January 9, 2015
Brief thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo massacre
- Some people get really excited when things like this happen. It validates their desire for the west and liberal democracy to be locked in an existential ‘clash of civilisations’ with Islam. (Newspaper editors get all excited too, since attacks on other news outlets lets them indulge a fantasy that they’re heroes upholding western civilisation instead of businesses who market their products with stories about car-crash victims and Princess Kate.)
- Obviously there are people living in western democracies whose beliefs are in conflict with ideals like pluralism and freedom of speech. The guys who committed the Charlie Hebdo massacre; right-wing terrorists like Anders Breivik who murdered about eighty people, mostly teenagers in Norway in 2011 because he thought he was at war with ‘the left’ and ‘multiculturalism’. These people are frightening but the chances of them prevailing in a war of ideas against western democracy are zero. They’re a challenge to the police and state security services, not to our values or our future, and we certainly don’t need to go to war with the demographics these people pretend to represent.
- Cartoons making fun of Mohammad have become a focal-point for issues of free speech in Europe. Which is a shame. People have the right to draw and publish these cartoons without fear of reprisal; but Europe’s Muslims are mostly a poor, powerless, disenfranchised group of people subject to racism and Islamophobia. Publishing cartoons specifically designed to mock and offend them as much as possible just to prove that you can seems like a not-great use of the right to free speech.
- European and other western media outlets are now locked into a debate about publication of these images framed by violent Islamic radicals. Do you not show these images, and let mass-murderers dictate the limits of free speech? Or re-publish them and compound the insult to an already marginalised group of people, thus empowering the groups who perpetuate these attacks? This debate and dynamic is great for both radical Islamic militants and racist far-right politicians, but bad for pretty much everyone else.
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