Nevertheless, we mustn't flip over this position and imply that a bunch of liberal French cartoonists - puerile Muslim-baiters as they no doubt were - somehow brought the tragedy upon themselves. Focusing on the racist imagery of many of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, many leftists have spent more time condemning the victims than the attackers and they have tended to see the massacres purely in terms of ‘blowback’, as though they were merely a reflex response to Western Islamophobia. This is so weird: twelve people are shot dead in a Paris office and the real villains, we are supposed to believe, are a bunch of liberal journalists who may or may not have drawn some racist cartoons.
These kinds of simplistic, 'anti-imperialist' readings of terrorism have always been widespread on the left. Another example: in their book Nihilist Communism, the writers known as Monsieur Dupont rightly condemn the left-wing journal Schnews's response to the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing. According to Schnews, the Islamic terrorists in Bali were attacking 'a hated symbol of western imperialism', while the victims, mostly working-class Aussies, were described as 'drunken, obnoxious, youngish Australians... (who) flaunt their money and feel like royalty for two weeks'. Talk about blaming the victims! And then of course there are the leftist equivocations around 9/11, many of which sailed close to exonerating the atrocity. A few hours after the Twin Towers attacks, left-wing journalist Seumus Milne wrote in The Guardian that the attacks 'visited upon' what he called (without distinction) 'Americans' were a consequence of 'unabashed national egotism and arrogance'. In other words, those imperialist Yankees got what was coming. In all of these cases, there is no sympathy whatsoever for the mostly working-class victims of the atrocities.
In his interesting essay 'History and Helplessness', Moishe Postone argues that those leftists who saw the 9/11 attacks in New York only as an 'understandable response' to US imperialism were in effect positing 9/11 as a 'reaction of the insulted, injured and downtrodden, not as an action'. This perspective, Postone argues, fetishises the US as the world's only geopolitical actor. Not only is this tantamount to excusing terrorism; it is also de-agentifying and racist, as it implies that 'they' are mandated to act only by 'our' oppression. And in common with the right-wing response to terrorism, the leftist blowback theory rests upon a binaristic 'them and us' framing of terrorism, which overlooks evidence of active collusion between 'our' security services and 'their' terrorists. But that's a whole other story.
A principled communist approach to events such as those we have seen in Paris must involve condemning both the actions (not simply reactions) of the Wahhabist terrorists and the hypocrisy of the mainstream media and the world leaders, who are the principal purveyors of chaos and destruction around the planet.