The Charlie Hebdo Attack And What It Reveals About Society
by Zygmunt Bauman
There were two aspects of the Charlie Hebdo murders that set them apart from the two previous cases:
First: on 7th January 2015 political assassins fixed a highly media-visible specimen of mass media . Knowingly or not, by design or by default, the murderers endorsed – whether explicitly or obliquely – the widespread and fast gathering public sense of effective power moving away from political rulers and towards the centres viewed as responsible for public mind-setting and opinion-making. It was the people engaged in such activities that the assault was meant to point out as culprits to be punished for causing the assassins’ bitterness, rancour and urge of vengeance.
And second: alongside shifting the target to another institutional realm, that of public opinion , the armed assault against Charlie Hebdo was also an act of personalized vendetta (going back to the pattern set by Ayatollah Khomeini in his 1989 Fatva imposed on Salman Rushdie). If the 11 September atrocity chimed in with the then tendency to “depersonalise” political violence (following the pour ainsi dire “democratisation” of violence by mass-media publicity that divided its attention according to the quantity of its – mostly anonymous and incidental – victims, and the volume of spilt blood), the 7th January barbarity crowns the lengthy process of deregulation – indeed the “de-institutionalisation”, individualization and privatisation of the human condition , as well as the perception of public affairs shifting away from the management of established aggregated bodies to the sphere of individual “life politics” . And away from social to individual responsibility.
In our media-dominated information society people employed in constructing and distributing information moved or have been moved to the centre of the scene on which the drama of human coexistence is staged and seen to be played.