The Shameful Hypocrisy of “World Leaders” Parading Around as Champions of Free Expression

January 20, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


On January 11, more than three million people took to the streets of France in sorrow and outrage to protest the massacre of journalists at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo by people identifying themselves as Islamic fundamentalists. This was a massive manifestation of a broadly felt and very justified sentiment: Nobody should be killed for journalistic or artistic expressions, even outrageous ones.

But when the leaders and representatives of France, the U.S., and their allies placed themselves at the head of the march of hundreds thousands in Paris, they had a very different agenda. Behind their rhetoric about “dissent” and “democracy,” was, and is, an outlook and agenda in service of capitalism-imperialism, a global system of exploitation and oppression. (See “Outrage in Paris, a World of Oppression, a Crying Need for Another Way.”)

That is why—ironic as it might seem—their immediate reaction to the attacks in France was to ban dissenting literature, lock people up for thought crimes, unleash the most ugly racism against immigrants, and institute police-state terror in the immigrant communities in France.

These “world leaders” represent governments responsible for censoring, blacklisting, driving into exile, jailing, and killing all kinds of dissident journalists and suppressing artistic and political expressions in their own countries and beyond. The imperialist rulers in the U.S. and other allied countries are seizing the moment to try to channel people’s legitimate outrage into support for the idea that their system—capitalism-imperialism and its “democracy”—is supposedly the best of all possible systems, in particular because it allows for dissent and free expression of ideas, even very unpopular ideas, in contrast to Islamic fundamentalism and other “totalitarian” forces and regimes.

British Prime Minister Cameron, for example, declared in his statement on the events in Paris, “We stand squarely for free speech and democracy. These people will never be able to take us off those values.” But it’s blatant hypocrisy for those like Cameron to parade around as champions of free expression. Cameron himself is the head of the government that forced the Guardian newspaper to destroy computer hard drives that stored the files from Edward Snowden, who had exposed the massive spying conducted worldwide by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), with close cooperation from Britain’s security agency.1

In France, in the name of “security,” the government has launched a sweeping crackdown on unpopular viewpoints—including the arrest of a well-known comedian for a Facebook post along with dozens of others for statements deemed “hate speech” or supporting terrorism.2

Another official at the head of the Paris march was Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, the main enforcer for U.S. imperialist interests in the Middle East. The Israeli state has systematically murdered journalists who expose or simply report on Israel’s genocidal attacks on Palestinians. In summer 2014, for example, Israeli troops killed at least seven journalists and media workers who were covering Israel’s massacre in Gaza that killed over 2,000 people.3

Two other key allies of the U.S. and European imperialists, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, rank near the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index published by the group Reporters Without Borders.4

Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill (in his book and film Dirty Wars) has exposed how U.S. President Barack Obama himself issued direct orders to the U.S.-backed government in Yemen that led to the four-year imprisonment of Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye for having reported on secret U.S. drone strikes that killed scores of civilians.

Silencing of Dissent and Oppositional Expressions Within the U.S.

And there is a long history of vicious repression to silence dissent and suppress oppositional political and cultural expressions within the U.S. Just to cite a very few examples among many, many outrages:

  • During the 1950s, writers and artists became targets of the government’s anti-communist witch hunts—including the great African-American singer and actor Paul Robeson, who was driven from the stage.
  • The government’s targeting of oppositional forces in the 1960s included not only the Black Panther Party and other radicals and revolutionaries, but ranged far and wide, including people in the arts like Leonard Bernstein. World-famous pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock was put on trial two times for charges involving his public opposition to the draft. Jean Seberg, an actor who supported the Black Panthers, was the target of an FBI campaign so vicious that she was driven to suicide.
  • In the 1990s, San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb published a hard-hitting series exposing the links between the CIA-run Contra army in Central America and the crack cocaine epidemic that devastated many inner cities in the U.S. during the 1980s. As the series got wide readership Webb came under heavy attack from the CIA and the mainstream media who worked furiously to try to discredit him.
  • In 2011 people in over 1,000 cities occupied public spaces, forcing open debate on inequalities and injustices under this society. Those in power regarded the Occupy movement and the big questions it raised as dangerous, and carried out totally illegal and illegitimate repression against the protesters, culminating in a coordinated violent police attack on major occupations in various cities.
  • Obama has prosecuted more whistleblowers—people coming forward to shed light on crimes and misdeeds by the government and military—than all previous administration combined. Army Private Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for releasing to WikiLeaks computer files that provided damning evidence of U.S. war crimes. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was forced into exile for exposing the vast, illegal U.S. surveillance operations that spy on billions of people around the world as well as inside the U.S.
  • After a cop murdered unarmed Black youth Michael Brown, the people of Ferguson, Missouri., rose up in anger—and after grand juries exonerated the cops who murdered Brown and Eric Garner in New York City, killed by police chokehold, the upsurge spread coast to coast. The police in Ferguson responded with military-style clampdown, beatings and mass arrests of people peacefully exercising their right to protest—and protesters in many other cities have also had to face intense police brutality and harassment.
  • Critics of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians, particularly those who question—on any level—the legitimacy of a Zionist state built on terrorist ethnic cleansing, are driven out of academia and the mainstream media. After Israel attacked the humanitarian ship Mavi Marmara in international waters in May 2010 and killed five unarmed activists to prevent the ship from breaking the Israeli blockade of Gaza, Helen Thomas, long considered the “dean” of White House correspondents, questioned U.S.’s “iron-clad, sacrosanct relationship” with “a country that deliberately kills people.” The next day a fanatical pro-Israeli rabbi posted a video of Thomas saying Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine.” Immediately, Thomas was forced by vicious attacks in the media, by pro-Israeli organizations, and by the Obama administration into “retirement.”

Books can be filled with example after example of such suppression of speech and activity supposedly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. And the same thing is true in all the other imperialist democracies.

Looking Deeper at the Workings and Foundations of This System

So it is incredibly hypocritical for the U.S. and its allies to proclaim to be upholders and guarantors of freedom of the press and expression. But this is not just a matter of hypocrisy or the result of “rogue” government officials or police/FBI/CIA “running amok”—there is something deeper at work.

The reality is that the system that exists in the U.S. (and in France, Britain, etc.) is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie—the class of exploiters and oppressors who control the economy and the state (the military, police, courts, and laws) and who sit atop a whole global empire. As Bob Avakian analyzed in his work Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? (cited in a more recent work, Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy):

the much-vaunted freedom of expression in the “democratic countries” is not in opposition to but is encompassed by and confined within the actual exercise of dictatorship by the bourgeoisie. This is for two basic reasons—because the ruling class has a monopoly on the means of molding public opinion and because its monopoly of armed forces puts it in a position to suppress, as violently as necessary, any expression of ideas, as well as any action, that poses a serious challenge to the established order. What Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto is more true than ever in today’s conditions: “The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.”

As shown by the police crackdowns against the Occupy movement and the current nationwide protests against murders, and by the other examples cited earlier—the powers-that-be bring down the repressive hammer whenever they face opposition that pose a challenge to their rule and legitimacy. Aside from police attacks on protests, it is very heavy and serious that especially after 9/11, the rulers have been openly trampling on what are supposed to be basic Constitutional rights—such as the ban on “unreasonable searches”—to fortify their repressive machinery. And for those at the bottom of society, especially Black and Latino people, “normal” life—let alone when they speak out or step out in any way against the way things are—means constantly facing the threat of incarceration and being under the gun of the police, La Migra, and racist vigilantes.

The U.S. and its imperialist allies have had relative social stability within their “home countries,” and in connection with this there has been allowance for certain forms of dissent, oppositional viewpoints, and political protest. The imperialists point to this, and the separation of church and state that generally exist in their countries, as proof of how qualitatively “freer” their system is in contrast to societies based on the doctrines and tenets of Islam.

But first of all, this separation of church and state is relative—fascistic Christian fundamentalists are a powerful force at the top levels of the U.S. ruling class, within the structures of the military, and in society generally. And this relative separation of church and state is tied in with the historical development of the U.S. and a handful of other countries into imperialist powers that dominate, exploit and oppress the majority of the world’s countries and people. The allowance for expressions of opposition is also within very definite limits—as we pointed out earlier.

And the relative stability of the imperialist “home countries,” in particular for the U.S. rulers, rests on their position as the top-dog power in the world capitalist-imperialist order—on the most ruthless exploitation and political repression of people worldwide. It rests on the imperialist globalization that has caused massive dislocation and social upheaval, like the expulsion of millions of people from their land in Mexico as the U.S. more thoroughly dominates that country—resulting in many of those millions being forced to make the dangerous border crossing into the U.S. where they are ruthlessly exploited in the factories, fields, and restaurants... It rests on enormous profit-making enterprises like the mining of coltan, a mineral essential to manufacture of cell phones, in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, where miners work under deadly slave-like conditions... It rests on totally unnecessary outrages like the deaths of 10 million children a year from hunger and preventable diseases... It rests on the degrading subjugation of and intensifying violence against half of humanity, including the international “trade” in women and child sex slaves... It rests on U.S. assassinations by drones (and murder of children and others counted as “collateral damage”), invasions, and occupation around the world, as well as backing for murderous regimes that carry out torture and other crimes on behalf of the imperialist godfather...

These and countless other horrors—causing immense suffering for billions of people in the oppressed countries as well as within the imperialist citadels—are what lie at the foundation of the capitalist-imperialist system. This is the reality behind the shameless posturing of the U.S. and its fellow imperialist godfathers as “champions of free expression.”

It would be deadly for people to allow their sorrow and outrage at the attacks in Paris to be steered into support for these imperialist monsters. The world today is marked by highly lopsided relations, dominated by these imperialist countries (with the U.S. as the most powerful among them), while the great majority of the countries and people in the world are caught in a web of extreme poverty as well as dislocation and upheaval.

Bob Avakian (BA) has analyzed that one key expression of this situation is the mutually reinforcing opposition between imperialism and its globalizing effects on one hand, and Islamic fundamentalism on the other. (See, for example, Away With All Gods!, in particular the section titled “Religious Fundamentalism, Imperialism, and the ‘War on Terror’”). And as BA points out:

What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these “outmodeds,” you end up strengthening both.

While this is a very important formulation and is crucial to understanding much of the dynamics driving things in the world in this period, at the same time we do have to be clear about which of these “historically outmodeds” has done the greater damage and poses the greater threat to humanity: It is the historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system, and in particular the U.S. imperialists.

BAsics 1:28

1. “Smashing of Guardian hard drives over Snowden story ‘sinister’, says Amnesty,The Guardian, August 21, 2013 [back]

2. “France Arrests a Comedian for His Facebook Comments, Showing the Sham of the West’s ‘Free Speech’ Celebration,“” Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, January 14, 2014 [back]

3. “Palestinian journalists under Israeli fire,Al Jazeera, July 11, 2014, [back]

4. World Press Freedom Index 2014 [back]


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