There is a conflict here. Some of the stuff Charlie Hedbo published was offensive and would have upset me if it were printed in the UK and yet I defend the magazine’s right to free speech? Would I defend another magazine that used images we would more easily identify as Racist or anti-semitic? The only answer I have is that i sympathise with Islam for the offence. but in a democracy we have the right to publish things which other religions would find insulting as well. Free speech in a Democracy is about facing criticism as well as satire and sometimes outright attacks however painful. There are going to have to be some limits to this and for me that is when thing go over into the violent or racist or hateful as Charlie Hedbo often did.
In the UK most media know where that boundary is and that the consequence of stepping over it is people will stop buying your paper (eg the Sun and Hillsborough). The media backlash when they get things wrong can be ferocious and polarising (When the Guardian published Hilary Mantels short story The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher it knew the right wingers who would be offended were not its readers so it would lose little) Because our democracy is still relatively vigorous that kind of (mostly) self policing works for us. That Charlie Hedbo was encouraged to go on publishing things that were offensive is probably worrying for France and its democracy. On the other hand there are countries in the world where publishing these cartoons would have been a death penalty offence.
Personally I found many of the things Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Fox News have been saying on just this issue extremely offensive but I recognise the danger in limiting their freedom to say it.
These are tough issues requiring nuanced thought and ideas, both things which have been conspicuously lacking in some quarters over the past few days. Probably the only thing we can say with certainty is that no one deserved to die for it.
One of the aims of the vigils all over the world seems to me to be to be about people on both sides of the issues getting together and saying to their countrymen and the world “Think a bit about this and don’t let things get out of hand” and that is probably the best thing to come out of this.
Joe Sacco’s cartoon (next) has images some may find offensive (in order to make a point) as do some of the links below.
Charlie Hebdo Is both Heroic and Racist We should both embrace and condemn it By Jordan Weissmann
The editors and cartoonists murdered in Wednesday’s attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo are now martyrs for the cause of free speech. Threatened with death for publishing drawings of the prophet Mohammed meant to mock Islamic radicals, they refused to censor themselves, and so were gunned down. They died bravely for an ideal we all treasure.
But their work featuring Mohammed could be sophomoric and racist. Not all of it; a cover image of the prophet about to be beheaded by a witless ISIS thug was trenchant commentary on how little Islamic radicalism has to do with the religion itself. But often, the cartoonists simply rendered Islam’s founder as a hook-nosed wretch straight out of Edward Said’s nightmares, seemingly for no purpose beyond antagonizing Muslims who, rightly or wrongly, believe that depicting Mohammed at all is blasphemous.
This, in a country where Muslims are a poor and harassed minority, maligned by a growing nationalist movement that has used liberal values like secularism and free speech to cloak garden-variety xenophobia. France is the place, remember, where the concept of free expression has failed to stop politicians from banning headscarves and burqas. Charlie Hebdo may claim to be a satirical, equal-opportunity offender. But there’s good reason critics have compared it to “a white power mag.” As Jacob Canfield wrote in an eloquent post at the Hooded Utilitarian, “White men punching down is not a recipe for good satire.”
So Charlie Hebdo’s work was both courageous and often vile. We should be able to keep both of these realities in our minds at once, but it seems like we can’t.
We shouldn’t pretend that every magazine cover with a picture of Mohammed is a second coming of The Satanic Verses.
Much of the debate following the massacre has focused on the binary question of whether it’s ever acceptable for Americans and Europeans to offend Muslim traditions. Should we defend depictions of Mohammed on free speech grounds? Or should we discourage them altogether? Jonathan Chait says the answer is obvious. “The right to blaspheme religion is one of the most elemental exercises of political liberalism,” he writes at New York magazine. “One cannot defend the right without defending the practice.” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat concurs. If an act of blasphemy can land you on a hit list, he argues, it should be “welcomed and defended” as a defense of liberal values against thuggery.
But it’s wrong to approach this issue as an either-or question, to blaspheme or not blaspheme. Free speech allows us to say hateful, idiotic things without being punished by the government. But embracing that right means that we need to acknowledge when work is hateful or idiotic, and can’t be defended on its own terms. We need to recognize, as Vox’s Matt Yglesias argues today, that standing up for magazines like Charlie Hebdo is a “regrettable” necessity, in part because it provides cover for anti-Muslim backlash. “Blasphemous, mocking images cause pain in marginalized communities,” he writes. “The elevation of such images to a point of high principle will increase the burdens on those minority groups.” And the more those groups are mistreated, the more angry radicals we can expect to see.
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. At the moment, Google has offered almost $300,000 to Charlie Hebdo, so it can continue publishing. The Guardian Media Group has chipped in $150,000 of its own. And France’s government has pledged more than 1 million euros. It’s a powerful gesture in favor of free expression. Is it the kind of expression a government should pay for?
JE SUIS CHARLIE…..(Previous Blog post)