In other news…Brian Williams ended up being Scott Templeton..sorry couldn’t resist.
If I were Hedbo, I would depict Mohammed in completely non-traditional Arabic clothing and physical appearance. But make it absolutely clear that this non-stereotypical depiction was, in fact, intended to be the prophet. Maybe make Mohammed a culture-less stick figure.
Highlight the absurdity of hating a media source for drawing someone, for which there is no historical record of what that person actually looks like.
Any thoughts on the equivocation now being used to bash the whole Islamic religion and its adherents? This seems to be gaining traction in the media. Example, Bill Maher saying “When there’s this many bad apples, there’s something wrong with the orchard.” Is islamophobia even a term worth discussing?
I think there is something wrong at the root of any fundamentalist strain of any religion, specifically the core value that calculates other non-adherents to have less worth as human beings. This of course leads to violence. I don’t trust any fundamentalist theology that regards adherents as having greater value than non-adherents, or believes the theology has secured a singular and exclusive path to the divine.
Christian, Muslim, Jewish — any fundamentalist sect within those faiths is, to me, a dubious proposition and pre-disposed to intolerance. That said, in our time, it is fundamentalist Islam that is having the hardest time working and playing well with others; witness Paris and Nigeria and Bali and Madrid and London and Chechnya and Boston and the World Trade Centers and myriad other places where human life has been played cheap by believers. There can be no denying this at this point.
Thanks for the reply.
Is it really a question of “fundamentalist Islam” which is causing these problems? Or Islam in general? Or the politics of these regions?
sorry, for brevity, typing on a broken keyboard, hope you can see what i’m getting at
My critique is limited to fundamentalism. If you study the history of Islam, there are more pluralistic, interpretive and open-minded strains of the faith that very much approximate the teachings of Isiah and the later prophets in Judaism or the tolerance, questioning and inclusiveness of the Jesuits in Catholicism. The maturation of the great faiths over the centuries is apparent, and the falsafas of the late Caliphate were more advanced in their theologic thinking than all of the Christian world of that era.
But you start believing that every word of your creed comes from god, and that only your kind has the key to the kingdom? Bad shit follows. Fundamentalism is the demon for me, in any faith. Not the whole of the faith itself.
“religion is the root, and from the root fundamentalism grows as a poisonous stem. If we remove fundamentalism and keep religion, then one day or another fundamentalism will grow again. I need to say that because some liberals always defend Islam and blame fundamentalists for creating problems. But Islam itself oppresses women. Islam itself doesn’t permit democracy and it violates human rights.” Taslima Nasrin
The concept of “religious fundamentalism” did not start until after Darwin. Prior to that the vast vast majority of religious people believed the bible, koran, or whatever was the unquestioned word of God, because that is what the texts say they are. The so called fundamentalists are the only ones who are honest and true to their religion. The texts themselves itself are very explicit that there are the word of god. By their own definition they are not a metaphor, not a riddle, nothing but the unquestioned word of the creator. “Moderates” want to pick and choose what parts of the bible, koran, etc they wish to follow, and they are generally very ignorant of the rest. You either believe God talked to Moses (a man who according to the bible ordered his soldiers to wipe out entire populations except for the virgin girls because, you know, god needed them to be raped, Numbers 30-31) or you do not. Islam says the penalty for insulting the prophet( a man who had sex with a nine year old girl) is death. The Paris attackers were just following the most basic of tenements of their religion. The problem is religion
I think you’ve achieved a circular argument here. Because you have defined the ancient origins of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic faiths as the definitive, set-in-stone construct for those theologies, you handily blame the entire theological construct for the failure of certain elements to advance beyond a literal reading of the original text. But that is your construct and to achieve it, you’ve simply ignored the transformative growth of all three faiths that parallels human progress over the last couple millenia.
Christianity is no longer awash in the blood of the Crusades, and most Jews are not tossing Hellenic sympathizers out of windows in a Maccabean revolt. Most Muslims are not insistent on punishing heresies in blood. That there are still fundamentalists committed to these faiths at their Bedouin origins is problematic. There are born-again morons who are trying to raise a red heifer in Texas so that a Hebrew Temple can be built where the Dome of the Rock now sits and we can usher in a Christian end of days. Staring hard at that, you could make the argument that religion — because it originates in antiquity — is the very problem. But to do that, you need to look past Isiah and Martin Buber and Vatican II and C.S. Lewis and the Islamic thinkers of the late Caliphate who matured their faiths, transforming them for modernity. You have to willfully ignore a lot of beautiful, intelligent and humanistic thought about notions of the divine, of mankind and life to exclusively follow the thoughtless, unimproved stuff back to its origins. You have to pretend none of the best and most humanistic theological insights of the last two thousand years happened. And yet, they did.
I often wonder though, if those and all the other human achievements made over the centuries, couldn’t have happened anyway had we not made up those religions in the first place. I mean one could make the argument that mono-theism has held back science in many areas for decades or even centuries. I’m not suggesting that makes religion valueless. If nothing else it clearly provides comfort to a great many decent people, most of which aren’t interested forcing those around them to adhere to their beliefs. At any rate, I tend to think we’d have been better of without it. But I also know it’s not going anywhere.
It’s seemed to me for a long time now that Islam is going through it’s own sort of civil war or Reformation. Not just the Sunni/Shia schism but a fascistic vs. everyone else war too.The fascistic side appears to be winning. But is that only because the more modernist Muslims aren’t really fighting back? Or not as much as they could. Islamists are and have been killing far more muslims than any other group. And yet I see so little support for moderate muslims from liberals and leftists. Is this fear or do liberals really believe, as Seamus seems to, that the literalists should be accepted as the “true, authentic” Islamic voices and leaders?
Hard to imagine that the human mind would systemically eschew contemplation of our place in the universe, the meaning and purpose of life, eternity and death, or the possibility of an immortal soul or afterlife. Rather notable that all cultures — and not merely the Judeo-Christian-Islamic ones — wrangled with such things at the earliest possible opportunity. The only real question is whether our intellectual investigations and ruminations on such Big Questions allowed for greater pluralism and left room for doubt, or whether we held fast to certitude and intolerance. In the first case, theology can be a valued and humanizing cousin to philosophy. In the second, it’s a breeding ground for cruelty and violence.
But you could say the same for nationalism. Or capitalism. Or any human construct.
I’m not sure if the current jihadist pandemic is growing or not, whether it has really taken hold of a larger share of the Islamic mindset, or whether its depravities receive more attention because the world is smaller and technology allows mass murder and terrorism a greater reach. I’m also not sure if what we are witnessing isn’t the last, savage spasm of this kind of thinking — not because the Islamic mind is marching backward in time, but because the Islamic world is in fact confronted by so much Western influence and pluralistic power in this information age. Are Muslims rejecting the future? Or are the most conservative elements in Islam venting in panic at the inevitabilty of a pluralistic, Western-style future that is unavoidable?
I think all the major religions are panicking for the reasons you state above. I’m not one who believes (as some on the far-left do) that jihadism is the “cry of the disposessed.” Rather I think religions are simply attempting “hail Mary” plays as they see the game is almost over for them. But I think with Islamists, it’s also about power and opportunism. Egypt seems to show me that most muslims want modernity and democracy. They neither want a “secular” dictatorship, nor do they want clerical fascism. Sadly, western governments seem to still prefer dictatorships as “stability” is much better for “business” than messy democracy.
I think the media is partly to blame for the misconception that most muslims share the views of it’s most reactionary “spokespeople.” Even in Pakistan, the protests against Hebdo are only attracting people by the thousands. As opposed to 100’s of 1000’s or millions. Not such a big deal it seems, even in the “Land of God,” then.
I think that “moderate” muslims are still frightened to speak out against their far-right co-religionists and rightfully so. No one’s killed more muslims than clerical fascism has in the east. And in the the west no one seems to have their back either. Secularist Muslim activists in England and Europe are having to meet in secret out of fear of being outed as apostates.
As I said above, I believe there is a type of reformation happening within Islam but at the moment reasonable Muslims seem to be on the losing side even though they have the numbers. The question is, I think, how do we help without looking opportunistic and brutal ourselves?
Here’s an interesting piece on this problem…
The argument that religion should be eradicated is a pointless one. Religion will never be eradicated. It’s a fundamental human desire, present from the very earliest days of civilization. You may as well say let’s get rid of sex or music or drugs or art.
Besides, what evidence do you have that the prohibition of religion produces a more tolerant society, or one with better human rights? One word: China.
Also, the idea that fundamentalists are practicing the “true”
form of their religion is, as Mr. Simon pointed out, only true in the mind of fundamentalists.
religion will be eradicated. How frightfully short-sighted to suggest otherwise. Most people no longer believe in witches, for example. Its a question of when, not if
Short-sighted? There was religion at Catal Huyuk.
There is literally no point in the history of human civilization during which religion didn’t exist. Look for one. I’ll wait.
one day, when our brains evolve a wee bit more, we’ll look back on our current religious predilections with amazement. Some of us are already there…just saying
What makes you think we’re evolving? Your premise is unevidenced.
I am fine with atheists. I just think it’s an unrealistic goal to want everyone else on the planet to become atheists. You’re certainly not going to see it in your lifetime, in any case. It’s much more realistic to hope that people can practice their religions in peaceful and unobtrusive ways.
Imagine time travelling back to 1939 and showing Alan Turing an Iphone. He’d think he was being visited from a far off alien civilisation. Progress, evolution. whatever
I actually don’t think Turing would be all that flummoxed by an iPhone. He conceived of computers before they existed, showing him one wouldn’t blow his mind.
The leap from the concept of a computer to the physical reality of an iPhone is also nowhere near the idea of evolving from a species that has always had religion as far back as our historical or archeological record will allow, to one that has zero religion anywhere amongst its billions of individuals. That is more analogous to us mutating to develop a third arm. It’s certainly possible but it is a much more enormous leap than you are making it out to be.
“Imagine” is a great song, but it’s also a little simplistic.
Way to ignore the real issue of Islamic terrorism and the way the VAST MAJORITY of Muslims support the actions of the terrorists in Paris.
Instead you bring up strawmen and go for the whole moral equivalence BS. Pathetic.
Do you have a statistical cite for your claim that the vast majority of Muslims support the slayings in Paris. Please forward.
Otherwise, I think you are entirely full of shit.
neither of ya know either way. However, muslim leaders say the cartoon are offensive…not much resistance against them. in fact none
I never doubted your lucidity but am still dismayed by the ambiguity of many news outlets with regard to this. It’s going to be difficult to reconcile the general spirit of “anything goes Charlie Hebdo” with the current crackdown (nothing new I can assure you).
I agree that the lack of an absolutist construct leads to problems down the line (as evidenced in your reply and some recent posts) such as some groups (ethnic or religious) feeling like they’re getting a rawer deal than others. The disingenuous claim of “equality” is what is going to get to people in the long run.
an interesting occurrence on the fringes of this free speech debate:
Well known French ‘comedian’ (and anti-Semite) Dieudonne is arrested for allegedly sympathising with one of the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo murders ina Facebook post. He could face charges of ‘apology for terrorism’.
“After this historic, no legendary, march, a magic moment equal to the Big Bang which created the Universe, or in a smaller (more local) way comparable to the crowning of the (ancient Gaullish king) Vercingétorix, I am going home. Let me say that this evening, as far as I am concerned, I feel I am Charlie Coulibaly.”
He later claimed claimed that he had been misunderstood. He said that he, like Charlie Hebdo, was a victim of attempts to deny freedom of speech. In his case, he said, his assailant was the government.
It will be interesting to gauge the response of those gathering under the banner of ‘Je suis Charlie’.
I’m a little confused by some differing reports on this. Has he actually been charged with a crime, or is he being detained for questioning?
If simply detained, I don’t think that’s necessarily inappropriate — authorities have a right to determine if there is some credible threat of or credible incitement to violence being made — but if he is actually being charged with a crime for making a Facebook post, it is unconscionable hypocrisy.
What he said is — lacking any other context, as I’m not familiar with his act overall — not any more tone-deaf than Amanda Palmer’s “poem for dzhokhar”:
That all having been said I think it is a little easy for us in America (assuming you are American) to think of French culture as overly paranoid about anti-Semitism or anti-Semitic expression. Judaism is a relatively powerful religion in America and Jewish-Americans, as a whole, have a good amount of economic and social power. France, on the other hand, remembers being a defeated and occupied territory of the Third Reich. So, while I do not excuse any negative results of their cultural anxiety about anti-Semitism, I do understand it to some extent. Particularly in the wake of a terrorist attack on a kosher market.
The most I can ascertain is that he is being ‘detained’ while they decide whether they decide whether to charge him with the dubious ‘apology for terrorism’ charge.
The French govt aligning itself with ‘Je suis Charlie’ was always fraudulent. Not calling them out on it was a failure on behalf of people marching under the banner of free speech.
Those who have been noisiest about the idea of absolute free speech have been offered a handy test but – alas – silence.
Again, I have low regard for the European limits on uninhibited free speech to be sure. But minor prosecutions and fines for free expression — however wrongheaded –are not mass murder. It’s good to keep a little proportion in your head, and to further acknowledge that it is possible to support the march in support of free speech while at the same time oppose any restrictions on freedom of expression. The collective human heart can be in many places at the same instant, and while citing a hypocrisy is always worthwhile, the hypocrisy itself doesn’t make the Paris march any less an appropriate response to the mass murder.
Hello, I’m French and this is my first post here
First of all, I would like to thank David Simon for his support and his intelligence.
You have to know that in France, we have laws that forbid racist and antisemitic speeches, so that’s why Dieudonné has been questioned by the police (not arrested)
The fact that we have these laws can be discuss (personally,I think that is a good thing) but these case has got nothing to do with Charlie (who was sued for their caricatures of the prophet and who won their trial)
You also have to undersdant who Dieudonné is. He was a very talended comedian 15 years ago. His stage partner was jewish and he was anti racist.
Then, nobody really understood what happened but, little by little, he became an antisemitic politician with a huge and dangerous influence among a lot of people (especially young people)
To finish, I’d like to add that there are a lot of debates around him here
I have some knowledge of Dieudonne and his origins. Regardless, I am absolutist when it comes to freedom of expression. I think that trying to push offensive speech into the dark corners and closets has, in the end, the opposite effect of suggesting that such speech is so powerful that it can’t be heard for fear of influencing people. I think such speech, confronted in a vibrant marketplace of ideas, will be found wanting and receive less attention on the merits.
Tellingly, the rise of fascism — and the triumph of fascist thought — is always accompanied by restrictions that give the ideology an eventual monopoly in the marketplace. Pluralism and democracy cannot employ the same logic, even against abhorrent ideas.
I totally understand your point of view and I was myself very confused last january when he was forbiden to do his show in Paris for instance.
I must say that, until now, those laws were quite efficient. But today, I don’t know what to think because the result is that we speak about Dieudonné even in the United States (which must make him feel very proud and happy even though he repeats that he hates this country)
I’m a *little* more torn, myself. I agree with you in principle — and I’d add “freedom of religion” to “freedom of speech/expression” here, b/c the lack of religious freedoms in France is another contributor to the overall tension (I was also torn when they banned the hijab — I don’t believe in it, as a feminist, but I also believe strongly in freedom of religion — which principle is more important? I couldn’t say for certain).
But, I just think it is tough to put myself in the shoes of a nation that’s been occupied by Nazis, or to fully understand their fears.
Perhaps this extremely French sign expresses all my conflicted feelings right now.
I’m aware of the confusion about France’s attitude towards religion, especially in the United States or Great Britain.
But it’s very important to understand that there is NO lack of religion freedom in France. Our country is based on a philosophical concept which is called ‘laïcité’. I’m not sure if there is accurate translation for this word.
I won’t develop what it means precisely here, I’m sure that you can find more explanation on the Internet.
Religion is a private thing and that what is threatened in France right now
We with similar ideas are United. Free speech for some!!
while we’re discussing whether or not editors should have opted to reprint the cartoons in question, I wouldn’t mind getting their reasoning on why we’ve had round the clock coverage on the Charlie Hebdo murders while the recent massacre of as much as 2000 people in Nigeria by Boko Haram has barely made a ripple in the news world.
Proximity to our lives. Paris is a world city and a political and cultural hub for the entire planet, known and frequented by many readers. A regional town in northeast Nigeria is not that.
But news value has always been ruthless with regard to proximity. Forty dead in a Chilean bus plunge is a brief on page B14. My ear ache, when the aspirin wears off, is a real goddamn tragedy.
Does proximity extend to race? Do we care more when the vicims look like us? Some people take that to be a self-evident truth, but is it a conscious consideration in an editors decision-making process? Or is it more of a subconscious calculation?
Hard to think that race is not also a factor.
I would like to believe it is less a conscious decision in terms of personal sympathy than in terms of commercialism.
White victims sell. Particularly if they are pretty, blonde, female, and/or young. You only have to turn on Nancy Grace or glance at PEOPLE magazine for about three minutes to figure that one out.
We are going in circles, David, but that’s mainly because you’re trying to argue against things that have never been said.
Nobody has ever said that human beings have the right not to be offended. Nobody has ever said that you don’t have the right to republish these cartoons.
You have that right. Charlie Hebdo has that right. Any other institution that chooses to do the same has that right.
Nobody has even proffered any nuance on that right. That right is, and must be, absolute. We all agree on that.
Here is the problem: You are trying to transform that right into an obligation. And that is quite simply illogical.
Sure, you can try to argue for the existence of the obligation, on moral or practical grounds.
Just don’t try to make it look like we are questioning the absoluteness of the right to free speech when we are actually putting forward arguments and evidence against your opinion on how best to use it.
You assert the right to publish by publishing, not by telling the people who have just murdered your neighbor for publishing and silencing his voice that, hey, you could restore his voice to the marketplace, but, um, you won’t because his voice might offend. That’s pathetic.
What isn’t pathetic is the new cover of Charlie Hebdo. It is sublime.
I have to say sublime is the right word. A negative pleasure.
Nothing pathetic about choosing not to enter into a macho, self-defeating shouting war with the jihadist shitbirds. There are smarter ways to fight this war, captain.
Thanks for this exchange, David. Your clarity of thought is appreciated even when it is being challenged.
Certainly, you may be the first to measure machismo in terms of a willingness to publish words and images. I think something has been lost in the translation from the Spanish.
I don’t agree that mass reproduction will be self-defeating. I believe exactly the opposite.
But thank you as well for a robust argument.
This reply comes a couple of months too late, but anyway. It is a bit disappointing to read this thread, with JSA as an exception. This blog, and a couple of blogs similar to it, always offer a nuanced view on topics, managing to go deeper than the usual simplified, black-white discussions. In this case i look at the publishing-not publishing debate as a distraction from the important topics, which both you and the jihadist groups manage to cover up. The real problem in europe at the moment is the increasing conflicts and alienation between different groups of people, which is pretty visible when you look at the increasing number of radical islamists and right wing extreme groups. This debate only works as throwing gasolin on the fire. Of course freedom of speech is worth fighting for, but we have to use this freedom for something constructive for society, and this is more destructive than constructive.
And therein lies the equivocation that you won’t admit: What is constructive? What you say it is?
First we decide what is constructive and then we decide whether freedom of expression should then be allowed?
Do you understand the circular fallacy at work in what you just wrote?
Setting aside the need to always uphold the right to free speech, printing images of Muhammed is constructive. The West must strive to chip away at the sanctity of this mere mortal 7th century man. Islam can be used as an instrument of oppression. Many would-be apostates, women, and homosexuals suffer under the tyranny that is the doctrines of Islam. By flouting anachronistic blasphemy laws, we send the message to all those suffering in silence that the West has the courage to stand up to theocracy. This may give those within the Muslim communitythe strength to do the same. Apologists for Islam always scold non believers for their failure to recognize the heterogeneity of the Islamic community. Satirists recognize that the community is not monolithic. It’s time for you to do the same. Many people in the Muslim world would love nothing more than to see Muhammed get knocked off his pedestal. Breaking his commandments is one way of achieving this. I will gladly piss off 1.5 billion if it means helping one person
My side (liberals) are massive hypocrites on this issue. If religious or social conservatism is pushed by a white males, we push back hard, and don’t back down. But the 2nd religious or social conservatism is pushed by any minority group it suddenly becomes culture. Apparently feminism, free thinking, and freedom of expression end at the pigment of ones skin.
this issue? My take is that liberalism is so intricately intertwined with politically correct conformity it is partly to blame with our current predicament. We can no longer discuss ideas without a liberal becoming offended. This has led to censorship of information. I’ve experienced it, personally.
That is a recent occurrence. It used to be the old conservative lady who would scream think of the children as she tried to get some tv executive fired when a dirty joke made it on tv. Now it’s the blogger in Brooklyn who wants everyone fired for microaggressions, or for a joke that doesn’t land and wasn’t sanctioned by their favorite blog.
But for this issue, my point was liberals would be out in full force against Islam if it was somehow a prominently white religion. For example my Mayor (Betsy Hodges) spoke in front of a Muslim Somali organization and wore a hijab so she wouldn’t offend the organization. This was freaking applauded as respecting their culture. Really now our feminist politicians are going to hide their bodies in the name of tolerance? We wouldn’t expect any female public figure to give a damn what some catholic priest thought about her wardrobe. And if it was every a story that one didn’t approve, their would be a giant shit storm and hundreds of think pieces about how no woman should ever have to cover up before any organization. (and they would be right)
Yeah. The drive is towards a state of being where nobody offends anybody. To try not to offend people by respecting their culture without debate is utterly ridiculous in my view. I’m training to be a nurse. We have taken cultural sensitivity one step further. We have adopted a philosophy called cultural safety. On any NZ nursing course you can fail the degree by not being “culturally safe”. This is measured subjectively..at a university..This whole PC crap has reached its zenith. Its impossible not to offend someone somewhere, which renders the whole construct meaningless. I mention this in passing to show what is now expected, and where our so-called institutes of further education are leading us..
Well, to be fair, we wouldn’t actually approve of Hillary Clinton wearing a micro-miniskirt and bikini top to visit the Vatican.
Props to Michelle Obama for standing up for liberal principles today in Saudi Arabia.
Like many others who feel unfairly squeezed by this false dichotomy, I reject the notion that we must align ourselves with these cartoons in order to condemn violent extremism.
Sure, reprinting Charlie Hebdo’s work without reflection or even translation is a valid expression of free speech, but to do so constitutes more a political statement than a journalistic one, even in the current context. Granted, the images are newsworthy to a certain extent, but by themselves they add very little substance to the conversation: as members of a civil society, we don’t need to have Charlie Hebdo’s pages in front of us to abhor cold-blooded murder.
For those compelled to circulate the cartoons as a pure act of principle, your rejection of fear is commendable, but aren’t we better served by some degree of analysis on the material than by a blind, untranslated reprinting? That would offer at least the potential to broaden and deepen the conversation, rather than reducing the first amendment to its basest self: “Who cares what I’m saying, I’m allowed to say it.”
We are capable of feeling heartbreak for the victims and outrage at the perpetrators without claiming indiscriminate solidarity toward creative expressions which are at best questionable and at worst offensive. In the rush to defend our freedoms, can’t we still demonstrate a mature and discerning practice of them?
Best if those who join the cries of “je suis” are the ones who really, truly believe it. Meanwhile, the rest of us can offer sympathy and support without misrepresenting our own values.
The time for broadening the discussion of the content — its purpose, its worth, its faiings — is when the content is allowed access to the marketplace of ideas without butchery. Now, with more than a dozen dead in a brazen attempt to silence some of your neighbors’ voices, is decidedly not the time for philosophizing on content. We can save that for tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after. And in time, what is insightful about the Charlie Hebdo cartoons will sustain itself against critique and what is useless or cruel or unfair will be revealed.
Now is the time to assert for freedom of expression. Because that civil liberty is under siege.
“Now is the time to assert for freedom of expression. Because that civil liberty is under siege.”
Respectfully disagree. any assertion in the immediate aftermath of a violent act is defined by it. If it was as simple as asserting freedom of speech, how could anyone be against it? Does freedom of speech in and of itself has a worth, or does it’s worth come from the value in giving a space to critical thinking, to not blindly assume our values are better than others, to look at ourselves critically and improve and in doing so perhaps serve as a lesson to others (that’s the kind of spirit where a sense of cultural superiority certainly has weight and merit).
That being said, I don’t think such concerns alone are enough to construct an argument not to publish, but it’s certainly enough to justify not having to publish, and not to say it’s an act of cowardice not do so, because calling people cowards on the internet isn’t exactly the hallmark of ‘bravery’.
Such concerns when you add the rejoiner of “civil liberty being under siege”, from who? Islamists, minorities, religion, mad men with guns. Who’s invading who here? A handful of gunmen can barely lay siege to a jewelry store, let alone an entire society, by engaging with the possibility that they could I think we give them far, far to much credit and agency.
It is important to not be sloppy with the meaning of ‘freedom’, for it to mean something specific and of merit, even pure, because the meaning of such terms are eroded when we conflate them, because when the meaning is let slip away, when we don’t question, then we hand it to others who twist it to their uses*, freedom of speech becomes no different to flag waving, in fact it veers dangerous close to becoming a 21st century ‘lebensraum’, after all the US did not bring freedom to Iraq, it brought ISIS.
*that being said this line of thinking may be zero sum too, it doesn’t account for dynamics within the muslim community, perhaps this is something that should give them pause for thought, to assert themselves free from the chains of dogmatic religion (as opposed to chains economic and social). I’m dubious of that kind of thinking because it means seeing 1.6 billion people as some anonymous mass, as though Turkey is the same as Saudi Arabia. It may also be that now so many world leader have publicly sang from the hymn sheet of free speech they’re going to be expected to practice it back home, maybe the US will abolish those disgraceful free speech zones, maybe the Israelis will stop killing journalists, maybe France and Germany will abolish their Holocaust denial laws (not saying that’d be a good thing). Perhaps we will learn to genuinely cherish free speech in a way we in the West have been failing to do, personally I doubt it, but would love to be wrong.
In the immortal words of my wife, “I’d agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.”
I do not want to do anything to decouple the renewed publication of the cartoons from the violence. I want them inextricably linked. Because in reality, if I am the New York Times or Le Monde or the Guardian, I am not publishing the cartoon on my op-ed pages except for the fact that human beings have been butchered to deny or prevent that material from reaching the marketplace of ideas. I want that very idea conveyed to the Muslim world:
Ordinarily, we would not go out of our way to publish a non-newsworthy cartoon such as this one, nor are we trying to insult you. But now that human beings have been killed to prevent the publication of such, the material is, de facto, intensely newsworthy. Moreover, because we believe in a free flow of ideas, and freedom of expression even for items some might find offensive, we are now obliged to take up the cause of publication of material for which people have been silenced by a brutal act of repression and censorship.
I make my purposes clear and distinct, showing no particular desire to insult or no particular regard for the cartoons — although the new cover of Charlie Hebdo is indeed sublime and deserving of publication, in my opinion — but I make exactly clear that the publication is entirely linked to the violence. When the cartoons receive vastly superior distribution worldwide because of the violence then the violence fails to achieve its outcome and, in fact, produces the opposite of the intended result.
Nothing sloppy about that. Sloppy is attempting, for no discernible reason that I can see, to decouple the continued publication of the cartoons from the violence. Any such divorce is disastrous to the actual message here.
Lastly, it’s pretty perverse to cite people calling cowardice on the Western press — which, by the way, has been publishing the cartoon generally, with the notable, weakass exception of the NYT — as failing a test of bravery for doing so. Whhhhaaat? The bravery is in the publication of the cartoons, such as the photograph that tops this discussion. I don’t think it’s particularly brave of me. Who gives a shit about a little blog from Baltimore. But not publishing such, on the part of the Western press, is indeed gutless, given the threat to freedom of expression posed by the murders and given the newsworthiness of the cartoons themselves in the wake of that violence. Your construct is a straw man; direct yourself to what was actually referenced as the cowardice and not something lesser, which merely serves to make it easier for you to advance a weak argument.
Freedom of speech = flag waving, in your opinion. Um, why? Freedom of speech is a sufficient human value to be defended independently and without the slightest regard to U.S. foreign policy. Again, you are building straw men to more easily knock them down. And citing Western hyprocrises to mitigate the brutality of Paris is the cheesiest bit of equivocation in the canon of argumentative fallacy. Here’s a clue: It is possible to be offended by two or more separate affronts to human dignity. Even at the same time. Citing the failures of one side does nothing to justify the failures of the other. You can note the hypocrisy, but you don’t do anything to make the crimes of either side less worthy of contempt or opposition. It is dishonest argument, as dubious and ill-motivated an endeavor as say, reacting to criticism of the shooting of unarmed black men by white men by complaining that there should be more attention paid to black-on-black crime. As if it is not possible for the collective human heart to be in two places at the same time.
If you want a good argument, you can do better here.
I equate the rhetoric of free speech with flag waving for a number of reasons, the main one being it mirrors precisely how national identities are formulated.
Professor Vamik Volkans, puts the ‘chosen trauma’ at the root of national identities, it “the shared mental representation of a large group’s massive trauma experienced by its ancestors at the hands of an enemy group, and the images of heroes, victims, or both connected with it. Of course, large groups do not intend to be victimized, but they “choose” to mythologize and psychologize the mental representation of the event. When this occurs the reality of the event no longer matters to societal movements.” http://www.vamikvolkan.com/Chosen-Trauma,-the-Political-Ideology-of-Entitlement-and-Violence.php
Robert Cialdini in his book ‘Influence’, demonstrates a similar mechanism at play in frat house hazing rituals. Where he argues that the reason it’s been impossible to stamp out such rituals (which have led to deaths) is because they demonstrate a fundamental mechanism through which groups are formed, the harsher the initiation the more people value the group they are initiated into.
You can see this kind of thing at play for example here in Ireland, with how fans sing ‘the Fields of Athenry’ at matches, a song about the Irish potato famine, it features two elements that underlie the ‘chosen trauma’, a point at which we all agree ‘we’ had it bad, combined with the idea of an outside ‘other’ who inflicted this suffering upon us (ie. The British). It wasn’t that long ago that this was wind in the sails of people willing to mass murder in the name of Irish nationalism. When we sang ‘the fields of Athenry’ on our school bus in the 80-90’s, there was an added chant about the IRA at the end of each verse.
So you take that underlying mechanism and you add it to how this tragedy is one which also affects the very media through which we understand the world beyond our own immediate experience, and you have something which very closely resembles how national identities form. In the case of Ireland the famine and the British is the contrast against which we define our national identity, in the case of this tragedy, the shooting and jihadists similarly define free speech. When Irish fans sing ‘the fields of Athenry’, they’re not singing about the starvation and displacement of four million people in the 19th century, or at least there is no real conception of that in their heads, (if there were they would not sound so happy when they sing it). Do those (by which I mean a significant proportion of) who say ‘Je Suis Charlie’ have a consistent conception of free speech in mind that stands up to scrutiny?
The philosopher Brian Klug put forward the following thought experiment, imagining what would happen if at the marches in Paris someone was stupid enough to say “Je suis Cherif” (one of the killers)
“Suppose he was carrying a placard with a cartoon depicting the editor of the magazine lying in a pool of blood, saying, “Well I’ll be a son of a gun!” or “You’ve really blown me away!” or some such witticism. How would the crowd have reacted? Would they have laughed? Would they have applauded this gesture as quintessentially French? Would they have seen this lone individual as a hero, standing up for liberty and freedom of speech? Or would they have been profoundly offended? And infuriated. And then what? Perhaps many of them would have denounced the offender, screaming imprecations at him. Some might have thrown their pens at him. One or two individuals — two brothers perhaps — might have raced towards him and (cheered on by the crowd) attacked him with their fists, smashing his head against the ground. All in the name of freedom of expression. He would have been lucky to get away with his life. “
I don’t necessarily assume those protesting in Paris would have torn anyone apart, I’m not a fan of his patronising conclusion that those who protested in Paris did not “know their own minds”. But broadly it’s the above considerations taken together that would make me equate how free speech, as it has been spoken of in the aftermath of the shooting (and how ‘freedom’ has been spoken of in the past) is akin to flag waving.
The problem that I have with ‘Je Suis Charlie’ is not with the sentiment itself, but that the proposition of Jihadism vs. free speech, the exact linking of those cartoons with violence, the ‘right’ side to pick is so obvious, it feels like a trick, a rhetorical one dollar gold watch, like the gambit Hunter S. Thompson attributes to LBJ in ‘Fear and Loathing: On the campaign trail’.
“Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumor campaign about his opponent’s life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his own barnyard sows.
“Christ, we can’t get a way calling him a pig-fucker,” the campaign manager protested. “Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that.”
“I know,” Johnson replied. “But let’s make the sonofabitch deny it.””
“I am not publishing the cartoon on my op-ed pages except for the fact that human beings have been butchered to deny or prevent that material from reaching the marketplace of ideas. I want that very idea conveyed to the Muslim world:”
Bluntly if I shit in a box and I wave a gun around, threatening to shoot anyone who tries to eat it, does that make said shit delicious?
And surely this presumes that these killers are somehow representative of the Islamic community, it involves agreeing with these killers that they are Jihadists first, Muslims second, killers third, perhaps an ethnic minority fourth, orphans (after the suicide of their mother) fifth, French sixth, socio-economically deprived seventh, and last of all humans, it’s a viewpoint that gets the causality backwards.
For example autopsies on Anders Baader and Ulrick Meinhof of the Baader Meinhoff gang revealed they both had brain tumours that had the affect of making them violent, they became violent Marxist-Leninist because in part that was the culture that was specific to them, and the ideologies that hung around the student movements of the late 60’s, perhaps today they’d be Islamic converts, seeing in Islam (in how it is portrayed in the West) an outlet for their own violent impulses. Various studies have found that a significant proportion of violent offenders have suffered brain injury that may impair their ability to behave rationally. If a mass-shooter is captured and after questioning says he did it because he had “ants in my head”, we don’t take him seriously, if he says he did it to “avenge the prophet”, we do. What applies to how the dangers behind how high school shootings are portrayed in the media, surely applies on some level to how events such as these are covered https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PezlFNTGWv4).
Every violent action has at its root someone(s) who wants to be taken seriously, that goes double for those who would kill humourists, so when we take them seriously, we’re giving them what they crave the most. The killers didn’t say, “we have avenged the suicide of our mother and the socio economic deprivation we have suffered, etc.” they said “we have avenged the prophet.” Which isn’t to advocate going too far the other way and seeing them either as blameless victims or a joke, but to understand them to the point at which we can deny them the opportunity to be seen on the terms they set.
The children of immigrants speak in the accent of their peers not their parents. In seeing these people as Jihadis first, it ignores how they are also inescapably French, what conception they have of Islam, the West, violence, and satire was formed in the experience they had of being French, they are as much a product of that society as were the left-leaning satirists they murdered, as much as right-leaning proto fascists like Le Pen that those same satirists despise, who would use their deaths as a tool. If this tragedy blows wind into the sails of a FN victory in 2017, then surely those deaths will be utterly in vain?
Then there is the context of Europe, (as I understand it) Europe and the US have constitutionally very different interpretations of ‘free speech’, in the US free speech trumps all, in Europe we have holocaust denial laws, there’s a reason for that; 70 years ago the worst crimes ever committed by humans were committed by (xenophobic) Europeans.
The sloppiness that troubles me is the kind of sloppiness that makes anti-Semitism a sackable offence and Islamaphobia all too acceptable. Europe of the 2010s isn’t Europe of the 1930’s, but there exist enough similarities it should give us pause for thought, especially now we no longer have people who lived through it behind the wheel, to bear in mind the words of Karl Jaspers.
“That which has happened is a warning. To forget it is guilt. It must be continually remembered. It was possible for this to happen, and it remains possible for it to happen again at any minute. Only in knowledge can it be prevented.”
Do Muslims need to be sent a message? I don’t know. On one hand, there’s a whiff of “Do they know it’s Christmas time?” about the whole thing, those who are denied free speech value it more than those who have it, so too there is an arrogance (an arrogance some like yourself have fully earned and some (like myself) haven’t) in presuming to lecture the Muslim world on what is for many of them a day-to-day reality (a reality that in supporting regimes like the house of Saudi, we in the West help prop up every time we fill our cars). On the other hand I’ve read that when Regan called on Gorbachev at the Brandenburg gate in ’87 to “tear down this wall”, his advisors warned against it, but he went ahead and said it anyway, that his words carried weight in the USSR, especially in the DDR and were an inspiration to those who would go on to tear that very wall down just over two years later, (though it can’t be denied that the break-up of the USSR has been for some a disaster, in the former Yugoslavia, Chechnya and the Ukraine today). Perhaps ‘Je Suis Charlie’ will be precisely that, but I am far too ignorant of the different cultures within Islam to be able to even guess one way or the other.
When you put people in an experimental situation where they have to figure out some pattern, say a simple maths rule dictating which of nine cups the ball will be under, before the subjects grasp what the rule is, there is a period where their guesses start getting better than random, when asked at this point why they pick a certain cup, they’ll say that cup ‘felt’ right, the other cups ‘felt’ wrong. It’s not that I think you’re wrong to publish this, or that newspapers are right to publish it, but that to me this whole reaction, this whole debate ‘feels’ wrong, the above is (in part) a rationalisation of that feeling, but like those test subjects, I don’t think I fully understand the rules that dictates the pattern, though I’m not entirely sure if anyone can, let alone does.
“Only in knowledge can it be prevented.”
This is a lot to argue around a fundamental, so let me pose it as a question.
Is freedom of expression a value unto itself? Is it an elemental human value? Is it perhaps the most elemental civil right? Explain why not if you don’t believe so. Do so without trying to hem and haw about negative things that you wish to equate with freedom of speech (equivocation), or by citing the hypocrisies of some of those who have called for freedom of expression (argumentum ad hominem), or about your concern for those marginalized by other forces for whom the freedom of speech might seem an affront (appeal to pity). See if you can explain to me in any coherent way why freedom of speech isn’t — regardless of all above — an elemental human value that must be honored in any pluralistic and democratic society. And further, if you do not see it as such, explain to me how your society functions without demeaning the human spirit and compromising the marketplace of ideas. I believe you can’t.
And everything above, in light of that failure, is sophistry and abstract commentary.
I agree that freedom of speech is the most elemental civil right, I believe it underlies and guarantees not only all other rights, but the very freedom to think.
However I think the message this cartoon sends is mixed at best, you say you have an experience of the violent mind from your work and that this is the right message to send, fair enough, but any value must be weighed against what action it spurs. If the French state can preach free speech as inalienable one day and arrest those who post cartoons online the next, then surely this sends a message not of defiance but of hypocrisy?
Any dogma that views itself as both infallible and fails to inspire people to appropriate and consistent action, is a dead dogma, and that is surely a greater threat to free speech than gunmen could ever be.
A little context IS helpful. CH is a democratic, far-left, atheist weekly and it is staunchly anti-racist and pro-immigrant. The cartoons N. Americans are claiming are racist are actually depicting how the far-right in France depicts immigrants.
This is very useful for those of us who do not regularly read this magazine and are seeing these cartoons out of context. Thanks for sharing.
That is one reason publications may be reluctant to reprint the isolated cartoons — the impression one garners from seeing the cartoons alone is entirely different. I think it would be more useful to reprint entire articles along with the cartoons, or at least summarize them.
Happy to help. But I agree with David, that it really shouldn’t matter whether one finds the cartoons “offensive” or not. Any attempt to murder free thought and expression is fascistic and therefore needs to fought on basic principles. However, here in Canada at least, many publications are misinforming their readers and viewers by propagating the lie that CH was “racist” paper to justify their craven cowardice in not re-publishing the cartoons. Disgraceful.
A few final points on this from what I was making further down with a discussion with David.
– Bigoted writing and drawings are bigoted regardless of where on the political spectrum they come from. Depictions of Muhammad, which are widely known by many- including those who made them- as offensive to Islam regardless of how he is depicted, as a stereotypical hooked-nosed caricature that is meant to mock and offend is an act of bigotry devoid of nuance in the same way that Terry Jones publicly burning the Koran is an act of bigotry. When the results and intentions (to broadly and blindly antagonize another group for that sake alone without looking to reform or create meaningful dialogue) are the same, it doesn’t make a difference whether it comes from a far-right fundamentalist Christian or a left-wing, pro-migrant secularist. One doesn’t get to be labeled bigotry while the other can be fully pardoned as avant gard. The same in 18th century Europe, Voltaire’s anti-Semitism was still anti-Semitism even though he was an Enlightenment figure who challenged traditional religious assumptions and also at the same time promoted religious tolerance as a principle.
– That said, bigotry or not, offensive or not, this type of speech should and must exist in a pluralistic and free society without those who produce it even having to worry for their physical well-being. That is not up for argument. Neither is that the perpetrators of violence against such speech and their facilitators should be pursued and punished to the fullest extent of the law and that no one can excuse such acts or seek lesser punishment by saying they were offended. I totally agree with the phrase that has been posted several times on this board, that in a diverse, democratic society no one has the right to “not be offended.” I have my own sensibilities that are offended often and have the right to question and challenge the intention of those “offenders” but no rightful claim that they be silenced, legally or otherwise.
– What is up for debate is our choice of how we phrase our response with our free speech. We can and must evaluate what our response is by taking into account both the content of the actual material and what the response contributes to future dialogue and inter-party relations (which is separate from whether to take reprisals for replication of the speech into account or not). To give an example devoid of any current events, if someone on the street just yells “F. you” at everyone he crosses and then gets assaulted by someone he offends, the assailant must be punished to the fullest extent of the law, and, presuming the verbal offender was not physically intimidating anyone or threatening violence, the offender should not be legally punished in any way. However, in the public’s condemnation of such an assault, many would and should question the choice to then repeat the victim’s remarks loudly and publicly at everyone they encounter in the name of “solidarity” and assuring that victim’s right to be heard. Those who refrain from yelling “f. you” loudly in the street can be doing so not out of fear of being attacked, but out of principal for they question what that contributes to public dialogue and inter-personal relations and what ends that would be achieved. To end, I am not Charlie, but if you feel you must be that is your free choice. I just question what end everyone being Charlie will achieve.
Just a point but actually, in the most fundamentalist forms of Islam the depiction of an image of ANY sentient living being is banned. The Taliban banned all photography during their reign in Afghanistan, as well as destroying priceless ancient artworks such as the Buddhas of Bamiyan (which I might point out, were sacred to another religious culture).
While I personally believe in respecting people’s religious beliefs inasmuch as possible, we cannot have a free society if we do not portray any images of human beings, simply because some religious sects in the world do not believe in doing so. A functional pluralistic society cannot cede to every extreme demand of every extreme sect. It’s not possible, even if we wanted to, because one sect demands the very things that another sect prohibits.
I fail to see a comparison between your hypothetical “fuck you guy” and CH. I appreciate the labour you put into trying though. Ch isn’t verbally assaulting anyone. If the stupid fascists hadn’t ordered them killed almost no one would ever had heard of CH. You seem to me at least to be trying to blame the victims or at least trying to “understand” and seek compromise with fascists who have no interests in compromise. They may have grievances but I for one, have not been interested in them since the Rushdie affair. They’re fascists. The sooner we realize there can be no co-existence with people who believe in murder of “offenders” of a mere philosophy (no matter how “deeply felt,” the sooner the world will become a slightly better place to live. The Nazis had grievances too but I I’d like to think I wouldn’t been interested in “dialogue” with them either.
This will be helpful as well…
Many thanks for your tribute !
Florian from France. Je suis Charlie.
Freedom of speech must be absolute. I reserve for myself the absolute right to choose what I see and hear. Nobody else may make that decision for me. Any exceptions in the name of religious sensitivity or hate speech or what have you is censorship by another name. Christopher Hitchens’ discussion of this topic makes this point far more eloquently than I ever could:
Do you think pedophiles should be able to watch child porn? There are limits to free-speech, freedom of information. But with religion? I agree 100%
Child Porn isn’t a victimless form of expression. Its production requires the torture of children
In these posts of solidarity with Charlie (Je suis Charlie hashtags and postings of the cartoons), there is a welding of the need to condemn the attacks and affirm Charlie and all writers’ and cartoonists’ right to publicize their speech, whatever it may be, and actually affirming the cartoons and anything else that Charlie produced. This was written very well here
Charlie was not attacked for the production of nuanced satire of specific Islamic leaders for their various nuances. Instead it is a blanket ridicule of all adherents to the religion by scandalizing what they hold sacred. Also, considering that many marginalized immigrant groups in France practice Islam, this can be seen as a xenophobic attack on groups of people already marginalized and antagonized by the existing power structure. This is not a type of speech that I would want to personally demonstrate solidarity with in anyway and I don’t believe I need to in order to defend free speech.
To put it in another context, if there is a violent attack against KKK members for their being such, I can deplore the attack for its violence and feel sympathy for its victims and their families, state that the victims didn’t deserve to be attacked and affirm their right to freedom of expression to have their marches and websites and pamphlets that promote their views without, at the same time, donning a hood and showing solidarity with their beliefs.
Thus, propagating the cartoons is an act that is separate from condemning the attacks and affirming freedom of speech. It is an act that shows a solidarity with the message of the cartoons. One who affirms people’s right to do so while at the same time criticizing the intention of the act or the cartoon should not then be condemned for being anti-free speech or condoning the attacks. Likewise, publications that choose to self-censor the cartoons do so by choice because they find them tasteless and don’t want to affiliate their own publication with that message. That is their right to free (non) speech and they shouldn’t be attacked by those who are supposedly arguing for freedom of speech.
And yet your analysis, in practical, political terms leaves us with this problem: If the jihadists kill the cartoonists and therefore succeed in silencing their statements, your generalized opposition to violence is utterly, utterly meaningless. You are entirely void of any deterrent to the fascistic denial of your neighbor’s voice, however little regard you have for your neighbor’s opinions. You are letting the fascists win.
There are certainly some cartoons that I personally wouldn’t bother to reprint. But some that are simply mockery of the closed, fundamentalist mind that not only exists in reality, but has in fact led to the deaths in Paris. In my argument, those cartoons still stand — more validated than ever, in fact, by the violence. And the actual defeat of this terroristic rampage comes when those cartoons receive wider dissemination, It is at that point that the bastards realize that by trying to kill idea-makers, they propigate the ideas that they despise. That outcome — and not the weak and empty condemnation of the attacks — is a real bulwalk against future attacks. And this has been going on for decades now, beginning with the fatwah against Rushdie, the murder of his translator, or the attacks in Denmark. After each affront to the free expression of ideas, some condemnation. Seriously, your condemnations don’t mean shit.
I’m not afraid of an offensive cartoon finding its way into the world and being seen. I’m not afraid of Mein Kampf being published. Or of the KKK walking down the street in Skokie. I’m afraid of the cost of interposing between ideas and the marketplace. I believe that in an open market of ideas, the good ones endure and the bad ones are revealed. It is that process, more than any single cartoon, that I am asserting for here.
I am attacking a free press for failing to defend the free marketplace, which cannot be done by merely condemning the violence. The op-ed pages are for voices that are decidedly not those of the publications themselves — a good op-ed page has varied views that the newspaper does not endorse; it should be the precise home for a Charlie Hebdo cartoon in every major world news publication this week. That will not be case. That is, in my opinion, cowardice.
It is at that point that the bastards realize that by trying to kill idea-makers, they propigate the ideas that they despise.
…I don’t know if they’ll actually realize that. I think they’re kind of nuts.
Possibly. But we can only hope that they and the people in Yemen who apparently charged them with this mission are, at least, result-based. If by murdering more than a dozen people in Paris, these cartoons were given wider publication — even in publications that do not agree with the content — the message from a free and pluralistic West would be definitive — and stunning. We. Do. Not. Play. This. Game. Ideas live or die on their own merits in a free society. And if your faith is going to co-exist with our values then it will do so not by imposing silence and death on that which it finds offensive, but by making its own, more meaningful arguments and demonstrating its own values and purposes.
Saying anything less in the wake of this massacre is the information-age equivalent of Munich 1938.
Hard for me to disagree with you, David. But to say that we have to republish these cartoons as widely as possible lest the fascists win is, at best, a rationalization for posturing. If your concern is that those statements would be silenced, you can rest assured: The fascists have already lost.
For one, a million copies of Charlie Hebdo will be published next week, with the financial support of the French state, no less. It previously had a circulation of 100,000. A lot of people now shouting “Je suis Charlie Hebdo” will be buying their first copy of it next week. That may or may not be a good thing in itself – Debates on content should come later, as you say.
Still, given who the terrorists were and where they came from, you of all people (no fawning intended) will appreciate that what will actually prevent this butchery from happening again is not posturing, it’s good police work.
To be very pragmatic: These attacks have elicited the sympathy of the huge majority of moderate Muslims – in Western countries and abroad. France alone has 6 million Muslim citizens, one of whom the beat cop who got shot in cold blood. And it is precisely from those communities that we can recruit the informers, the intelligence officers, the detectives that make that kind of police work possible. Maybe, just maybe, we can prevent a few more youths being radicalized.
Yet your proposal seems to be: Let’s provoke them more. Mock them more. Insult them more. It’s the politics of goading. It’s something you call out on every other instance. It undermines the efforts to keep these atrocities from happening. The feeling that you’re taking some kind of grand stand for a fundamental principle may feel good, and is no doubt sincere, but it is also illusory.
Disagree. With every last fiber of my intellect.
The posturing here is on the part of those who speak so full-throated for free speech, but will risk nothing for it. The end game for this violence is not, as you fear, in mass opposition to censorship and an act of communal embrace of the imagery that was attacked. It is in the exact opposite — in the appeasement of this unreasoned and untenable rage that cannot be allowed to coexist with pluralism and free expression.
I make this argument: The mainstream publications that failed to publish excerpts from Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses a literary generation ago, that failed to rally around him and his work — they were in part responsible for the murder of Mr. Van Gogh and the attacks on the Danish embassies. And those that then failed to fully cooperate in the mass publication of the Danish cartoons and Mr. Van Gogh’s work in the wake of those affronts? They are complicit in the mass murder in Paris this week. And now, those that do not find room to amplify the voice of the latest work to be subjected to butchery, they are complicit in the subsequent arson of a German publication that did so.
The safety here is in numbers. When all publish the idea or image that has been threatened, then the process itself — more than the image — is validated and affirmed. If every publication in the world published a Charlie Hebdo cartoon on its op-ed page, along with a caption that said the content is not endorsed by the publication, but the right to publish the content without fear of violence or terror is affirmed, the tide might begin to turn. The jihadists might not agree with the premise of a free press, but if violence consistently leads to the widespread reproduction or republication of any idea, then at least the notion that their savagery is results-based is off the table. They know that they are not achieving their stated ends. Quite the opposite.
Frankly, I see nothing in your caution that is at all pragmatic. You are simply cowering until the next moment of savagery. Nor is the point here provocation, on my part. That you see it that way is part of the problem in the precise way that Chamberlain saw not sacrificing Czechoslovakia to Hitler as an undue provocation. The problem is that your conciliatory notions will not work with fascism and with a willingness to use violence to maintain a standard of censorship that the West will never be able to consistently promise or deliver. The civil liberty of free expression must be absolute; it doesn’t work otherwise. Freedom of expression is useless in the extreme if it fails to protect the unpopular or offensive ideas, and merely those that are self-evidently worthy or appropriate.
You are confusing conscientiousness for appeasement. As a transplanted Brit whose grandfather came from the Sudetenland (long story, and not trying to play any card) I fully appreciate your comment on Czechoslovakia.
You say that the safety here is in numbers. I agree. Charlie Hebdo will have a record run next week. A million people have taken to the streets in Paris today, government leaders among them. I see no fear being shown to the jihadists. I also see no evidence that amplifying the voices that stir them will lead to an epiphany among the fascists once they realize the ineffectiveness of their ways. Quite the opposite.
Still, make no mistake: My conciliation is not with the fascists. Those people should be tracked, dealt with to the full extent of the law, or neutralized before they can cause (more) harm.
My conciliation is with the people who would be offended by those cartoons, and have been offended by them, and yet have somehow managed not to kill anybody. Like tens of millions of Muslims living in Europe today.
I suggest this exercise: Put yourself in the shoes of a teenage Muslim kid growing up in a big European city. You go from knowing these offensive things exist, yet the mainstream around you has chosen not to propagate them, to seeing them stamped everywhere on every newspaper and website and TV channel around. This changes from being fringe versus fringe (the effects of which still utterly unjustifiable) to being everyone against you.
And here’s the rub: Those are the very people that will enable us to go after the extremists. That’s where our informers, our moles, our intelligence, our cops on the beat will come from. We would be escalating an ideological war and alienating a significant proportion of our population. Sound familiar?
The historical figure you’re looking for here is not Chamberlain. It’s JFK when he refused to listen to LeMay.
I don’t feel particularly confused. But I am certain that the jihadists, the people with the guns, will be decidedly confused. They will not attribute Western silence in the wake of these murders to “conscientiousness.” They will feel appeased. Your intentions may be pure, but the net effect is one in which gunfire achieves the result of silencing an offending voice. That doesn’t teach respect for your restraint, much as you wish to imagine that result. It teaches respect for the gun.
But your next claim is farcical. You have confused a large press run with something much more profound: A large number of sources emerging to assert for the right to publish and spreading the risk over the whole of the Western media. When hundreds of publications assert for freedom of expression, it becomes clear that murder and terror cannot achieve censorship, that the sources themselves will multiply and therefore the presumptive targets of terror will multiply.
You’ve conflated that with a large press run. The problem, being obvious: You can murder a single source of information as easily for 1 million copies in print as for 10,000. Citing the press run does nothing to make freedom of expression less vulnerable; almost the opposite. Also, your assessment that better police work can protect our freedom of expression, our commentators and our artists from retribution is belied by the reality of these suicidal missions; I covered law enforcement enough to know that if someone wants to kill someone else and doesn’t care about getting caught, it cannot possibly be prevented by law enforcement in the vast majority of circumstances. This isn’t simply a problem of police tactics; claiming so is naive.
I understand that peaceful Muslims will find some of the material offensive. That’s regrettable, but frankly, it is the quotidian price of admission to a pluralistic society. We all are, as a matter of routine, offended and scandalized and insulted by any number of opinions, images and ideas that are part of the intellectual marketplace. There is no cure for this, and even the most modest effort to curtail the most “blasphemous” or “obscene” or “racist” diatribe does more damage to the culture of free discourse than the initial affront. Moreover, that which you prohibit becomes sought after for its declared illegality; tell me that something is too dangerous to be read or viewed, and I will frankly decide for myself. Ignoring the lurid cotent or the ignorant ideas discards them faster than granting them the aura and power of prohibition.
It is easy to put myself in the shoes of a young Muslim offended by content. I have been so offended by things, many times over. At no point did I conclude that my feelings constituted sufficient reason to attack anyone for that content, or that in doing so, I might achieve a silence in the place of that offending content. The restraint with which you credit yourself would teach that young Muslim precisely this. And that is a recipe for the next Rushdie, the next Van Gogh, the next Paris. Instead, if the cartoons of the slain appear all over — coupled with written acknowledgments that they are being published in support of the principle of a free marketplace of ideas and freedom of expression, and not specifically with the publications concurring in the content itself — that sends exactly the correct message about what our pluralistic society requires of all of us. It’s a message that works not only for that innocent Muslim youth, but for the shitheads with the guns.
Nuanced dialog on inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations and reconciliation in response to the attacks, what you consider “silence”, would not be seen as appeasement or a victory to the perpetrators and their sympathizers. What they seek is to create a clear polarization, an “us vs. them”, “faithful vs. infidel” (name any other cliche) environment. That is not created when a response seeks to integrate all voices, a response which has fortunately been seen in France in the last few days with Netanyahu and Abbas among many others joining in solidarity not with the message of the cartoon, but against the idea of violence and killing substituting discourse.
Cries of “No Surrender” while propagating offensive cartoons and creating an environment that insinuates that those who don’t unreservedly propagate them due to their offensive nature and message are against the very principals of free speech in a modern secular society (demonstrated by various groups “naming and shaming” publications that self-censor the cartoons), creates the exact false dichotomy with no middle ground that the perpetrators and their supporters want to create, live and fight in and will greatly facilitate their recruiting efforts.
I’m sorry, but we’re going around in circles. There is nothing nuanced that can be credibly offered with regard to freedom of expression. There is no middle ground. That you wish it were so is part of the problem. Even as millions gathered in France in solidarity to condemn the killings, another German publication was firebombed.
There will always be someone who is writing or drawing and offending someone else. And, apparently, there will always be a fundamentalist willing to murder not merely the offender, but random people in a supermarket, when this happens.
All of your dialogue amounts to nothing with regard to the above reality. It will happen again and again, and a decade more of nuanced discussion will not break the ethical logjam. Not without all of Western civilization agreeing to give Islam a special dispensation against the free flow of ideas and expression. And not without with fundamentalist Muslims coming to the practical conclusion that all the murder and mayhem they can conjure will only disseminate that which offends them more widely. The first is never going to happen. Nor could I support it if it could. The second will only happen when the West makes consistently clear that it will act in defense of free expression. That means refusing to let any participant in the marketplace of ideas be silenced by violence.
Moreover, the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are not specifically anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant or racial. The French themselves know that of tens of thousands of cartoons aimed at both fundamentalist and rightist hypocrisy, those among us who wish to mitigate this butchery have cherry-picked certain images and displayed them out of context. In short, this isn’t the worst that the West can do when it comes to giving offense. In a free marketplace of ideas, someone can always do worse. Are we going to be having nuanced discussions about when it is okay to kill someone because they have truly given offense?
You are offering nuance as if it is always a positive, but in a healthy, pluralistic society there is no nuance whatsoever in an absolute civil liberty. And freedom of expression is that. No human being on the face of the Earth has an inalienable right not to be offended. Not you. Not me. Not anyone. Your nuance falls on its ass in the hard light of that fundamental.
But I am certain that the jihadists, the people with the guns, will be decidedly confused.
…I don’t know about that. I think they’ll probably keep trying to kill people in the west and attack no matter what they do. I would say that we just have to outlast them and hope things change when the world gets off oil and they lose their funding.
As I noted below, I am not a Charlie Hedbo fan as a general rule, but from what I have been given to understand, the magazine skewers Judaism and Christianity about as often as it skewers Islam. I have some issues with the cartoons, but the magazine seems to be pretty equal-opportunity in terms of offense.
Indeed. They are anti-fundamentalism, mocking religious orthodoxy as a general rule. This makes them rude and offensive, and anathema to the faithful. It does not make them racist, necessarily. And it is not sufficient to exclude their arguments from a pluralistic and secular marketplace of ideas.
Being Don Rickles-style equal-opportunity offenders, however, does not have equal intentions or equal results. In the context of modern secular French society, aggressively mocking the Pope or the Catholic Church, the faith that the majority of French people at least have historical cultural affiliations to even if the faith doesn’t play an active role in their lives, is a satire that intends to mock and challenge traditional French society and values that may be entrenched in the existing power structures and status quo. Producing material that is offensive to Islam in general, not a specific imam or other personality, in the context of the same modern secular French society has a different intention and result: the affirmation of the existing alienation and marginalization of immigrant groups who adhere to Islam, in other words affirming, not challenging, the status quo. Although the action may be the same, the intention and consequences are undeniably different.
I don’t deny that people should have the right in principle to reproduce Charlie’s cartoons without fear of legal action or violent reprisal. I however, question the choice and the intentions to do so as a response to and a condemnation of the violent acts and general affirmation of free speech. Reproducing the cartoons in the context of current French and western multicultural societies seems to serve little more than to entrench the social cleavages, conflicts and tensions between groups rather than to seek reconciliation.
I cannot cure all of the hypocrisies of French society, or American society for that matter, at this moment in time. Neither can you. And certainly, the French are having a hard time of it. Nor can anyone immediately reduce the various insecurities and moral anachronisms that are embedded in certain fundamentalist Islamic belief systems. Talking earnestly about the extant “social cleavages, conflicts and tensions” and “reconciliations” feels warm and worthy, but the moment in which we find ourselves is one in which one of the bedrock requirements of any future pluralistic society has been challenged by open, wanton murder.
There can be no compromise, no reconciliation on the absolutism that underlies freedom of expression. We are NEVER going to reconcile a Western society with Islam if the faith requires that non-adherents, or Muslims for that matter, cannot criticize the faith, diverge from consensus, engage in artistic endeavor free of Islamic restrictions, or revert to sarcasm, parody or provocation against the faith. This is the way of pluralism; a wide divergence of opinion is sought and achieved; offense is given, time and again. Toleration of such — on all sides — is the price of participation in an open society. The jihadists wish that were not so when it comes to their sacred creed. But freedom of expression, if you believe in it, does not allow for exceptions.
For a pluralistic society to operate, non-adherents don’t have to learn more about Islam to understand what it is we shouldn’t say to give offense. It would be nice if they did. And it would certainly hurt less feelings. But, no, Islamists need to understand that the offensive statements of any minority cannot be controlled or punished in a pluralistic society — and that the society itself will rebel against any attempt to silence even the most irritating and insulting minority, because the principle of free speech is absolute. There is no meeting in the middle here.
And a campaign of killing off offending voices requires that a pluralistic society rebel. We do not have to give our own voice to offense, or draw our own cartoons, or agree that the cartoons are all worthy. But we have to make clear that murder and attempts at suppression will only bring marginalized voices to the center of the agora. They will be heard.
“Freedom-hating” jihadis devoid of context or explanation, that just seem to attack where they sense free speech that they don’t agree with, is a false paradigm that was a quite popular explanation for the “war on terror” by the last U.S. administration. This paradigm is convenient for those who want put themselves in a siege-mentality that allows them to not listen to and ignore other sides of the debate and cut off decent. Of course, terrorism is not debate or free speech, but the acts committed by extremists are often used by the afflicted to ignore legitimate grievances from which the terrorist act was rooted in.
The fact is that the attack must be contextualized, and the root causes of the attack must be addressed in order to move on and prevent attacks of a similar nature from occurring in the future. Note this is not the same as condoning the attacks or the attackers and most that will claim that it is an act of condoning likely do so because the “us v them” dichotomy serves their interests. The attack was one committed by French citizens, children of immigrants to the country. Without knowing too much about them, I’d say that it is safe to assume that their parents arrived to the country well aware that it was a different culture with a diversity of ideas, yet did not arrive to the country seeking a better life while loathing the culture or its values at the same time. The mentality of the perpetrators of the attack was therefore created while in France, while likely frustrated by a perceived inability to be accepted by the country that was supposed to be their home. This frustration has been manifested in France and other areas of Europe by 2nd and 3rd generation immigrant youth in the riots in Paris in 2005 and in London in 2011. It is a mentality fueled by resentment and anger, not objective, unattached plotting to punish those who hold different viewpoints or who offend theirs as the “freedom-hating jihadis” label suggests.
Therefore, our decisions, using our free speech, in how we react to the attack can either seek to diffuse tension or it can reinforce the tensions that created the environment for the attack. It is my argument that reproducing cartoons that would be offensive to many non-violent Muslims and non-Muslims out of solidarity only serves to increase entrenchment and alienation, fuel resentment and could help create a destructive “us vs. them” environment which is hardly a supportive one for free speech.
Tomorrow, we can contextualize the attack. And the next day. And the day after.
Today, we need to defend the absolutist civil liberty that is freedom of expression. Because no matter how well we contextualize the reasons for the attack, there will always be offenses to every viewpoint or belief system in our pluralistic society. This is not something that we can contextualize out of existence, or something that can be mitigated in any society in which there is a free marketplace of ideas. You are hunting for a compromise that cannot occur, and should not occur — not for Islam or for any minority or religion, or for majorities for that matter. This is non-negotiable in a free, pluralistic society.
A belief system that cannot brook offense in a free marketplace of ideas cannot coexist with a society that embraces that value. This is the only lesson for today — with butchery on the ground — that matters. It is the only lesson that needs to be absorbed. If you try to kill an idea — even a bad idea — you cannot. Not with guns. The idea succeeds or founders in the marketplace, on its merits. If it is offensive, it will offend. And it will fail for it. But if you kill to silence my neighbor’s idea, then I take it as my responsibility to ensure that the idea is heard in the agora. Not because I care about the idea; but because I desperately care about process.
When I was 8 or 9 years old, I shared a class with several Muslim boys, a couple of whom I called very good friends. I remember asking why, when we drew pictures of people, they would leave the faces blank. They explained that in their religion, it is considered haram to depict images of the prophet Muhammad, because he is perfection and any attempt to depict him will fall so short as to be disrespectful. And since man was created in god’s image, it is therefore forbidden to depict the face of any person. This, the media has helpfully informed me, is a “fundamentalist” interpretation of Islam.
Even as a good Anglican boy, this idea did not seem unreasonable to me. I have vague recollections of leaving faces blank myself, although I suspect that my memories of this (if correct) would have had more to do with attempts to excuse my extreme lack of artistic ability, than to exercise any religious extremism. And so although I am no longer in regular contact with those boys (they would subsequently go off to attend far better schools than myself), it is them that I think of on the occasions that this particular controversy rears its head.
And it is with these friends in mind when I ask you this: who, precisely, are you “sticking it to” by (re)-publishing these images? Is it your radical Islamist readership? Have you considered the possibility that, if any Muslim is going to see this, it is overwhelmingly likely that they will be a so-called “moderate” Muslim? And if so, what message do you expect them to take home from this post?
Whatever the message, it is one that will also be heard by Muslims all over Europe, in which most newspapers have today published this same cartoon in solidarity with the victims of the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo.
Last night, an elected representative of my people appeared on a television programme and lamented the fact that she could not go on air wearing a t-shirt depicting Muhammad, and to great applause she spoke of how she would have worn one, had she not felt there would have been a credible threat to her family because of it, and how sad that fact was. I suppose it is easy to empathise with her and her family in the hypothetical reality where she had appeared on TV wearing the shirt and received such threats, but personally I wondered how some of her Muslim constituents in this reality must have felt about that statement. Similarly, one wonders how many of France’s 2,000,000 practising Muslims feel about the defiant state-sponsored circulation of 1,000,000 copies of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, each carrying the offending image on the front page.
Also consider that the USA is almost unique among western democracies in that there are certain rights that it considers self-evident and inalienable. Elsewhere, a fundamental principle of representative democracy is that no freedoms should be unlimited, including the freedom to shout “fire!” in a crowded cinema, or in perhaps a more modern example, to should “bomb!” on a crowded aeroplane. And the response of airport officials when one does just that suggests that, deep down, America understands this herself.
Is the decision by CBC and most of the British media (an exception to the rest of Europe) not to publish the cartoon, as my fellow commenters have described, “gutless”, “ultra politically-correct cowardice”? Perhaps—I cannot speak for them. But for myself, it is not a question of “Can I?”, but one of “Should I?”. It is a question of whether I can respect ideas and values that I do not necessarily understand or agree with. And so, as I did when I was a child, I am refusing to publish any images depicting Muhammad on the (admittedly, very limited) social media platforms that society has allowed me.
Yours respectfully, and with apologies for the length and (undoubtedly) the disjointedness of this response,
Je ne suis pas Charlie
Not being flippant here, but:
When you or other classmates did indulge in representational art, did your Muslim classmates try to grab the crayons or beat you to a bloody pulp? And if they had tried, what should have been the teacher’s response? What should the rules and restrictions of art class have been going forward?
Had I been attacked by my classmates for violating their religious beliefs, they of course would be punished. But—and of this I am certain—at some point in the near future, I would have been quietly approached by a parent or a teacher and asked, “Why did you deliberately draw something that you knew would upset others?”. I doubt that “to prove that I can” would have been accepted as an answer. This analogy breaks down because, tragically, many of the staff of Charlie Hebdo are no longer around to answer.
But what of the rules of art class going forward? Would future drawings of Muhammad be banned? Not specifically, but realistically it’s possible that the unwritten rule of all classrooms and indeed of all social spaces—that we try to be considerate of each other—be codified. What I wouldn’t expect to see is parents, teachers and children rallying to post the offending image around all the local schools, leaving Muslim children asking what they have done to provoke such a response.
I don’t want to sound like I am calling for more rules or restrictions. People are free to repost this image, as they should be. All I ask is for those who insist that we are in the midst of a culture war to remember that the majority of casualties will inevitably non-combatants.
You equivocated. It isn’t necessarily so that your classmates were drawing something deliberately to upset others. They might have been making representational art because they felt compelled to draw what was in their hearts and minds. And yet in my scenario they would be thwarted by the fundamentalist religious beliefs of certain classmates.
Those who do not believe in another’s faith cannot blaspheme that belief. Not in any way that can matter, socially or politically, in a pluralistic society. Pluralism means what it sounds like. Everyone talks. Everyone says what they feel and believe. No one shuts anyone else up or stops them from writing or drawing what they wish. And the charge of blasphemy can only have actual import within the construct of a faith — among adherents who wish to argue the details of that construct specifically. I blaspheme my own presumptive beliefs on a routine basis; I merely talk shit about Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Druidism, etc. And the same holds true for all of us: Holding adherents to the fundamentals of their chosen faith is the business of those faithful. Making non-adherents behave similarly — or doing violence to them when they do not — is simply fascistic. That was the underlying premise of my question. And you ignored it completely.
Yes, the French cartoons are more of an affront than others to a Muslim. Yes, the cartoonists were more indifferent to the feelings of Muslims, or even cruel. But two words bring to an end any serious consideration of trying to define what is merely offensive and what is artful or of greater purpose: Salman Rushdie. He penned no offensive caricatures; he wrote a substantive novel with no intent to offend anyone, but to instead seriously contemplate his themes. And we know what happened in that instance, proving just how slippery the slope becomes once you begin to service the notion that people have a right to exist in a pluralistic society and never, ever be offended.
We have the right to say and think and feel what we do and to express that. All of us. We have the right to worship as we wish, or not worship, and express that. We have absolutely no fucking right whatsoever to feel that we cannot be offended, that our values and beliefs and gods cannot be mocked or ignored by others, or worse, that we have a right to harm anyone else when such a thing inevitably happens.
The majority of people seem to agree journalists have the right to print things that may upset other people. Funny how that same majority would probably agree with this http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4337031.stm
A perfect hypocrisy.
Do you think moderate Muslims who are citizens of France value the same rights and freedoms that any other French citizen does? Your answer to this question will inform your thinking on what message moderate Muslims might take from this blog post.
American democracy is not unlike other representative democracies in that the freedoms it holds dear are not absolute or wholly unlimited. In other words, the concept that liberty comes with responsibility is not at all a foreign concept to American democracy.
But, that’s not really what we are talking about here where people were viciously killed by barbarians who were far too obtuse to recognize the irony that their own deranged ideologies were the target of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and not their Prophet. (Did you see the cartoon showing the returning Prophet about to be beheaded at the hands of a violent Muslim extremist?)
You say that it is a question of whether you can respect ideas and values that you do not necessarily understand or agree with. That’s what tolerance is all about and it needs a full discussion and expression of ideas to flourish. And, it needs something else, too. It needs biting satirical humour to help keep intolerance and totalitarianism and fascism and other abuses of power at bay.
Best Charlie-response comic yet — Joe Sacco’s.
Thanks for doing this, David. What I DO find “offensive” is the CBC and other news outlets’ bullshit about not not offending “a billion Muslims” by printing these cartoons. As though they or anyone else somehow have knowledge of what a billion people think and feel. It’s bullshit when western right wingers do it and bullshit when so-called liberals do it. They should simply admit they’re not publishing out of fear and stop pretending it’s about not offending people. I see “offensive” things on the news every day. The ads alone are insulting to my intelligence.
It’s been more than a little bit distressing seeing how many newspapers and news stations have opted against showing the image. Worst of all, a lot of them can’t admit the plainly obvious fact that the reason they’re not showing them is due to fear. The logical contortions some of them have gone through in attempting to explain that the images themselves don’t have any major news value are downright laughable.
I’ve also been somewhat surprised just how clear cut of a dividing line between old and new media there has been on this matter. The organization’s publishing the images have almost all been internet publications.
I wouldn’t necessarily publish a cartoon on my news pages. The fact that someone loathsome and inhumane wishes otherwise is not a reason to alter my news judgment.
But the fact that every major news publication doesn’t have at least one of the cartoons on their op-ed pages — the place for alternative voices — is simply cowardice. There’s only one way to defend the right to publish when it is under duress — and that is not to windily proclaim one’s devotion to a free press. One must, in fact, publish.
I think the news value of the cartoons is so high that it should be published on the news pages, though. These cartoons are the reason that these people were killed. How can you report the story properly without showing them? Merely describing them doesn’t make for an adequate substitute.
What a strange and terrible place we find ourselves in. Where people are slaughtered for drawing pictures and we left to hold up racist cartoons as bastions of freedom.
Can’t be racist if there’s no race involved, silly!
Google was founded on September 4 1998. I suggest you make use of it.
Thanks! That’s handy, but sadly I’m coming up empty in my quest to determine a single racial characteristic unique to Muslims, such as one might find with every other racial group. I wonder if perhaps you are mistakingly lumping in “religion” among with “race” where in fact they differ in a number important ways; religion is man made, optional, non hereditary (although brainwashing soon compensated for this), you can change your mind about which one you like our maybe even give up on them all (that’s the one I picked).
I wonder if perhaps you still haven’t cracked how to use google. If you did you probably would’ve stumbled across Charlie Hebdo’s depiction of the women kidnapped by Boko Haram.
Also interesting that in your little thesis there you stipulated that religion is man made, but didn’t mention that race is as well.
I didn’t know that race was man made;I thought it was genetic, and that it could be determined via a blood test, for example, unlike religion.
As for the “racist” cartoon;context is available for that via the handy google thing you introduced me to.
Ah yes, we’re not tired of hearing about context when it comes to degrading depictions of POC.
Context is valuable in any consideration. Without it, some idiot will go to lengths to, say, edit the word “nigger” out of Huckleberry Finn.
This was my immediate reaction before I saw that other folks had made similar points below, but I’ll reiterate it anyway: I find most of HUSTLER’S content over the years abhorrent, childish and unnecessary, yet Larry Flynt has been instrumental in preserving and reinforcing First Amendment rights.
Free speech isn’t solely intended to protect speech that the culture already finds acceptable — that is rarely challenged anyway.
Charlie Hedbo is not the kind of magazine I would read or support under normal circumstances; it ain’t my bag. But these are not normal circumstances. The wounded and assassinated staff are martyrs to a cause that is fundamental to a civilized society. The principle goes far beyond the specific content.
That having been said, I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that the images *must* be reprinted by every paper; I don’t think it would have been appropriate for the HUSTLER images that prompted Larry Flynt’s would-be assassinator to be reprinted in every family paper. I think every editor has to make that decision for themselves and it is not an easy or simple one, for a number of reasons, aesthetic as well as practical.
Still — there’s safety in numbers. I commend anyone who reprints.
Agree with all of your points. I find myself calling for every paper to publish a cartoon I don’t think should have been published in the first place(!), in defence of the principle you speak of. My only point is that this situation is so horrible as to be almost incomprehensible.
George Packer in the New Yorker magazine has a good article about the massacre at Hebdo and its causes: http://tinyurl.com/lctgyad
The CBC is full of a bunch of ultra politically correct cowards who have no interest in defending western democratic principles. While I hear their arguments, the fact that Radio Canada has shown the images, shows their absolute hypocrisy.
CBC (English) is a disgrace! Cheers to Radio Canada.
Mr. Simon, this takes courage. Can I just be a fan for a second? I must just say you are my intellectual hero. I hope that doesn’t sound pretentious. I hope this does not play out like idol worship. But I am a young (well, semi-young) journalist just beginning my career and I can only hope to reach the literary heights you have in the realms of the word & on television. I don’t hope to ever have the success you have had in reaching such a large audience, but if I can have the success you have had in reaching the TRUTH, I will be a very happy human being indeed. Before I discovered your work (while I was a teenager I saw ‘The Corner’ on HBO in its 2nd or 3rd airing) I did not have a frame of reference of what I wanted to do with my writing. You provided me that. I often tell people ‘The Corner,’ ‘The Wire,’ ‘Generation Kill,’ and ‘Treme,’ as well as your ‘Homicide’ book, are the greatest Sociology lessons you will ever receive. I may be exaggerating, but it doesn’t feel that way. I believe it. I believe you have a greater good at heart and I say that without it being a backhanded compliment. The bittersweet reality is, however, that while your work has reached so many people, there is a large majority that still do not understand the implications. They do not understand that something MUST be done. Complacency and apathy scare me to death. I am writing what I can to get some exposure (for pubs like National Monitor, but I hope one day I can find my groove, and after finding some truth in the world, discover a way to translate that truth into the written word through good reporting & journalism. Much like you. Thank you, Mr. Simon, for your dedication to the downtrodden, to the poor, to the suffering, and to the underrepresented. You are an amazing soul. I hope I can one day attend one of your speaking engagements. Regards, Eric Sheffield.
I wonder what Hitchens would be saying now? Thanks for standing up for freedom
I was wondering that as well. I found Mr. Hitchens’ turn towards what some would call a “Neo-Con” outlook was a bit surprising, and it was rare I agreed with him, but he was nothing if not fiercely intelligent and intellectually courageous. In fact–excuse the double negative– it is not often that I don’t wonder what Mr. Hitchens would think about a particular current event.
No need to wonder. Hitchens would be demanding that the media show these images just as David has done.
We cannot allow a nihilistic ideology to dictate the terms of our relationship to them. And each time the media eschews showing the images in order “not to offend”, we let these islamo-fascists (itself a Hitchens bon mot) dictate the terms.
Because of the violence against Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others for writing books or against embassies of countires that protect a media that dares to poke fun of Islam the pusilanimous mainstream media do not print the images– why? Because they are AFRAID. And until the western press has the balls to print the images the hashtag must be #weAREafraid
Je suis Charlie, aussi!
Sadly, though not at all surprisingly, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or CBC, has come to what it defends as an entirely appropriate journalistic decision NOT to display the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. The powers that be at CBC say that the cartoons are not relevant to telling the story of what happened in Paris. They insist that their decision is not a cowardly one.
The decision of the CBC not to display these cartoons is cowardly, without a doubt. And, more importantly, the decision – and, the corporation’s attempt to explain it – demonstrates an incompetence and lack of journalistic integrity that surprises even me.
Funny or not, tasteless or not, insulting or not, these are the images that have been made entirely relevant by the fact that there are people who have killed in opposition to their existence. Any thought or argument or image that is so feared by some that it cannot be allowed in the marketplace of ideas to live or die on its own merits or failings must be given particular attention by that marketplace.
If you want me to read a book, ban it. If you want me stare at an image, tell me I can’t look.
Freedom of speech isn’t there for all the ideas that are self-evidently valuable or worthy. It’s there for those moments when speech is certain to offend someone. That’s when that civil liberty truly matters.
>>>Freedom of speech isn’t there for all the ideas that are self-evidently valuable or worthy. It’s there for those moments when speech is certain to offend. That’s what that civil liberty is about.
However, that is not to imply that civil liberty does not go hand in hand with civil responsibility. And, this is where the CBC gets really messed up in their decision-making.
The CBC says that the decision not to display the cartoons was based on a principle of not offending an entire religion and its followers. I would agree with that IF the cartoons were no more than a vacuous and gratuitous attempt to offend Muslims and their religion without any underlying basis for the offense.
But, that’s not what the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in question here were about. They were about shining a light on the absurdity of how Islam is being used by a relatively few as cover for their vicious acts of barbarism. Seemingly, this is what the CBC and most other English Canadian news outlets fail to grasp.
Reminds me of that line from The People Vs. Larry Flynt:
“If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, then it will protect all of you. Because I’m the worst.”
(not equating the two and, yes, I realize the First Amendment doesn’t apply to the French. I’m speaking of the principle.)
In fact, the tagline under which that film was marketed was “You may not like what he does, but are you prepared to give up his right to do it?”
The CBC weren’t the only gutless “news organisation”. Additionally,the cartoons should have been reprinted on every front-page of every leading Western paper the day after islamofascists killed 12 people. Sadly, the media are cowards..
Imagine it. Though I’m less picky about which section.
Every paper in every nominally free place publishes a Charlie Hebdo cartoon. Maybe it should be an annual event.
There’s still time.
Dear Mr. Simon.
Long time reader, first time replier.
I agree with you on the point that silencing this publication does more harm than good for democracy, especially as a short term solution. I also agree that the killings have given these images more significance and symbolism vis-à-vis democracy. Whether or not this is a good long term plan for social cohesion will be debated on another day.
However, I would like to point out that freedom of speech/ freedom of the press, as legal principles, may not be understood in the same way in the USA as in Europe (more particularly when it comes to Human rights as understood by the Council of Europe & the ECRH).
In Europe, the essential characteristic of all human rights (except the right to life and the right to physical integrity) is that they have limits. Every nation in Europe, including France, accepts this openly and even apply this rule to them as such. Several laws exist in France (and the rest of Europe) that have made racist and/or antisemitic remarks, made in private or in public, criminal offenses.
I’m not saying that what Charlie Hebdo is doing is racist (that can remain a matter of opinion as far as I’m concerned) or constitutes any kind of criminal offense, but I think that the media needs to stop pushing the falsehood that unlimited free speech (as such) in Europe is a de jure principal.
What I’m saying is that the concept is more flexible that it may first appear. The marketplace of ideas in Europe, public or private, does, de jure and de facto preclude certain subjects. The marketplace of ideas is generally seen as being in the balance with “public & social peace”.
Lawmakers will weigh the benefits of discussing a certain idea against the potential impact it could have on society and decide whether it is necessary or not for this idea to be talked about in a democracy.
You say that “Any thought or argument or image that is so feared by some that it cannot be allowed in the marketplace of ideas to live or die on its own merits or failings must be given particular attention by that marketplace.” This is effectively not always the case. For example, France has decided that any spoken or written idea that justify or minimize a crime against humanity is a criminal offense. That is a limitation of freedom of the press/speech that was agreed upon.
In Switzerland, another country that signed the ECHR, negationist talk about such crimes against humanity is forbidden by law only if the expression of these ideas is considered to be “abusive, provocative or when it is clearly intended to offend” (translation mine). I think that this shows that in Europe, some ideas are indeed so feared that they cannot be allowed on the marketplace in the name of “social peace”.
Am fully aware of the limits of free speech in Europe and the absolutist language of the First Amendment is an American construct. I believe in an absolutist construct, and the arrest of 54 people in France for making remarks sympathetic to the terror attacks is as problematic for me as any other governmental effort to regulate free expression. You are correct that I am arguing an American construct. I very much wish to do that.
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