The Massacres in Paris - for BlackEye Magazine / by Rich Hobbs

We should talk about the massacre in Paris, but which one? Do we mean the

St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572? That was instigated by the French

king Charles IX and his mother, Catherine de’ Medici, five days after Charles’

sister (and Catherine’s daughter) Margaret had married the Huguenot leader

Henry of Navarre. Grabbing the opportunity provided by so many Protestant

aristocrats attending the wedding in Paris, Charles and Catherine paid mobs of

Catholic thugs to kill every Protestant they could lay their hands on, the better

to ensure the victory of orthodoxy and true religion. The final death toll across

France may have been as high as 30,000. Apart from enriching English

commercial and cultural life for centuries to come with a sudden influx of

Huguenot refugees, these murders also inspired Christopher Marlowe’s play

"The Massacres at Paris".

Or do we mean the September Massacres of 1792? That was when the French

revolutionary government, facing the imminent threat of foreign invasion and

fearing the possibility of fifth columnists assisting the enemy, ordered the

summary execution without trial of the inmates of Paris’s gaols, carried out

systematically mobs of National Guardsmen, militants and local livestock

butchers. Of the roughly 1400 prisoners thus murdered (half the prison

population of Paris at the time), 233 were Catholic priests who had refused to

submit to the Revolutionary Government’s Civil Constitution of the Clergy, a

law of 1790 which subordinated the power of the Roman Catholic Church to

the civil, secular authorities. The rest were common criminals, presumably by

and large uninspired by either politics or religion. The massacre was largely

fomented by the radical journalist John-Paul Marat who later, like

Agamemnon and Jim Morrison, died in his bath. The largely freelance nature

of the massacre is believed to have driven the Jacobin faction, led by the

lawyer Maximilien Robespierre, to have formalised Terror under the control

of the state, in the interest of public order. During the ten months of

Robespierre’s government, about 40,000 people across France were

summarily executed.

Or do we mean the Bloody Week of May 1871, when the French Republican

government suppressed the Paris Commune, with a death toll of between

10,000 and 20,000, all murdered by government troops?

Or do we mean the Paris Massacre of 1961? That was when up to 200 people

protesting peacefully against France’s colonial war in Algeria were killed,

either herded into the River Seine by police to drown, or murdered in the

courtyard of the Paris Police Headquarters after having been arrested and

delivered there in police buses. The massacre was the brainchild of Maurice

Papon, previously a collaborationist civil servant under the Vichy

Government, later a prominent Gaullist politician, and at the time Parisian

Prefect of Police. Successive French Governments denied for decades that the

massacre had ever happened.

Of course there’s a fundamental difference between all those historic deaths

and the killings of 2015 - 17 people killed in January at the offices of Charlie

Hebdo and later in a Jewish delicatessen, 130 people murdered on Friday 13th

November in the Bataclan Concert Hall and elsewhere across Paris’s cafes and

restaurants. The question is, where does it lie?

After all, the similarities, even across the centuries, are overwhelming. Each

murder was wrought, almost exclusively though with the occasional Belgian

thrown in, by French citizens or subjects on other French citizens or subjects,

however they might ultimately define themselves according to their own

lights. Each murder, to a lesser or greater degree, was inspired by the twisted,

terrible tangle of political and religious imperatives which bedazzle too many

human minds. Each murder, indeed, was motivated by the kind of religious

considerations that also inspire people to ecstasies of bliss and selfless love.

Robespierre beheaded priests for political reasons, but also beheaded militant

and radical atheists because of his own devotion to the Supreme Being. The

soldiers of the Third Republic, fighting their way street by street through Paris

in 1871, lined the Communards up against the walls of Montmatre for

immediate execution because they were Socialists and Anarchists, for sure,

but also in part because the Commune had ordered the execution of the

Archbishop of Paris. And a fair few of the Communards who survived went

on, a quarter of a century later, to become virulent anti-Drefusards, furiously

insisting on the guilt of the framed Jewish Officer Alfred Dreyfus. Thus they

mined a seam of deep-seated French anti-Semitism which later fuelled the

fascism of the collaborationist Vichy Regime and its servants. Like Maurice

Papon, who later diverted his energies into similarly murderously assiduous

actions against French Muslims.

And given those motivations, it should come as no surprise that none of the

perpetrators of any of these murders would have imagined they were doing

anything wrong. On the contrary, each one certainly believed, wholeheartedly,

that they were doing good, and that the World was an immediately better place

due to the removal of every one of those enemies of the Church, the King, the

Revolution, France, the Republic, Good Order, Commerce, Virtue, the State,

Islam or, perhaps most important, the murderers’ finer feelings.

Because in each case, each corpse helped allay in some small part a previous

hurt and laid to rest an army of affronts. That’s how massacres happen, not

through the evil actions of individual sadistic psychopaths, but through mass

righteousness correcting the repulsive consequences of the crimes, mental and

actual, of the massacred.

So the murderers of the five cartoonists in the offices of Charlie Hebdo on 7th

January 2015 are practically indistinguishable from all the other Parisian lynch

mobs across hundreds of years. Offence having been taken, the sentence was

death. The only way they and their rival jihadis 10 months later differed from

all the other murderers was that they managed to kill far fewer people and

were not sponsored by the French state. They appealed instead to a higher


Note that. From St Bartholomew’s Day to the Bataclan, every murderer

murdered outraged on behalf of some higher authority or other. None of these

murders were individual crimes passionnel, but always - always - on someone

or something else’s behalf, invariably something allegedly infinitely more

powerful than the victims who had, through word or deed (or drawing), given

the initial offence. Apart from the perennial and eternally pointless

observation that God, History, Destiny, Kings and States should grow a pair

and stop being so thin skinned, it’s also worth observing how a murder is so

much easier and sweeter when it’s committed in behalf of victims, even if the

victims now become the perpetrators and vice versa (which is, of course, what

revolves in a revolution). Whether it’s the soft-hearted servants of aristos or

apostates at a prostitution party, the inherent guilt of the victim lies in their

secret identity as perpetrators by association, even if this has never for a single

moment entered the victims’ heads, even at the moment of death.

Which gets us where? To something innately violent in the nature of Paris? Or

of France? In fact, the innate violence - if you like, the violence inherent in the

system - has much more to do with France being a state than France being

French. Likewise, the Islamic aspect of Islamic State should alarm us less than

the fact they aspire to be a state, because being a state authorises the atrocities.

In other words, you can literally get away with murder if you’ve got a head of

state and a cushion of bureaucracy to soak up the blood.

Again, where does this get us? Sadly, back to the beginning. Back, moreover,

to basics, to the fatal riddle at the heart of all human affairs, between the mass

and the individual; the unresolvable blathering bullshit that sought liberty in

gutters of blood beneath the guillotine or equality in gulags full of the enemies

of the people or truth and justice in mawkish death cults like Islamic State. Or,

for that matter, in European Romanticism, which elevates the suffering of the

sovereign individual self all the way to the gates of Auschwitz, guarded by

Romantic heroes shovelling the massed ranks of their oppressors into the


Parts of which might explain how it could be, when we’re surrounded on

every side by screaming injustice, economic atrocities, never-ending war on

all fronts and the continuing hegemony of a ceaseless cavalcade of charmless

psychopathic cunts, British university students’ unions are creating "safe

places" where students will never be in danger of hearing anything that may

upset them, including Germaine Greer possibly saying something disobliging

about transsexuals.

This is partly thanks to the unforeseen consequence of social media trepanning

humanity to allow our collective id to squirt incontinently forever from our

skulls; partly it’s a laudably democratic extension of the notion of lese

majeste. Either way, offence is now taken at every turn even when it isn’t

given. Twitter and Facebook abound with people waiting to be offended on

someone else’s behalf so they can start posting the death threats from their

"safe places".

This madness is becoming universal. The powerless evoke it as a tactical

slingshot, the powerful evoke it as a strategic weapon of mass destruction.

Even though it should be obvious that the most offensive thing anybody can

ever do to anybody else is kill them, wholly decent people have told me, when

I’ve spoken to them about the Charlie Hebdo killings, that of course Charlie

Hebdo’s cartoons were appallingly racist and sexist, and seem entirely unable

to understand my point when I ask them over and over again when it was that

racism and sexism became capital crimes. Even when I’ve asked what

Frederic Boisseau, Charlie Hebdo’s janitor, had done to deserve being shot

down with assault weapons, it seems in these good people’s minds that words,

though cheap, are so deadly that human lives are rendered cheaper.

This tendency is manifest at its worst on what we still loosely call "The Left",

and I think I know why. This urge to trample of free expression, which along

the way scoops up a deranged kind of tacit approval for a ragtag army of

child-raping slave owning murderers like Islamic State, is motivated by

kindness. Although, as a satirist, I target my offence exclusively at the

powerful, other people take the offence, albeit unoffered to them on their

behalf because being rude about anyone - everyone - is unkind. [stet italics]

So if I draw a bunch of murderous thugs like the Saudi Royal Family or their

familiars in IS, this has the potential for being Islamophobic; cartoons about

Israel are automatically anti-Semitic; a cartoon of Obama, as likely as not, is

racist. And on it goes forever. In this truly bizarre two-way transubstantiation

dynamic, where individuals become universal and universes become personal,

I suspect it won’t be long before a Twitterstorm assails The History Channel

for their truly offensive repeated Nazi-ism.

Thus we kill, or acquit the killers, through kindness, through the kindest of

motivations. Which I think you’ll find alternate with good intentions in the

crazy paving on the way to Hell. Or am I being Hellist? Though to their credit

I think the Satanists are about the only religious group none of whose

adherents has ever threatened me, however loosely, with death. Meanwhile,

which Paris massacre should we talk about? I know, let’s wait, heads in hands,

for the next one.