Disorganized Thoughts on Free Speech, Charlie Hebdo, Religion and Death

Disorganized because every time I try to organize my thoughts on these topics recently they kind of squirm away. So, fine, disorganized it is, then.

1. As noted in one of the tweets shown above, as a newspaper journalist, as well as, you know, writing here, I’ve done my share of enraging people with words, by mocking ideas that they hold dear, because I thought they deserved mocking. I have had my share of angry responses and even the occasional threat, and my response to those typically has been to poke harder. When I took up the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag, that’s what it meant to me. I’ve been that guy.

2. I also recognize that I know almost nothing about Charlie Hebdo, the newspaper, or the tradition of satire and comment that it exemplifies in French culture. From where I sit, a lot of what I’ve seen of it looks kind of racist and terrible. And I understand that Charlie Hebdo didn’t just go after Islamic extremists, and that it went after other groups and people just as hard (and just as obnoxiously). But it reminds me that “we go after everyone equally” doesn’t mean that I feel equally comfortable with all of it, or that it has equal effect. When I say #JeSuisCharlie, it doesn’t mean I want to create or post what I think are racist caricatures and justify them as satire, applied on a presumed equal opportunity basis.

3. But then again my comfort level is about me, not about Charlie Hebdo or anyone else. Free speech, taken as a principle rather than a specific constitutional pratice, means everyone has a right to share their ideas, in their own space, no matter how terrible or obnoxious or racist or stupid or inconsequential I or anyone else think they and their ideas are. I also recognize that satire in particular isn’t about being nice, or kind, or fair. Satire is inherently exaggerated, offensive and unfair, in order to bring the underlying injustice it’s calling attention to into sharper relief. Trust me, I know this. (Satire also has a high failure rate, and the failure mode of satire, like the failure mode of clever, is “asshole.”) A lot of what I’ve seen from Charlie Hebdo isn’t for me and seems questionable, and that’s neither here nor there in terms of whether it should have a right to be published.

4. At the moment there’s an argument about whether news organizations are being cowardly about showing the Charlie Hebdo covers that allegedly were part of the reason it was attacked — the ones with visual depictions of the prophet Muhammad, who many Muslims feel is not supposed to be depicted visually (let us leave aside for the moment the discussion of whether all Muslims feel this way (they don’t) or whether Muhammad has been visually represented in the past even in Muslim art (he has, here and there) and focus on the here and now, in which many Muslims believe he should not be represented visually). The argument seems to be that by not showing the covers (or Muhammad generally), newspapers and other media are giving in to the extremists.

I’m not going to argue that very large media companies don’t have multiple reasons for what they do, including making the realpolitik assessment that displaying a Charlie Hebdo cover puts their employees (and their real estate, and their profits) at risk for an attack. But a relevant point to make here is that aside from the asshole terrorists who murdered a dozen people at Charlie Hebdo, there really are millions of Muslims who are just trying to get through their day like anyone else, who also strongly prefer that Muhammad is not visually represented. It’s not a defeat for either the concept or right of free speech for people or organizations to say they’re factoring these millions or people who neither did nor would do anything wrong into their consideration of the issue.

5. Which is a point that I think tends to get elided at moments like this — free speech, and the robust defense of it — does not oblige everyone to offend, just to show that one can. I can simultaneously say that I absolutely and without reservation have the right to visually depict Muhammad any way I choose (including in some ways devout Muslims, not to mention others, would consider horribly blasphemous), and also that, with regard to depicting Muhammad, as a default I’m going to try to respect the desire of millions of perfectly decent Muslims, and not do it. Because it’s polite, and while I’m perfectly happy not to be polite when it suits me, I usually like to have a reason for it.

6. But isn’t Muslim extremists shooting up a newspaper a perfect reason? For some it may be, and that’s fine for them. But I tend to agree with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar here: shit like this isn’t about religion, it’s about money and recruiting for terrorist groups who use religion, at best, as a very thin binding material for their more prosaic concerns. I’m also persuaded by Malek Merabet, brother of Ahmed Merabet, the policeman and Muslim who was killed by the terrorists. He said: “My brother was Muslim and he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims.” In which case, why offend the good and decent Muslims to get back at two very bad and false Muslims. I’m a reasonably clever writer; I have the capability to make my point regarding these asshole terrorists without a gratuitous display of Muhammad.

7. Hey, did you know that according to the UN, Christian militia in Central African Republic have carried out ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population during the country’s ongoing civil war? And yet I hear nothing from the so-called “good” and “moderate” Christians around me on the matter! Why have the “moderate” Christians not denounced these horrible people and rooted them out from their religion? Is it because maybe the so-called “moderate” Christians are actually all for the brutal slaughter? Christians say their religion is one of peace! And yet! Jesus himself says (Matthew 10:36) that he does not come to bring peace, but the sword! Clearly Christianity is a horrible, brutal murdering religion. And unless every single Christian in the United States denounces these murders in the Central African Republic and apologizes for them, not just to me but to every single Muslim they might ever meet, I see no reason to believe that every Christian I meet isn’t in fact secretly planning to cut the throat of every single non-Christian out there. That’s what goes on in those “churches” of theirs, you know. Secret murder planning sessions, every Sunday! Where they “symbolically” eat human flesh! 

Please feel free to cut and paste the above paragraph the next time someone goes on about how all Muslims must do something about their co-religionists (of which there are more than a billion, all of whom apparently they are supposed to have on speed dial), and how Islam is in fact a warrior religion, and look, here are context-free snippets from the Koran, and so on and so forth until you just want to vomit from the stupidity of it all. And don’t worry, there are similar cut-and-pastes for any major religion you might want to name, as well for those who have no religion at all, although I’m not going to bore you with those at the moment.

The point is that, no, in fact, I don’t see why I or anyone else should demand that every Muslim is obliged to denounce and apologize for any bad thing that happens in the world done by someone who claims to be doing it in the name of Allah. As it happens, many prominent Muslims and Muslim organizations did condemn the Charlie Hebdo attacks, just like pretty much everyone else. But silence isn’t complicity or endorsement, and if you demand that it is, you may be an asshole.

8. If there is one silver lining to the horribleness of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, it is that people have been confronted with the fact of something they take for granted — the right to say what they want to say, how they want to say it — is something that others will literally kill to punish. That Charlie Hebdo is a problematic example — that is offensive, and intentionally so, and it does make people uncomfortable and angry — is, well, good isn’t the right word. Instructive. Sometimes we have to be reminded that free speech isn’t just for the speech we like, or the speech that’s easy to be reasonable about.

At the same time it’s okay to ask if this welcome outpouring of solidarity is because free speech was attacked, and it was decided that it was worth fighting for, or because a newspaper that mocked Islam was attacked by gunmen purporting to be Muslims, and that this may be less about free speech than another front in a religious/ethnic clash of culture.

My thoughts are that it’s probably some amount of both, and that neither is cleanly delineated. The two men who shot up Charlie Hebdo say they were Muslim; so were some of the people they shot. Those people — the Muslims who died — have been mourned, at least it seems from here, equally with all the other dead. They haven’t been pushed out of frame for a convenient narrative.

And maybe that’s part of the silver lining to this very dark cloud, too — that this isn’t just “us vs. them,” or at least that “us” now contain people in it who might have previously been considered “them.” And that all the people who are saying #JeSuisCharlie, and #JeSuisAhmed, or who are standing for free speech, or any combination of the three, are standing in memory of them as well.

193 Comments on “Disorganized Thoughts on Free Speech, Charlie Hebdo, Religion and Death”

  1. The Mallet is out on this one, obviously.

    Also note that WE WILL NOT be having a discussion on whether Islam is a brutal warrior religion, etc. The intense bigotry that surrounds discussions what Islam “really” is, usually from people who haven’t the slight idea about Islam outside of what they’ve heard about it from a fatuous talking head, generally offends me. If you go about making blanket statements about Islam and Muslims, and it’s clear to me you know nothing (and it will be clear quickly, I assure you), out comes the Mallet, and out you go. Free speech is a thing, but not here, where you’re in my house and on my time.

    Indeed, as this is just the sort of thread that attracts new people, some of whom will be used to spouting their bigotry gaseously and in a content-free manner with no consequences, this is a good time to direct people to the comment thread rules. Know them, love them.

    And in general: Please be polite with each other. Thanks.

  2. Hi John!

    Although, I don’t completely agree with this editorial I found in the NY Times, I do think it’s illuminating:


    One other comment: As I understand it, “Charlie Hebdo” actually satirized Catholics (and therefore the mainline Religion in France) just as much as it did Islam. I have been told this by friends on the ground in France. Take care.

  3. Thanks JS – I too am having trouble organising my thoughts on this thing and the ensuing outpouring of grief. A list of the world leaders in Paris today supporting freedom of speech could, for at least half of them, be a list of leaders who have in some way restricted said freedom of speech recently (the UK’s own David Cameron being one of them).

    Also I am beginning to feel uncomfortable at the grief ‘fascism’ that I recognise from 1998 and the untimely death of a minor royal princess. I don’t want to feel guilt for questioning anything and, if freedom of speech means anything, it means that “Je Suis Ahmed” or, more accurately, “Je Suis Malek” is a valid choice

  4. WRT your point 5: For certain things (such as depictions of religious figures you know damn well will offend people), my attitude tends to be “You are allowed to do this, and your right to do it should be defended, but you should still know better than to do it”.

  5. Could we get an anchor on the “paragraph to share” in section 7? I’d like to be able to link people directly to it, rather than copy it and wind up with confusion over who originally wrote it.

  6. Idle thought: had interesting discussion with my partner who studied humour and rhetoric about what qualifies as satire and basically came to the personal conclusion that speaking the truth to power doesn’t only mean punching up but explicitly not punching in all directions at full force. Can and should are two different things and arguments about what you should do are just as important as what you can.

  7. “Sometimes we have to be reminded that free speech isn’t just for the speech we like…”

    An incident happened here in TX a few years ago. A school district won the right to display religiously-themed banners in their schools–“May god have mercy on the football team,” etc. When the Christians won the right to display their banners, the other student groups (Muslim, Jewish, atheist, etc) looked around and said “Great! Now we can display our banners too!” Suddenly, the Christian groups were squirming uncomfortably and saying “Umm…that wasn’t what we meant…”

  8. disorganised may be, but still very well said, in my opinion as a person who’s still trying to clear her mind – not having great success so far – but your article is one of those that are of help, thank you

  9. I used to work for a Christian NGO that operated worldwide helping with clean water, food stability and education in developing countries. Prominently displayed in our headquarters was a memorial to employees killed in the field. Eight of the dozen or so names on the list were people who worked at our office in Pakistan. They were attacked and killed by an “Islamic” terror group. All eight were Muslims, hired locally, working to improve the lives of their neighbors.

    These kind of attacks are not about religion. They are about power, and always have been. Religion is but the shallowest veneer of legitimacy they use to justify themselves.

  10. Jennifer,

    I am also reminded of the folks down in Florida who fought for the right to display the 10 Commandments at the State Capital and other corrections to perceived grievances against Christians in the State of Florida. Well, as a result…. and I know, I may be pushing (or mixing) my Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion metaphors here, Public Schools in Florida were given pamphlets on Satan and Satan worship.

    Far be it for me to tell anyone what to study, or what is permissible, but people in either case should be aware that as the saying goes: What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.

  11. Thanks, John. This needed saying and as usual, you’ve said it really clearly. I wouldn’t want to be standing in front of your fan when the sh!tstorm hits, though.

  12. Let us also not forget that these terrorist assholes also killed a Muslim policeman for the crime of protecting others and four Jewish people in a kosher market for the crime of being Jewish. The motivation goes beyond offense at religious blasphemy, but instead is simply rooted in hate of others.

  13. This might be out of line, and I’m not trying to be an asshole about it… there is a Dutch comic similar to Charlie Hebdo, in which it’s either the editor, or the publisher, I really forget which he is, comes out and castigates the world for “jumping on the bandwagon about Charlie Hebdo”. He says something to the effect like, “Where were you before? Now all of you are just jumping on the bandwagon and I vomit on your condolences.” (or words to that effect). Truth is, I’d never heard of “Charlie Hebdo” before this incident. I’d never heard of the Dutch guy’s magazine, either. I suppose I’m to be branded as ignorant because I don’t keep up with all of the publications in all of the countries in all of the world. I suppose if there were a massacre here in Sidney, OH, I would be allowed to use the same argument that this Dutch guy uses, because dammit, the world SHOULD know about Sidney, OH. Right? Give me a break, Dutchman. There are more things happening in the world than one person can possibly keep track, and this does not lessen our concern or feelings for what happened at Charlie Hebdo. In fact, I made a comment that I believe this man is using the massacre to promote his magazine. Which of us is the asshole?

  14. Now, I want to go out and found an actual warrior religion…
    No, that’s as far as I got with that thought. I can’t think of anything for it to be against.
    Maybe aliens from Sagittarius? That way, you know, if we ever do get attacked by Sagittarians, we’ll have a whole religion ready to go to war with them. Of course, it might get complicated if they come in peace.

  15. And today, millions of people are marching in France, to make themselves feel better; and in six months’ time, all that will turn out not to have meant a damn thing. Probably sooner, in fact. This week’s victims were casualties in just one more small skirmish in a tangled war which has been raging for decades. These events have no more meaning by themselves than, say, one random German or Russian soldier shooting a guy on the other side some time in the spring of 1945. Decades of time, billions of money and millions of people have pushed things into the configuration they have now; it isn’t going to snap back to something nice and “normal” any time soon. This IS our normal.

  16. Sometimes we have to be reminded that free speech isn’t just for the speech we like, or the speech that’s easy to be reasonable about.

    I would go a step further here, John, and say that free speech is especially for speech we don’t like. Popular statements don’t require protection.

  17. fuzznose, the Dutch guy was a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist who wasn’t in the office that day.

    I believe pretty strongly in free speech. But I keep remembering a time when the cat I loved most was on his final days, and I drove in to town and pulled up to park behind a big 4×4 with a bumper sticker that read “Lost your cat? Look under my tires.” I still regret that I didn’t slash those tires, even in the middle of a crowd where I would have been immediately arrested. I stood there for a few minutes considering it but I didn’t have anything sharp. I would absolutely be against any kind of law making that bumper sticker illegal. But I’m for that driver getting punctures and getting his big shiny vehicle keyed, over and over again.

    (And just to be clear: those cartoonists did not deserve to be murdered, and neither did the bumper sticker driver).

  18. @Dave: if you had a point, and weren’t trying to slide by a rant about Those People And Their Threat to Western Civilization* by larding it with generous dollops of vaguebooking, could you elaborate? Because dark muttering about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket and there’s not a goddamn thing we can do about it, well, that’s a little more appropriate to a Delta Green game than a serious political discussion. (Also, of course, it doesn’t make sense. You’re essentially saying that battles don’t count because there’s a war on.)

    That aside, of course the rallies in France and elsewhere matter. They’re a direct, enormous fuck-you to the terrorists and their us-against-them worldview.

    *Anyone else get the feeling that rather a lot of people spewing that viewpoint are just really, really sad they don’t have the Commie Menace to kick around anymore?

  19. Hmm. I’m thinking beyond what happened in France, about the nature of terrorism. As a student of what we sometimes called Low Intensity Conflict, Counter-Terrorism and other nifty neato names, and as an operative in that world, I’ve had to study the history of it. My profession and, at times, my life depended on it.

    A basic definition of terrorism is: the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

    Is it terrorism, for example, for one country to fly drones over another country that it has not declared war on, and bomb whatever target it feels justified to do? I would believe the innocent collateral damage would believe they just suffered a terror attack. People rally around 9-11, but very few know the history of 9-11-1973. Were the Crusades terrorism? Was the French Resistance a terrorist organization carrying out bombings and assassinations? Was George Washington a terrorist? I have to chuckle sometimes when I see people claiming to be in a “tea party” who have absolutely no clue what the original Tea Party was about and who organized it.

    While millions are rallying around what had happened in France, what has been going on in various countries for a long time is given short shrift in the news and in the consciousness of most people. Does the name Boko Haram ring a bell? Comrades of mine from Special Forces are currently deployed to Africa, hamstrung in their desire to go after this terrorist.

    What it really comes down to is ideology. When an act is taken in support of one’s ideology, we tend to cut it a lot of slack. When it goes against our own, it’s terrorism. Soldiers are often the tools used in these actions, although we like to call it ‘war’. But war is an extension of politics by other means, according to good old Carl (Von Clausewitz). Which seems to be kind of, sort of, the same definition as terrorism. I can assure you, for soldiers, combat is indeed terror at the most base level.

    So perhaps rather than free speech, religion, extremists, it comes down to a fundamental problem with the human race: we are willing to kill other humans to impose our beliefs and values on someone else. As long as one person or group or religion or country or whatever believes they need to do that, we are caught in a never-ending cycle of terrorism and counter-terrorism.

  20. WRT your point 5: For certain things (such as depictions of religious figures you know damn well will offend people), my attitude tends to be “You are allowed to do this, and your right to do it should be defended, but you should still know better than to do it”.

    You know what, Joel, I find that rather ironic when it comes from the United States where, least we forget (and so many do) an awful lot of people crossed the Atlantic because they were religious non-conformists at a time where that could be quite literally be life-threatening. They should have known better than to invite (nay, DEMAND!) being harassed, discriminated against, assaulted, tortured and murdered.

  21. Actually, I didn’t find your thoughts disordered at all, Scalzi, but dealing with all the angles of a situation that it’s very tough to get a handle on in a very cogent way.

    I was reminded by some of Tammy’s Muslim fans, and our niece who has a number of Islamic friends, that there had been mosque bombings and attacks on Middle Eastern-looking people in Paris and in other parts of France following some of CHARLIE HEBDO’s more…provocative bits about Muslim culture and religion. As far as those members of the Muslim community is concerned, CHARLIE HEBDO has as much right to being called a “humor magazine” as Rush Limbaugh has to being called a “comedian” – they see it has a anti-Islamic hate rag, pure and simple, because their friends and relatives have been actually hurt (as opposed to “butthurt”, which is perfectly acceptable!) by what the magazine chooses to pass off as “satire”. I pass this on not because I uncritically believe it, but because a number of people I like and care for do – and it’s a side to the story that goes very underreported in the Mainstream Media.

    All this is a way of saying, “Thank you” – and I think you’ve done about the best job as can be done talking about the multiple sides to this issue.

  22. Well, cranapia, maybe if the Puritan component of the non-conformists you mention had not vandalized non-Puritan churches in England, they might not have found themselves persecuted as much. It was not an offense being a Puritan in Elizabethan and Jacobean England – many were prominent in business and public affairs, and composed a sizable minority in Parliament. What lost them friends was taking it upon themselves to purify (hence their name) the Church of England’s practices and customs.

    And then they really blew it when they abolished Christmas: http://www.historytoday.com/chris-durston/puritan-war-christmas

    They never really recovered from that bit of overreach.

  23. @cranapia: Honestly, how on earth did you get that from Joel’s comment?

    “Don’t punch down” != “you think anyone murdered for speaking up deserved it”.

  24. So, yeah, Charlie Hebdo. I’ve never read it until this week, but I do read a lot of other low-brow French satire. So I spent yesterday looking at a lot of old Charlie Hebdo covers, trying to get a feel for their editorial viewpoints.

    As far as I can tell, Charlie Hebdo is basically analogous to a more offensive version of South Park. They actually seem to have good intentions, but they use a lot of stereotypes (like Chef or Big Gay Al), and they love to make people cringe. According to Luz, one of the artists, they think of themselves as a niche magazine for high school students. They’ve published some pretty brutal satire of racists and right wing nationalists, but their style of caricature can be really extreme and mean-spirited, using some of the same visual elements seen in WWII propaganda.

    Anyway, this has been a rough week for France’s Muslim community, which has been targeted by a number of hate crimes. But France’s Jewish community is also mourning the four people murdered in the kosher grocery in Vincennes. This comes after the incident in 2012, were 4 people were killed at Jewish school in Toulouse, as well as a series of other anti-Semitic hate crimes.

    Another hero in recent events was Lassana, a young Muslim man from Mali who worked in the kosher grocery in Vincennes. He managed to hide several customers in a walk-in freezer.

  25. I am hoping that France rethinks many of its laws about public religious expression in light of its new awareness of why an unfettered expression of free speech can be a good thing especially when it shatters the status quo. People know about the banning of the habib but I’m not sure that people realize that a non secular teacher wis forbidden to wear a Star of David while in the classroom in memory of the jews that the Vichy government sent to the camps but could step off campus and see a racist cartoon on the front of a magazine.

  26. I was somewhat amused to see Bernard Holtrop of Charlie Hebdo say ‘We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends’. Perhaps he’s getting confusing support for free speech with support for his magazine. It will be interesting in the coming days to see what other persons or groups will attempt to co-opt the outpouring of free speech support for their own ends.

  27. Sorry for the third too-soon post but I forgot to emphasize that Lassana is a Muslim who is EMPLOYED by the kosher supermarket where the shooting took place. Vive la France!

  28. Magda, that’s pretty interesting, and it’s also sensible. I understand that there’s significant overlap between halal and kosher laws, and in some neighborhoods, some Muslims buy their foods at kosher markets. If that’s true in that neighborhood, it may have been good business sense and good customer relations to employ a Muslim.

  29. @Mythago:

    Honestly, how on earth did you get that from Joel’s comment?

    Apart from the direct and unedited quote? Sorry, but I’ve been hearing an awful lot of “you should know better” long before the events in Paris. And it’s a very loaded “yes, but…” rhetorical card that should be played with extreme care, because it’s one that gets dealt against PoC, women, GLBT and social justice activists (including moderates and reformists in Islam) all the time. “Don’t punch down” sounds nice, but it’s funny how the compass points depend an awful lot on who’s defining the terms.

  30. Well after this week, I finally distilled my thoughts about extremists of any group who think that killing people is the way to get respect… I will now call them “murdering assholes”.

    Murdering assholes of whatever stench are a blight upon every group they claim to share some part of heritage with and a cancer in humanity.

  31. I see that the New York Times is getting a thumping from some quarters for not publishing the cartoons that offended the terrorists, which I find puzzling. What purpose is to be served by publishing them? To prove that the Times has the right to publish them? That right is not contested. To poke a finger in the eyes of those who are sympathetic to the terrorists? They’re getting poked already, plenty. To help lend context to a debate over whether the cartoonists crossed a line? Seriously? There was a line dividing “well, OK” and “these cartoonists deserve to die”? The second side of that line is “cancel my subscription” or “I think you people are assholes for publishing this,” not a death sentence.

    And thumbs up to the young Muslim man who hid people in the freezer. You’re a quicker thinker and braver man than I am, sir.

  32. I thought that was quite well disorganized, Oh Esteemed Host; too orderly a configuration of thoughts on this subject would suggest to me you weren’t thinking enough or were stopping too soon. This was the level of disorganization appropriate to a disorganizing subject.

    What’s missing from most American reporting that I know about (thanks to some time living in France, reading French papers and books, and being bluntly Francophile) is that Charlie Hebdo was very much in the French Radical tradition of anticlericalism or aggressive secularism. For four centuries past every repressive right-wing regime French has endured, from the Ancien to Vichy, has been very strongly aligned with the Church (normally the Catholic Church), and the Church has always returned the favor by rolling over and being a good doggie for whatever the right wanted.

    Individual exceptions noted; the village priest might be helping Huguenots or Jews escape or hide, the monsignor of an academy might be falsifying i.d.s to help students, Sister Maria Therese might be on covert radio or assisting Algerian resistance — but it was damned dependable that the bishops and cardinals were in the pocket of the right, and the further right, the more in their pocket they got, and the government very definitely returned all those favors and more so.

    So the Radicals and Republicans (both different things than what they are here and now) learned a basic rule: fight the Church. The Socialists and Communists who came along later learned it from them. In France, public religious expression was for a long time something like displaying the swastika or the Confederate flag, and there were therefore laws, analogous to hate speech laws, about too much public display of religion. Such laws were and are almost immediately turned against other groups besides Catholics, with Jews, Mormons, evangelicals, Hutterites and Jehovah’s Witnesses particular victims of state harassment and repression.

    The Muslim immigrant population posed a major challenge to this because certain clothing (e.g. head coverings for women) is a matter of both publicly declaring their faith (supposed to be illegal) and personal modesty (supposed to be a matter of respecting their culture). And to their great credit, in the last thirty years or so they have pushed for broader personal religious liberties for all Frenchmen. That doesn’t sit at all well with the aggressively secularist tradition of Charlie Hebdo. (The comparison to South Park, which practices an aggressive form of American secularism, is apt.) So Charlie Hebdo goes after Muslim symbols in the same way that many past generations of the French left have gone after Catholic symbols, or the way, for example, that American liberals react to Confederate flags or American conservatives to Che t-shirts. And as it happens, some people get mad enough to shoot other people about it.

    Do I have a solution that will make everyone happy? No more than Our Esteemed Host does. Shooting people is bad. Shooting them to shut them up is very bad. Rudeness for your political cause is still rudeness. But one does not have to be polite to have rights, and shooting as a reply to rudeness is something to be suppressed. Muddle muddle muddle, all’s a muddle, and thank you for reflecting it so well.

  33. @cranapia – for the record, I’m not an American, nor am I in any way claiming this attack was justified. And I feel there’s a difference between noting that Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures were, bluntly, not okay (and that they caused harm to people living in France), and arguing that these cartoonists in some way ‘had it coming’.

    That being said, it’s probably a discussion that a) should wait and b) isn’t directly relevant here.

    (feel free to Mallet me if I’m overstepping here, John)

  34. I see that the New York Times is getting a thumping from some quarters for not publishing the cartoons that offended the terrorists, which I find puzzling. What purpose is to be served by publishing them?

    I’d give them a mild slap across the wrists because The NYT hasn’t had any problems reproducing images grossly offensive to (some) of other faiths, as well as anti-Semitic and racist artworks. As Art Spiegelman rather acidly pointed out in a 2006 piece for Harpers, perhaps the Times felt more comfortable reproducing the notorious portrait of the Virgin Mary made out of dung that so offended Rudy Guiliani rather than the Danish cartoons deemed offensive to Islam in a feature on “the power of images to offend” because “thin-skinned Christians are more likely to blow up abortion clinics than newspaper offices.” {Link to PDF of piece: http://theremainsoftheweb.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Drawing_Blood-copy.pdf%5D

  35. I think extremists actually are the only people that the media is worried about offending, because nobody else would be offended.
    “Don’t draw Mohammed” is a rule by Muslims for Muslims and means nothing to anyone who isn’t a Muslim; and telling people not of your religion to follow its rules anyway IS a kind of religious extremism. Less extreme than trying to tell them what religion it should be, but still extreme and discriminatory.
    Actually, it’s exact the same attitude that fuels everything from religious opposition to legal marriage equality in America to blasphemy laws in Ireland.

    (I’m talking about the situation in general, not defending images I haven’t seen. It’s possible that the may be ACTUALLY OFFENSIVE and not just violating a religious rule, but even if these particular ones are, the fact remains that many in the media are literally afraid to visually depict Mohammed at all.)

  36. @ Chris Franklin: …” a non secular teacher wis forbidden to wear a Star of David while in the classroom in memory of the jews that the Vichy government sent to the camps but could step off campus and see a racist cartoon on the front of a magazine.”

    Yep. I think France is on shaky, heaving, swampy ground when it trumpets “freedom of speech” as a core value of its current society or government. (And the year I worked in Jerusalem, 2006, my neighborhood there was heavily Francophone and Jews were fleeing anti-Semitism in France at a rate of about 60,000 per year according to local newspapers.)

  37. I bet heroic young Monsieur Bathily, who even remembered to turn off the freezer, is the kind of person who takes a moment to think, “If an emergency occurred, what would I do?”. Let’s all try to remember to do that.

  38. I’m pretty sure the Qu’ran says that followers of Islam who kill women, children, old people, and non-combatants (i.e., those not physically bearing arms against them) will never be taken up into Heaven, so the Immam who called these Terrorists “false Moslems” was perfectly correct.

    Meanwhile, I understand that there are over one million Moslems in France, and maybe as many as two million. A population that large is bound to have a hundred or more individuals who just _love_ to kill helpless people, and there are probably several small groups of such psychopaths.

    I suppose an added motivation (abetted by psychopaths like Murdoch) would be to encourage the Government to institute laws actuallly oppressive to Moslems, to create an “Us vs. Them” atmosphere that would be likely to cause a significant number of (mostly younger, in the “prone to violent crimes” age range) Moslem males to enter the pool of potential recruits for these extremist/terrorists groups (which are, reportedly, now scraping the bottom of the barrel). Yes, this would be harmful to the French Islamic population — but that isn’t what it’s all about for the Terrorist Assholes. Actually, I think the Bolsheviks developed this technique quite well about a centruy ago, and I don’t quite understand why more people don’t recognize it today.

  39. [Deleted because I think Guess is doing a very poor job of making his point without lumbering into heavily derailing territory. If you want to try again, Guess, be my guest, although I suspect you’re not going to be able to make your point in a way that doesn’t just jump the train right off the track – JS]

  40. I agree that in a perfect world, American or UK or French or European Muslims wouldn’t have any more reason than the average white Catholic or WASP does to condemn an event like the Paris massacre.

    But in the real world that I actually inhabit, as opposed to a perfect one, I think it’s naive and disingenuous to suppose that a Muslim living in our society has no more reason than I do to speak out against an atrocity committed by self-identified Muslims who claim to be acting on behalf of Islam. In this real world, Muslims in US socitey (and in Canada and Europe) are minority subclutures that are viewed by the majority Christian culture with misunderstanding, misconceptions, fear, suspicion, aggression, dislike, misinformation, etc. These negative views are encouraged by popular major media like Fox News, popular pundits like Rush Limbaugh, powerful billionaires like Rupert Murdoch, famous celebrities (I can’t think of an example, but if I paused to google for 20 seconds I’d certainly find one), political leaders and legislators (our Congress, for example, is full of vocal Muslim-haters)…

    And none of that applies to the white Christian majority who are NOT living in our culture in conditions of feared, misunderstood, loathed, much-maligned minority status. Virtually no one in a position or real power, or media influence, or fiscal power starts screeching that all white Christian Americans are suspect, should be deported, or should be monitored, killed, imprisoned, or have their rights restricted when a white Christian commits an atrocity somewhere.

    And if you’re Jewish, you already know all this. If two Jews had gone into Charlie Hebdo and murdered a dozen people because of the publications cartoons about Jews, proclaiming they (the killers) were doing this as Jews an on behalf of Jews and the law of Moses, etc…. you BET Jews all over this country (where Jews are a well-assimilated minority, but nonetheless a minority, and where 10%-20% of the population is anti-Semitic, depending on which polls you read) would be denouncing this and explaijning this is NOT “a Jewish act,” “what all Jews are like,” or “representative of Judaism,” etc.

    In principle, no, of course an American Muslim going about his business as a US citizen shouldn’t have to denounce the killings in Paris. But in reality, a Muslim is not in the same position in this society (nor is a Jew) as a member of the white Christian majority, and to pretend otherwise strikes me as naive and self-defeating. In much the way that, as a woman, I should be able to go into any bar in this country alone at 1am and have a few drinks if I feel like it; but, in the real world that I actually inhabit, a woman who does that is likely to be pestered for sex and insulted/threatened when she asks to be left alone to drink. It’s not “right” that I therefore choose NEVER to go into a bar alone at 1am to have a frew drinks; but it is practical.

  41. John, well put. I would add a bit about sarcasm. As you said, it should be more than just being an asshole and offensive. Actually, I don’t consider that to be true sarcasm. There has to be some insight or kernel of truth in the sarcasm, that is being brought to light. Ideally, there is some humor involved. Calling a deliberate insult sarcasm and a joke is just an asshole trying to justify the insult.

    I have learned to avoid sarcasm most of the time as most people just get confused. And if you have to explain it, it isn’t a joke.

  42. Very well said and cogent. Thank you.

    Comment on Charlie Hegbo’s offensiveness being directed at all. Prefaced with speech, no matter how offensive, should NEVER be a capital offense. Someone (sorry I can’t remember who) pointed out a big difference between a French magazine satirizing offensively the Pope and Mohammed. In France, which is majority Catholic, poking at the Pope is attacking an authority figure (punching up). Offensively satirizing Mohammed is attacking the revered religoius figure of an minority group (punching down).

    I have not been able to bring myself to say #JeSuisCharlie, though I understand the feelings of my friends (especially writers) who do – I don’t want to say “I am” a group of very offensive people. I am much more comfortable with #JeSuisAhmed. And I appreciated a gentile friend who posted #JeSuisJuif (Jewish), because let’s not forget why it was a kiosher supermarket that was attacked.

  43. Laura Resnick:

    “In principle, no, of course an American Muslim going about his business as a US citizen shouldn’t have to denounce the killings in Paris.”

    I don’t think there’s any “in principle” about it. Flat out, no Muslim anywhere should feel as if they have to denounce the killings — and even more specifically, no non-Muslim should feel entitled to that apology; it’s not at all reasonable for anyone to expect it from them. Nor do I think it’s naive to suggest this, although I do think it’s indicative of a ridiculous sense of entitlement on the part of certain people in our midst (NOT you, Laura, to be clear) that they feel justified in acting like all Muslims are a threat unless they stand and deliver an apology or condemnation.

    That many Muslims do offer up apologies and condemnation is good and well, although I think it’s well worth asking why they do. If they do it because they are made to feel unsafe if they don’t, that’s a problem for all us, not just Muslims.

    But to repeat: I don’t need any Muslim’s apology for anything any other Muslim does, even when that thing is terrible. And while I absolutely grant that we live in a culture where many Muslims may feel they have to offer an apology when terrible shit like this happens, even though they have absolutely nothing to do with it, I would suggest that the solution is more people letting Muslims know they are not held responsible for the actions of people half a world away whom they have never met. The same with any Jews who might find themselves in a similar situation, etc. Having the whole of the world outside Dar al-Islam being a “bad bar” for Muslims is not actually acceptable.

  44. Laura Resnick: Yep. I think France is on shaky, heaving, swampy ground when it trumpets “freedom of speech” as a core value of its current society or government.

    When I discuss politics with French people, I need to constantly remind myself that the French concept of laïcité does not map very well to the US concept of “freedom of religion.” “Freedom of religion”, in the US sense, means that the government is religiously neutral, and that you can be married by a priest or a rabbi or a minister or an imam—or somebody who paid $30 to the Universal Life Church.

    Laïcité, on the other hand, seems to mean that church and state are kept strictly isolated, and that (for example) religious believers will typically need two marriage ceremonies: One marriage ceremony with everybody at the town office, and a second ceremony shortly afterwards at a church. Seriously, I know French people who are weirded out by a discreet US flag in the back of a church, or by the idea that a priest can perform a binding civil marriage. They feel that the public and religious spheres should be kept entirely separate. There’s some very messy history here; see John Barnes’ comment upthread.

    Personally, I prefer the US system. It avoids inflammatory questions like “Schools are run by the government; does this mean we need to ban all religious symbols?” But it’s worth being careful about assuming that the French are preaching US-style “freedom of religion” and then getting it wrong. They’re doing their own thing. There are some important cases where their thing seems to produce poor results.

    As for your other comments, I can confirm that some Jewish citizens of France are publicly discussing whether it’s time to leave the country (French). Similarly, several mosques have been threatened with violence (also French). Of course, there’s just a tiny handful of violent extremists, and they’re strongly condemned by virtually everybody. But heart goes out to everybody trying to live their lives in peace.

  45. My thoughts on the whole matter:

    1) What happened to the journalists and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo magazine was wrong. Deliberate murder always is.

    2) I’m more inclined to suspect part of the actual aim of this was to create friction within French society, getting the more parochial and hair-trigger-racist non-Muslim types to start attacking Muslims, and thus increase the capability of al Quaeda and other such jihadist groups to be able to recruit there. After all, a group of apolitical Muslims who are getting along just fine with their Christian, Jewish and non-aligned neighbours aren’t going to be interested in going to war to rid the world of heathens.

    As per Patrick Neilsen Hayden – we do ourselves a major disservice when we forget people are capable of lying. As per a lot of social justice theory, we do ourselves an even bigger disservice when we deny a person’s ability to be a manipulative arsehole on grounds of race, gender identity, sexual preference, religious identity, disability status, or any other axis of oppression.

    3) I realise this struck a lot of people who are or were or knew journalists right where they live, and that at least fifty percent of the press coverage is coming from a position of empathy. This doesn’t stop me from being somewhat irritated by the sheer volume of it all over my RSS feed.

    4) Rupert Murdoch’s tweets yesterday were not helping. But then, he’s not in the business to help – he’s in it to make money, and if he thinks he can make money by stirring up anti-Islamic sentiments, he’ll damn well do it. So, the big press barons Are Not Our Friends in this.

  46. I wish that Rupert Murdoch would read and internalise your point 7 and realise what an idiot he was to send out those tweets yesterday. But then pigs don’t fly either.

  47. I don’t think there’s any “in principle” about it. Flat out, no Muslim anywhere should feel as if they have to denounce the killings — and even more specifically, no non-Muslim should feel entitled to that apology; it’s not at all reasonable for anyone to expect it from them.

    All of this with sprinkles on! As many many people have pointed out, when self-described “100% Christian” Andreas Brevik murdered 77 and injured over three hundred precisely NOBODY demanded every Christian disassociate themselves from his vile act or get collectively tarred by association. There is too much horrible shit going on in the world for anyone to play this stupid, hateful and futile blame game or demand it of other.

  48. This is such a truly complicated thing, but fear and anger generally disallows complexity and demands simple solutions, even if horribly wrong.

    I think some of what charlie hebdo published was outright bigotry. It doesnt mean I think someone should gun them down. But I have a hard time saying jesuischarlie, because frankly, i am revolted by some of the stuff they publish.

    That these murderers ended up executing a muslim cop, makes me want to post jesuisahmed. Thats part of how i feel, but not all of it. Part of what I feel would be the french version of “Ich bin ein Berliner”. To stand in solidarity with a country wounded.

    The anti muslim bigotry is nauseating. The fact that charlie hebdo sometimes flirted with it is unsettling. But the response seems to be nothing more than fear having the capacity for naught but the simplest answers and anger demanding the response be violent.

    Also. i just want to call out charlie hebdo’s idea that “we insult all religions equally”. I think i have come to the point in my life where I find the Henry Higgens Defense to be indefensible (and if you dont know who henry higgins is, feel free to not reinforce how old i feel).

    And lastly, it seems fairly clear that terrorism is nothing but an attempt to rouse a revolution and it really is up to us to determine if it works. We can overeeact and be a recruiting poster for extremists, or we can do 5he right thing.

  49. I think there’s a strong (but not Universally Irrefutable) argument in favor of republishing the cartoons in question because they’re a central aspect of the story (in the journalistic sense) of this massacre.

    That said, what has bothered me most about decisions not to publish them is not the decision, but rather the way other journalists keep calling it “censorship.” This shocks and disgusts me.

    It’s not “censorship,” it’s an EDITORIAL DECISION, and -journalists- of all people (!!) should know what those phrases mean and understand the difference between them.

    You may (or may not) think a decision NOT to republish the cartoons is right, wrong, cowardly, craven, pandering, tasteful, respectful, safety-conscious, profit-oriented, etc., etc…. But what clearly IS, is an edtorial decision, whether wise or misguided, rather than “censorship.” And I was appalled, while driving around for several hours on Friday, to hear at least 7 different journalists on the radio call it “censorship” without being challenged, questioned, or corrected.

  50. Laura Resnick:

    Yup. People use “censorship” as a catchall word for a whole bunch of different stuff, much of which is not actual censorship. Which is not good or useful.

  51. Yup. People use “censorship” as a catchall word for a whole bunch of different stuff, much of which is not actual censorship. Which is not good or useful.

    Fair point well-made by both you and Laura Resnick. What the New York Times did was definitely an editorial decision, but I think it’s entirely fair to point out (as many people have done) that the Times’ own stated rationale is demonstrably inconsistent.

    And I think “self-censorship” is also a perfectly fair label. Then again, I don’t think that’s a pejorative unless you’re generally the kind of person who has a Tourette-like compulsion to verbalize everything that flits across your mind. I’m not one, mostly because I don’t find the prospect of being shunned from all human company after being punched in the mouth an attractive proposition.

  52. John : I also recognize that I know almost nothing about Charlie Hebdo, the newspaper, or the tradition of satire and comment that it exemplifies in French culture. From where I sit, a lot of what I’ve seen of it looks kind of racist and terrible.

    Charlie Hebdo was indeed somewhat extreme in its – uh, ultra-rabelaisian ? – brand of humour, although it was actually lighter than a previous version, Hara Kiri. I personnally often found them kind of terrible, too. But there was no doubt from anybody who actually read the journal (I occasionnaly do) that its journalists and cartoonists were truly kind, sweet and idealistic people.

    There’s also no doubt, from a French point of view, that the journal was sincerely, actively and militantly anti-racist. I’ve seen many of its cartoons used by antiracist or feminist organisations over the years.

    Can some of this material be considered racist or sexist from an American point of view ? That’s quite possible, although my understanding would be that it’s mostly because american criteria of racism and feminism have rapidly evolved lately, especially regarding stereotyping. Well — I hope ours won’t, or at least not all the way. “Zero tolerance” and fondamentalism can be two faces of the same concept, as far as I’m concerned.

    Chris Franklin : I am hoping that France rethinks many of its laws about public religious expression in light of its new awareness of why an unfettered expression of free speech can be a good thing especially when it shatters the status quo.

    Free speech, including public religious expression, is a basic right guaranteed by the French Bill of Right, which is the Preamble of our Constitution. But the Constitution also guarantees that any state official — including public school teachers, indeed — expressing himself in his official capacity should refrain to express any private preference, whether religious, political, racial, etc. It is known as the principle of laïcité, as Emk1024 points out. And no, it’s not about to change any time soon !

    Laura Resnick : I think France is on shaky, heaving, swampy ground when it trumpets “freedom of speech” as a core value of its current society or government.

    The understanding of the concept of free speech isn’t exactly identical in Europe and in the US— and, as I noted above, the differences might well be increasing. I haven’t spent enough time in the USA lately to have a clear idea of the present “politically correct” pressure, but it certainly feels like I’m far less likely to have my freedom of speech challenged in France than in the USA on many subjects.

  53. Concerning points 4 and 5, the argument for the NYT and other major media outlets publishing or not publishing Charlie Hebdo cartoons. AFAIK no-one is arguing that they should publish offensive cartoons on a regular basis. But they should, this once, to show that violent repression of free speech will not work. By not publishing, such outlets are giving the killers exactly what they hoped to achieve.

    If all the major media outlets are saying “well I have the right to offend, but I’m not going to exercise it because I’m afraid of violent retribution” then the right has been lost.

  54. @Eric Picholle: “Politically correct” in the US has taken the place of epithets like “pinko commie” of yesteryear. That is, it is an insult meant to demean and shout down those whose politics are perceived to be more liberal than the speaker’s.

    @Laura Resnick: And, like avoiding sketchy bars or late-night outings, it does absolutely no good. The people demanding Muslims apologize will always, always move the goalposts. Not enough Muslims apologized. There were some Muslims who agreed with it. They didn’t apologize last time something like this happened. Okay, maybe they apologized but they don’t really mean it. And so on.

    Fuck those people. The US Christian community never issued anything other than weak-tea finger-wagging about decades of terrorism directed at women for daring to want reproductive care, and I don’t see anybody saying this proves Christianity is a religion of hatred.

  55. @Mythago: My use of the phrase “politically correct” is probably obsolete, and was definitely not intended to offend. Sorry if it dit. What I meant is that any expression on some subjects, such as gender issues, seem likely to be scrutinized, and challenged if it diverges from some arbitrary canon.

  56. @Eric Picholle: no offense taken. However, I do see that you have grasped the gist of how the phrase is used – namely, the pretense that instead of being another manner of free speech, certain kinds of criticism or counterspeech are “political correctness”, wrong, bad, and oppressive. Which is more than a bit ironic in a discussion of a magazine that challenged the canons of authority and religious sacrity.

  57. Craig Ranapia: “…the kind of person who has a Tourette-like compulsion to verbalize everything that flits across your mind. I’m not one, mostly because I don’t find the prospect of being shunned from all human company after being punched in the mouth an attractive proposition.”

    I think that’s the same sort of thing that Joel was saying that you objected to up there. You can [verbalize every thought that goes through your head / deliberately depict religious figures you know damn well will offend people], but that doesn’t protect you from the possibility of being an asshole if you do. He wasn’t referring to people being harassed for showing their identities as members of an oppressed group, which I think is how you were reading it.

  58. Those pretty well fit our disorganized thoughts, with the caveat that we are more pro- in calling other people on their racist actions (“freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from criticism”). Even though it’s hard for us to do. But it is always so nice when a white guy calls out sexism, and when white guys aren’t just bystanders to bad sexist behavior (more than just not participating in bad behavior themselves) … that I sort of feel like we ought to say, “Hey that’s kind of racist,” when something is instead of ignoring it and pretending like everything is ok.

    So more than just not being overtly anti-Muslim ourselves, we also think other people shouldn’t be overtly-anti-Muslim, and we’ll make that position known when applicable. Even if it is unpopular. We won’t say you *can’t* be racist, but we’ll definitely say you *shouldn’t*.

  59. Thom: Is Charlie Hebdo racist?

    I may have my information wrong, but didn’t Charlie Hebdo print a cartoon in 2006 that showed Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban with a burning fuse? That, to me, seems to be condemning the whole religion of Islam.

  60. Hugh Fisher: “By not publishing, such outlets are giving the killers exactly what they hoped to achieve.”

    They hoped to keep offensive cartoons out of publications that don’t publish offensive cartoons? I suppose the gunmen could have had that as an aim, but those who trained them to fight against the West had, I think, a somewhat more sophisticated take: do some damage to a country, and then sit back and watch that country complete the job. We did it after 9/11: the Patriot Act and invading Iraq, to name two bad moves. I’m anxious to see if the French now embrace the nationalist politicians. Sure hope not.

  61. words are weapons, not merely words. Bullying a child can destroy him. How about bullying an entire population? Fuck free speech. And fuck all the morons who are insulting other people in the name of their free speech. I surely do have the right to show them the finger.

  62. “Perhaps, but not the trigger finger.”

    Frankly FTW.

    I’ve never been shot or shot at, but I have had people publicly express that I deserve to die slowly and painfully, or that I should be hanged as a traitor, or that I’d die in 2013 and my whole hometown would celebrate, all over jokes I’ve made in a weekly newspaper column. So while I can look at some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, like the one showing a naked and anatomically correct Muhammad crouched over with his ass in the air and a star for an asshole, or the one of the Father being buggered by the Son, who’s being buggered in turn by the Holy Ghost, and go “Jesus, that’s terrible,” all that means is that I have to grit my teeth a little when I say “Je Suis Charlie.”

    I actually posted some of the cartoons on my FB page and got unfriended by a couple of people I actually like as a result. But I think a point needs to be made: if you try to suppress free expression through cold blooded murder of defenseless people, then I will do what I can to make sure as many people see or hear that expression as I can. It’s a small thing but it’s what I could think of to do at the time.

    To paraphrase Mr. Samuel Spade: When a writer is killed for what he writes, you’re supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was a writer and you’re supposed to do something about it. And it happens we’re in the business of writing satire. Well, when someone in the business gets killed, it’s bad business to let the killer get away with it, bad all around, bad for every satirist everywhere.

  63. Closing up the comments for the night (because this is the sort of comment thread that sprouts trolls overnight). It’ll be open again in the morning.

    Update: Comments back on.

  64. Greg: The bomb in the turban cartoon was by Kurt Westergaard in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

  65. Mythago : you have grasped the gist of how the phrase is used – namely, the pretense that instead of being another manner of free speech, certain kinds of criticism or counterspeech are “political correctness”, wrong, bad, and oppressive. Which is more than a bit ironic in a discussion of a magazine that challenged the canons of authority and religious sacrity.

    I do get your point, and the irony.

    Yet, I guess we’re at the core of the problem here. In the French tradition, “free speech” implies that the small guy’s right of expression should be protected against excessive pressure from those in power, be it a state official, a powerful corporation, or even the majority. In the American way, as far as I understand it, “free speech” means that everyone has an equal right to express himself, even if it means drawning out, or even excluding, the smaller voice. If “certain kind of criticism or counterspeech” indeed sometimes sound oppressive to me, it’s certainly never because of the ideas they promote (by the way, standing “left” in the French political spectrum, I would probably qualify as far more “liberal” than most people here), but because of their collective and systematic nature.

    From this (and, I think, their) point of view, Charlie Hebdo is a rather small journal (with a circulation around 30,000), always targeting much more powerful sacred cows, whether religious, political, etc. Charlie is often deliberately offensive, and never dreamed of representing anyone but itself. In my opinion, mngwa thus entirely misses the point when he characterizes its satirizing Muhammad as “punching down” : it most certainly wasn’t a majority opinion attacking a minority, but a small group attacking a major authority figure. Definitely, and always, “punching up”. Yet, I can understand that some Muslim might also perceive the atheistic Charlie as part of a dominant, christian-dominated system.

    Greg : I may have my information wrong, but didn’t Charlie Hebdo print a cartoon in 2006 that showed Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban with a burning fuse? That, to me, seems to be condemning the whole religion of Islam.

    It wasn’t their intention, and the whole context made it abundantly clear. First, it was not a cartoon of their own (even if it could indeed have been), but a reprint of a 2005 Danish cartoon, which was at the time causing polemic, with death threats targeting the Danish editor and cartoonist. Charlie Hebdo was courageously and deliberately placing itself in the line of fire, in the battle between cartoonists and violent muslim fundamentalists, not (never !) Islam itself. Moreover, the cover cartoon of this 2006 issue pictured a crying Muhammad saying “It’s hard to be loved by assholes,” with the quite explicit title “Muhammad overcome by integrists”.

  66. When you have the example of the New York Daily News that took a single cartoon and pixelated only the offensive Moslem character ( that might get you killed) and did not do the same for the offensive Jewish character (which is safe), it is very hard to draw the conclusion that cowardice is not involved. And if you remember the US publishing industry concerning the Danish cartoon issue and Satanic Verses, it is clear that they do not stand up for free speech except when it is easy.

    Also, the US has been pretty hard on Christians that are violent, not just locally, like Waco but internationally like the Balkans.

  67. I am pleased to see Muslim leaders condemn terrorist acts by Muslims, in the same way that I am pleased to see leaders of police organizations condemn brutality and racism by their colleagues. But I’m not comfortable saying that such leaders have a duty to please me in this way.

    And at any rate, the statements that such leaders make about their ideology before a well-publicized atrocity are probably much more telling than the press releases they publish after it. (“So, Reverend, you’ve spent several decades telling your parishioners that abortion is murder. Would you say that the person who firebombed that abortion clinic is actually a hero, a savior of many unborn children?” “Of course not!” “Why not? Let me read to you quotes from some of your own sermons…”)

  68. No comment, except that one thing you wrote – “this isn’t just ‘us vs. them,’ or at least that ‘us’ now contain people in it who might have previously been considered ‘them’ ” – I found to be reminiscent of something Bill Clinton said in his 1992 nomination acceptance speech (referring to the American population only, to be sure): “There is no them. There is only us.” Easier said than done, but I’m still hopeful for the future.

  69. Regarding point #4/”cowardly” publications, another point to consider is whether the offensive pictures would have been considered publishable under their pre-existing editorial standards. If a publication has standards that outlaw certain offensive content, then their decision is consistent with prior policy. If they decided not to publish some of Charlie’s work based on a perceived increase in threat level after the attack, that treads the border between practical and cowardly.

  70. Just wanted to say a few things, being french myself.

    Though Charlie Hebdo’s jokes were often in bad taste, they weren’t racist. These people were anarchists; as such, they mostly mocked the religions (violently) and the institutions (also violently).

    Many people (maybe most people) didn’t find Xharlie Hebdo’s jokes funny; some considered the paper obnoxious or stupid. And yet, the “Je suis Charlie” demonstrations were still the biggest to take place in France since the end of WW2. It was heartwarming to see people put apart their differences for a few hours, with priests, rabbis and imams walking hand in hand.

    Finally, I wanted to discuss a common misconception about France being “catholic”. Catholicism is indeed the first religion (with islam being the second). However, religion doesn’t have the same weight in France that it does in the US. Most people live their daily life without thinking about religion. And when they do, it’s usually with hard feelings.

    Sadly, there has been these last 10 years a growing hatred toward the muslim community, fed by the far right and some “intellectuals”. I fear that these attacks won’t do anything to improve the situation.

  71. If something bothers you, don’t read/watch it. As our society grows and globalizes, we’re going to be exposed to differing outlooks. A mature adult understands this, and accepts those differences.

    That was tragically not the case in France, and I would hate to see publications self-regulate in response, because that will validate the ideology of the criminals.

  72. The thing about this whole event that really bothers me is:

    * In one corner, you have the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists – who are living in a society where Muslims are minority, and where free speech is protected. They were the victims of a couple of terrorist nutbars, and the whole world publicly condemns the event, to the point that a hashtag is repeated and quoted at the Golden Globes.

    * In the other corner you have Raif Badawi ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raif_Badawi ), a Saudi blogger who was critical of Islam in a society where free speech is not protected; he was convicted of apostasy by the Saudi government and sentenced to 7 years in prison and to be flogged 600 times, and who has just received the first 50. He is the victim of an oppressive GOVERNMENT. And the whole world’s response seems to be a collective, “…..who?”

    And I can’t help but think that a big part of the reason why the world is reacting to the Charlie Hebdo case as they are isn’t because they’re supporters of freedom of expression – it’s because they’re supporters of freedom of expression ONLY IF the people trying to express themselves are white guys.

  73. The first responsibility of journalism should be to report the news in such a way that people reading or watching the news are as accurately and fully informed as possible about the facts concerning a newsworthy event. Peaceful coexistence usually isn’t newsworthy. What is newsworthy is crime, terrorism, war, political spitting matches, natural disasters, extreme weather, and other nastiness.

    So, IMO, to fulfill their responsibility, news agencies should publish at least one of the cartoons and, perhaps, provide translations of the text in some of the others. Most people, at least in the US, did not know about Charlie Hebdo before this tragedy. Charlie Hebdo isn’t the type of satire which usually appears in US publications. It makes “Mad” magazine seem like “Miss Manners” in comparison.

    If we don’t want people unreasonably demanding Muslims speak out against something they had no part in, perhaps we should stop giving the impression that ALL Muslims are fragile people whom we must never offend with any depiction of Muhammed for any reason (including news reporting), or they will turn violent. To assume that Muslims need the news softened for their benefit is an insult to Muslims, IMO. Who decided that Muslims don’t understand context and how news agencies operate and, therefore, can’t tolerate accurate news reporting?

  74. Two thoughts I have on this(please note my POV is that of an Israeli Jew):

    1)French authorities taking the cry of free speech rings hollow when religious students in public schools have been forbidden from wearing religious symbols for..10 years? And that’s not something that, best case, is poking fun at assumptions to make people think, but erasing something that is a major part of people’s identity, especially given that in most of Europe the default religious identity is “Christian”.

    2) I’m very uncomfortable with the fact that while thousands held a candlelight vigil for the members of the “Charlie Hebdo” magazine, nothing even close happened as result of the deaths of the “Hyper Cacher” hostages. Given Christian and French history, this, together with the way that the police closed every Jewish business in Paris, feel like telling the Jewish community that it is not part of the French community.

    PS. If it hasn’t been recommended, I really recommend Joe Sacco’s thoughtfull cartoon on this:

  75. On the side issue of whether Charlie Hebdo is racist, anti-Islamic, etc., there’s a decent backgrounder from Chad Parkhill on Junkee that gets into those details. I can’t speak to its complete accuracy, but it makes sense to me and matches what I’ve seen about Charlie in the past from other sources — yes, they’re intentionally provocative, but they come at it from a very satirical, left-wing stance, and many of their cartoons have a somewhat Colbert Report wink-wink affect that doesn’t translate well.

    Again, that is a side issue: the point of defending free speech isn’t measuring which speech we want to defend. We defend it all because we want it to remain free.

  76. I suggest commenters read the link Mr. Scalzi provides to the Reuters report on the Central African Republic’s civil war. As a Christian I condemn unreservedly the mass murders committed by my coreligionists.

  77. Speaking of censorship, self and otherwise, one recent manifestation of political correctness in the USA is the attempt to suppress the very use of the term ‘politically correct’. Irony indeed!

  78. Not so much “suppress” as “stop misappropriating for use as a lazy dog whistle”.

  79. We don’t need to have a general discussion of the phrase “politically correct” at this juncture. It’s off the main topic a bit. Let’s save it for another time, please.

  80. Eric Picholle & antongarou: Thank you for providing French perspectives.

    Andrew Wheeler: I haven’t read the whole article by Chad Parkhill, but the first section on Charlie Hebdo is consistent with what I’ve seen. And while my knowledge of French culture is ridiculously superficial compared to Eric Picholle and antongarou, I do know enough about French culture and politics to at least get some of the jokes.

    Thom: Is Charlie Hebdo racist?

    As far as I can tell from looking at lots of old Charlie Hebdo covers (and speaking with people who grew up reading it), Charlie Hebdo published plenty of hard-hitting anti-racist cartoons, but they also made heavy use of ironic racism. But as Lindy West at Jezebel pointed out, ironic racism is often racist, and sometimes appallingly so.

    You can find plenty of examples of this here in the US, without needing to appeal to “the French tradition of anti-clerical satire” or whatever. Plenty of US stand-up comedians try to critique racism using ironic racism. As do several adult cartoon shows. And the results can sometimes be pretty cringe-worthy.

    Charlie Hebdo is also hurt by their style of caricature, which can sometimes look like Nazi propaganda even when they’re drawing the English. (Third cover down.) When they draw anybody less powerful, you can imagine the opportunities for epic fail.

  81. @Eric Picholle:

    Can some of this material be considered racist or sexist from an American point of view ?

    I’m sure it can, but it’s been really interesting watching pundits (and no just Americans) deciding not to bother figuring out the social and cultural context CH exists in, because OUR norms are universal, right? Which is ironic ground to stand on when you’re dismissing a whole culture as racist and bigoted.

    And you want to know something American Whateverettes, what do you think your average Frenchman would make of a late night host’s opening monologue? I personally fund them nigh on incomprehensible, because topical satire doesn’t travel well — and it tends to age like three-day old fish left out on the bench in the middle of summer not vintage wine.

    @Laura Resnick:

    Second thoughts on the whole “editorial standards” thing. I don’t think you were doing this, but as a general comment “editorial standards, bitchez!” is not a magic shield against criticism — not only when they’re inconsistently applied. Sometimes editorial standards are just bullshit, Last year, my local paper published a report of the murder of a transwoman where the victim was consistently — and deliberately — misgendered with male pronouns and her birthname. That’s no less disrespectful transmisogyny because it’s the house style.

  82. Eric, ah, I didnt realize the turban-bomb cartoon was a reprint. Lazy googling on my part. I am not entirely convinced that reprinting bigotry is not itself bigotry. If an American paper decided to reprint a KKK cartoon showing MLK as a monkey, I would question whether it was entirely about free speech with no responsibility for the content itself.

  83. For calibration, my personal exemplars of equal opportunity offensive humor are “Blazing Saddles” and the late cartoonist Callahan. Each has a full 360-degree field of fire.
    The best broadly violently satirical can easily be demonstrated to be bigoted in whatever direction by selecting just the few examples. The relatively few comments from actual readers (here and generally; I think I read that their usual print run was 60,000) are pretty unanimous that Charlie Hebdo is not biased.

  84. If there were massive rallys of Muslims against the killings, how would you know? You have to be a deliberate and aggressive news junkie to have found sources who would feature this information.

  85. I’m french and I live a few hundred yards (speaking American here, 800 meters for the rest of the world) from one of the shooting that happen this week. The one in the kosher market to be precise. I feel I have to correct a few points I have read here.

    First, Charlie Hebdo is not a racist newspaper. You can find if offensive, not funny, not well done or dumb if you want. But they always have been among the first to denounce racism from anyone toward anyone. Every pictures I have seen, shown here and there to make that point, must be taken into context to make sense. They are kind of like south park in this regard.

    Another thing to take into account is that the French model regarding laïcité (don’t know how to translate this word) is that everything religious should be keep private in order to not alienate people who don’t share your beliefs. The goal is to ensure that people lives together and not just side by side. One example : a French politician cannot end a speech by “god bless everyone”. It would simply not fly here. What about every other person who don’t believe in his god or any god at all ?

    That’s the reason why there is this clash in our society right now. There this movement from some radicalised Muslims who are trying to impose there sharia law in some of the suburbs over here. For example women not wearing veils in those streets are called sluts.

    Charlie Hebdo is one of those newspaper that is pushing back against those radicalised muslims, the same way they have pushed back against radicalised Christians, Jew, and mostly the government when it needed to (and it often does). In fact this newspaper is viewed by many moderate (Muslims or not) as absolutely essential.

    TL;DR Charlie Hebdo is right, and is not an asshole.

  86. @emk1024 : I’m Israeli, not French. The longest I’ve been in France is a vacation of about two weeks when I was in high-school – I do not claim to understand French culture to a very large degree.

    I was making sure to state I was from Israel since my culture diverges enough from most English speaking cultures I ran into I wanted to make it easier to comprehend where I was coming from.

  87. @ Cranapia, I definitely was not doing that. I said that journalists of all people should know the difference between “censorship” and “editorial decisions.” Different topic from whether editorial decisions merit criticism.

    As for the editorial decisions, I think there is a strong/valid argument that, given the circumstances, the cartoons themselves are newsworthy; but I don’t believe that means that EVERYONE MUST run them. So I’d want to know the basis of the editorial decision in every instance before I’d have an opinion (and maybe not even then) on whether any given media outlet made the best decision it could when it did or did not run the cartoons after the massacre.

    And @ Antongarou, I appreciate your perspective on this.

  88. Hugh: By not publishing, such outlets are giving the killers exactly what they hoped to achieve.

    Actually, I think this is probably the most important part of the narrative explaining the attack: what did the killers hope to achieve?

    Honestly, I don’t think the main drive here is to keep images of Muhammad from being published. I think the main drive here is like a lot of terrorist acts: igniting the armed revolution. Jerad and Amanda Miller, killed 2 cops, placed a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag on one of the bodies, and note saying “this is the beginning of a revolution”. (they committed suicide before the day was out) In some scenarios, hindsight says its a violent version of “lurkers support me in email”. In others, sometimes the target overreacts and provides recruiting fodder for the next wave of extremists.

    Bin Laden hoped that 9/11 would pull America into a war in Afghanistan. Why? Because Bin Laden had fought (or at least watched others fight) the Soviets in Afghanistan, saw the Bear was defeated and retreated limping back home, gravely wounded. Our foray into Iraq after 9/11 was just icing on the cake, bogging us into quagmire and acting as a recruiting poster for al queda.

    I don’t think the main thrust of these attacks is to simply keep images of Muhammad out of publication. I think what they want is to goad the world into violent reaction, something that would provide them with a “see I told you they’re out to get us” narrative for the next wave of recruits.

    I just wonder if we’ll end up giving them what they really want….

  89. I’m not going to comment on the racist/not racist nature of Charlie Hebdo, I didn’t read it, but what most people outside France don’t get, is that the publication’s audience had been steadily declining and the paper itself was literally near bankruptcy, since it was barely skirting the 30000 sales a month and needed to break the 35000 limit to be viable. The paper had been relying on donations for a while and that was far from enough. It was literally dying.
    A lot of the people I have talked to didn’t read it anymore and a lot of what I heard elsewhere was reports of people either not reading it in the first place or having stopped around the time Vals was the Editor in Chief and seemed to be taking a hard line against islam in particular.
    Obviously, it was still selling to some extent, but let’s not act as it it was a beacon of French press that had a huge influence on what people thought.
    Most people took up the slogan “je suis Charlie” not because they believed in or supported what the journal said, but because it was a convenient shorthand to support freedom of expression and to express grief. I also heard and read a lot of people that “weren’t Charlie”, because they disagreed with the current editorial line of the journal, or just didn’t like it. That didn’t prevent them from manifesting their sadness and sympathy for the victims.
    In the days that followed, a lot of people marched without that particular slogan in hand or made up their own slogans.
    There were plenty of muslim people manifesting (also laïc french people of North-African or African descent, yes they exist, I actually know a good number of them). Just go through the pictures of the different manifestations throughout France, you’ll see them, and everywhere I read people calls not to go and blame muslims for the acts of extremists. We’re in the after, now, so we’ll see how it goes.

  90. [Deleted because it started out stupid; I didn’t bother to see if the rest of it continued the trend. Sorry, JimBot. Unless I entirely missed your intent, you wiffed this one. — JS]

  91. I wish my thoughts were disorganized then I could put them in order to have an opinion. I have the feeling something is going on I don’t know about. I had a fledgling opinion but after reading the comments I’m not sure of the topic.

  92. The tricky thing about the question of whether Charlie Hebdo is racist or not is that it requires two viewpoints; the authors and various members of the the mainstream French populous, and the disaffected muslim population of France and people exterior to the targeted audience. As a black American, I am uncomfortable with the iconography that is used for black people in the magazine. I’m not sure I care if they didn’t intend it to be racist, or thought it was too funny to be racist, or are just tone deaf. One can oppose the death of the journalists and its chilling effect without interjecting a hagiography of the writers.

  93. Of course Muslims should not be asked to apologize for the actions of psychopathic maniacs who are fellow Muslims.
    Was apologies required given by the Norwegian people for the actions of Anders Behring Breivik, or Americans for Timothy McVeigh?
    Of course not!
    Holding an entire religion or nation responsible for the actions of the few who wrap their homicidal mania in flag or religion is patently absurd.
    As for self -censorship, here in Denmark Jyllands-Posten; that was one of the instigators of the whole can of worms when they published the original cartoons, has declined to republish the cartoons.
    As Chief Editor Jørn Mikkelsen said I Danish TV ” …the safety and well being of our staff must take priority”.
    This should be seen in the light of the attempted murder of the cartoonist, and a planned attack by David Headley and others on the newspapers offices to, and I quote: ”…slit the throats of as many as possible…”.
    A blatant case of self-censorship and bowing down to terror?
    Of course, but would the majority of us not do the same?
    With the likes of Headley and Coulibaly stalking not just you but your family and co-workers?

  94. My other reaction to the massacre is that if you read the background of these four murderers–particularly the two brothers who committed the massacre at CB, about whom more seems to be known–these were career criminals. They have the same sort of background of years of involvement in illegal and violent activities that career criminals have, including previous arrests, previous interrogations as persons of interest, and (for at least one of them) a previous prison term.

    If you replace “Al Queda” and “Yemen” with the equivalent vocabulary of the Russian mob, the Sicilian Mafia, major street gangs, criminal drug lords, or white “militia” groups, etc., the criminal careers of these killers fit the same pattern, right up to committing a big, bloody multiple-murder against their “enemy” (which probably would have been rival gangs, rival drug lords, or magistrates in those other criminal scenarios, rather than cartoonists). If you replace the ideology of religious fanaticism with ideology of “race,” or “turf,” or “Our Thing,” or “brotherhood,” etc., their interviews and justifications sound very similar to the interviews and justification of people in various forms of organized crime.

    Their preference to die as “martyrs,” aka suicide by cop, was similar to gangsters who “won’t be taken alive” or “won’t rat,” etc. Dying is better than defeat, arrest, and interrogation.

    And the statements made about them by law enforcement people who’d previously dealt with them sound just like statements made by law enforcement dealing with career criminals. Before this masscre, they were perceived as thugs, followers, dangerous, criminal, potential killers, etc.

    Also like many other thugs in organized crime who commit atrocities and then get pursued and killed or captured by law enforcement, they’re funded and directed by powerful bosses who are far from the action, well protected, and very hard to bring down.

    These thugs are operating under a banner of religious ideology, but many criminal organizations over the centuries have had complex self-definition and self-justification. And I keep seeing what’s so similar about them to other career criminals, rather than seeing the specifics of their criminal organization’s identity or stated ideology. I keep remembering what it was like to live in Palermo (the capital of Sicily) when Mafia thugs there were bombing and shooting magistrates and prosecutors (and their families) at a terrifying rate in crowded urban/civilian settings-. And similarly murderous thugs in stating a different ideology in Paris doesn’t change the nearly identical nature of the act.

  95. Someone mentioned earlier the difference in the outrage over the Charlie Hebdo attacks, vs no outrage whatsover (outside of other democratic activists in Saudi Arabia) when a Saudi man published a similar work there and was then sentenced to death for blasphemy and apostasy.

    Practicality is the difference. I think most westerners feel that they could at least do something about attacks like the one in Paris. Prevent them, catch the guys, jail them, kill them, something. (by *they* I mean the law-enforcement agencies of their governments)

    Someone killed for their belief in a foreign state, by the government of that foreign state (which does *not* recognize freedom of speech or religion), most western will just throw their hands up and think “Well, can’t do anything about that.”

    Practicality matters. Being angry about something you could possible help combat, or stop, is way more realistic than being angry about something that (while still aweful) almost literally takes place in another world, with an entirely different set of laws and rights.

  96. I think the aspect of this that hasn’t been emphasized enough is how political this thing is is. We know that some of the attackers were trained, and I’m willing to be that this was planned a good deal in advance. The political aim is to engender violence or reprisals against the Muslim immigrants, and therefore draw more converts to the cause of the radicals.

    This took money and planning.

  97. I dunno. I’m willing to give Charlie Hebdo all the contextual credit for not being racist, in that it is a local publication and sensibilities vary in various parts of the world (among other reasons). However, I do have two problems with that DailyKos article. One is the way the author keeps insisting that Charb couldn’t have published/created racist cartoons because of his wife’s ethnicity; that smacks way too much of the “I have a black friend” response (and is emphatically not Charb’s fault, since he didn’t write the article and I’ve no idea if he ever used that defense).

    Second–well, some awareness that satirical humor magazines can screw up, even in a local context, might have been nice? Or perhaps just an acknowledgement that people respond to images differently than they do to words, and that–maybe–it is extremely difficult, possibly even impossible, to use some images ironically in some contexts? Somehow, I think Charlie Hebdo’s staff was likely aware of the problematic nature of some of their images and they used them anyway–and that that was/is a good thing, even a praiseworthy thing. Satirists need to be aware of what they are doing, after all, how close they are edging to which lines, or what they create winds up being the failure mode of clever . . . at best.

    NONE of which changes the fact that–whatever they published–the staff of Charlie Hebdo did not deserve to be slaughtered. Criticized, probably. Sued for something, possibly (don’t know French libel law, don’t really care–that isn’t really my point). Ignored or not read by people who find their work objectionable? Certainly. But not silenced by threats, never murdered. That’s the “je suis Charlie” bottom line, in my opinion.

  98. Another put-in-context (long) narrative written in english by a french radical-left militant, on Charlie Hebdo role & place in french culture :
    Nota bene by the autor at the end :
    * It was pointed out to me that, should this article be read by American friends, my use of “republican” might be misleading. By “republican”, I do not mean anything to do with the North American party; I use the term in its French sense – the “république” referring to a secular and democratic Res Publica.

  99. On January 8, 150 musicians got together in Trafalger Square in London, to play a tribute to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

    When I clicked the link, I expected maybe “La Marseillaise”, or some other specifically-French song.



    Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”, which is gorgeous and heartrending and literally my favourite piece of music ever.

    … I don’t have anything deep or profound to say.

  100. The best summary of the attitude of the attackers (and others) is that of the Papal Legate, Arnaud Almaric at the sack of Beziers, a city containing both Catholics and (Christian) Cathar heretics: “Kill them all, God will know his own”.

    It’s been a common attitude ever since, for most religions; partly because it’s a lot easier in the short run to kill people than to persuade them to change their views. However, killing people more-or-less at random annoys their friends, so it’s not a total win.


  101. John,
    I wanted to loan you a word and see if we can get it trending:


    Think about it, this dovetails into what you stated about the KKK and trying to mask their hatred and racist bigotry in Christian values.
    That is what these pieces of shit are doing around the globe. Masking their racist bigotry and hatred in the Muslim religion.

    Lets call these assholes for what they are and take their mask off.

    Not Muslims,,,,,,,, Islamaklan.


  102. John,

    Thank you for your very thoughtful comments; there’s been something of a shortfall of these, and we desperately need more.

    In response I’d like to add some more context. I think that it is worth bearing in mind the fact that the writer, Maurice Sinet, who made a bad joke in Charlie Hebdo in 2009, about the impending marriage of Sarkozy’s son to a wealthy Jewish woman, was charged with anti-Semitism under French laws, and promptly sacked by the magazine:


    The ‘joke’ involved commenting on an unfounded rumour that the president’s son planned to convert to Judaism, Sinet remarked: “He’ll go a long way in life, that little lad.”

    I must confess that, whilst I can certainly see how some people might possibly be uncomfortable with the ‘joke’, I have very considerable difficulties in categorising that one line sentence as an anti-Semitic hate crime.

    Furthermore, it does rather undermine the claim that Charlie Hebdo was/is an equal opportunity producer of stuff to offend all religions.

    And I would have more respect for their vaunted devotion to free speech if they hadn’t promptly sacked the writer who was embodying the principles of free speech,,,

  103. “As a non-muslim I’d like to apologize to muslims for the non-mulsims demanding that all muslims apologize for the attacks today”

    STRAWMAN ALERT!!!! This isn’t happening.

  104. Scorpius:

    STRAWMAN ALERT!!!! You’ve apparently decided not to see it happening.

    Also, we’ve now both exceeded our exclamation point quota for the week. Let’s move on.

  105. Lots of things you have a legal right to do make you a total asshole if you do them. I think punching down with satire is one of those things.

    I also think it’s not exactly free speech if you’re REQUIRED to publish the most offensive things you can think of. Some people were advocating that on Twitter, and frankly I concluded they were Islamophobic opportunists.

    And the amount of hypocrisy on display in the Paris marches was stunning. TURKEY (which jails more journalists than anyone) sent a representative! So did Saudi Arabia, which is currently in the process of slowly flogging a blogger to death for pointing out that Muslims are allowed to proselytize in the US but Christians aren’t even allowed to have Christmas trees in Saudi Arabia (and other things that are equally threatening to the security of the state).

    And France isn’t exactly a bastion of freedom of expression. Didn’t they ban the hijab? And in the US people have been wrongfully arrested for peacefully demonstrating about Ferguson etc. An excellent young person named Daniel Wickham (Austenites, no jokes please) has catalogued the hypocrisies on display there.

    Bearpaw, halal rules are a proper subset of kasherut: anything that is kosher is ipso facto halal, but the reverse is not true. This fact led to an interesting situation at the University of Michigan, where they didn’t have quite enough students to have separate kosher and halal cafeterias, but they DID have a kosher (therefore also halal) one! The result was Muslim and Jewish students eating together several times a day. That this was a Good Thing is obvious to everyone except the most hardcore bigot.

    DigitalAtheist, I support that, even though it’s patently unfair to literal assholes, which never murder anyone.

    KWadsworth, while I agree with your point, my understanding was that apostasy is an automatic death sentence in the theocratic-monarchist hellhole known as Saudi Arabia, and he was narrowly NOT convicted of that. Instead they loaded up the bullshit other charges. I do not think anyone can survive 600 lashes, even at 50 a week, so it’s probably moot.

  106. I don’t support the killing, but after I’ve seen some copies of Charlie Hebdo, I somehow had an idea why.

    Religion is a very emotional sector of man’s psychology, and trying to mess with it will trigger emotions of different degrees.

    Freedom of speech is not an absolute right of lawlessness, just as free will does not include freedom to cut throats of anybody just because you want to. Just as how killing others for justice remains unacceptable to modern man’s morals, disrespecting other people’s beliefs is not a good medium to exercise freedom of speech.

    I am not trying to rationalize the act that killed the cartoonists; I am speaking as a Catholic who saw satirical depictions of God and Christ having sex with each other (to name a few), and that, in my point of view as a Catholic, is absolutely insulting. It affected me, and I’m sure that others were affected too (considering that it’s not only Mohammed or Jesus or the Pope that they’ve made mocking).

    Freedom of speech is a very powerful invention of man that must be used responsibly, and if we do not use it properly or use it just to make fun of others or to destroy something for the sake of boasting that you can, we may come into a point that others will decide for us when should we take silence as a virtue. Just like what happened in France.

  107. @Je Suis Pas Charlie: You say you do not rationalize the killing; but it’s exactly what you do when you say “we may come into a point that others will decide for us when should we take silence as a virtue.”!

    As said before, yeah, CH was deliberately offensive and sometimes stupid. It does not, however, mean they should have shut up.
    Religion is no different in this regard from any other ideology, nor should it be. If we start refusing to make fun of religion, it will then be patriotism, then politics, then who knows what. It’s a slippery slope

    Also, remember that the attacks weren’t targeted only at CH, so your argument is moot anyways. These people didn’t want to avenge their religion, they wanted to sow terror. One policewoman was killed on the street, and some people were killed while they were shopping.

  108. So, basically, we should take silence as a virtue now, or risk having it forced on us later.

    You have the right to be offended by those depictions.

    Others have the right to find them funny, or poignant.

    I find it kind of telling that the reaction of Obama to the Sony affair was that it was wrong for them to not show The Interview, while his first comment about this was that uh, oh, maybe these guys were a bit too irresponsible…

    Seems once you add the God idea to the discusion it is time for a lot of people to have second thoughts about that whole freedom of expression thing.

  109. Xopher Halftongue : And the amount of hypocrisy on display in the Paris marches was stunning.

    I’m sorry to have to agree with this.

    And France isn’t exactly a bastion of freedom of expression. Didn’t they ban the hijab?

    Of course France is, and has been since 1789. Even if we don’t understand it exactly as the American tradition does. But placing limits on expression — every country does, and must — is a tricky business, and quite difficult to analyse outside your own culture.

    Actually, I’ll admit that freedom of expression tends to slightly decrease in France nowadays — but, in my opinion, mostly due to some attempts to “globalize” the French tradition — meaning : americanizing it the worst possible way, by integrating additionnal, US-like limits, without compensating it by relaxing other constraints.

  110. Xopher

    You might like to look up the French law relating to the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in state owned schools; it may assist you to realise that making statements like ‘didn’t they ban the hijab’ suggests that you haven’t bothered to devote even a few minutes to familiarising yourself with the culture and country you are opining on.

    As for the stuff about people being cruelly deprived of their Christmas trees, I’d prefer not to have to touch it, even with a 16 foot bargepole. I may not be a very good Christian, but I am good enough to have grasped that Christmas is not about Christmas trees.

    And attempting to conflate the suffering of Raif Badawi with the suffering of people cruelly deprived of Christmas trees, is, in my view, stomach turning…

  111. @cranapia: Well, for starters, I don’t think I’d begin my pondering with an antiquated and exclusionary term like “Frenchman”.

    Issues of racism, different cultural and political approaches to ‘separation of church and state’, and the role of satire are complex. “Well you just don’t GET the deep layers of meaning” is sometimes true. It’s also sometimes wrong, and sometimes the defensive knee-jerk reaction of someone defending bad behavior.

    @Stevie: Wow. On the one hand, you scold Xopher because, in your view, it’s cultural pigheadedness that he doesn’t perceive laïcité as religious freedom, but on the other hand, you’re perfectly comfortable ignoring the cultural context in France that makes anti-Semitism so repugnant and seen as outside the proper bounds of free speech.

    (And while certainly it’s important to recognize that there is more than one way to approach the concept of ‘religious freedom’, laïcité may seem very different in its value to somebody belonging to the majority religion – whose dress, behavior and conduct neatly map with what the dominant culture considers OK.)

  112. @mythago – very well put re: laïcité.

    French people reading this: please consider what laïcité means to someone who may have been persecuted due to their religion, or has relatives that were, or whose religion has a major element of praxis(rather than faith – Judaism vs. Christianity). Or to people just want to celebrate their own culture in public spaces, where religion is major part of that culture.

    I am a Jewish atheist, the Jewish part is as important to me as the atheist part. I don’t do kiddush, I don’t go to synagogue, I don’t even keep kosher, mostly. But my culture? the way I think and celebrate and view the world? It grew out of Judaism as certainly as majority European culture, including European atheist culture, grew out of the various flavors of Christianity. Now consider that I live where Judaism is the default, where I can *afford* not to practice a lot of these because its easy to keep my identity as Jew just by being the default. Had I been living where Jews are a minority I would probably have kept much more of these religious rules/traditions to some degree, because they are part of my cultural identity and ways to keep it.

  113. Mythago

    I find your adoption of the term ‘scolding’ a useful clue as to your mindset in the starting point in your critique of my critique of Xopher’s posts, but you have rather underlined it by your apparent conviction that no non-Jewish European could possibly understand anti-Semitism, even when the parents of those Europeans died in their millions to prevent the genocidal anti-Semites achieving their goal. That is how the European Court of Human Rights came into existence.

    We have hate speech legislation in England and Wales which has similarities with those in France; I am not a criminal lawyer but I am familiar with the boundaries. Sinet’s lawyers were as well, and the case against him was dropped.

    Sinet went on to successfully sue Charlie for wrongful dismissal and defamation and was awarded 40,000 Euros in compensation.

    So, in future, before you decide to ‘scold’ me it might be sensible of you to establish what the facts actually are in a particular case…

  114. @ John Scalzi, I haven’t seen it because it isn’t there. Unless you can point to actual instances of people demanding *all* muslims apologize for *all* Islamic terror. What I do see is people like Rupert Murdoch saying that Muslims need to take “responsibility” for the cancer that is growing on their religion; but I see Egyptian President El-Sisi (both not an Islamophobe and a Muslim) saying the exact same thing. I know you won’t see it on MSNBC (and that’s sad) but google “el-sisi new year speech” and read the whole thing. He blames Islamic terror on Islam’s leadership and their teachings a suggests the religion needs a reformation.

    I *would* like to apologize to all soldiers passed and living who defended this country and the free speech this country depends on for our disgustingly deplorable President who has said “the future does not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam” and who has decided, in his uniquely fascistic way, to bully media organizations who write articles about Jihad and Jihadism. We’re sorry, I didn’t vote for the worthless piece of filth but I share the responsibility.

  115. our disgustingly deplorable President who has said “the future does not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam”

    Oh, scorpius, so like you to cut the quote off. What the President said was:

    “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied.”

    Wow, that is horribly deplorable. We should deplore violence against all forms of religion. Yeah, that’s some radical thinking, that is.

  116. Oh well, I missed one word, sue me. It’s funny that merely depicting Mo is considered “slander” and is equated to Piss Christ (the right to depict it I support, even if I dislike it). But you missed the whole thing about O bullying media outlets for publishing stories about Jihad, a real and serious danger and a problem in Islam (since a significant percentage of Muslims worldwide support violent Jihad http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_attitudes_towards_terrorism#Polls). Which, BTW, is not at all equal to the practically nonexistent “Christian Terrorism” or support thereof. Scalzi is once again engaging in a logical fallacy by equating the practically nonexistent Christian terrorism to the very real and widespread Islamic terrorism; and also by comparing the support for that Christian terrorism (again, practically nonexistent) to the very real and widespread support for Islamic terrorism

  117. Scorpius:

    “I haven’t seen it because it isn’t there.”

    I believe you haven’t seen it. I don’t imagine you’ve gone out of your way to look for it, however.

    You’ve not really gone out of your way to look for Christian terrorism, either (That said, I’m sure the thousands of Muslims slaughtered in Central African Republic will be delighted to know that the terrorism that murdered them qualifies as “practically non-existent” to you).

    Nor do I believe you’re particularly interested in finding either, although I do see you’re happy to use them as a jumping off point for some cue-card-y blathering.

    “Oh well, I missed one word, sue me”

    This is your problem, Scorpius: that “one word” matters materially in terms of what’s actually being said. That you’re willing to elide what’s actually being said to make a point neither makes the point, nor suggests that you were ever able to make it. Likewise, that you try to brush off your attempt to mislead with a quick pivot to another point entirely doesn’t suggest that you’re actually interested in the points you’re trying to make, you’re just trying to read as much off the cue card as you can in the hope no one notices you’ve just dropped that previous argument like a hot rock.

    Which is to say you’re currently stupiding up the thread, Scorpius, so why don’t you excuse yourself from the rest of it.

  118. Stevie 9:10 am

    I don’t recall seeing anyone compare the sufferings of Raif Badawi to Christians not being allowed to put up Christmas trees. They were pointing out that he is getting 1000 lashes for writing in his blog that Muslims are allowed to proselytize in the United States but Christians are not even allowed to put up Christmas trees in Saudi Arabia.

  119. I have been thinking about what annoys me trying to rationalize Charlie Hebdo’s claim of not being racist. If an entity such as a satirical magazine uses stereotypical imagery ironically, they still have the assumption that they have the right to keep that “arrow” in their quiver, while I reject the right for anyone on the Far Right or Far Left to use those stereotypes without criticism. This idea that the concept is too “French” for others to understand seems off too; one can view the Front National critically no matter how French it is. It seems impractical to expect that France, though it has the highest birth rate in Europe, to remain so unprepared for the cultural changes that its youngest and most ethnically diverse people will bring. How to bring about orderly change in the definition of being French is something that Charlie Hebdo seems unsuited to accomplish.

  120. [Deleted, unread, because Scorpius was already invited to leave the thread. You do remember when I tell you you’re done, you’re done, yes? — JS]

  121. Stevie, You have seriously misread me. I was saying that Saudi Arabia is a vile hellhole in part because Raif Badawi is being cruelly tortured, most likely to death, for “offenses” as mindbogglingly trivial as pointing out that Christmas trees are not allowed in Saudi Arabia. These are considered offenses against the security of the state, which is patently absurd.

    It’s not a big deal not to be able to buy a Christmas tree. To be tortured to death for SAYING you can’t buy a Christmas tree is an unimaginable horror of injustice.

    DAVID, thank you for that. I won’t be specific since the desired result has already taken place.

    Robin, thank you. I’m glad that was clear to someone.

  122. Robin

    Again, this is a case where the search engine is your friend; I have looked long and hard and I can find no trace of a reputable news agency reporting that Raif had been blogging about the attitude in Saudi Arabia to Christmas trees.

    If you can point me to one I would be grateful, since I am always grateful to people who help me to learn, but I would still have to point out that the country responsible not only for holding, but also for exporting, the theologically illiterate notion that Christmas trees are part of the Christian faith, is the USA.

    As far as I can tell it’s part of the paranoid conviction set of US fundamentalists; they pour vast sums of money into such not-Christian activities as lobbying for gays to be imprisoned and executed in Africa, just as they poured vast sums of money into opposing equal marriage in England and Wales. I’m happy to say that, notwithstanding all that money, we got the Bill enacted; unfortunately the situation in Africa continues to deteriorate, particularly since they failed with us and need to use the war chest elsewhere.

    And, whilst we are on the subject of barbaric behaviour, I, like many others, regard capital punishment as pretty damn barbaric; whether it’s in a botched execution, or as the result of committing the offence of being black whilst having an asthma attack.

    Of course, cultures change, and things can get better. On the other hand, I’m not exactly impressed by the response to the two year old who accidentally shot his mother with her own gun which she left within easy reach of him. Nobody seems to have learned any lessons from this; we are back to rounding up the usual suspects and the usual mantra.:

    ‘Guns don’t kill people. People kill people’.

    The fact that the person is two is obviously a trifling detail…

  123. Antongarou: Just for clarification and not to push a polemic: the balance between praxis and faith varies from sect to sect, as well as practitioner to practitioner, within Christianity. I don’t think it is something which marks a clear cut distinction between Judaic and Christian culture.

    It gets very dicey to say that one religion should receive more or different tolerance from the State. There might be valid reasons in a particular instance, but even deciding whether anyone gets to make that judgement is a heated topic. My guess is that Americans, Israelis and the French all have a very different expectation on this subject from each other. To be safe, I would say that either a) we not ask for differential treatment within one state or b) if we think that the French are wrong vis-a-vis Jews, then we simply come out and honestly state we don’t care for their general approach as applied to anyone.

  124. Xopher

    I note your comments.

    Please supply the links from reputable news sources which demonstrate that your claims about Raif blogging about Christmas trees are true. Since you’ve been asserting these as facts, then the obligation to demonstrate that they are facts lies with you.

    I don’t know where you got them, but they don’t seem to jibe very well with the information provided by those working at the hard end, say, for example, Amnesty International. But unless you provide a rational explanation I must conclude that you

  125. @Christopher Franklin: I am of the understanding that CH’s most-common target is, indeed, the Front National, La Pen, and the rest of the French far right.

  126. Stevie, let me google that for you.

    And look there in the first link, from an article posted by The New Yorker on 1/9/15:

    One post mocked the prohibition against observing Valentine’s Day, which, like all non-Muslim holidays, is banned in Saudi Arabia. (Even foreigners aren’t allowed to buy trees for Christmas.)

    Now, yes, that doesn’t state that Badawi wrote about the Christmas tree prohibition himself, but it does imply it. So it’s easy to see how a reader could honestly come by that impression. Further, even if he never wrote about that issue in particular, it is certainly of a piece of the kinds of things that he did write about.

    You’re really pushing the nit pick of the thread. Any particular reason why?

  127. *wanders back to Whatever from the college-student land of stressful exams, Biology finals, and OMW binge-rereads*

    *sees and reads article*

    Yup, this is smart and funny and deadly accurate as usual. This is why I think you’re awesome, Mr. Scalzi.

  128. @PrivateIron: I was not proposing Judaism should get an exception, I was trying to ilustrate how, for example, forbidding the wearing of religious symbols in public schools, to give one example of how laïcité is being used, is extremely problematic when viewed through the eyes of minority whose identity is strongly tied into their religion. Judaism was an example, but I’m just as troubled by students not being allowed to wear hijab as I am by them not being allowed to wear kippas, or turbans. Consider this: do your public schools ban other items that identify the wearer as supporting a minority ideology and/or belonging to a minority group?If not, what is so special about religion that it should be banned?

  129. @Stevie: several people have pointed out that you’re badly misunderstanding or misinterpreting what they’ve said (and as to your response to me, completely inventing things I did not actually say). Consider the slim possibility that this is an indication that perhaps the disagreement here does not actually mean that everybody but you is a slack-jawed, likely provincial idiot who has never heard of Google.

    @PrivateIron: it’s not really about French culture being “wrong vis-a-vis Jews”. It’s about the question of whether views of what constitutes a public display of religion may be calibrated to the majority’s religious practices and comfort level. Think of people who complain that LGBTs go around with T-shirts or pink triangles announcing their sexual orientation but ‘you don’t see straight people going around announcing they’re straight all the time’. For one thing, there’s not really anything like being ‘out’ as straight, because straight culture is the norm and presumed. For another thing, there’s a double standard; a man who mentions ‘my wife’ is not treated as revealing his intimate life whereas a man who mentions ‘my husband’ may well be.

    That’s not to say the French approach is necessarily wrong. Just that as with all things, views on the best or freedom-est way to handle religious expression may be very different depending on the role of your faith in your society.

  130. antongarou : French people reading this: please consider what laïcité means to someone who may have been persecuted due to their religion, or has relatives that were, or whose religion has a major element of praxis(rather than faith – Judaism vs. Christianity). Or to people just want to celebrate their own culture in public spaces, where religion is major part of that culture.

    France had more than its share of religious wars and even, literally, Crusades, and their memory is deeply embedded into our culture. Laïcité has been the French Republic’s answer to this national tradition of religious trouble for a couple of century nows, and it worked pretty well for us (except obviously for the tragic episode of the occupation by the Nazis). I’m not sure that the Israelian approach qualifies as nearly as effective as far as inter-religion cohabitation is concerned.

    One important distinction here is the notion of public space. Where some other cultures only distinguish between “private” and “public” spaces, French law considers three categories : private, public, and neutral. In your own private space, you can celebrate pretty much whatever culture you want without being bothered by anybody. You can too in public space (streets, parks, etc.) — there are a lot of demonstrations in the streets of Paris ! —, within a few basic common sense rules, but you can’t prevent others from having their own way too, even if you mutually dislike each other’s “celebrations”. Neutral spaces, such as public schools, should be free from any kind of ostentatious (that’s the legal term) demonstration. A pupil can wear an unosbtrusive cross, crescent or star, but not force an ostentatious item or behaviour into the others’ attention. And a teacher can’t harbour any sign, either religious, political, etc.
    For me, this lives ample room for reasonnable accomodations with one’s “identity” or “praxis”, if he is willing to find a compromise. Thus, insisting on the right to be ostentatious about one’s religion isn’t about them : it’s usually either proselytism, pharisianism or provocation.

    Consider this: do your public schools ban other items that identify the wearer as supporting a minority ideology and/or belonging to a minority group?If not, what is so special about religion that it should be banned?

    Of course. Neutrality isn’t just about religion. For instance, you can’t bring political slogans in French schools either, or wear T-shirts ostentatiously promoting political ideas, or sexual identities (to follow up on Mythago’s LGBT example) etc.

    Had I been living where Jews are a minority I would probably have kept much more of these religious rules/traditions to some degree, because they are part of my cultural identity and ways to keep it.

    Nobody would have prevented you from doing just that in France.

    Christopher Franklin : If an entity such as a satirical magazine uses stereotypical imagery ironically, they still have the assumption that they have the right to keep that “arrow” in their quiver, while I reject the right for anyone on the Far Right or Far Left to use those stereotypes without criticism.

    Who said “without criticism” ? Of course Charlie Hebdo was criticized, and called out on potentially racists drawings, as it should have been, and will still be after a decent mourning interval.

  131. Mythago: If I understand you, you are saying that not letting people wear a cross in a public school means something different than not letting someone wear a Star of David, which is true for many of the reasons you illustrated. However, I am not sure that there is a good way for the State to decide that issue on an ad hoc basis. We are left with the old conundrum that even good laws cannot fix society.

    Considering that the French state has occasionally been actively antagonistic to what we are terming the majority or normative religion, I am not sure that your illustrations have as much impact in that context as they would for us as Americans. I think we have a hard time comprehending that on a gut level, as opposed to an intellectual one.

    Antongarou: If I understand you, you are saying that you disagree with the French position as applied to anyone, with Judaism as your example. So you went with position b from my post and I am perfectly fine with that.

    I think American public schools actually ban a lot of things that they believe will be disruptive, but they don’t prescriptively ban them on the basis of religion. However, I honestly don’t know if the American or French way is better. I suspect they both have advantages and disadvantages. I also suspect that our adherence to them has more to do with historical accident than reasoned decision.

    I assumed, rightly or wrongly, that neither of you is claiming that the French are applying the law in a grossly unequal fashion, e.g. letting Christians wear identifying symbols in civic areas while not allowing the same to other faiths. If that is not the case, then obviously you should be vexed if the law is not being applied fairly.

  132. @PrivateIron: more concretely, forbidding Christians in a Christian majority culture from wearing a crucifix necklace means something different than forbidding kippot or hijab or Sikh turbans in that culture, as those things are not simply statements of identity, like a Star of David necklace or a Pride T-shirt, but part of the religious practice. “No outward symbols of faith” can become the equivalent of a prohibition on the rich sleeping under bridges.

    I don’t know whether such laws are being selectively applied in France; I assume that the French are just as capable as anyone else of being bigots and hypocrites, of course, but that’s not really the issue. You don’t have to apply a law selectively if the law does the selection for you. Just as the Free Exercise Clause can be used as a battering ram to force one’s religion on others, laïcité can be abused to shut down and silence minority faiths. And that is a debate that is not simply Americans shouting at the French; it is a controversy within France, being debated by French citizens.

    I also confess I’m growing a little tired of the ‘well we can’t possibly understand those enigmatic French’ refrain. That’s about as dumb as saying that only Americans can discuss American freedom of religion laws because those old-fogey Europeans don’t understand the whole thing with the Puritans and Rhode Island. We are, I hope, all listening and trying to understand the different experience of others here from a position of respect.

  133. Just FYI, I’m not the same Robin as the one from Petaluma addressed recently. I mention this because I was briefly confused at being addressed when my only comment was far upthread. I’ve added a silly surname to my name here to try to be more distinctive.

  134. stevie, I presume you consider yourself adequately answered. But even I was wrong about the Christmas trees, your interpretation of my statement was wildly off-base, and given your subsequent comments, I now think it was maliciously so.

    Absent an apology from you, which I do not expect, I will be treating your comments like scorpius’ – I skip them unless someone responds to them and the discussion looks interesting. I don’t expect you to care, since you don’t seem to care what people actually say.

  135. Xopher

    I certainly did not have malicious intentions. What I did, and still do, is consider that allegations which purport to be fact need to actually be facts, and that seems to me to be all the more important when people are dying because of false allegations.

    It is also, in my view, important that when someone is being tortured, very probably to death, we could at least honour him by refraining from putting sentimental twaddle about Christmas trees into his mouth. We could hurl caution to the winds and find people who can read Arabic and can translate it for us:


    so that we have his words. Of course, his words don’t suit the ‘Christianity is in peril’ mob, because he regards a secular state as infinitely preferable, which is probably why it’s been spun the way it has been in the US media. But he deserves better than that…

  136. Ah, Lurkertype, this is the core of my problem. Often people call themselves “allies” without doing any of the stuff that a true ally does. If the Charlie Hebdo people were allied with the National Front, they would use the same racist imagery because they like that kind of imagery. A true ally is in dialog with the people they are allied to and don’t use them as cover to do bad things. It is strange to refer to your self as “anti-racist” when you don’t respect the people who you are, in theory, supporting. This goes full circle as the bulk of French muslim people would want to have nothing to do with those ruthless murders who claim to kill in their name. To quote Tolkien: “”I do not like worrying about the future. I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me: nobody cares for the woods as I care for them, not even Elves nowadays.””

  137. Robin Kittykin

    My apologies; I should have made it clear whom I was responding to, and I didn’t.

    I should, perhaps, also explain, in the interests of full disclosure, that my response to these events are greatly influenced by the fact that my father was a slave on the Death Railway, one of the lucky, or unlucky, slaves who survived.

    I grew up with a father who couldn’t be touched whilst he was asleep because he would probably have killed me; I grew up looking at the horrendous scarring on his body from the never ending torture, and finally grew to understand that the invisible scars in his mind were the worst ones of all.

    As you’ve probably guessed by now, I really, really, really object to torture, and I really, really, really object to slavery. I take it very seriously because I’ve seen the consequences, up close and personal; I very much hope that you and everyone you love will never acquire that knowledge…

  138. stevie, I deeply share your hope. I hope your father, wherever he is, has found healing for his spirit.

  139. @Jesús Couto Fandiño: Nope, that was not my point. I didn’t say (nor meant) what we must just take silence because of fear. Speaking up is innate in man that distinguishes us from the other creatures – and it’s a gift. It helps to speak up when you have to. Actually, it is a must (in my point of view) to speak when one thinks that there is something to be articulated. Many a times have i seen the heroic effect of that, which benefited other people so much, whether aware or not.

    “Forced to take silence as a virtue” is a figurative way to say “Others will/might kill you”. I hope we won’t be too literal.

    I was also not saying that you should not make fun of anything, specially of religion, just to make my self clear. My point is (1) messing with religion will not only affect its leaders or its philosophies, but its members and their feelings as well. just like what i’ve said, man is very emotional when it comes to religion; and (2) i don’t support disrespect of others and their beliefs.

    With the idea of the killings in France as a terror attack outside religious defenses is an idea i wouldn’t want to comment on, though i guess there may be thousands of articles there providing support to that.

    I also used Je Suis Pas Charlie not to mock the death of the CH cartoonists; it’s just my way to say that my comments here (only here) do not speak for CH but on the other side of the story – messing with beliefs.

    And as a final note, allow me to quote Pope Francis:

    “To kill in the name of God is an absurdity; [but] If a good friend speaks badly of my mother, he can expect to get punched, and that’s normal. You cannot provoke, you cannot insult other people’s faith, you cannot mock it,”

    My prayers for the souls of the 17 people who died in France. Utopia, it may sound, but i hope someday killings of innocent people will stop.

    Keep on voicing out (like what i’m doing, and you, too); just make sure that before voicing out anything, it will hit directly your target and not to spray stray bullets, hitting innocent people who are just trying to live as how they believe they should be.

  140. Yep, and that quote from the Pope is why I classify him, and almost all the other great leaders, as rank hypocrites when they talk about defending freedom of expression.

    We end up with “you are free to say whatever you want, unless it offends me, in which case shut up”. Which no doubt will keep growing and growing till your best course of action is to shut up and let them carry on talking.

    The Pope is wrong on this, Obama is wrong on this, Hollande is wrong on this, but most of all, accepting all that bullshit is just accepting that they, the powers that be, control the discourse.

    Furthermore, whatever the Pope says… frankly, I cant give a damn. But thats precisely what they want. That people that dont have ANY interest in giving the so-called representatives of the so-called God any relevance should anyway be tied up because they are “religious”.

    Also, you forgot the part where he says, basically, that punching people for being insulting is ok. Which is kinda … not exactly nice in its implication about the issue being discussed.

  141. @Mythago

    Laïcité applies to all religions in theory. Some things still slip through, like a teacher wearing a cross, or a mayor (in the name of tradition).

    The concept of “laïcité” does not oppress any religions. Religious people can do whatever they want (and no one cares) as long as it’s in private. They can also freely express their opinions in public. What is forbidden is for people in a position of power (officials, teachers, etc), to force their religion on others.

    The debate on the hijab is linked but it should be said that the law was voted in the name of security (i.e. masked people entering shops, trains, etc…), though that was only a pretext. It is also rarely enforced.

    All religions are treated equally in theory, though some things slip through in the name of tradition (like a teacher wearing a cross, or a mayor celebrating Christmas). There is also the problem of the Alsace-Lorraine, two regions were the laws have remained the same since the XIXth century and where “laïcité” doesn’t apply and priests are on a government payroll.

    Apart from these 2 regions, it is misleading to talk about a christian majority culture when most people in France are agnostic / atheists / not churchgoers even when catholic.
    It is easy to forget that our modern culture (starting with the revolution in 1789 and reinforced during the XXth century) constructed itself against religion as a whole (since it was seen as a traditional ally of oppressive regimes like the monarchy and the empire).

    To conclude, of course Americans can understand the French situation, as long as they get all relevant information.

  142. Forget the first paragraph of my answer, it was a bad case of copy / paste gone wrongly.

  143. BTW, here in Spain, our ruling party is talking about making a new law that will punish with “administrative sanctions” (that fines, without going to court) people that insult in “social networks”

    And also to make a ton of things like protest in front of politician’s houses or outside Congress as terrorism.

    And we have an “apology of terrorism” law too, so tweeting about that will probably get you in trouble.

    Thats what you get when you let those in power define what is and what is not acceptable to say.

  144. Stevie, I don’t think that Guardian article is the resounding retort you want it to be. It says in so many words that only one of Badawi’s many, many blog posts exists in English translation online. The rest are select experts, translated (as far as I can tell) at the request of the Guardian. So, it’s not like there’s anything like a comprehensive set of English translations for us to easily look to. Nor does the Guardian article suggest that any such collection is forthcoming.

    Meanwhile the Guardian article was posted on January 14. Not only is it unreasonable to expect that Xopher had read it before making the Christmas tree comment, your not bringing it up until today suggests that you hadn’t either.

    I again refer you to the New Yorker piece I linked two days ago. The placement of the mention of Christmas trees in that would, I think, lead any reasonable reader to assume the New Yorker was paraphrasing a point made by Badawi.

    Frankly, I find your calls for factual accuracy, especially in the face of what may be one of the mildest misattributions I can recall, are being used as cover. It’s clear your actual beef is with “the ‘Christianity is in peril’ mob”, which I suspect is part of your larger feelings on religion and secularism. But at this point, you’re vehemently (and nastily) attacking a point no one in this discussion (and certainly not Xopher) has made.

    And with all due respect to your father’s experiences and their effects on you, being really, really, really opposed to torture and slavery do not make you special. At least in this thread, that’s a rather non-controversial position. And it certainly doesn’t excuse your repeated misinterpretation of other people, nor what is either an overly aggressive tone or a consistent failure of snark.

    Lin Chong: saying that religious people can express their religion any way they want, but only in private, and further applying that to religious expressions that are expressly meant to be done in public, and then saying that all religions are being treated equally, is veering dangerously close to the territory of “Gay marriage bans aren’t discriminatory, because straight people can’t enter into a gay marriage, either.”

    I’d also take care defending laws that restrict liberty in the name of nominally enhancing security. It’s an argument that, at best, tends to cancel itself out, and in this context, drifts hard towards Mythago’spoint about prohibitions agains rich people sleeping under bridges.

  145. Mythago: what exactly are you arguing? That the State should decide if one religion really needs public praxis and another does not? Or which religions require protection from the State and which do not? I am basically saying no one should trust the State to do that. If you are arguing the French should change their approach for everybody, wonderful.

    On the question of understanding the “enigmatic” French, laicite is historically and functionally directed against Christianity and it just happens to impact other religions as well. (I am not saying that they were wrong to take a prophylactic approach to the Church; the history is complicated.) You are basically asking the French government to stop harassing minorities, but to continue to harass the plurality because the plurality can afford to take the hit.

    I would guess that a) if Christian culture is the norm, then this is a politically untenable position or b) if is it tenable, then Christianity is not in a hegemonic position and thus ironically deserves the same special protections you propose for others. To speak in your parlance, if the rich want to sleep under bridges, that will happen. Alternatively, if people we call rich want to sleep under bridges, it calls our terminology into question. (As a third option, the rich might suffer the rest of us to sleep under bridges if we really must; the plurality might not want the freedoms the others are seeking. My problem with this is we taking what ought to be universal rights belonging to the person and reapportioning them based on current group identities and politics.)

    As a dumb American, I slightly prefer the American approach to the French, but I can see the French looking at how it works for us and saying thanks, but no thanks. Maybe we should switch places for a decade and see who gets more optimal results.

  146. Your writing makes it clear why your thoughts on these matters are not entirely organized: It’s a tremendously complex set of issues. Anyone whose thoughts on all of this are entirely clear and sorted probably hasn’t put sufficient thought into it.

  147. @Lin Chong: respectfully, it is not misleading to observe that France, like the United States, has a Christian majority culture, irrespective of laws regarding secularism or how frequently its citizens actually attend church. The debate over laïcité is precisely because people who belong to minority faiths, like Islam, disagree that it ‘does not oppress any religions’, and because one’s perspective on the impact of laïcité may be affected by whether it does in fact prohibit one’s religious practice. (And, as you note, laïcité can be a pretext to actually oppress minority religions under the excuse of secularism, security, etc.) That a law is not a big deal to the majority of people is not a rebuttal to the problem of how it affects the minority.

    Also, on the security issue, I think you are talking about the niqab (face veil), which conceals identity, not the hijab (hair and neck covering), which doesn’t, and which was referenced in the article I linked.

    @PrivateIron: I want to record this moment for posterity. You’re frustrated because I am not being opinionated enough? As I said, I thought the intent here was to have a respectful discussion about different approaches to the balance between allowing religious freedom and preventing religious oppression, and how different groups might perceive those approaches. If you’re annoyed because I am not jumping up and down and chanting “USA! USA!” I don’t know what to tell you.

    I confess I am also having trouble following your argument about oppressing the plurality, possibly because it appears you assume I am advocating for a specific solution such as abolishing laïcité. The advantage of laïcité over the American approach is that it doesn’t require our endless and tiresome fighting about public Nativity scenes or funding religiously-affiliated charities. And in a majority Christian culture – which describes both the US and France – odds are that most of the people trying to use government as a force-feeding tube for Jesus are going to be Christian, such that laïcité can protect minority faiths. That’s certainly how it works in the US, where we have evangelical Christian groups that regularly use one half of the Establishment Clause as a bludgeon to try and destroy the other half.

    But the disadvantage of laïcité, as is being discussed within France and not merely by us slack-jawed Americans, is that even with the best of intentions, it can turn out to be a mild inconvenience or a nullity for the majority faith but absolutely oppressive to minority faiths. And that’s with the best of intentions.

  148. @Mythago: 200 years ago, you may have been right. 300 years ago you would have been. Today? Not really.

    What’s misleading is calling “majority culture” what is in fact the “majority religion” and at the same time only a “minority culture” (to keep your words).
    Assuming there is such a thing (which is debatable), the “majority culture” would be secularism. These last years, the concept of France as a “judeo-christian” civilization has been heralded by the far-right as a justification to refuse islam.

    About the niqab and hijab, I’ll gladly trust you (and admit my ignorance of such matters). I was actually talking about the one covering everything except the eyes.

    @ Docrocketscience: I guess you could make a case about french law “oppressing” religious people, just as you could argue that american law “oppresses” secular people. Differents sides of the same coin.

    Note that laïcité is very close to the principle of neutrality defended by the European Court of Human Rights and followed by more than 40 european states…

  149. Lin Chong: You could make a lot of different arguments. But I can tell you that that statement plus about $4 will buy a cup of coffee from a New York City Starbucks.

    I would note that the ECHR’s decisions, with regard to Islam, are not without critics.

  150. @docrocketscience: I get it, France is an awful dictatorship because teachers aren’t allowed to force their religion on their students, and because citizens are asked to put their differences aside when they enter a courthouse.

    Nevermind that people can wear whatever they want in the street, say whatever they want in public and write whatever they want in newspapers, religious or not.

    Nevermind that there just was a demonstration in support of the terrorists in one of our major cities. I wonder how Americans would have reacted if the same thing had happened after the Boston bombings.

    On an unrelated note, it seems that terrorists have sent threats to another journal, Le Canard Enchaîné (which shared some staff with Charlie Hebdo). They didn’t threaten christian papers or racist and anti-islam right-wing papers, but a satyrical newspaper.

    Apparently, humour frightens terrorists more than hatred and insults.

  151. @Lin Chong: Vigorous debate and thoughtful airing of differing perspectives is, I have been told, a long-standing and cherished part of French political discourse. And the refusal to hear anything negative under the rubric ‘my country right or wrong’ is traditionally attributed to Americans. You’re doing a fine job of proving national stereotypes wrong, though perhaps not in the way you intended.

    French citizens themselves disagree on how laïcité is, and should be, applied in a country that is increasingly less homogenous in its religious makeup; anticlericalism is no longer simply the province of those countering the power of the Catholic Church. As even you concede, laïcité can be, and has been, used as a tool of the far right to suppress equality and religious practice by minority faiths, particularly Muslims. Why do you believe discussing these things is the equivalent of condemning France as a dictatorship?

  152. Apparently, humour frightens terrorists more than hatred and insults.

    Well, yeah. Does this surprise anyone here? On the other hand, is Le Canard a newspaper that makes the same use of caricature as Charlie Hebdo? Or are any of the right wing publications you refer to similarly visual? People often react more strongly to images than to words, however insulting the later, which may contribute to the choice of target.

    On the third hand, thinking about it–never mind. If anything, I suspect that that would be a very minor part of the motivation, at most. The CH attack got the terrorists a LOT of attention, after all (unavoidably, in my opinion–I’m not saying we should have tried to downplay the attack); in their minds, it might well have been a successful venture . . .

  153. Lin Chong: I’m not saying, nor even implying, any of that, and you know it. But you are giving us an example of how challenges to our own deeply held values and beliefs can cause us to lash out irrationally. (As an American, as a non-practicing, effectively atheistic, product of a mixed Protestant-Jewish marriage, and as an individual, I will preemptively cop to being as guilty of this sort of thing as any one.)

    As a public school teacher myself, I’m perfectly OK with asking, even demanding, teachers refrain from proselytizing to their students. But I also question the notion that a teacher wearing religiously prescribed clothing represents some sort of threat to the person freedoms of the students. (Then again, I know there are some who consider my standard dress of blue jeans and solid color t-shirts to be lowering the expectations in my class room, while at the same time I don’t understand why other teachers would come to work in shorts and flip-flops, so I’m no expert.)

    People can wear, say, and publish anything they want in the U.S. But I think it would be naive to think that everyone feels equally comfortable, safe, or protected doing so, in either country.

    In what city did these counter-demonstrations take place. It’s not that I don’t believe you. I do. But I’m having trouble finding information online. I see lots about the Paris marches, lots about the demonstrations in Niger on Friday, odds and ends happening in places like Pakistan, Germany, and Russia.

  154. I was chatting to a couple of people I don’t know on twitter about this and we all agreed that there are layers of complexity in this issue that suggest that much thought needs to be given to this and that we have much to learn about both our own society and other societies. It seems that even the news have more questions than answers in their reportage. It’s a clear point of importance in human history that’s for sure.

  155. Docrocketscience

    If your job was teaching children with poor English skills how to learn and pronounce English words then I’m reasonably sure you would accept that wearing a bucket over your head isn’t going to work, even though your sincerely held religious beliefs prescribe wearing a bucket over your head at all times. Substitute burka for bucket in real life and you get this:


    There’s always a trade off; in my view the civil rights of young disadvantaged children who need all the help they can get are more important…

  156. Why is this directed at me? This has nothing to do with anything I’ve been saying to you.

    But, since you did direct it at me…

    Wow, completely asinine analogy aside, that was an epically misguided decision. It’s so wrong I don’t even know where to start. The highlights: first, facial expression is no where near the end-all-beat-all of instruction. I’ve been spending significant amounts of professional development time over the past 15 years studying language acquisition and strategies to assist English language learners of high school age, many of whom lack fluency in their home languages, and I cannot recall “make sure the student can see your face” ever even coming up, let alone being pushed as a crucial aspect of the instruction. Second, no – not even no; hell no – I’m not going to trade the fundamental rights of teachers away for marginal gains in student performance. But them, I’m a teacher, so of course I think my rights are actually important, silly selfish me.

  157. Mythago: I think this is a complicated issue. I think you can prefer a different approach than the French one, as antongarou said he did. Or you can apply the French approach equally to all religions. I don’t think you can apply it differently based on group affiliation, which is the position I believed you were taking. I honestly don’t know whether the French or American way is better. I not sure it is the kind of question that is amenable to that kind of resolution. And I thought I made that ambiguity clear (ha ha). I made the controversial pronouncement that I think religious rights under state law ought to adhere fully in individuals and not be weighted based on said individual’s group affiliations. Setting a precedent to allow for differential treatment by the state is not going to end well, ever. If you don’t believe in that, then I guess we are opponents with daggers drawn, but I honestly could not believe that someone who is usually so intelligent would take such a stance; so I keep waiting for you to clarify yourself out of that corner. That is why I kept commenting because I kept expecting to find out I misheard you. If I heard you correctly, then you are wrong. Antongarou could be right or wrong, but you are simply wrong. So, yes, get more opinionated on the system as a whole if that is your druthers, but don’t say the system is fine, except when you don’t like it. If I misheard you then put this on the record as one of my many failures to communicate.

    Using the “rich are free to sleep under bridges” analogy was misapplied. Even if you think of the Christians as the “rich” here, they want to sleep under the bridges. The government is keeping everyone out of the gullies, for fear of unnameable trolls. It also is unclear whether they are, in fact, “the rich,” and probably only a French commentator could substantively speak to that. The ones here tend to disagree with you. I will also say that for someone who says they are tired of hearing we dumb Americans cannot comprehend the situation, you are doing an awfully god job of imitating someone who does not get the complexity of the situation.

  158. @PrivateIron: Yes, you completely misheard me, and looking at your last sentence, I am beginning to wonder whether your goal here is just to snipe at me until I give you a target to argue against?

    And no, the analogy is not misapplied. It is, as I’m sure you are aware, referring to a law that is equal in its wording but not in its effect, either inadvertently or deliberately; speaking of your reliance on French commenters here, Lin Chong did, in fact, note that laïcité has sometimes been used as a pretext by people who dislike minority faiths. It’s also true that there is no French borg hive mind about how far laïcité should extend. Some far-right politicians make a big deal out of the niqab that isn’t shared by less-militant civil servants, for example.

    So what’s the solution? I don’t have one. That’s why, I thought, we were trying to have a civil discussion about the secular state and how it affects citizens of different faiths; because learning about these complex issues is better than armchair pronouncements. Sorry if that’s intolerably dull.

  159. docrocketscience

    My apologies; I thought I was noting an instance in our case law which reflects the physical needs of teaching small children to use a language not their own. As someone with an antibiotic induced hearing disability, I know very well how much I rely on being able to see the face of the person talking to me; I had thought that a similar principle applied with small children. Obviously you disagree.

  160. Guys, it really seems like to me at this point this thread is about several people misunderstanding each other and issuing clarifications. I think it’s good there is this level of politeness — that is not a sarcastic comment! — but it does indicate to me that this might be a good time to ramp down and/or try to address this from a fresh angle, currently free from misunderstanding.

  161. @Mythago: I don’t believe discussing these things is saying the country is a dictatorship. However, Docrocketscience seemed to imply in his previous posts (but it seems that I misunderstood) that freedom of speech was severely restricted by the concept of laïcité, which is untrue.

    I honestly fail to see your point about national stereotypes. I don’t think France is particularly right or wrong about anything, I’m just trying to clear up some misunderstandings about the way our institutions work (or don’t) and our culture. If anything, the Fox News debacle proved that some Americans have a less than stellar comprehension of our country (the same can be said of the way most French people view the USA).

    It is true that some disagree with the concept of laïcité, or the way it should be applied. That’s normal. There will never be unanimity about a given topic.

    I agree with you that calls to defend laïcité can be somewhat hypocritical. I also agree that discrimination exists in France, and that it is stronger against arabs / muslims than against any other community. However, this has nothing to do with laïcité (at least in my opinion). The main factors are (keep in mind that many people equate arabs and muslims):

    * Immigration & ghettos: There was a lot of immigration from North Africa in the last 50 years. The immigrants were parked in the same low-cost buildings and neighbourhoods. Since the second generation is less likely to find work than other French youths (because of racism and stereotypes) and feels rejected by our society, some of these kids turn to criminality. An exemple would be the suburbs of Marseille (one of our 3 largest cities).

    * Far-right propaganda: According to the far-right (and these days, to a large part of the traditional right) arabs are more likely to be criminals; they also think that arabs are lazy and live off public subsidies.

    * Fear of islam: After 09/11, many people started thinking that islam was a warlike religion, incompatible with our “civilization” or with democracy. Plus some feminists consider that it oppresses women.

    * Unemployment: It reached 11% this year. People worry about the future and look for someone to blame.

    So is there discrimination? Sure, in employment, police cheks, even public debate. Is laïcité to blame? Not so much.

    @Docrocketscience: Thanks for clarifying your thoughts. No, I didn’t know what you were implying. Now I know.

    I also wasn’t joking when I spoke of the US (and atheists). That’s the way some people perceive your institutions / culture here in France. The point I was making is that it’s easy to misunderstand something when you only get third or fourth-hand knowledge

    Le Canard Enchaîné also publishes a lot of caricatures (most french newspapers publish a few). It is usually more subdued than Charlie Hebdo and generally more critic toward politics than religion. It did reprint a caricature of the prophet in answer to the threats though.

    From what I heard on the news, the demonstration took place in Nice. However, since I spent close to 1 hour on the internet without finding it, I’m starting to believe that they mixed an anti-islamophoby demonstration in Nice with the pro-terrorism demonstration in Alger. If I’m right, this is another example of great journalism…

    My point is moot anyways since I read in Le Monde (one of the 2 main french papers) that close to 50 people were going to be judged for “apology” of terrorism and racist crimes. I guess I should have known.

    @ John Scalzi: Thanks for lending us this space of debate. It is the first time I’ve felt the need to comment (though I’m a long time reader), mostly because I thought I could shed some light on French institutions and society.

  162. LinChong: Apparently humor frightens terrorists more than hatred and insults.
    Not just terrorist.
    Some governments and/or their officials have at times had an almost absurd distrust of humor. (The US in sending Charles Chaplin into exile must count as a case in point).
    They shred hatred and insults like a duck sheds water. But ridicule and laughter at their actions and dogma at times affect them like a red cloak does a fighting bull.

  163. Lin Chong: “The concept of “laïcité” does not oppress any religions.”” laïcité is very close to the principle of neutrality”

    seems to contradict:

    “when [people in France think about religion], it’s usually with hard feelings.”“our modern culture … constructed itself against religion as a whole (since [religion] was seen as a traditional ally of oppressive regimes”

    kind of hard to be neutral towards religion when you view them as oppressive.

  164. I’d call him overtly racist. I don’t think you should have to burn crosses to be tagged that way. In fact I think we should call him “racist comic Jeff Dunham” so everyone knows who we’re talking about.

  165. Xopher

    Please do not confine yourself to adverbs; you’ve been doing an awful lot of the heavy lifting on this one and I am very grateful for that.

    Charlie Hebdo’s habit of portraying a black woman as a monkey is something I just can’t handle, no matter how many people can see no wrong in that, It seems to me, to be profoundly honest, that you would not tolerate that sort of thing anywhere near you. Which is why I’ve noted for you…

  166. FYI, when quoting a religious text, at least get the verse right–the bit about the sword is in Matthew 10:34, not in verse 36. Cheers!

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