More reader feedback on this long and comprehensive thread:
Jonah’s Jordanian friend raised the tired and disingenuous claim of freedom of speech never being raised for people convicted of anti-Semitic speech in France, or elsewhere in Europe/the larger West, or hate speech convictions being reserved for Antisemitism. This is such a trope, and is extremely annoying to anyone (I’m a South Asian Muslim) who believes in the absolute right of free speech (or at best, the 1st Amendment/Brandenburg Test), because European nations have a long history of criminalizing anti-Islamic speech or anything deemed too hurtful to Muslims.
Denmark, for example, convicted an ex-Muslim Iranian of being racist against Muslims. The UK routinely convicts people of anti-Muslim tweets or Facebook posts and stupidity, such as a year-long jail sentence or having an anti-Islamic poster in your window. Burning of a book (The Koran/Quran) can land you in jail for 70 days. In the UK. Conviction for anti-Muslim posters or speech or burning of a book is routine across Germany or Belgium or anywhere else in sensitive Europe. A racist joke is criminal in Sweden and a Finnish MP can be convicted of hate speech. The French have convicted Brigitte Bardot more than once for anti-Muslim immigrant and anti-Islamic speech and convictions for anti-Muslim speech are common in France.
Jews and Muslims are very well protected by the speech police in Europe. Any attempts to show the supposed “hypocrisy” of free speech campaigners is disingenuous. European-style hate speech laws are misguided but have protected European Muslims.
RE: the Jordanian friend, isn’t the reason obvious? France was complicit and helped in rounding up and sending Jewish people to execution camps. The legacy of Nazism is why anti-semitism is particularly taboo in Europe. I don’t think Dieudonné should have been jailed, but there are obvious historic reasons why anti-antisemitism is treated differently in Europe than other forms of offensive speech.
What is really racist is the idea that only nice white liberals want to challenge religion or demolish its pretensions or can handle satire and ridicule. Those who claim that it is ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic’ to mock the Prophet Mohammad, appear to imagine, with the racists, that all Muslims are reactionaries. It is here that leftwing ‘anti-racism’ joins hands with rightwing anti-Muslim bigotry.
What is called ‘offence to a community’ is more often than not actually a struggle within communities. There are hundreds of thousands, within Muslim communities in the West, and within Muslim-majority countries across the world, challenging religious-based reactionary ideas and policies and institutions; writers, cartoonists, political activists, daily putting their lives on the line in facing down blasphemy laws, standing up for equal rights and fighting for democratic freedoms; people like Pakistani cartoonist Sabir Nazar, the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, exiled to India after death threats, or the Iranian blogger Soheil Arabi, sentenced to death last year for ‘insulting the Prophet’. What happened in the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris was viscerally shocking; but in the non-Western world, those who stand up for their rights face such threats every day.
What nurtures the reactionaries, both within Muslim communities and outside it, is the pusillanimity of many so-called liberals, their unwillingness to stand up for basic liberal principles, their readiness to betray the progressives within minority communities. On the one hand, this allows Muslim extremists the room to operate. The more that society gives licence for people to be offended, the more that people will seize the opportunity to feel offended. And the more deadly they will become in expressing their outrage.
Jörg Heiser also defends Charlie, citing another misconstrued example of their “racism”:
They ridiculed the pope, orthodox Jews and Muslims in equal measure and with the same biting tone. They took ferocious stances against the bombings of Gaza. … So how can it be that these editors actually campaigning for the sans papier would be so quickly identified as islamophobic racists? Some of the shocking imagery suggested such an allegation. Take one of the most outrageous examples [seen right]. ‘touchez pas nos allocs’ translates as ‘Don’t touch our welfare allocations!’. The case seems clear: an outrageously racist and sexist depiction of girls abducted by Boko Haram and made sex slaves presented, in racial stereotyping, as grotesquely screaming pregnant women of colour, with a future as ‘welfare queens’ in France. But then I did a few minutes of research and came across this online discussion.
What the contributing users – some French, some American – were saying can be roughly distilled into this: mixing two unrelated events that made the news in France last year – the Nigerian school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram; the French government announcing welfare benefit cuts – is a double snipe, in classic Hebdo style, at both Boko Haram and those who hold grotesque fantasies and stereotypes about ‘welfare queens’, i.e. the French Far Right and its followers. Many of the covers of the magazine work in this strategy of mimetic parody mixing two seemingly unrelated things to create crude absurdity in order to respond to the crude absurdity of the Le Pen followers (think of the [Steven] Colbert Report done by Southpark, but ten times amplified by France’s tradition of mean, challenging joking, made to grin and bear it, going back to the 17th century ).
Max Fisher draws a good parallel to that controversial cover:
To get a sense of how Charlie Hebdo’s two-layer humor works, recall this 2008 cover from the New Yorker. It portrayed Barack Obama, then a presidential candidate, as Muslim. And it portrayed his wife, Michelle Obama, as a rifle-toting militant in the style of the black nationalists of the 1960s. It caused some controversy.
If you saw this cover knowing nothing about the New Yorker or very little about American politics, you would read it as a racist and Islamophobic portrayal of the Obamas, an endorsement of the idea that they are secret black nationalist Muslims. In fact, though, most Americans immediately recognized that the New Yorker was in fact satirizing Republican portrayals of the Obamas, and that the cover was lampooning rather than endorsing that portrayal.
To understand Charlie Hebdo covers, you have to look at them the same way that you look at this New Yorker cover. And you also have to know something about the context of French politics and social issues.
(Photo: A Jewish man holding a placard reading “I’m Ahmed” in English attends the funeral ceremony for Ahmed Merabet, the French policeman killed by the Kouachi brothers in Wednesday’s attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine, at Takva Mosque before he is buried at the Muslim Cemetery of Bobigny in Paris, France on January 13, 2015. By Mehmet Kaman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)