By Jim Smith
This month, the Free Venice Beachhead celebrates the publication of its 400th issue and the opening of an on-line archive of every page and every issue we ever published.
Meanwhile, in Paris, an anti-Muslim publication, not much larger than the Beachhead, attracted world-wide attention when 10 of its editorial staff, and two police, were slaughtered by two gunmen, in apparent reaction to negative cartoon representations of Muhammad.
While these facts are well-known, what is curious is what happened next. The circulation of the magazine was raised from 30,000 copies to a reported seven million. That sort of publication run is more than any U.S. newspaper can manage, or afford.
The mass outpouring of indignation for the killings attracted leaders from throughout the world, except from the U.S. Among the grievers for free speech and a free press at a mass march on January 11 were “progressive” representatives of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who joined hundreds of other “democratic” leaders from around the world. Contrary to the impression left by the mass media, the world leaders only stood together for a “photo op” but did not participate in the actual march.
Instead of ushering in a new era of understanding, the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings and world response resulted in more than 50 attacks in the following week on Muslims and mosques throughout France. The attacks on Muslims in Europe are part of escalating pattern of racial hatred not seen since the 1930s.
One might wonder who gains by a heightening of tensions between Muslims and the West. Probably only those people with an irrational fear of foreigners, in this case, those with a different religion, and national security agencies that would not exist without a perceived enemy that can pump fear into the average citizen. The rich and powerful feed on our tragedies like 9-11 and Charlie to take away our liberties, and give them free reign to kill and imprison without a trial.
On the other hand, nearly everyone gains when we work towards understanding between cultures and religions. We find one group, Islam, that has a strong sanction against depicting their Prophet as a man, or a cartoon. Wouldn’t we all gain by accepting this prohibition and finding some other satirical reference that could be enjoyed by Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists, alike? For the past 1,300 years, non-Muslims have admired the abstract art of Islam, without insisting on a visual representation of Muhammad. So why is this an issue, now?
And, let’s not forget that the Islamic world preserved the learning and wisdom of the Greek and Roman west during the hundreds of years in which Europe suffered through a Dark Age that took no interest in this legacy. Muslims could have destroyed these rare texts, claiming that they were the works of infidels, but they didn’t.
Meanwhile, back in Venice, a group of Peace and Freedom Party activists published the first edition of the Free Venice Beachhead on December 1, 1968. From the first issue, the Beachhead took a tongue-in-cheek attitude to the prevailing power structure, both in Los Angeles and in Washington, DC.
That gray eminence of the Beachhead, Carol Fondiller, decreed the watchwords, Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable, which became the guiding principle of the paper.
In addition to fighting a life and death (of our community) battle with the City of Los Angeles, the Beachhead had a foreign policy. It included a no-holds-barred opposition to the U.S. invasion of Viet Nam. An outstanding special issue, Number 22, in April 1971, was entirely devoted to ending the war.
In the midst of the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-80, the Venice Town Council voted unanimously to tell the U.S. government to end the hostage crisis by keeping its hands off Iran and removing all sanctions it had imposed. A further resolution to adopt Tehran, Iran, as a Venice sister city ended with an unseemly and undemocratic shutdown of the meeting by the Venice Fire Department.
For many years, the Beachhead was a strong advocate of the American Indian Movement (AIM). Nearly every issue contained news of the trials of Richard Mohawk and Paul Skyhorse, the Wounded Knee battle, and the trial of Leonard Peltier.
The beefs with U.S. Presidents from Nixon to Reagan to Bush and Bush are too many to enumerate. Suffice it to say, the Beachhead has never met a war it didn’t find incredibly stupid. And it didn’t matter which political party initiated the obscene use of military technology. The Beachhead has never been a shill for the Democratic Party.
A recurring theme in the Beachhead’s foreign policy has been the status of women around the world. That’s why the Beachhead, to this day, celebrates International Women’s Day with a special issue in March.
Each collective, including the one from 2002-2012, in which I was proud to serve, has its own unique approach to Venice news and international subjects. But each has been consistent for being on the side of the poor, the oppressed, the vilified, the homeless and the otherwise voiceless.
This is the difference between the Beachhead and Charlie. In satirizing an immigrant group, Muslims, and making fun of their Prophet, Charlie is siding with the rich and powerful. That, of course, is no reason to be violently attacked and killed, but it is also no reason to celebrate what the magazine published. In recent years, our society has condemned schoolyard bullies, and is conducting an educational campaign against adolescent bullies. Isn’t it time we also apply peer pressure to those bullies in the media or government who can’t resist bullying those unable to defend themselves? Isn’t it time to turn away from violence on both sides and seek accommodation?
The Beachhead may never find anyone willing to print seven million issues when we satirize homeless haters or big developers, but that’s ok. We’ve printed 400 issues of 8,000 to 10,000 circulation, and we can honestly say we’re proud of every one of them. All together now: Je Suis Beachhead!
Political cartoon by Khalil Bendib