Why I Am Not Charles Hebdo

Ken AshfordWar on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

Referring to the Charles Hebdo massacre, Jonathan Chait writes this:

The right to blaspheme religion is one of the most elemental exercises of political liberalism. One cannot defend the right without defending the practice.

Oh, but one can.  One can defend free speech without having to publish, let alone embrace, the offensive ideas being targeted.  And I will in a moment.

But first let me say this: defending free speech is always easy when you like the content of the ideas being targeted, or aren’t part of (or actively dislike) the group being maligned.

And the great right-wing defenders of American values who are touting “Je Suis Charles Hebdo”  are going to find themselves in conflict. After all, the shoe was on their religious feet not that long ago:

Friday, September 24, 1999

NEW YORK, Sept. 23—He’s particularly outraged, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has said, by a collage of the Virgin Mary dotted with elephant dung. He isn’t impressed by the pickled pig carcasses, either. And he’s taken dead aim at the Brooklyn Museum of Art: It will lose $7 million in city funds, he warns, unless it cancels a “sick” exhibit of British works scheduled to open next week.

How about this?

Vatican’s fury over Madonna ‘blasphemy’

Rome’s Catholic, Muslim and Jewish leaders have united to condemn pop star Madonna’s decision to stage a mock-crucifixion when she performs in the Italian capital on Sunday a stone’s throw away from Vatican City.

The lapsed-Catholic diva’s latest irreverent performance sees her wearing a fake crown of thorns and descending on a suspended, glittery cross as part of her worldwide “Confessions Tour”.

Having already been criticised in the United States, Catholics priests from across the Eternal City have gone one further saying the act is blasphemy.

Cardinal Ersilio Tonino, speaking with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI said: “This time the limits have really been pushed too far.

“This concert is a blashphemous challenge to the faith and a profanation of the cross. She should be excommunicated.”

In an unusual show of religious solidarity, Muslim and Jewish leaders added their condemnation of the self-styled Queen of Pop, famous for peppering her concerts and videos with controversial religious and sexual imagery.

“I think her idea is in the worst taste and she’d do better to go home,” Mario Scialoja, head of Italy’s Muslim League said.

People get upset about things people say and often condemn them for saying it because it’s offensive to them or others. It’s certainly not an exclusively liberal thing unless you think that fundamentalist Islam is liberal or that conservative Catholics like Rudy Giuliani and Pope Benedict are left-wingers.

Now with that in mind, let’s start the thought experiment: Imagine if a writer who specialized in overtly anti-black or anti-Semitic screeds had been murdered for their ideas.  Would there would be widespread calls to republish their trash in “solidarity” with their free speech rights?  I think we all can agree that the answer is “no”.

So I can defend the right, and not defend the practice.  There is a difference — a huge one — between what we have the right to do, compared to what is the right thing to do.  A legal right versus a moral right.  And Chait essentially says that in defending freedom of speech you must give up your own right to free speech lest you help the terrorists — which is a bit strange.

What we must defend is the principle under which people are allowed to say what they said, period. That is inviolable. And that principle also allows people to condemn Islam or Charlie Hebdo  — or both in the very same breath. Once you start policing what people say — or SHOULD say — in the name of free speech you’ve already lost the argument.

And furthermore, changing your twitter avatar to a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad is a racist thing to do, even in the face of a terrorist attack – period. The attitude that all  Muslims need to be ‘punished’ is xenophobic and distressing — period.  Sadly, the statement, “JE SUIS CHARLIE” works to erase and ignore the magazine’s history of xenophobia, racism, and homophobia.  For us to truly honor the victims of a terrorist attack on free speech, we must not spread hateful racism blithely, and we should not take pride in extreme attacks on oppressed and marginalized peoples..

In summary:

(1) Nobody should have been killed over those cartoons.

(2) Fuck those cartoons.

Is that so complicated a message to convey at this time?