Charlie, therefore I am

19. Januar 2015, 09:40 Uhr

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The assassination targeted at “Charlie Hebdo” clashes into a Europe that seals itself off against the outside and consolidates towards the inside. It is therefore loaded with highly political symbolism. Milo Rau, who focused on the topic in plays like “Breivik’s Statement” (2012), “The Berlin Dialogues” (2013/14) or the critically acclaimed “The Civil Wars” (2014), speaks about the Paris terror attacks and its political backgrounds. Recorded via phone by Christoph Fellmann, translated in English by David Hera, first published in “Tagesanzeiger” on 16 January 2014 (German)

After the attacks in Paris I watched the confession video by the hostage-taker Amedy Coulibaly. The astonishing and at the same time terrifying thing about it is the almost prudent calm of the assassin. He, too, was a typical member of this club of young men, which radicalised Muslim youths band together to in Western Europe. Just as in other adolescents’ subcultures these clubs serve to reconsile one’s own failing biography with an exaggerated self image. These young men crave for a violent, macho heroism which has its roots in their daily lives: in the misery of the banlieus, in the bad prospects for a good job, in the humilitaion to have never become a successful footbal player or rapper, but a pizza delivery guy. The ideology of Islam as such is replacable. It serves those desperados as an alibi to act out their violent affects and to develop a state of supermacy and triumph.

This does not explain the ease which Ademy Coulibaly radiates: This self-assured bearing, for which there was no counterpart in his life. It expresses what Susan Sonntag meant, when she talked about the assassinators of 9/11, saying that they were admittedly murderers, but not cowards. Of course, also Coulibaly emaluated an exeggarated self image, a puberal affect. But he was capable of an indeed murderous, yet also political act. He is a mass murderer, but he was not a coward. He cut himself off from his life for his cause.

Hunger for Heroism

Of course you could argue: A loser fired shots indiscriminately. But there is a political reality behind this deed. There is something in the West that I would call cynical humanism: We bomb the Muslim world with drones and are shocked by seventeen corpses in Paris. The colonialism that Coulibaly talks about in the video is a reality. As well as the dead, killed by drones. And the assassins saw them on the internet: Facts that fuel their hunger for heroism and eventually their radicalisation. It takes a double approach in order to explain the attacks. They  are rooted in the biography of the culprits, but also in the contradictions of the West. For example in the different valuation of a human life in Syria versus one in Europe.

My friend Dyab Abou Jahjah, former head of the Arab European League, has not only tweeted “Je suis Ahmed”, which caused some controversy a couple of days ago. He also said, that in his opinion the most current voltairian figure is that Muslim who gave his life away so that Europeans could ridicule his prophet. Abou Jahjah is right. It is peculiar, how much europeans value the fact that also newspapers and magazines in Muslim countries are now “Charlie”. The own kind, derived from the post-modernism of the 60s,  of using images of, for example Mohammed, is supposed to work outside the West constitutively, just like the art-imbedded discourse on satire of a small anarchic magazine. Everything else, though, including the value of a human life, is measured by two totally different standards. And in Saudi-Arabia, our most important partner in the fight against Islamism, suddenly freedom of speech becomes irrelevant to us.

What Does Europe Stand for?

With “Charlie Hebdo” the attack is hitting an institution that stands in the most positive, therefore most anarchistic way for an open, liberal, truely multi cultural society. Ironically this happens in a time this project ends. Europe is making itself comfortable in a post-multi cultural society, defining itself by an identitarian idea of values, behind which everybody shall gather, no matter what nationality or religion. The question is: What does Europe stand for, after neo-liberalism and globalisation have levered out the old bourgoise values of the wellfare state like liberty and equality. If the answer is a collection of perverted Mohammed caricatures, it would be too funny to be true.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the former leader of the Front National said, that the attack was vicious, yet that he himself was neither Charlie, nor willing to join in into some kind of post-politics due to public mourning, in which freedom of opinion means nothing more than the actual lack of opinion. In fact, we have to ask ourselves, what does “Charlie” stand for? What would he fight for? What would he look like? What would his actions be? It is significant, that it’s just a name on a black billboard. There are no political fighters in Europe anymore, behind whom young frustrated men could rally. There is only that which Mark Lilla in his essay “Our Libertairian Age” rightfully called a “dogma”: The unquestioned and thus empty minimal agreement, that everything is allowed. We know, everybody must have the right to say anything they want. But why, this we don’t know anymore. What we have agreed on in post-multi cultural Europe is the neo-liberal concept of total freedom. And we have agreed on pity as our highest value. Pity for the ever new victims, chosen by the media, bewailed in a competition of emotions.

But this freedom and pity apply, as mentioned above, only for those who are situated inside Europe or the USA. The attack on “Charlie Hebdo”, as well the reactions to it, are expressions of this reality. After the attacks on the World Trade Center new imperial gestures were introduced under the name of the War on Terror. In Russia they stopped the phase of decay after the end of the Cold War via the Chechen Wars and the lawsuit against Pussy Riot. In Europe, these gestures are more defensive. The continent closes its borders against the East and the South, yet compels all its citizens to be Charlie, a commitment for our common values, no matter how meaningless they might be. Behind these values everybody must rally, even the gastarbeiters who managed to come to Europe with their children, just in time.

Therefore, what I see in those marches for freedom of speech and opinion, is the self-assurance of a Europe that seals itself off against the outside and consolidates inward. Of course these marches are an appropriate form of response. Still, we have to ask ourselves what it means, when all of Europe suddenly falls into a collective, ongoing rapture of concord. I don’t want to sound paranoid, but let me remind you that the genocide in Rwanda started with the ecstasy of democratization and a “rapture of freedom of speech”, as Dorcy Rugamba experienced, the Rwandan actor in my play “Hate Radio”. Mainstream opinions can become dangerous, and therefore Le Pen is right, as well, when he insists on keeping politics in mind. Eventhough, in Voltaire’s words, I detest his political stance.

Growing Slavery

There are two forces that stand in the way of a Europe united in libertarian dogma: On the one hand the rightists like Pegida and the Front National, both resurrecting the zombie of national identity for one last time. And on the other hand there is radical Islam. These are the two traditions that aren’t broken, yet. And maybe Mark Lilla is right, when he calls the conventional nation state the “most humane” form to organize society – too big to be ruled by selfish local interests, yet too small to be an empire where democratic participation is not possible. But the Europe, consolidating under the sign of of total capitalistic liberty, is on its way to become an empire, and its peaceful marching behind an anonymizing slogan ”Je suis Charlie” is a symbol for that. Whoever penetrates this empire and questions the libertarian dogma will be combatted – with newly armed police and military, with the abandonment of private air traffic data and if necessary even with freedom of speech.

For the discourse about liberty and the opposing reality of the growing slavery belong together. The only thing that assassinations trigger is the acceleration of the building of a European empire, which in light of the climate wars to come, seems to be the only chance our continent has. However, the contradictions which emerge between the inner proclaimed values and the outward targeted realpolitik will aggravate. There will be more assassinations, due to exact these contradictions. And again we will read that it was just a bunch of losers.

Recorded via phone by Christoph Fellmann. Translated by David Hera, first published in“Tagesanzeiger” on 16 January 2014 (German)


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