The Dim-Post

January 9, 2015

Brief thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo massacre

Filed under: media — danylmc @ 8:16 am
  • 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.

58 Comments »

  1. “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?”

    Is there a compelling reason to republish them, rather than just explain what’s in them? I’m sure anyone who cares can find them anyway from the outlets which care about publishing them.

    Comment by izogi — January 9, 2015 @ 8:27 am

  2. 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.

    Charlie Hebdo did not set out to mock and offend Muslims (or Jews or Christians) it mocked aspects of religion that are in opposition to liberal values.

    Comment by NeilM — January 9, 2015 @ 9:42 am

  3. Cartoons making fun of Mohammad have become a focal-point for issues of free speech in Europe. Which is a shame.

    They are becoming the focal point because of the reactions that they provoke. There is ample satire and ridicule for all other faiths, Christian and Jewish in particular. Charlie Hebdo was not focused on Mohammed or Islam, they dished out equally in all directions.

    If anything threatens free speech, it will become the focal point of free speech.

    Point being, if you give in to one group, you will eventually give in to the others. Just look how often you here the calls like “you should try and say that to muslims” or “you would never dare to say that about Islam” whenever you criticise Christians. And they do have a point.

    Already we have Christians blaming the victims at Charlie Hebdo for their fate. Mostly because they have be on the receiving end on their satire as well.

    Comment by eszett — January 9, 2015 @ 9:42 am

  4. The pint Muslims are trying to make is that it is more than disrespectful to draw images of the Prophet, it is blasphemous. What I don’t understand is why Westerners think they can blaspheme another religion in the name of freedom of speech. Is it not hate speech?

    IMHO, the cartoonists are not very clever – there must be other much more ‘humourous’ ways of making their satirical point without having to break this religious prohibition. Surely?

    Comment by Stephanie — January 9, 2015 @ 10:11 am

  5. @izogi: The fascinating thing for me has been how many sites *have* republished the cartoons, but with *no* explanation, not even a translation. It just seems designed to feed the narrative that “Muslims just hate ANY depiction of Muhammad!” which is funny, since the whole point of Charlie Hebdo was to be the most obnoxious, inflammatory “satirical” newspaper possible. (They also did a cartoon depicting girls abducted by Boko Haram as welfare queens so I don’t think we’re talking about sensitive, nuanced political commentary.)

    Comment by Stephanie Rodgers — January 9, 2015 @ 10:17 am

  6. Unfortunately, the Americans I know to a man (and woman) have locked in the ‘they hate us because we are free” meme. The great thing about that is it then means you don’t have to think about the reality of Western policy in the Middle East or the reality of the state of the imperialist legacy Muslim communities in France (and the UK).

    The central thrust of one of the main terrorist arguments – that western commitment to democracy is self-serving and skin deep – has much more validity than we would like to admit. The litany of brutal dictatorships and military coups supported by our “freedom loving” western governments in the Middle East is terrible, as is piously going on about “freedom of expression” whilst shipping off the latest batch of precision guided munitions for Israel to use to keep the Palestinians leaderless and hopeless.

    When you look at these extremist Islamic beliefs they don’t just spring from nowhere, they grow in fertile soil. These two guys they are hunting might be Islamic terrorists, but they are also French citizens who are the products of a near total economic and cultural alienation. When that migrant population has a validating religion for radicalisation, the result is inevitable.

    That combination of a validating religion, economic and cultural alienation, and a strong argument are the three things that together creates the toxic environment from which these sorts of internal terrorists spring. Take away any one, and these sorts of terrorists would vanish.

    Of course, Western governments have no intention to do anything about the actual causes of internal terror, so they’ll do the only thing left to them – crack down harder, all the while huffing and puffing about the meaning of freedom of expression.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 9, 2015 @ 10:38 am

  7. It’s hardly blasphemy if you’re not a muslim is it? And if you are, surely you should leave it up to Allah to hand out the punishment?

    Comment by Purple-Shirted Eye Stabber — January 9, 2015 @ 10:42 am

  8. “…What I don’t understand is why Westerners think they can blaspheme another religion in the name of freedom of speech. Is it not hate speech..?”

    Because between about 1650 to 1789 the West decided to forsake wars of religion and it dispensed with superstition, the rule of theocrats and autocrats and embraced reason and the enlightenment. The French revolution ushered in the final victory of modernity, marked the beginning of the modern age, and consigned religion to a long, slow decline. Since then we’ve been unafraid of superstition.

    As for hate speech, I believe you have an absolute right to say whatever you want, and be judged on your words.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 9, 2015 @ 10:47 am

  9. “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” – uh no, free speech is exactly for this sort of speech. Its not just for grand and eloquent speech.

    Comment by ghostwhowalksnz — January 9, 2015 @ 11:42 am

  10. I can see why the depiction of Mohammad would offend. But to claim we shouldn’t have the right to offend a group because they are somehow under-enfranchised is horse-pookie. Anyone can claim to be underenfranchised, but in the eyes of the law, the truth is they are not, in any society in which everyone shares the same right expression and suffrage. Certain people took it upon themselves to execute others because they were offended, and in a society which considers the right to offend others to make a point a central one, the use of violence as a response to an affronted sensibility is illegal and a calculated attempt to normalise violence and terror as a primary form of discourse. At the risk of contravening Godwin’s law, the west experimented with such methods in Europe and Russia in the 30’s and 40′ and have largely rejected them. France was invaded, and summary executions are a grisly painful memory for many. In political discourse people often go out of their way to offend others, and although I appreciate the idea that news outlets pounce with glee on this kind of thing, with respect, I think this issue transcends that, and it is a seroius issue, not about ‘Islam’ but about the terms of engagement that have been proven the most effective, when opinions differ. Which, of course isn’t meant to infer that you feel otherwise.

    Comment by Lee Clark — January 9, 2015 @ 11:53 am

  11. As for hate speech, I believe you have an absolute right to say whatever you want, and be judged on your words.

    No you don’t. Unless you really mean that the only permissible response to someone publishing a webpage exhorting people to target mosques with pipebombs (with links to other sites that tell you how to build such devices) is a stern “tsk, tsk, tsk … how inappropriate!”

    Comment by Flashing Light — January 9, 2015 @ 11:56 am

  12. “…you don’t. Unless you really mean that the only permissible response to someone publishing a webpage exhorting people to target mosques with pipebombs (with links to other sites that tell you how to build such devices) is a stern “tsk, tsk, tsk … how inappropriate..!””

    Well, pretty much that IS what I think. But if someone then builds a pipebomb and blows up a Mosque then I expect the author of the web page to charged as a party to an actual crime.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 9, 2015 @ 12:19 pm

  13. Charlie Hebdo did not set out to mock and offend Muslims (or Jews or Christians) it mocked aspects of religion that are in opposition to liberal values.

    If you look at their cartoons, I think that they really did set out to mock and offend Muslims and Christians and Jews. And pretty much everyone else. Some of their content was overtly racist or anti-semitic. And hey, it was their right to be anti-semites and racists, blah blah blah. Ten years ago I would have thought that guys who set out to offend everyone like that ‘because they could’ were awesome. Maybe I’m getting old, but now it seems pointless. And if you’re a left-wing artist and your work becomes a vehicle for Islamic radicals and far-right political groups to advance their agendas, you’re really doing it wrong.

    Comment by danylmc — January 9, 2015 @ 12:28 pm

  14. It validates their desire for the west and liberal democracy to be locked in an existential ‘clash of civilisations’ with Islam.

    There is a clash over what civilisation should be. In large parts of Africa and the Middle East there is a war between the forces of patriarchal oppressive tribalism and liberal democracy. This may not have any huge impact on France but what happened to CH is a part of that broader struggle which is causing a great deal of suffering and the outcome of which will determine quite profoundly the type of societies that eventuate.

    That struggle just happens to coincide in many respects with some major religious and ethnic divisions.

    Comment by NeilM — January 9, 2015 @ 12:35 pm

  15. @Stephanie: so I believe not only that free speech is absolute, but it is a right given by a deity. Hence any criticism of it is blasphemous to my religion.

    On that basis, you shouldn’t be able to attack free speech, because to do so is blasphemy.

    Comment by richdrich — January 9, 2015 @ 12:43 pm

  16. Well, pretty much that IS what I think. But if someone then builds a pipebomb and blows up a Mosque then I expect the author of the web page to charged as a party to an actual crime.

    Why?

    By your reasoning, trying to hire a hitman to kill someone shouldn’t be a crime unless and until the hitman actually kills the target. Which is pretty silly.

    Comment by Flashing Light — January 9, 2015 @ 12:54 pm

  17. Should Islam be a de facto state religion with special rights and protections? No!
    If I draw a cartoon of Mohummad and Allah playing chess, should I be shot or fired from my job or prosecuted? There are some who think I should. We should push back fiercely against these ideas by publishing clearly that Allah is not God, Mohummad is not his messager and there is no truth in the quoran.

    Comment by artcroft — January 9, 2015 @ 1:10 pm

  18. We should push back fiercely against these ideas by publishing clearly that Allah is not God, Mohummad is not his messager and there is no truth in the quoran.

    Huh? How do you go from “people shouldn’t be shot/fired/prosecuted for saying X” to claiming that there’s some sort of duty on us to affirmatively say X? Doesn’t free speech also mean that I get to not say things if I don’t want to?

    Comment by Flashing Light — January 9, 2015 @ 1:20 pm

  19. @16 “Should Islam be a de facto state religion with special rights and protections? No!”

    Should anything be a de facto state religion? Can we agree that there should be no religion in Parliament, no head of a church as our head of state, no special status in our democracy for one particular religion? When are we going to do that?

    Basic problem here: there’s enlightenment versus theocracy, and there’s “their” god versus “ours”. These are not the same, even though many commentators (largely on the Right) like to pretend they are.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — January 9, 2015 @ 1:25 pm

  20. I particularly liked this point: “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.”

    (Subject to the usual “Not all newspaper editors” caveat).

    Comment by jmarshall — January 9, 2015 @ 1:40 pm

  21. “…By your reasoning, trying to hire a hitman to kill someone shouldn’t be a crime unless and until the hitman actually kills the target…”

    No, SAYING I am going to hire a hitman shouldn’t be a crime until such time as I actually do so.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 9, 2015 @ 2:07 pm

  22. @ Flashing Light.

    “Doesn’t free speech also mean that I get to not say things if I don’t want to?”

    Absolutely. But if I want to I shouldn’t be fearful of the consequences. At present there are those who want to encourage self-censorship around Islam. I won’t accept that. I won’t be publishing Hebdo’s cartoons – they are tasteless, but I do challenge the idea that Mohummad, Islam and the Quran as taboo topics.

    Comment by artcroft — January 9, 2015 @ 2:10 pm

  23. Is it not hate speech?

    Hate speech is questionable but what isn’t is that mass murder has taken place. Does that trump hate speech?

    Comment by Ross — January 9, 2015 @ 2:21 pm

  24. Meanwhile a man has been arrested, possibly for wearing an “I’m with stupid” t-shirt. Hate speech at its extreme, eh Stephanie?

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/08/queensland-man-arrested-waving-lnp-campaigners-im-with-stupid-t-shirt

    Comment by Ross — January 9, 2015 @ 2:42 pm

  25. Cause and Effect: Put aside this incident- I am not belittling it, but for the moment and ask what is the Cause? My view is that the cause is Bush1 Bush2, and Blair et al and the incursions in Iraq and Afganistan. This has made radicals of Muslims – the Effect

    Comment by Richard — January 9, 2015 @ 3:43 pm

  26. What’s struck me is how on the Right there’s been quite a bit of “the real issue is Muslim immigration” while on the Left it’s been “the real issue is islamophobia”.

    Neither of which addresses the actual events.

    Comment by NeilM — January 9, 2015 @ 4:34 pm

  27. “(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.)”

    There’s contradiction there at all. All the non-state media media from the conservative reactionaries like the Guardian and the Sun to the liberal NY Times and Financial Times have their ability to express themselves freely underpinned by their ability to make money. You might not like it but Princess Kate, and car crash victims are part of the “bundle” that supports our freedom of speech.

    “……but Europe’s Muslims are mostly a poor, powerless, disenfranchised group of people subject to racism and Islamophobia.”

    You have an extremely low estimation of the values of the vast range of people – Algeria, Syria, Turkey, Egypt etc, etc – from which the moslems of Europe are drawn, most of whom would be horrified at what has been done in their name. One of the Police killed by the Charlie Hebdo gunmen was a moslem as was a staff member of the magazine. Nor would most of them condone the extreme anti-Semitic action that members of their communities have been taking against members of the Jewish community in France – far more extreme than any islamaphobic actions by members of the majority communities of Europe against moslems. One interesting thing about moslem extremism is that it is focused on both believers and non-believers alike and is not specifically targeted against the liberals of the west. They are just one more target of opportunity. Its a bit like the commies. They used to say better red than dead but being red was guarantee against being dead if you were the wrong kind of red.

    “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’”

    This is a serious stretch. There ain’t no global right wing jihad against the left and Anders Breivik was a classic lone gunman who neither led nor followed.

    “Maybe I’m getting old, but now it seems pointless”

    Couldn’t agree more but free speech ain’t about stupid/non stupid otherwise Bomber Bradbury and Cameron Slater would be in permanent preventative detention .

    “That combination of a validating religion, economic and cultural alienation, and a strong argument are the three things that together creates the toxic environment from which these sorts of internal terrorists spring”

    This is a far more accurate description of Egypt than France, Sanctuary, and also seems more than a touch infected by historical inevitability..

    Comment by Tinakori — January 9, 2015 @ 5:45 pm

  28. That should be “There’s no contradiction….” and “…being red was no guarantee against being dead…”

    And while I remember,

    “The litany of brutal dictatorships and military coups supported by our “freedom loving” western governments in the Middle East is terrible, as is piously going on about “freedom of expression” whilst shipping off the latest batch of precision guided munitions for Israel to use to keep the Palestinians leaderless and hopeless.”

    Oh please, spare us the undergraduate moralising. Translated into English all that mean is that states democratic and otherwise engage with states democratic and otherwise. It ain’t news and it ain’t hypocritical. As a tiny nation we have greater freedom to indulge in high stepping moralism. Big countries, whose interests are far wider, do not.

    Comment by Tinakori — January 9, 2015 @ 6:21 pm

  29. Oh please, spare us the undergraduate moralising.

    No doubt you’d have sung the same tune if the subject had been apartheid South Africa. And if you’re old enough, you probably did.

    Comment by Joe W — January 9, 2015 @ 7:12 pm

  30. “…Oh please, spare us the undergraduate moralising…”

    Techy techy, someone clearly had to work through the holidays.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 9, 2015 @ 8:21 pm

  31. “No doubt you’d have sung the same tune if the subject had been apartheid South Africa. And if you’re old enough, you probably did.”

    I could bore you with war stories of anti-tour demos but thinking in stereotypes is your problem not mine

    “Techy techy, someone clearly had to work through the holidays.”

    Well diagnosed, Sanctuary. And Happy New Year by the way.

    Comment by Tinakori — January 9, 2015 @ 8:28 pm

  32. I could bore you with war stories of anti-tour demos

    Hey, be my guest. I’d love to hear about how you viciously thrust your groin into Ross Meurant’s boot.

    Comment by Joe W — January 10, 2015 @ 12:15 am

  33. The pint (sic and a blasphemously funny one too) Muslims are trying to make is that it is more than disrespectful to draw images of the Prophet, it is blasphemous. What I don’t understand is why Westerners think they can blaspheme another religion in the name of freedom of speech. Is it not hate speech?

    Blasphemy, the ultimate victimless crime.
    So, which religions are “Westeners” allowed to blaspheme against? Me stating that I am an atheist is blasphemy to most religions. Is that hate speech?

    The point being is that blasphemy is pure and utter non-sense. It is nothing more than “You upset me with what you said about my religion”. Well, tough.

    IMHO, the cartoonists are not very clever – there must be other much more ‘humourous’ ways of making their satirical point without having to break this religious prohibition. Surely?

    Completely and utterly irrelevant. Nobody says that you have to like it or think that it’s funny. In fact free speech is important for exactly things that you dislike.

    The whole point is that there are numerous “religious prohibitions” that protect religion from criticism. If you are part of that religion, you are free to observe that prohibition to your hearts content.
    Everyone else is and should be free not to. In any way they desire.

    Comment by eszett — January 10, 2015 @ 12:17 am

  34. whilst shipping off the latest batch of precision guided munitions for Israel to use to keep the Palestinians leaderless and hopeless

    You might not have noticed but French governments since 1967 haven’t been particularly friendly towards Israel and it’s unlikely any of the CH staff shipped arms anywhere.

    The “we provoked them” argument isn’t very convincing.

    Comment by NeilM — January 10, 2015 @ 12:22 am

  35. @izogi: The fascinating thing for me has been how many sites *have* republished the cartoons, but with *no* explanation, not even a translation. It just seems designed to feed the narrative that “Muslims just hate ANY depiction of Muhammad!” which is funny, since the whole point of Charlie Hebdo was to be the most obnoxious, inflammatory “satirical” newspaper possible. (They also did a cartoon depicting girls abducted by Boko Haram as welfare queens so I don’t think we’re talking about sensitive, nuanced political commentary.)

    So what? Nobody ever claimed that Charlie Hebdo was sensitive, nuanced political commentary. In fact, they themselves claimed that they are a satirical newspaper. Most satirical newspapers are obnoxious and inflammatory.
    What’s the point that you are trying to make here?

    Comment by eszett — January 10, 2015 @ 12:24 am

  36. @ Flashing Light (again) – today I read that both the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly had been radicalised by the same preacher in Paris. So, should the preacher be charged and jailed? I would say yes – because the gun he loaded has gone off.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 10, 2015 @ 8:27 am

  37. The idea that the cartoonists were killed because of the cartoons seems a little far fetched. The cartoons were published almost 3 years ago. Retribution doesn’t usually take that long. It is highly likely that in the absence of any cartoons, the terrorists would have attacked a different target. Indeed just yesterday 4 people were killed by terrorists at a Jewish supermarket in France. I doubt anyone here would suggest the supermarket is somehow to blame for that.

    http://rt.com/news/221239-gunshots-hostage-dammartin-france/

    Comment by Ross — January 10, 2015 @ 9:09 am

  38. Ten years ago I would have thought that guys who set out to offend everyone like that ‘because they could’ were awesome. Maybe I’m getting old, but now it seems pointless.

    I was trying to formulate something along the lines of – it’s a bleak irony that this tragedy proves it not pointless but others have done it better than I could:

    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/07/the-blasphemy-we-need/?_r=0

    This doesn’t address the issue of how the position of Muslims within French society should influence judgement on CH content. My view is that CH attacks power structures and hubris that do damage within religious communities and Marine Le Pen is no fan so I’d argue CH is force coutering alienation.

    Comment by NeilM — January 10, 2015 @ 11:17 am

  39. Hi Danyl, apologies in advance for this post. I’m making it here since i have tried to comment at Pundit but can’t get through their vetting system. So delete this if you consider this inappropriate.

    I saw your comments re cartoons of child pornography and would like to make a few observations.

    Any cartoon of child pornraphy by definition will depict violence to a defenseless person. Rude political caricatures of Mohamed, Moses or Jesus do not.

    If you are talking about a satirical magazine publishing a satirical cartoon of child pornography then one would presume the intended targets are pedophiles not children.

    Depicting an act of sexual violence in that context would be wrong but not because of its target but because the act is itself wrong.

    I can’t see any equivalence with what CH publish.

    Comment by NeilM — January 10, 2015 @ 7:24 pm

  40. > “This debate and dynamic is great for both radical Islamic militants and racist far-right politicians, but bad for pretty much everyone else”

    No Danyl, it’s good for people who care about liberal values too. It’s clear that you don’t in this case.

    Comment by Matthew — January 11, 2015 @ 8:18 am

  41. Neil

    I don’t think Danyl has made any comments re child pornography, but I did read an opinion piece on Stuff recently which compared these cartoons with child pornography and made the same point as you. One involves being offended, the other involves being subject to physical abuse/violence. In other words, free speech has its limits but publishing satirical cartoons is not remotely like publishing acts of child pornography.

    Comment by Ross — January 11, 2015 @ 8:33 am

  42. Any cartoon of child pornraphy by definition will depict violence to a defenseless person. Rude political caricatures of Mohamed, Moses or Jesus do not.

    If you are talking about a satirical magazine publishing a satirical cartoon of child pornography then one would presume the intended targets are pedophiles not children.

    Depicting an act of sexual violence in that context would be wrong but not because of its target but because the act is itself wrong.

    But lots and lots of movies, books and other publications in the west depict violence to defenseless persons, depict sexual violence etc. They aren’t censored. But there are plenty of other forms of censorship in western countries. Holocaust denial is illegal in France, and many other European countries. Rather than try and argue that western countries censor holocaust denial and other forms of speech, but still somehow have absolute free speech, it seems easier to me to accept that (a) we don’t have absolute freedom of speech and (b) the limits of free speech are hard to define in multicultural societies in which different groups of people are offended by different things.

    Comment by danylmc — January 11, 2015 @ 8:36 am

  43. Rather than try and argue that western countries censor holocaust denial and other forms of speech, but still somehow have absolute free speech, it seems easier to me to accept that (a) we don’t have absolute freedom of speech and (b) the limits of free speech are hard to define in multicultural societies in which different groups of people are offended by different things.

    Yes. Personally, I think the freedom of speech thing is a canard. As you say, holocaust denial is illegal in France so they don’t have freedom of speech to start with. Also, Charbonniere fired a cartoonist for offending Jews, so is hardly the poster boy for absolute free speech that he’s being made out to be. What’s actually at stake here isn’t the absolute right to freedom of speech, it’s the absolute right not to have to respect people’s religions. The French Revolution was almost as much about the overthrow of the Church as it was about the overthrow of the aristocracy, and the dismissal of religious special pleading is still a major principle of the republic. That’s what Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were about, not freedom of speech.

    Which is why, overall, I think you’re wrong. Comparing this to child pornography is a red herring. If you think a religion is ridiculous (and Islam is about as ridiculous as it gets in a very highly contested field), you can mock the fuck out of it and society has to back you up on it, or we should just scrap the Enlightenment, reinstate blasphemy laws and be done with it. People who can’t handle that should find somewhere more authoritarian to live – there are plenty of places out there.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — January 11, 2015 @ 9:55 am

  44. (a) we don’t have absolute freedom of speech and (b) the limits of free speech are hard to define in multicultural societies in which different groups of people are offended by different things.

    I agree. I’d say that widespread re-publishing of CH cartoons as a from of pro-free speech protest would be needlessly provocative.

    I’m not convinced though that CH should take into special consideration – over and above any consideration given to other religions – because a large number of French Muslims are marginalized.

    I think that in principle that would be wrong and I don’t think it would afford anyone any protection against this sort of attack. The perpetrators didn’t attack Marine Le Pen or any one else in the FN or any extreme right group – the actual threat to Muslims – rather they killed left wing cartoonists, shoppers in a kocher sop and had planned to attack a school.

    Comment by NeilM — January 11, 2015 @ 10:03 am

  45. Argument by analogy is like a glass have full.

    I’ve seen CH compared with the KKK and pedophiles. Not with The Onion or Punch.

    The extreme right have taken particular CH cartoons – out of context – to suit their cause.

    I’d argue that the only way the KKK comparisons can work is if the cartons are taken out of the context of CH being a satirical magazine.

    Comment by NeilM — January 12, 2015 @ 9:18 am

  46. What I find incongruous is that most/all Abrahamic religions posit some form of divine retribution system in the form of hellfire, etc. for those that fail to comply with their tenets.

    Why, in that case, do they care about exacting earthly retribution? Doesn’t that show a lack of faith?

    Comment by richdrich — January 12, 2015 @ 9:37 am

  47. Harretz has provided a possibly more apt comparison.

    The editors would have known the cartoon would give offence, would provoke, indeed that was part of the intent to publish,

    They would have known the possibility that some extremists would take extreme offence and threat death would be high.

    And in the Middle East politically motivated violence is much more prevalent than in France and the risks more immediate.

    Not only the Harretz staff would be placed at risk but others who might just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    I can think of two possible objections.

    This is within the Israeli community. But then can no one else’s ke comments that might antagonise Israeli extremists.

    And secondly, these extremists aren’t part of an alienated minority so there’s no problem antagonising them. I’m not convinced by that.

    Comment by NeilM — January 12, 2015 @ 4:34 pm

  48. Whenever a terrorist attack like this happens, lefties, including myself, do the traditional leftie thing which is to shoulder some of the blame ourselves for being part of the meddling, evil West. No, they shouldn’t have done it, we say, but we’re hardly blameless in the whole affair. Those on the right refuse responsibility, their moral view of the world being far more black and white.

    Unfortunately I find myself siding with the right more and more on this issue. True, Amurica and the West have dicked around with the rest of the world since the end of World War Two, often in a painful way for locals. But the Middle East doesn’t hold some kind of special honour of being dicked around more than any other region. Chileans, whose democratically elected socialist government was overthrown by the US in 1973 have at least as much right to hate the US government and the West. But you don’t see Chileans blowing themselves up in the name of their religion. Why is it that the Middle East and Islam can play the victim card whenever something like this happens?

    Was it the Iraq war in 2003 you say? Islamic terrorists have been going at it way before then. This wiki link is enlightening, it seems the 80s were a particular highpoint for jihadism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_battles_and_other_violent_events_by_death_toll#Terrorist_attacks.

    Comment by Seb Rattansen — January 13, 2015 @ 1:22 am

  49. …you don’t see Chileans blowing themselves up in the name of their religion. Why is it that the Middle East and Islam can play the victim card whenever something like this happens?

    Interference from Western powers is a comparatively new thing for South America. Western (more accurately European) involvement in the Middle East goes back over 1,000 years.

    Comment by Phil — January 13, 2015 @ 8:57 am

  50. “Western (more accurately European) involvement in the Middle East goes back over 1,000 years.”
    And Moorish Europe..?

    France also offended against free speech with (now repealed) laws against insulting the President. They also offend with laws against burqa.
    But those amongst us without sin can cast the first stone, eh?
    I wonder how readers feel about the laws against denying the holocaust? I think it should be repealed: you need to be able to identify those who struggle with facts and evidence.
    I was amused by the liberals that called for “Climate Change Denial*” to be made illegal or defined as a mental illness. Don’t authoritarian figures often silence critics via mental institutions? *Presumably you are safe if, like me, you claim “but the climate has ALWAYS changed!”?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — January 13, 2015 @ 1:31 pm

  51. Interference from Western powers is a comparatively new thing for South America

    Columbus?

    Comment by NeilM — January 13, 2015 @ 8:01 pm

  52. A few thoughts from a French citizen, of NZ origin, irregular reader of Charlie Hebdo these last 10 years or so, occasional reader of Danyl…
    I brought up my children in France. My life partner of these past 8 years is Muslim.
    I came here to read thoughtful responses from New Zealanders, and I came to the right place. Here are mine.

    * Geopolitics: This is not original, but the current “global jihad” state of affairs all dates from 2001. Not from the destruction of the Twin Towers — that could have been an oddity, instead of the defining event of the new century, but for the US response to it : the invasion of two sovereign nations of Muslim culture. Based on unstated geopolitical motives (the Cheney crew), but domestically enabled by ordinary Americans’ thirst for Muslim blood. I am not exaggerating, anyone who followed the US blogosphere at the time will tell you this. It’s hardly surprising that this felt like a war on Islam to a very large number of Muslims, because that’s what it felt like to a very large number of Americans too.

    * Added to this blowback from Afghanistan/Iraq is the French post-colonial situation. Millions of mostly illiterate north Africans came to France in the 60s to work in factories, with lots of resentment on both sides (France “lost” the Algerian war…). Their French-born children are “second-generation immigrants”, like my own. Coming from a cultural background where religious principles are at least as important as the law of the land — think France or NZ as little as a century ago — they often tend to disapprove of the values of the French republic, or even reject them outright. The Republic is deliberately blind to the race or religion of its citizens, and has done a very poor job of integrating both the original immigrants and their offspring. The collective values of their source culture are in conflict with French individualism; endogamy is the rule, and a Muslim woman who marries a non-Muslim is typically an outcast from her community.

    * Charlie Hebdo is a leftist feminist anti-racist anti-militarist satirical paper, which pulls no punches with respect to its targets. It never ridicules immigrants, women, Muslims, Blacks etc as such, but, as with all good satire, you can easily understand the opposite of the intended meaning if you don’t get the context. It is my experience that most Muslims are uncomfortable with what they do, because blasphemy is a big no-no. A certain proportion of French Muslims will conclude that the paper is anti-Muslim, because the blasphemy thing is too big a wall for them to climb; they’re not going to get the joke, even though it isn’t against them. This is not a problem for the great majority, because if you don’t like a paper you don’t read it; and they understand that religious freedom means freedom to criticise religion too. Freedom of speech is by no means absolute in France; you can go to jail for denying the Holocaust, for incitement to murder, for racist statements etc. CH has frequently been taken to court, and has won every time. It is not a racist paper.

    * Those who are militantly against CH’s blasphemous cartoons etc, and would like to shut them down, whether by legal process, firebomb or whatever, are those who are trying to legitimize the place of religion in the public sphere. This has included conservative Catholics in the past, but now it’s generally Muslims. Typically their wives will wear headscarves in the street (which is fine, of course), and they will want Muslim girls to wear headscarves to school (this is forbidden, and rightly so in my view, but is controversial). Religion in the public sphere is a no-no in France; it is considered a private matter, for individual choice.

    Oh that’s enough rambling. Hope you find some useful insights. Cheers.

    Breaking : Charlie Hebdo will be at newsagents tomorrow as usual on a Wednesday. However, they’re printing 3 million instead of the usual 60 000 or so.
    Cover features Mahomet (obviously). It’s brilliant. Made me lose my shit. But that’s been frequent over this past week.
    http://md1.libe.com/photo/707192-une-charlie-png.jpg?modified_at=1421099764&width=750

    Comment by Alistair Connor — January 14, 2015 @ 4:56 am

  53. Oh OK, another thing :
    It’s pretty damn hard to judge how “offensive” CH is, when you don’t have the language and cultural references to understand for yourself. This hasn’t stopped the world’s journalists and commentators from having a go, and getting it badly wrong in 95% of cases.
    Among people I respect who, in my view, have got it wrong, are Glenn Greenwald and danylmc. No big deal.

    I am a big fan of http://www.jesusandmo.net/ Jesus and Mo. CH is more vulgar and sexualised, but on strictly religious matters, it’s on about the same level. What do you reckon? Should the author refrain from being so mean?

    Comment by Alistair Connor — January 14, 2015 @ 5:15 am

  54. Interesting post Alistair. You’re in a better position than most to provide insights. I don’t 100% agree with your geopolitical analysis though: the ideology of the observer in question defines the Bush administration’s objectives in the Iraq war. Those who see American as a greedy empire see oil as the motive. Those who focus on the religious zealotry of Bush see a holy crusade against Islam. I disagree with both: Bush truly believed he was bringing freedom and democracy to that region, and that it would be a cakewalk (or so his advisors told him). Anyway, that’s another story…

    Comment by Seb Rattansen — January 15, 2015 @ 2:12 pm

  55. Bush truly believed he was bringing freedom and democracy to that region, and that it would be a cakewalk (or so his advisors told him)

    He might have. But as the HoS of the most powerful country on Earth, Bush didn’t have the right to indulge in such fantasies. So he is not excused.

    Comment by Gregor W — January 15, 2015 @ 4:15 pm

  56. “Bush truly believed he was bringing freedom and democracy to that region”

    That is pretty hard to reconcile with his initial planning. The planning for Post-Saddam phase was wafer-thin, and mostly focussed on installing a govt bsaed around various exiled Iraqis who had been lobbying like mad for several years. It was beleived these guys would be greeted as liberating heroes, but it turned out they had virtually no support at all in-country. The ‘democracy’ part grew out of Iraqi rejection of this plan.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — January 16, 2015 @ 6:42 am

  57. http://www.juancole.com/2015/01/sharpening-contradictions-satirists.html

    Blasphemy had nothing to do with the terrorist attack. It was simply a means to recruit.

    Comment by Ross — January 18, 2015 @ 9:29 am

  58. First interesting discussion of this multidimensional issue that I’ve happened upon. Thanks. Islam retains barbaric behaviour as part of its culture – justified when necessary by quotes from the Koran. The left in western countries made multiculturalism fashionable in the ’70s due to their assumption that immigrants will assimilate into the mainstream. Instead, immigrants have since then tended to form segregated ghettos in the host countries to an alarming degree. One could hold the left responsible for creating consequent nests of barbarism in the host countries and cite any number of headlines of instances of violence and mutilation to prove the point. I haven’t seen the left apologise for their error yet. Perhaps they lack sufficient grace, and a conscience…

    The CH thing is merely a symptom of the problem. True that the capitalists and their government agents see 3rd world retards as fair game for exploitation, but this has been business as usual since the 19th century or (in the case of the the European powers) much earlier. Both left and right governments of western countries continue to support this status quo regardless of any vapid blatherings that may spout from their mouths in tv sound bites to pretend it ain’t so. Young islamic males try to fight back. Their own governments are way better at exploiting them nowadays than foreign capitalists but hey, if you’re a young guy you need to attack an easy target. Foreign do-gooders that show up unarmed, for instance. Just chop their heads off. It’s called displacement (in psychology energy seeking an outlet is often displaced into the easy path when it encounters a block). Islamic governments know their own people well enough to insulate themselves with enough armed guards.

    Spare a thought then for them young macho moslem males: poor buggers can’t play rugby – sand gets in your eyes, mouth & nose in the desert when you hit the ground – they can’t drive fast cars on sand either so no motor sports, so how can they find a better outlet for all that aggression their testosterone produces than eliminating suitable foreigners as substitutes for their real targets?

    The right think this is all great fun: survival of the fittest, let the losers battle it out. No need to divide and rule when the people out there are so good at dividing amongst themselves, eh? The left seem caught between compulsive hand-wringing and the studious aversion to even acknowledging that there’s a problem. Opportunity to go whining in the streets about anything the right does gets some of them motivated, but anything serious happening and all you get from that quarter is dead silence. Those of us alienated from both left & right can only contribute constructively if we offer solutions, but we know that democracy was designed to prevent problem-solvers from getting anywhere near the levers of power, don’t we? Okay, sure, that can just be an excuse to say `not my problem’ & move on, so perhaps better to float the solution anyway: positive role models plus lateral-thinking. Tell those fighting to advocate their religion that they’ve got a better future as non-violent evangelists: all they need do is rewrite the Koran, take out all the directives to kill foreigners plus anyone who doesn’t believe in Islam and any other text can condones barbaric behaviour, then publish the new version. That would create an Islam for the future that nobody would find offensive and threatening.

    Comment by Dennis — January 21, 2015 @ 9:00 pm


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