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)

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

Scott Sayare pushes back on the growing liberal narrative that Charlie’s provocative cartoons lampooning Islamic fundamentalism were “racist”:

Charlie Hebdo is not a racist publication, as has been widely suggested in the Anglophone press, though it does not hesitate to risk appearing so if it might draw a laugh. (A good example is a recent cartoon, noted frequently in the past few days, depicting France’s black minister of justice as a monkey; the drawing was in fact meant to skewer the French racists who have portrayed her as a monkey, but those unfamiliar with French politics might be forgiven this misunderstanding.)

The magazine is, however, intolerant of religion and believers of all sorts, and smug in those anticlerical convictions. Dialogue with its opponents was never of much interest, and it has repeatedly chosen to target some of France’s most vulnerable inhabitants for provocation. … “We have a lot of new friends, like the pope, Queen Elizabeth, and Putin,” one of the magazine’s most prominent artists, the Dutchman Bernard Holtrop, told the Dutch daily Volkskrant amid the outpouring of support after last week’s killings. “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends.”

Dish readers here and here also added crucial context to the allegedly racist cartoons published in Charlie, including the one of the French minister of justice. Addressing those who don’t speak native French, Olivier Tonneau digs even deeper to defend Charlie against charges of racism:

[The newspaper] continuously denounced the pledge of minorities and campaigned relentlessly for all illegal immigrants to be given permanent right of stay. …

[T]he main target of Charlie Hebdo was the Front National and the Le Pen family. Next came crooks of all sorts, including bosses and politicians (incidentally, one of the victims of the shooting was an economist who ran a weekly column on the disasters caused by austerity policies in Greece).  Finally, Charlie Hebdo was an opponent of all forms of organized religions, in the old-school anarchist sense: Ni Dieu, ni maître! 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.

Even if their sense of humour was apparently inacceptable to English minds, please take my word for it: it fell well within the French tradition of satire – and after all was only intended for a French audience. It is only by reading or seeing it out of context that some cartoons appear as racist or islamophobic.

And Robert Zaretsky situates both Charlie Hebdo and the controversial author Michel Houellebecq within France’s lengthy tradition of self-consciously provocative humor:

While historians can trace this vital, often bulging vein of French humor as far back as Rabelais, it is easiest—a rationale, after all, that Charlie Hebdo made its credo—to go no further than the Belle Epoque and the birth of le fumisme. Practiced by performers in the cafés of then-exotic Montmartre, fumisme was part disdain, part mockery and zesty provocation, shuffled and dealt with cutting accuracy to its pathetic target—namely, the bourgeois clients who, escaping their humdrum lives and filling the room, couldn’t get their fill of hearing their way of life ridiculed. It was, as the historian Jerrold Seigel has noted, “a refusal to treat the official world with seriousness and respect.”

A French reader of Dreher’s reflects on what society gains from Charlie’s commitment to offending anyone and everyone:

As far as the ‘nasty kids’ and ‘useless provocations’ anathemas go, I’d like to yell that it’s not true, or at the very least offer some extremely important proviso. First, any Charlie reader, and I mean any, would, time and again, choke on a cartoon (even the cartoonists themselves, sometimes). Which, in and by itself, would school you: you’d learn to turn the other cheek, you’d learn to feel others’ pain at being offended, you’d learn to let go of your pain at being offended, and, last but not least, you’d learn that, sometimes, the only offense was to your vainglorious self. Sure, on the whole, that made for an unholier-than-Thou and a leave-no-holy-cow-unskewered weekly: “bête et méchant”. But, for the reader, it was also a weekly lesson in humility and humanity.

Chait doubles down on his insistence that the press has a responsibility to reprint Charlie’s offensive cartoons – something that can’t be said enough:

Let us stipulate for the sake of argument that Charlie Hebdo is crude and even racist. Freedom of expression is not a strong defense of crude, racist, or otherwise stupid expression. Indeed, one of the most common and least edifying defenses made by people who have proffered offensive opinions is that they have the right to free speech. The right of expression is not the issue when the objection centers on the content.

In this case, the content of Charlie Hebdo’s work is not the issue. The issue is the right of publication. Given the fact that violent extremists threaten to kill any journalist who violates their interpretation of Islam, establishing the freedom (I argue) requires committing the blasphemy. To argue, as some have, that the threat is wrong, but that journalists should avoid blasphemy out of prudence allows the extremists to set the rules.

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

Update from a reader on the above image:

That cartoon looks bad, but if you understand the French, the meaning seems to me to be actually anti-racist. “La GPA” is “la gestation pour autrui,” or in English “surrogate motherhood.”  The point of the cartoon is that when wealthy white couples pay poor women of color to be their surrogates, they are exploiting them. The point is somewhat bluntly and crudely made, but not at all offensive to my sensibilities. Others may differ, I suppose.

Jordan Weissmann urges us not to be afraid to criticize Charlie Hebdo‘s over-the-top (and often lame) humor even as we stand in solidarity with the victims of Wednesday’s terror attack:

So what should we do? We have to condemn obvious racism as loudly as we defend the right to engage in it. We have to point out when an “edgy” cartoon is just a crappy Islamophobic jab. We shouldn’t pretend that every magazine cover with a picture of Mohammed is a second coming of The Satanic Verses.

Making those distinctions isn’t going to placate the sorts of militants who are already apt to tote a machine gun into a magazine office. But it is a way to show good faith to the rest of a marginalized community, to show that free speech isn’t just about mocking their religion. It’s hard to talk about these things today, when so many families, a country, and a profession are rightfully in mourning. But it’s also necessary.

In Arthur Chu’s viewCharlie often violated satire’s unspoken rule to “punch up, not down”:

I mean, Muslims in France right now aren’t doing so great. The scars of the riots nine years ago are still fresh for many people, Muslims make up 60 to 70 percent of the prison population despite being less than 20 percent of the population overall, and France’s law against “religious symbols in public spaces” is specifically enforced to target Muslim women who choose to wear hijab—ironic considering we’re now touting Charlie Hebdo as a symbol of France’s staunch commitment to civil liberties.

Muslims in France are clearly worse off overall than, say, Jean Sarkozy (the son of former president Nicholas Sarkozy) and his wife Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, but Charlie Hebdo saw fit to apologize for an anti-Semitic caricature of Ms. Sebaoun-Darty and fire longtime cartoonist Siné over the incident while staunchly standing fast on their right to troll Muslims by showing Muhammad naked and bending over—which tells you something about the brand of satire they practice and, when push comes to shove, that they’d rather be aiming downward than upward.

The firing of Siné indeed showed a shameful double standard. Jonathan Laurence’s concern is that the chorus of “je suis Charlie” will play into the hands of the far right and normalize nastiness toward Muslims:

When the shock and sadness recede, it will become apparent that despite hashtags to the contrary, not all French “are Charlie Hebdo.” Numerous Catholic and Muslim groups offended by their cartoonists regularly filed lawsuits for incitement of racial or religious hatred against the newspaper—including after they republished the Danish prophet cartoons. Despite the understandable temptation to enter into a clear-cut opposition of “us versus them,” we can only hope that other political leaders will emerge to urge caution and respect while rejecting the murderers with every fiber of their being. It would be an unfortunate irony, and a distortion of these satirists’ legacy, if “politically incorrect” became the new politically correct.

Dreher asks whether Americans would be so quick to say “je suis” if the victims were from an organization we were more familiar with:

I can’t speak for French sensibilities, obviously, but here in America, it’s easy for us on both the Left and the Right to join the Je suis Charlie mob, because it costs us exactly nothing. Nobody here knows what Charlie Hebdo stands for; all we know is that its staff were the victims of Islamist mass murder, of the sort with which we are all familiar. We know that this murder strikes at one of the basic freedoms we take for granted: freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. Feelings of solidarity with those murdered souls are natural, and even laudable.

But what makes it kitschy is that we love thinking of ourselves standing in solidarity with the brave journalists against the Islamist killers. When the principle of standing up for free speech might cost us something far, far less than our lives, most of us would fold. You didn’t see liberals wearing “I Am Brendan Eich” slogans; many on the Left think he got what he deserved, because blasphemers like him don’t deserve a place in public life. Nor did you see conservatives brandishing “I Am Brendan Eich” slogans, because they feared they might be next.

Hear hear. Beutler, for his part, doesn’t think we need to praise Charlie in order to stand against terrorism:

The massacre in Paris has awakened a liberal tendency to valorize all objects of illiberal enmity. If an Islamist kills a westerner for a particular blasphemy, then the blasphemy itself must be embraced. We saw something similar just last month when countless Americans, rightly aggrieved by the extortion of a U.S.-based movie company, became determined to find reason to praise a satirical film they would’ve otherwise panned. This is clearly not always the correct reaction to terrorism or extortion. Here, liberals can learn a lesson from Second Amendment absolutists who nevertheless condemn open-carry demonstrations in fast food restaurants.

Likewise, Drum objects to the Dish’s framing of decisions by the WaPo and other news outlets not to republish Charlie’s cartoons as “capitulations”:

Anyone who wishes to publish offensive cartoons should be free to do so. Likewise, anyone who wants to reprint the Charlie Hebdo cartoons as a demonstration of solidarity is free to do so. I hardly need to belabor the fact that there are excellent arguments in favor of doing this as a way of showing that we won’t allow terrorists to intimidate us. But that works in the other direction too. If you normally wouldn’t publish cartoons like these because you consider them needlessly offensive, you shouldn’t be intimidated into doing so just because there’s been a terrorist attack. Maintaining your normal policies even in the face of a terrorist attack is not “capitulation.” It’s just the opposite.

But the WaPo is a news organization, and these cartoons are at the heart of the news story of the Western world right now. News outlets can post the Charlie cartoons simply to show what all the fuss is about, without endorsing the images in the slightest. But as Dan Savage rightly asserts, they refuse to do so out of fear – the kind of fear that terrorists thrive on. The Dish, as it happens, has never posted anything from Charlie Hebdo outside the context of Islamists threatening or attacking them, mostly because their satire isn’t terribly good. Several years ago we posted a few cartoons from Carlos LaTuff before discovering that he’s a vile anti-Semite and that many of his cartoons reflect that (though not the two we posted), so we have since refused to feature any of his work. But if LaTuff became part of a news story like Charlie Hebdo has, we would certainly post his offending cartoons – like we did earlier this afternoon. Stephen Carter gets it right:

Many news organizations, in reporting on the Paris attacks, have made the decision not to show the cartoons that evidently motivated the attackers. This choice is sensibly prudent — who wants to wind up on a hit list? — but from the point of view of the terrorist, it furnishes evidence for the rationality of the action itself. Killing can be a useful weapon if it gets the killer more of what he wants. Terror seeks to raise the price of the policy to which terrorists object. In that sense it’s like a tax on a particular activity. In general, more taxes mean less of the activity. If you don’t want people to smoke, you make smoking more expensive. If you don’t want people to mock the Prophet Muhammad, you kill them for it. The logic is ugly and evil, but it’s still logic. …

The terrorist knows what scares us. He believes he also knows what will break us. Our short-run task is to prove rather than assert him wrong. In the long run, however, the only true means of deterrence is the creation of a new history, in which the terrorist is always tracked to his lair, and never gets what he wants.

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

Yglesias, for one, is dismayed that yesterday’s attack made martyrs of cartoonists whose work he found distasteful in the extreme:

Viewed in a vacuum, the Charlie Hebdo cartoons (or the Danish ones that preceded it) are hardly worthy of a stirring defense. They offer few ideas of value, contribute little to any important debates, and the world would likely have been a better place had everyone just been more polite in the first place.

But in the context of a world where publishers of cartoons mocking Mohammed have been threatened, harassed, and even killed, things look different. Images that were once not much more than shock for its own sake now stand for something — for the legal right to blaspheme and to give offense. Unforgivable acts of slaughter imbue merely rude acts of publication with a glittering nobility.

One of Dreher’s readers makes a similar point:

I am a francophone European, and I sometimes read Charlie Hebdo. I am shocked by these murders and I hope the assassins will be caught and will pay dearly for their crimes. This being said, je ne “suis” pas Charlie et je ne l’ai jamais été: I am not Charlie and I never was.

I’ve always thought that Charlie’s brand of “humour” was despicable and part of the problem, not a solution. I’m not going to change my mind about this because of the murders. The people who died have become martyrs of the freedom of expression, but they were hardly the best defenders of the freedom of expression. First because the freedom to express your opinions does not imply that these opinions are correct – and Charlie was a far left, violently anti-religious rag. It is not because you are free to be vulgar, unfair and insulting that all these things are good. Moreover Charlie was not very good when the freedom of expression of its adversaries was at stake: look at the “Dieudonné” affair for instance.

Dieudonné M’bala M’bala is a controversial French comedian and political activist who’s been convicted many times of antisemitism. Diana Johnstone is on the same page as Dreher’s reader when it comes to Charlie Hebdo‘s spotty record on free speech:

In 2002, Philippe Val, who was editor in chief at the time, denounced Noam Chomsky for anti-Americanism and excessive criticism of Israel and of mainstream media.  In 2008, another of Charlie Hebdo’s famous cartoonists, Siné, wrote a short note citing a news item that President Sarkozy’s son Jean was going to convert to Judaism to marry the heiress of a prosperous appliance chain. Siné added the comment, “He’ll go far, this lad.” For that, Siné was fired by Philippe Val on grounds of “anti-Semitism”.  Siné promptly founded a rival paper which stole a number of Charlie Hebdo readers, revolted by CH’s double standards. In short, Charlie Hebdo was an extreme example of what is wrong with the “politically correct” line of the current French left.

Indeed, many Muslims on social media are wondering why free speech seems a bit freer than usual when Islam is the target. One such Muslim is a Jordanian friend of Dish editor Jonah Shepp, who didn’t want to reveal her name:

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 12.19.55 PM

Meanwhile, responding to calls for other publications to reprint Charlie’s most controversial work in solidarity, Arthur Goldhammer cautions against sacralizing artists and journalists who saw profaning the sacred as their life’s work:

Reproducing the imagery created by the murdered artists tends to sacralize them as embodiments of some abstract ideal of free speech. But many of the publications that today honor the dead as martyrs would yesterday have rejected their work as tasteless and obscene, as indeed it often was. The whole point of Charlie’s satire was to be tasteless and obscene, to respect no proprieties, to make its point by being untameable and incorrigible and therefore unpublishable anywhere else. The speech it exemplified was not free to express itself anywhere but in its pages. Its spirit was insurrectionist and anti-idealist, and its creators would be dumbfounded to find themselves memorialized as exemplars of a freedom that they always insisted was perpetually in danger and in need of a defense that only offensiveness could provide.

Update from the in-tray:

Long-time reader (and francophone) here. I just saw you forward a tweet regarding Charlie download (1)Hebdo‘s alleged racism in its cartoon “Rassemblement bleu raciste” [Update: the Twitter user deleted that tweet, but the image in question is embedded to the right]. I am not 100% certain of the background behind that cartoon. Unfortunately, the Charlie Hebdo website isn’t showing much in the way of past content at this time. That said, a quick google search reveals that this caricature – albeit maladroit – might have been put forth as a criticism of the French extreme right’s racist references to Minister Taubira. I invite you to look at the following links – here and here – which give a bit more detail on the text that allegedly accompanied the caricature. I may be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure that caricature was not the whole story and is mischaracterizing Charlie Hebdo’s position.

The first link is to a web forum and the second is to an article in French, so if any other readers, especially French-speaking ones, have something more conclusive, please let us know. Update from another:

As a French citizen, I was infuriated by your understanding of this drawing by Charlie Hebdo.  This drawing was made as a response to racism found in the French weekly newspaper Minute, which depicted Taubira as a monkey.  This shocking (and I concede awkward) drawing is meant to denounce the racists from Minute and the Front National, the nationalist extreme right party (their logo at the bottom left of the drawing).  The drawing is meant to exemplify how racist and shocking their words were.  I found that title/question insulting the memory of Charlie Hebdo.

Another adds further context:

Charlie Hebdo’s picture of Minister Taubira was indeed posted in the context when many Front national supporters and representatives made racist comments about Christiane Taubira, who supported legalizing gay marriage. They constantly compared her to a monkey and on some occasions taught their children to throw bananas at her.

The title is in fact a pun on the new name Marine Le Pen wanted to give to the Front national so as to nominally distance her own political agenda from her father’s (who was well known for his antisemitic and racist comments). She called her own movement « Rassemblement Bleu Marine » (this name itself included a pun since it means both a « Blue Navy Rally » and a « blue rally around Marine Le Pen » ). Charlie Hebdo just added a pun on her pun, replacing “Bleu Marine” with “Bleu raciste”. It was meant to show that the new Front national around Marine Le Pen was in fact just as racist as the former one and the caricature of Taubira as a monkey was meant to represent the so-called new Front National’s vision of a black female Minister of Justice.

Regarding “freedom of speech”, Dreher’s reader’s comments about a double standard are quite off the topic. From a legal point of view, in the US sense, freedom of speech is restricted in France. The cases that reader mentions does show an obvious double standard when it comes to antisemitism on the one hand and islamophobia on the other, but rather the fact that there is room for prosecution in France if you make public comments that suggest that you support racial inequality or that you deny the existence of events such as the Holocaust. There is no room for prosecution for any kind of religious blasphemy. Charlie Hebdo fought against the idea that anything was too sacred not to be ridiculed or laughed about. Such was their idea of freedom. They were irreverent by principle, but never racist nor in any way comparable to ideologues such as Dieudonné.

In any case, thank you for your coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attack and for pointing out the MSM’s lack of courage in reproducing the caricatures. Below is a picture I took at yesterday’s march in Place de la République around 8pm:

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Kids, students, anonymous people are absolutely not afraid of showing these caricatures in public in France. It’s important that they are not and to some degree they are less than they ever were.