I'm not publishing any anti-Muslim cartoons on my blog to strike a blow for freedom of expression, supposedly, nor am I even going to put a "Je Suis Charlie" solidarity t-shirt on or put a meme out because I think if you think "Je Suis Charlie" - you should publish the cartoons and then either be at risk or even dead -- or at least defiant like Charlie -- or shut up. Too many people are opting for the "Je Suis Charlie" approach instead of "Je suis brave enough to publish the cartoons" which would be the fitting solidarity posture.
That is, "shut up" not in the sense that you should lose your freedom of expression, but "shut up" in the sense that you should stop being a swaggering douche.
I personally don't feel suppressed or silenced by not putting up cartoons or solidarity memes, and I've actually put on my Twitter icon a different meme, which as Amanda Traub of Vox explains is about identifying with Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim policeman killed by the Muslim terrorists -- here's a Muslim man working for the French secular state, and he's gunned down protecting the peace just like the cartoonists were.
But you know something, Amanda Traub -- don't speak for me when you make silly pronouncements like "#JeSuisAhmed does not dispute the sentiment of Je Suis Charlie."
In fact it *does*. In fact that's why I'm chosing it and simply refuse to put on Charlie when I'm not Charlie, don't want to be Charlie, and don't feel it's necessary for me to be Charlie to sustain freedom of speech and the secular space. That doesn't mean I'm asking Charlie not to be Charlie; I'm just saying "I prefer not to."
And yeah, I get it that the usual Internet Fisking is trying to establish that Ahmed isn't even Muslim, or not even a believer, or something. So what? Somewhere there is a Muslim policeman in Paris just as in New York who could have been the one killed. I think especially when New York Police Department cops are killed in cold blood because of what indeed is a climate of incitement from the mayor (unfortunately my post on this subject got eaten by the CMS but I will be back with it some day) -- and a context of incitement of seething hatred toward the law by influential political forces and social movements -- that it is okay to point this out: the officer of the law is needed to protect us all.
Freedom of speech needs a liberal democratic security state, whether you like it or not, and that's the part most of the anarchists and "progressives" flogging the cartoons or the "Je suis" stuff don't want to concede. I'm happy to.
I've been avoiding the Internet since this tragedy -- or rather, man-made disaster -- has unfolded because there's just a lot of idiocy all around at these times -- and of course also a lot of people making high-minded and even intellectually rational prescriptions because it seems the occasion demands it.
I personally don't want to be forced to put up cartoons or not be included in the company of the decent but it's an interesting call that Mikhail Khodorkovsky has made because it does really separate "the flies from the cutlets" -- if you really are in solidarity, why aren't you publishing the cartoons? If enough people do this, we can remove their sting, perhaps. We can roll back the power of those who think it's okay to be incited by them and kill other human beings.
Если журналисты - достойное сообщество, завтра не должно быть издания без карикатуры на пророка.— Ходорковский Михаил (@mich261213) January 7, 2015
Translation: If journalists are a worth community, tomorrow there should not be a single publication without a cartoon of the prophet.
I personally preferred the approach taken by Dmitry Muratov, editor of Novaya Gazeta, who made the point that publishing the cartoons was a form of collective punishment, because it deliberately insulted 20 million Muslims for no reason -- and therefore the call to publish the cartoons en masse used the same technique of the terrorists themselves, which is to justify their actions by collective punishment -- some cartoonists must pay for the actions of all cartoonists around the world -- and the secular states that allowed them:
Regarding the reprinting of the cartoons. I have doubts that this decision is ethically precise. This looks like collective punishment: the terrorist act was committed by a group of murderers and we then subject millions of believers to harassment. I think that one of the purposes of terrorism in fact consists of forcing various faiths into a final conflict. We do not want to help the terrorists in this. We absolutely make the distinction between terrorists and believers. For a just outcome, it is necessary to prosecute the former and respect the rights of the latter.
The other really annoying debate around this is the claim that now we can prove that France is more free than America, and France, where men are men and willing to be gunned down by terrorists for their art, is the country that "really" practices freedom of expression whereas we are pussies who are intimidated by clerics even worse than "Eurabia."
This just doesn't fly for me because I don't think Charlie Hebdo's cartoonists including Charb thought they were in immediate danger and probably felt they were safe even in Paris where there have been terrorist attacks. They just thought it was important to keep taking a stance for secularist culture, which they do not only against Muslims but against Christians and Jews as well.
I've tried to explain to European friends playing this odd game of superiority (who gets to be dead better by terrorists, the cartoonists or a 9/11 office worker?) that you never see any publications publishing these anti-Muhammad cartoons in the US. That's because the premise of freedom of expression has a different history and culture.
In France, it's the Jacobins and the guillotine and the revolutionaries who violently gave us the legacy of the secular state and free speech -- something Voltaire-spouters never want to think about. That legacy lives on in all kinds of ways outside of the free speech itself, whether Bolshevism that brings us eventually the war in Ukraine, or notions of Islamism that have communism as an infusion as well.
There's also the fact that French law isn't at all as protective of free speech in general, given libel laws and blasphemy laws and laws against racism - but this Washington Post piece goes way too far in the usual Human Rights Watch way using the "surrogate advocacy" approach in actually blaming restrictive French laws as an explanation for why the cartoonists then "needed" to satirize Muslims and were moved to ridicule them because of climate of suppression.
The implication is that if France just establishes a First Amendment or loosens its restrictive libel laws, why, there will be no more terrorism because cartoonists won't have as much to satirize and then terrorists won't kill them. This is magical thinking of the worst kind because terrorists don't strike because they are after more liberal speech laws or think this illiberal method is a way to get us all these goods; they strike because they hate free speech, period, and there's no accommodating them, there's only deterrence. The US doesn't have bad libel laws and has the First Amendment -- it still got it in the teeth with 9/11 anyway. Oh, we're supposed to believe that we deserve these chickens coming home to roost because we supported Israel, or choose the lesser evil of allying with Saudi Arabia to oppose Iran or Al Qaeda?
But all of these policies, imperfect or not as you will, come back to the same problem: the terror, the terror. The terror that is not caused by them, but caused by another thing -- the desire to take power with a fanatical belief system.
Jonathan Turley, the authof of the piece, also mispresents the Obama Administration's position -- and remember, I have little use for Obama -- in claiming that they were willing to join Muslim states in imposing a global blasphemy law. They weren't. They worked in fact with Egypt at the UN to mitigate such a thing and to incorporate notions such as "incitement of imminent action" from US law.
Fortunately, Obama isn't the only figure in government because his own beliefs on this subject are troublesome. Indeed, the Rose Garden speech in which he ducked explaning that terrorism was behind the Benghazi attack; the fact of the idiocy of attributing it to a crude movie made in the US instead of the hatred of Egyptian officials who deliberately broadcast it on state TV to incite more hatred 0f the US themselves; and Obama's awful statement at the UN -- "“the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam" -- these are all problematic. I wonder if Obama has a whit of remorse over this insanity, as those who slandered the prophet were murdered, along with their uninvolved protectors. The future shouldn't belong to those so incensed by slander of the prophet that they kill people, either.
I'm going to think aloud about this subject, not to define but to think.
In America, the free speech concept is based on creating not a secular space for its own sake but rather a freedom-for-all-religions space which is a separation of church and state, but that doesn't negate religion as so much contemporary and past European thought does. Religious belief isn't as big a part of society in Europe as it is in America -- except for Muslim communities in many places -- and European feel themselves superior intellectually to Americans for that reason. I find that a bore.
Yes, the religious right in America advocate the suppression of some freedoms like the rights of LGBT -- although very unevenly so because the law protects freedom of expression and mitigates against discrimination. That's really very different than terrorism, you know? And extremist imams who incite terrorism.
The American concept is based on respect for any religion (that doesn't violate criminal law) so that Jews, for example obtain freedom and equal rights on par with Christians, even if secular or only ethnically-identified as Jews by the concept of "the Hebrew religion". It's not a perfect way to give freedom, but that's the history.
Remember how the words of the First Amendment go, which is "Congress shall make no law..."
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The first thing mentioned is not having a state religion; but that's not enough, especially if you have a history of having had a state religion.
The context of France is that not only have their been outrageous terrorist attacks on Jews, including children, merely because they were Jewish, there are entire poor neighbourhoods of Muslims with unemployed young men who would rather make jihad in Syria than struggle to adapt to the French socialist economy.
Sure, this is a complex discussion and I'm telescoping a lot of things into Twitter length here, but I honestly think one of the reasons there are less populations of angry Muslims in the US is that people have more opportunity for economic freedom here and they adapt better. Socialism is supposed to provide basic protections and enable people to adapt long term with free education and other benefits but the process doesn't work as planned and few want to admit its failure.
In New York, the ethnic restaurant approach to foreign policy and tolerance is how it is done -- start a restaurant, start a business, work as a cab-driver, work in fast-food, like every other religious and ethnic group, and you will be included as part of the economy and therefore part of the society. Surely not perfectly, but with a sense of tolerance that doesn't seem present in Europe.
No doubt European acquaintances will violently disagree with my point here, but I feel it has some merit.
I have had both Jewish and Christian friends and relatives go to Europe to places of high Muslim concentration and come back shocked at the gulf in the societies between these immigrants and the rest of society, and also shocked at the more extremist beliefs and behaviours of these immigrants by contrast with American cities. Obviously there are all kinds of debates one could have about why this is, but I continue to believe that it's at least partly about different kinds of economies.
One of the mysteries of 9/11 is this: why is it that when, if anything, there was more keen awareness of Islam and more hatred of Muslims in America over this mass crime against humanity, did all these more conservative Muslim believers emigrate to America in larger numbers, or why did more Muslims already here radicalize and begin to have their women wear veils and so on?
The answer to the latter is about identity politics and the propensity for inflaming them by the left.
But the answer to the former is about repressive Islamic societies where people don't have true religious freedom -- freedom to believe or not believe, or believe a different strain than the state religion -- and little economic freedom. So as these societies cracked down more in the backlash against 9/11, taking sides not only in identity politics but in wars such as in Afghanistan/Pakistan, then people fled them.
You wonder why they don't stay in their conservative Islamic countries where no one will mock them for wearing the veil and they will not have to face intolerance. You wonder why they would flock to Europe where they might face even more intolerance. And the answer is: yes, they do, because their homelands' societies don't have economic freedom, don't have basic security for ordinary people, and also don't have religious freedom for variations of beliefs. It's not the case that suddenly, the entire Arab world went all Tunisian, became more liberal and more secular and hard-core believers had nowhere to go to be free except America, with its tradition of religious tolerance, or nowhere to go, except France. If anything, the Arab Spring has not worked, bringing more oppressive rule in Egypt first from the Muslim Brotherhood, then from the army.
The problem with demands for decency in publishing the cartoons is first of all, anything that is forced -- and forced by secular Russian opposition leaders without democratic discussion -- is already losing the nature of freedom.
Second, there is nothing to back it up. The Pope has no divisions, and neither do cartoonists who get into the faces of devout Muslims or at least that tiny percentage of them willing to use violence. It's like Hungary in 1956 -- sure, you're for the anti-communist revolution, but are you going to help it and get in Russia's face, or not?
There's nothing to back it up except liberal states beseiged on the left by "progressives" who want tolerance even for the anarchic undoing of their own societies, and the right who want to get rid of immigrants with bad belief systems they see as encroaching on their freedoms.
The West doesn't have the capacity to do something meaninful to stop terrorism at its root, which would involve subduing Iran, ISIL in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen and so on. These states or terrorist movements all have powerful capacities to make trouble for the West, and do. The West depends on some of these bad governments to fight terrorists in other places, it's complicated. The West, collectively, is not able to stop the caliphate in its tracks. The state terrorists are willing to unleash the caliphate terrorists against the West so that they have their own space for rule against the West, I guess.
There's a legitimate debate to be had about what works against terrorism and sympathy toward it, and the feeling of Human Rights Watch is that banning veils that cover the face, including the burqua, is a violation of human rights.
It's funny how America hasn't had to do this, and I believe there are public servants and private business people in head cover (if not face cover) and the Muslim woman's head dress is more assimilated and tolerated precisely because there isn't a ban. But there aren't burquas on the streets of Manhattan or even the outer buros or at least very few credible reports of them. There are more sightings of face veils -- I see them in my neighbourhood -- but not as much as the more assimilated head veil. It is now common to see your dentist, your FEDEX worker, your store clerk, your court employee in a head veil than it was before 9/11 certainly when it was an exoticism.
In our neighbourhood, a Pakistani family took over a xerox and printing shop at a time when the old Jewish printers were retired and not replaced by their sons, in part due to the Internet's erosion of the printing business. The father put his wife and daughters, all in head-to-toe garmets and head veils, to work xeroxing and printing, trouble-shooting computer rental stations, etc. as they all had some training. So people got used to the sign in the window for Eid as the day you couldn't get a copy made, instead of the sign for Yom Kippur. People adjust to all of these things because it doesn't matter whether someone has a cover on their head when they provide a service or product for you, the xerox copy is the same or the notarized document is the same or the tooth filling is the same, and that's how tolerance builds.
I could suggest that when these things turn out to be not the same, and the quality is less or incompetence higher that racial and ethnic stereotypes return, but one thing we can say about Bellevue Hospital or the Motor Vehicles Department is that every ethnic or religious group represented at these highly diverse institutions is equally incompetent.
But here's why I don't want to go around with Charlie t-shirts - I don't want those neighbours to feel bad. And if they went around wearing anti-semitic t-shirts or shouting BDS slogans on campus as some of their children do, I'd be indignant that they were making other people feel bad.
I have a very distinct memory of taking part in a march in defense of Salman Rushdie in 1989. This was one of those times when I worked for Human Rights Watch in the early days when we felt as if it was a command performance for the staff. It was organized by the old Fund for Freedom of Expression, the original parent organization of HRW which doesn't exist any more. I think some of us were a little uneasy about being attacked as Salman Rushdie was put under a fatwah and threatened with assassination.
We marched along E. 42nd Street, from the UN toward the Public Library, chanting "Hands off Salman Rushdie!"
And I'll never forget, as we walked along -- it chills me to think of it even now years later -- how a long row of faces -- every single Pakistani news dealer all along that very long walk -- looked very stressed and afraid. Not angry -- and it's sometimes hard to tell the difference. But afraid. Afraid that this generally neutral, secular space where they earned a living called "Grand Central Station" was now suddenly going to turn on them, and start some kind of religious war, where they might be harmed or lose their livelihood.
The fear written on those people's faces really bothered me. I just never wanted to walk with a "free Salman Rushdie" sign again after that because I had to buy newspapers from those people, and in fact had always exchanged pleasantries with them as you got to know the same people over the years. I'd hate to think they'd shutter their little kiosks and lose money they needed to feed their families that day because I needed to march for Salman Rushdie. I'm just giving you the low-level, ground-level HRW staffer view on this which isn't the high political correctness of people who pay to have their newspapers delivered to their homes so don't look Pakistani news dealers in the face.
I can't think of a more vivid way to explain the issue of Art. 30, which is far more obscure and is about the balance among rights (something that absolutists hate thinking about because it seems like suppression of rights to them), in that no one can use one right to suppress another, so that works both ways -- not use religious freedom to suppress women's right or freedom of speech, but not use freedom of speech to create absence of religious freedom, either.
Then there's the other side of it -- the pious pronouncements which really make my teeth hurt -- about how Islam is really a religion of peace, and how it's hateful and intolerant to think it's special with its bad ideas.
I totally disagree with that and I'm more on the side of Bill Maher who said that "when there’s this many bad apples, there’s something wrong with the orchard."
It's funny how for the secular left, the presence of a small number of pedophiles among Roman Catholic priests, which -- as I always point out -- includes gay men having sex with gay teenagers in a society not tolerant of gays -- is enough to discredit the entire Roman Catholic Church thoroughly and mercilessly. The insistence that Catholics denounce this evil to retain credibility as religious believers is just as merciless from the secular left.
The practices of the state of Israel that this same secular hard left find incompatible with their ideas of how to fight terrorism is enough -- especially for the BDS gang -- to denounce Zionism, the Jewish religion, and even all Jews, secular or not if they, too, don't show their credentials by denouncing what is viewed as "excessive use of force" or even (falsely) "racism" or "genocide".
Yet when it comes to Islam, there is a huge and gaping double standard in which Muslims are never expected to denounce the extremists and the very idea of forcing them to is itself part of some "Islamophobia" to be utterly eradicated by the politically correct.
That's why this statement by a socialist American in Canada with Muslim relatives is completely unsupportable for me, and adds the extra annoying factor of suppressing criticism by invoking relational ties -- say you disagree, and you are insulting somebody's very family. I find that to be emotional blackmail.
We get it that most Muslims are peaceful and don't endorse terrorism per se, but then...they don't denounce it in any kind of significant way, either. Out of fear? Out of the honour of uniform and tribal solidarity? I don't have a problem condemning the Pope for any contributing factors to the impunity of child abuse. Why can't they take the same approach? Is it because the very ideas of the religion itself, even if "by the book" are different, i.e. one can concede that there might be other faiths and other paths to righteousness and equality among religions before the law, and another can't, there an only be one? And as Rushdie himself says in this piece, there is a fierce war for what that "one" will be - and we are a sideshow.
Maher's take then is refreshing, but in the end, not something I completely embrace because it demands macho secular in-your-face freedom-fighting not backed up by armies -- and not backed up by any serious plan to deter and combat and end terrorism. Backed up only by a Muslim French policeman who must also die.