Nous Sommes Charlie, But Do We Really Want To Be? Ctd

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 Funeral ceremony held for Ahmed Merabet in Parisof 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.

Another reader:

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.

Regarding the third Abrahamic religion, another notes that “France banned an ad depicting Jesus as a female because of its ‘intrusion on people’s innermost beliefs.'” Meanwhile, like many others, Kenan Malik rejects the notion that Charlie is racist:

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 welfarebiting 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 002485946.0New 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)

The New Charlie Issue Sold Out

Charlie Hebdo #1178 January 14, 2015

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Within minutes:

At a news kiosk across from Paris’ city hall early on Wednesday morning, there was already a line before sunrise at 7:15 a.m. – 45 minutes before the newsstand was supposed to open. The stand opened at about 7:50 a.m., and by around 7:55 a.m., there were as many as 40 people in line. By 8:15 a.m., the newsstand had sold out.

The newsstand’s owner automatically handed people copies of Charlie Hebdo when they got to the front of the line, knowing they weren’t looking to buy any other newspaper. He wouldn’t sell more than one copy to each customer — “I don’t have enough,” he explained.

And good luck trying to buy the magazine in the US:

The short answer: finding a copy outside France on Wednesday will be tough. But that may change in the days that follow, especially if there are additional printings.

However, you can browse the issue using the above PDF, which Prachi Gupta passed along. Tracy McNicoll reads through it:

Under extraordinary circumstances, the surviving staff of Charlie Hebdo has produced an issue that is perfectly true to type: Defiant, uncompromising, funny, sometimes bittersweet, but with nary a hint of the melodramatic. None of the murdered staffers are left out and, just as they would have liked, no target for ridicule is spared.

Another Cause Championed By Charlie


From the in-tray’s most frequent and passionate advocate of animal rights:

I give Charlie Hebdo the benefit of the doubt on allegations of racism and any other accusation of lack of compassion. Why? Because it has shown more compassion than virtually everyone else in the world when it came to the abuse of the most defenseless individuals: “Charlie Hebdo is the only French newspaper that dedicates a weekly column to animal rights, tackling issues such as bullfighting and foie gras.”

One example above. Nine more here.

How Widespread Is Islamophobia?

Brendan O’Neill calls it a “myth”:

Sure, some folks in Europe and elsewhere no doubt dislike Muslims, just as other losers hate the Irish or blacks or women. But the idea that there is a climate of Islamophobia, a culture of hot-headed, violent-minded hatred for Muslims that could be awoken and unleashed by the next terror attack, is an invention. Islamophobia is a code word for mainstream European elites’ fear of their own populations, of their native hordes, whom they imagine to be unenlightened, prejudiced, easily led by the tabloid media, and given to outbursts of spite and violence.

The thing that keeps the Islamophobia panic alive is not actual violence against Muslims but the right-on politicos’ ill-founded yet deeply held view of ordinary Europeans, especially those of a working-class variety, as racist and stupid. This is the terrible irony of the Islamophobia panic: The fearers of anti-Muslim violence claim to be challenging prejudice but actually they reveal their own prejudices, their distrust of and disdain for those who come from the other side of the tracks, read different newspapers, hold different beliefs, live different lives. They accuse stupid white communities of viewing Muslims as an indistinguishable mob who threaten the fabric of European society, which is exactly what they think of stupid white communities.

Dreher is on the same page:

Are there people who hate Muslims simply for being Muslim? Sure. Are there people who respond to Islamic terrorism through acts of bigotry, even violence, against mosques and Islamic institutions? Yes. And shame on them all. Hunt them down, arrest them, throw them in jail.

But there are no anti-Muslim mobs massing in the streets. The mob that massed in the streets of Paris and other European cities on Sunday to protest jihad did not disperse and burn down mosques on their way home (unlike mobs in Muslim countries that torched embassies to protest Muhammad cartoons a few years back).We are not them. We once were, and are capable of becoming them again, as the history of the West shows, but we are not them now.

Friedersdorf counters:

My notion that Islamophobia, or irrational fear of mainstream Muslims, is a recognizable feature of post-9/11 America is informed by the several cities that have attempted to stop the construction of mosques, state attempts to ban sharia law as if we’re on the cusp of being ruled by it, fears that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, profiling of Muslim college students for no reason other than their religion, the anti-Muslim training materials that the FBI somehow adopted and used after 9/11, and dozens of Muslims I’ve interviewed who say that other Americans are more fearful of them than was the case prior to the September 11 attacks.  …

There has not, of course, been a mass violent uprising against Muslim Americans, or British Muslims, or Australian Muslims, or French Muslims. The implication that it’s therefore irrational to worry about anti-Muslim bigotry or backlash is bizarre. A spike in hate crimes is enough to justify concern and attempts to preempt—surely it’s better to nip the impulse to exact group revenge on Muslims in the bud rather than to act only if a catastrophic backlash has already taken shape!

France Cracks Down On Free Speech

Quelle surprise!

[Dieudonné] was detained for questioning on Wednesday for writing on his Facebook account he felt “Charlie Coulibaly,” a word play combining the widespread “I am Charlie” vigil slogan and the name of one of the three gunmen.

And he isn’t the only one. According to the AP, French authorities said “54 people had been arrested for hate speech and defending terrorism in the last week.” So the French are arresting people for committing acts of free speech just after a massive rally defending those principles.  Dieudonné, for one, claims he is being misunderstood:

What he had meant to say on Facebook, he said, was  that “I am considered like another Amedy Coulibaly when in fact I am no different from Charlie.” His original statement on his Facebook page was as follows:

“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.”

The very idea that one can be arrested for writing such a thing is appalling – but par for the course in much of the West. Josh Lowe provides background on Dieudonné:

Originally called Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, the comedian is the son of a French woman and a Cameroonian man. His jokes have frequently got him into trouble, in particular those deemed to be anti-Semitic. Last year, the French government issued a strong recommendation to local authorities across France to cancel his scheduled shows, on the grounds that he had repeatedly violated French laws against inciting racial and religious hatred. In 2003, he appeared on French TV dressed in orthodox Jewish garb, performing a Nazi salute and crying “Israheil!” He makes fun of the Nazi atrocities in a song called Shoananas which mixes the French word for “holocaust” with that for “pineapple.” He began his career in the early 90s as part of a controversial double act with the Jewish comic Elie Semoun. Since the pair went their separate ways, however, Semoun has criticised him, writing (in an open letter to Libération in 2004) that: “You and me, we made fun of everyone, people loved it… but that’s why I feel so betrayed. You are not the same Dieudo.”

Tom Reiss profiled the comedian back in 2007:

“Dieudonné is the spokesman, the godfather, the icon of a new kind of anti-Semitism,” Alain Finkielkraut, the philosopher and memoirist of Jewish identity, told me. “It is an explicitly anti-racist anti-Semitism, which inverts traditional anti-Semitism by asserting that the Nazis today are in fact the Jews. The idiom of anti-Semitism is no longer racism; it is now anti-racism. Dieudonné’s followers say that they don’t hate Jews, they hate Jewish racism. They say that Israel is like Nazism, like apartheid.”

So of course he must be punished! Matt Welch expects the arrest to backfire:

Any speech made criminally taboo will thrive unchallenged in the shadows, rather than be refuted and ridiculed out in the open. If you’re alarmed by Dieudonné’s infamous quenelle gesture, how popular do you think it will get if he’s behind bars?

Très. Greenwald uses the arrest to question the motivations of Charlie supporters:

It is certainly true that many of Dieudonné’s views and statements are noxious, although he and his supporters insist that they are “satire” and all in good humor. In that regard, the controversy they provoke is similar to the now-much-beloved Charlie Hebdo cartoons (one French leftist insists the cartoonists were mocking rather than adopting racism and bigotry, but Olivier Cyran, a former writer at the magazine who resigned in 2001, wrote a powerful 2013 letter with ample documentation condemning Charlie Hebdo for descending in the post-9/11 era into full-scale, obsessive anti-Muslim bigotry).

Despite the obvious threat to free speech posed by this arrest, it is inconceivable that any mainstream western media figures would start tweeting “#JeSuisDieudonné” or would upload photographs of themselves performing his ugly Nazi-evoking arm gesture in “solidarity” with his free speech rights. That’s true even if he were murdered for his ideas rather than “merely” arrested and prosecuted for them. That’s because last week’s celebration of the Hebdo cartoonists (well beyond mourning their horrifically unjust murders) was at least as much about approval for their anti-Muslim messages as it was about the free speech rights that were invoked in their support – at least as much.

Although I find Glenn’s refusal to admit the link between terror and Islam befuddling, I do think he is right to point out the double standards of some of the free speech crowd. Once you establish limits on free speech, the consistency of their application matters. To have different rules of censorship for anti-Semites and anti-Muslims is to deepen the conflict even further. Sullum rightly fears that the criminalizing of speech “teaches people that the use of force is an appropriate response to words and images that offend—a principle that is poisonous to free speech and conducive to violence”:

Since the French government has announced that offending the wrong people by saying the wrong thing in the wrong context can be treated as a crime, it would not be surprising if some people, convinced that their rights had been violated and that they could not count on the courts to vindicate them, resorted to self-help.

Other countries that criminalize “hate speech,” including Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K., Sweden, and Canada, are likewise sending a dangerous message that offending people with words or images is akin to assaulting them with fists or knives. Instead of facilitating censorship by the sensitive, a government truly committed to open debate and freedom of speech would make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that offending Muslims (or any other religious group) is not a crime.

Amen. And particularly religion, which should be open to the most merciless attacks and denunciations and mockery precisely because of the grandeur of its claims and the power of its social authority. A true believer is relieved to see the all-too human institutions of church or mosque or synagogue ridiculed, precisely because those institutions are prone to corruption on a vast scale. And faith should easily survive mockery. Jesus himself encouraged his followers not to be dismayed when they are maligned or disparaged because of their faith. It is not something Christians should avenge; it is something that at times Christians should even seek. But even a spiritual figure like Jesus was ignored for millennia once Christianity got worldly power. When Muhammed himself authorizes a hit on someone who insulted him and Allah, the journey is going to be considerably longer.

Charlie, Blasphemer

[Re-posted from earlier today]


You can probably tell I’ve been really sick because I couldn’t manage to write about the Charlie Hebdo Jihadist mass murder. Now that the immediate crisis is past and my fevers are back under some control, some thoughts.

I was actually surprised and gladdened by the response to the slaughter – an overwhelming wave of revulsion and disgust, expressed with great dignity and courage (and yes, it was an absolute disgrace that Obama sent no one of a higher rank than the ambassador). I had begun to think that a defense of free speech was no longer a pillar of the American right or left, but for a while, at least, I was wrong. People do draw the line at the murder of blasphemous cartoonists in the name of God. It seems we have at least achieved a consensus on that. Two cheers!

Was it enough to prompt the New York Times to be a newspaper, instead of a quivering pile of bullshit fearful of offending people? Nah. Baquet is a man worthy to succeed Bill Keller, the editor who refused to use the word torture because it would offend the American government, which was trying to conceal war crimes (and has gotten away with all of it). The NYT is a fantastic paper in so many ways. But it is run by those o-CHARLIE-COVER-570educated in the view that anything that might offend any non-white minority is the worst human sin imaginable. The brutal truth is: Charlie Hebdo employees would last a week at most at the NYT before being fired. A liberal church like that will not tolerate blasphemy either. And can you imagine Charlie being allowed to be published on any US campus? For merely its depictions of Jews and Christians, it would never survive. It is, after all, a “macro-aggression”, right? Students would need counseling for years to recover from such images. Still, hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue, and in an America dedicated to rooting out “hate speech”, this is probably as good as we’re likely to get.

Then the deeper disappointment. Even now, many will not concede that religion was the root cause of the attack, and that the name of that religion is Islam. Reading the cartoonishly liberal Nick Kristof was like watching a Monty Python Piranha Brothers sketch (see above). Yeah, they have murdered thousands of Westerners and far larger numbers of Middle Eastern and Nigerian and Pakistani Muslims. Yeah, they did that. They also declared at every one of their slaughters that their motivation is Islam. They have beheaded people, mass murdered school children, flown planes into buildings, cut women’s genitals, employ sex slaves, commit mass rape, and on and on. They have taken over a large part of the Iraqi and Syrian deserts to advance their desire for religious purity.

But Islam has nothing to do with this. There are just a few loonies who are suffering from false consciousness, and their real motivations are economic or personal or secular or just purely violent. You can believe that, if you want. Or you can pretend to believe it because it might be more pragmatic to do so. Or you can open your eyes. This is not to say that most Muslims support this kind of mass murder – and the global Muslim response was particularly encouraging. But it is to say that it is not a coincidence that so much terror and violence all over the world is currently being committed in the name of Islam. Some core parts of it are, quite simply, incompatible with post-Enlightenment thought and practice. And those parts have all the energy right now.

And the core issue here is blasphemy. For almost all of human history, rooting out blasphemy has been the norm. Many Western countries still have moribund blasphemy laws and the Muslim world is crammed with them. The death penalty is common. Prison time is expected. Mob mass murder is another phenomenon. Today, the NYT dutifully cites some verses from the Koran that instruct Muslims to simply “not sit with” blasphemers. There are others:

Those who annoy Allah and His Messenger – Allah has cursed them in this World and in the Hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating Punishment. Truly, if the Hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, and those who stir up sedition in the City, desist not, We shall certainly stir thee up against them: Then will they not be able to stay in it as thy neighbours for any length of time: They shall have a curse on them: whenever they are found, they shall be seized and slain (without mercy).

Or the prophet himself:

The Prophet said, “Who is ready to kill Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf who has really hurt Allah and His Apostle?” Muhammad bin Maslama said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Do you like me to kill him?” He replied in the affirmative.

You can get thrown in jail and have mobs calling for your execution by teaching kids about a teddy bear in Sudan, to give a simple 2007 case. In Pakistan, 50 people arrested for blasphemy over the last three decades have been murdered before they got to trial. In Saudi Arabia, an ally, blasphemy is on the same level as apostasy: it’s punishable by death.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 12.04.34 PM

The map above from the Pew Foundation shows where blasphemy laws are on the books. See a pattern here? Pew notes that 64 percent of the world’s populations still live under blasphemy laws and they are marginally more common than the other deeply anti-Enlightenment prohibition on apostasy.

Again, it’s vital to point out that Islam is the norm for most religions on planet earth since the beginning of time – except for a brief period in the modern West. It is not so much that they have gone backward so much as we have gone forward so rapidly on the question of religious liberty and free speech that some core elements of Islam cannot tolerate it. It’s too great a cultural gulf. I have tentative hope that this vast gap on a fundamental question may take as long for Islam to arrive at as Christianity did. But that means a century at least of more bloodletting – and given the presence of so many disaffected young Muslims in Europe, a series of slaughters to come, and the possible erosion of support for free speech outside these rare moments of cherished unity. I see no other way of getting through this: surveillance, vigilance, an end to invasion, occupation and torture, and patience. And to give not an inch to any infringement on free speech.

The rest is for the Muslim world.

Censoring Charlie‘s Cover On Live TV

This is appalling:


On Sky News, former Charlie Hebdo journalist Caroline Fourest was trying to explain how “crazy” it is that certain journalism mills in the United Kingdom won’t show the cover of the latest edition of the magazine. Well, Sky News provided a stronger explanation than Fourest ever could have.

Allahpundit chews out Sky News:

Why humiliate a grieving person this way? She has the balls to stand by her work in the name of free speech, at great personal risk to herself, and this is how she’s treated? Literally pissing on Stephane Charbonnier’s grave would be less hurtful, I think, than taking up his killers’ cause this way.

Allahpundit also points to Buzzfeed’s list of Western outlets that did and didn’t show the cover. And Barbie Latza Nadeau looks at which publications ran the cover around the world.

Where Censoring Muhammad Drawings Leads

Alyssa Rosenberg thinks “it’s important that we acknowledge the full spectrum of speech that’s in potential danger.” She contends that “more moderate people should recognize that they owe a debt to blasphemers and satirists, who create a free speech zone in which the rest of us can operate”:

The violent responses to “The Innocence of Muslims,” the provocative – and low-quality – film that played a role in sparking protests that gave cover to the attack in Benghazi, Libya, might not seem to be an indicator of risk for a more respectful project about Muhammad, like two that are in production in Qatar and Iran. But as the Hollywood Reporter explained in 2013, one of the projects had already been met with calls that it be banned on the grounds that it showed part of the prophet’s body, though it does not reveal his face.

Among other incidents, she highlights “when Yale University Press published an academic book about the response to the [Danish Muhammad] cartoons that declined to reproduce those images or other depictions of Muhammad, discussing them in absentia“:

[Reza] Aslan suggests that while such decisions often come out of a desire to be respectful, they don’t just deny audiences important opportunities to see powerful relevant images, but they reinforce a kind of soft anti-Muslim sentiment.

“The idea that Yale University Press thought that a book that 13 people would read anyway, an academic tome about the cultural, political and religious ramifications of these images,” he said, “that somehow that would threaten the lives of Yale University Press employees, it’s that kind of silly, knee-jerk cowardice that only feeds into this notion that Muslims are this kind of irrational, almost animal-like being who have to be handled with gloves.”

Satire intended for a small readership of Danish nativists no longer stays in Denmark. Cartoons that work for a sophisticated Parisian audience are now flashed around the world to an audience that wouldn’t know the difference between brie and Beaujolais. All that most people in places like Yemen or Pakistan see in those cartoons is someone defiling a religious tenet. They also fail to understand the difference between Charlie Hebdo and Le Monde, or Mad Magazine and Time.

This, I think, is the crux of why, in this day and age, “those damn cartoons” seem to be so uniquely inflammatory. Cartoons, because they’re mostly visual, can uniquely carry satire across cultural and language barriers. In some ways, this is a great asset, but that transmission of images doesn’t mean the joke, the intent, the cultural resonance is transmitted as well. In fact, the tone and humor often are lost in transmission while the offense and provocation are not.