Freedom, art…and bullying – on Charlie Hebdo, satire and Euro-Muslims

joesaccoonsatire1200We need to kill them. We need to kill them. You’re in danger, I’m in danger. We’re at war. And this is not going to stop. Bomb them, bomb them and bomb them again.

Jeanine Pirro, This is ridiculous, even for Fox News, Independent, 12 January 2015

I have to wonder whether any of my colleagues felt the same queasy mix of emotions I did on hearing about the assassinations in Paris: beneath the outrage, sorrow and solidarity, a small, irrational twinge of guilt that we’re not doing anything worth shooting us over.

Tim Kreider, When Art Is Dangerous (or Not), New York Times, 10 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo has had a much more savage, unforgiving, doing-it-for-the-sake-of-doing-it spirit than any American publication. That’s not so much an American impulse. Especially today there’s a sophisticated dialogue about what privilege means, and a feeling that you don’t need to insult people, especially downtrodden people, to make your points.

Tom Spurgeon, Charlie Hebdo Attack Chills Satirists and Prompts a Debate, New York Times, 9 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons are polemic, unsophisticated and offensive for the sake of being offensive. The cartoons provide no insight or witty analysis, but reflect an adolescent fascination with smutty images and garnering attention by trying to offend as many people as possible.

Sassy Sourstein, Fuck Charlie Hebdo, or, Take Your Free Speech and Stick It, 100 Flamingos, 8 January 2015

Hypocritically even Charlie Hebdo, the magazine at the centre of the controversy, those ‘champions of free speech’, sacked a journalist in 2009 for making anti-Semitic comments but interestingly never took similar action for anti-Islamic comments, articles or cartoons. The hypocrisy of French commentators took this absurd lie to new heights. The rapper Monsieur R was put on trial for ‘insulting the French state’. Do you remember the Western world’s outrage over that?me neither. Attack the Prophet of the Muslims, OKbut the French stateNO! But its not just the French State you cannot criticize, its their Allies! France that bastion of freedom, became the first country in the world to ban marching in support of those being ethnically cleansed in Palestine…The elites’ narrative was simple: a left-wing magazine, had produced ‘satirical cartoons’ about all religions and politicians, some of them about the Prophet of Islamonly Muslims took offence (subtext because their backward barbaric religion was alien and intolerant)… Most white people don’t like to admit it, but those cartoons uphold their prejudice, their racism, their political supremacy, and cut it how you willimages like that upheld a political order built on discrimination… It was as if white people had a right to offend Muslims and Muslims had no right to be offended? The difference was, when white people were offended, they have the state, white corporate media and the threat of a right wing mob to make their pointMuslims have nothing… I argue, that we are creating extremists by the bucket load and have done so exponentially, since we declared this endless war of terror . Our policies are hardening views on all sides… Our bombs dont leave much room for ‘freedoms’ and now neither do theirs. Extremism leads to extremism

Asghar Bukhari, Charlie Hebdo: This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech — It Was About War, Medium, 7 January 2015

The first comics I ever had access to were the comics of Naji al-Ali. Though political comics existed in the Middle East before he started creating work, this guy worked his mojo. I think it’s safe to say that he’s still the most famous Arab cartoonist to date. His iconic character, Handala, is still referenced in comics drawn today. He was a Palestinian refugee, and his work very much reflects this. He felt for the Palestinian everyman and was scathing toward the ineffectiveness of Arab countries, the ambivalence of the West, and the cruelty of Israel. No one was safe in his comics, and he made so many enemies that he was exiled from most Middle-Eastern country and settled in London, where he was murdered in 1987. They never caught the perp.

Marguerite Dabaie, Not Just Charlie Hebdo, The Hooded Utilitarian, 12 January 2015

  1. Emotionally abuse, degrade, bait, scatologically smear, demean, and antagonize a group of people with juvenile, vapid, petulant, crude, lazy, provocative without being thought-provoking, stereotyped caricatures (art?) of their identity, beliefs and practices, in a context of illegal wars and daily discrimination and demonization, as if their feelings did not matter, as if they were not complex human beings deserving respect;
  2. Do it over and over, and over again, sprinkling salt on their wounds, causing offense for the sake of it, to make a living;
  3. Like a true psychopath, refuse to show a measure of common decency, to establish a connection and to engage in a non-confrontational conversation, where you really listen to what they have to say;
  4. Make sure that everyone thinks that Muslims have to prove that they are not extremists (presumption of innocence does not apply to them) and that if they leave they won’t be missed;
  5. Make sure that an ever growing number of people embrace your crusade for the rejection of difference and the negation of individuality, ratcheting up tensions to boiling point, drive them to believe that they cannot live with Muslims, that Muslims must go, that Islam should be banned from “civilised” Europe;
  6. Push the edge, see how far you can go, until some Muslims finally snap and lash out;
  7. Condemn the whole group for the actions of a few violent ones;
  8. Vow to keep abusing them, even more forcefully, just because you can (you are a white male: yes you can!) and are entitled to do it, no matter what;
  9. Pat yourself on the back for being a champion of (unaccountable, irresponsible, childish, sociopathic) freedom in a cosmic struggle between Valiant Knights and Savage Beasts, even though all you have accomplished is building a forum and a platform for abuse and hate speech, firing a cartoonist for a mildly anti-Semitic remark and starting a petition to disband a political party you disagree with;
  10. Repeat to build up radicalism on both sides and increasingly homogenize attitudes and mindsets, because hating is so easy and creating more division and anger is fun;

B7JJrkGIAAEThbUAfter the Utoya massacre, the Norwegian Labour Party asked social media users to refrain from reposting Norwegian flags, because Breivik was a rabid nationalist and such a massive display of patriotism would enormously please him (Charlie Hebdo: Norway’s Christians didn’t have to apologise for Anders Breivik, and it’s the same for Muslims now, Independent, 8 January 2015).

What Norwegian politicians understood is that symbols are pregnant with meanings which switch on and off cognitive control and response mechanisms. This is the process behind advertising sloganeering and propaganda, which work in pretty much the same manner.

This is also why, from a sociological and psychoanalytical perspective, art is seldom “just” art and why the slogan “I’m Charlie” is not necessarily harmless. It could mean several things, such as, for instance, “I agree with Charlie”, or “You, you’re not Charlie” (The Problems with Being Charlie, Consortium News, 15 January 2015).

This happens regardless of our subjective interpretations, when we spread a meme.

Symbols are alive, they do have meanings in themselves, and slogans represent the opposite of thoughtful consideration, objectivity, discernment, insight, and wisdom.

Muslim communities in Europe are currently seriously at risk of being ostracised (New mosque ban in Padua after Paris attacks, The Local, 9 January 2015; Paris shootings lead to firebomb attacks on French mosques, Telegraph, 8 January 2015; Protesters demand end to Sweden mosque attacks, Guardian, 2 January 2015).

Looking ahead, things could get even worse:

Of the 10 internment camps in which about 120,000 Japanese-Americans were confined during the war, it was Tule Lake that held those branded “disloyal,” the ones who answered “no” to two critical questions in a loyalty test administered by the federal government. After the end of the war, the no-noes, as they were known, not only struggled to find a place in mainstream society, but also were regarded with suspicion by other Japanese-Americans, whose pledge of undivided loyalty and search for larger acceptance could have been threatened by the no-noes.

At Internment Camp, Exploring Choices of the Past, New York Times, 8 July 2012

Ultimately, just as the terrorists are not representative of hundreds of millions of Muslims, so Charlie Hebdo is not the symbol of European values (at least not the ones we should cherish – The Great Human Renaissance – Towards a New World Order, FuturAbles, 9 January 2015).

This was a targeted attack, not a broad attack on the French population a la Twin towers or 7/7 style. So who was this attack against? The whole of France/EU society? Or specifically this magazine. The difference lies in how this is reported not in how terrible the act is obviously – murder is murder either way… but poses a narrower question of the “why”? attack on french society and values? Only if you consider CH’s racist caricatures to be the best of European intellectual production (total whitewash on that at the moment).

Was this really an attack on “Free speech”? Who is attacking free speech here exactly? Does an attack by 2-3 guys on a controversial magazine equate to a civilizational attack on European values..? Really?

“I am Charlie” as an alienating slogan – with us or against us type of statement – one can be anti-CH’s racism and ALSO against murdering people(!) (obvious I know but worth stating).

Danger in making this a free speech aka “European Values” under attack binary is that it once again constructs European identity in opposition to Islam (sacred depictions) and cements the notion of a European identity under threat from an Islamic retrograde culture of which the attackers are merely the violent tip of the iceberg (see the seeping of Far Right discourse into French normalcy with Houellebecque’s novel for example). The key is to look at the biographies of these guys – contrary to conventional wisdom, they were radicalised by images of Abu Ghraib not by images of the Prophet Mohammed. You don’t actually stick it to the terrorists by insulting the majority of Muslims by reproducing more cartoons – you actually entrench the very animosity and divisions these guys seek to sow.

This is a clash of extremist fringes…

Salah-Aldeen Khadr, executive producer, on Al Jazeera coverage of events in Paris, 8 January 2015

Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile. Baiting extremists isn’t bravely defiant when your manner of doing so is more significant in offending millions of moderate people as well. And within a climate where violent response—however illegitimate—is a real risk, taking a goading stand on a principle virtually no one contests is worse than pointless: it’s pointlessly all about you.

Bruce Crumley, Firebombed French Paper Is No Free Speech Martyr, Time, 2 November 2011

With all due respect to the great cartoonist Ann Telnaes, it is simply not the case that Charlie Hebdo “were equal opportunity offenders.” Like Bill Maher, Sam Harris and other anti-Islam obsessives, mocking Judaism, Jews and/or Israel is something they will rarely (if ever) do. If forced, they can point to rare and isolated cases where they uttered some criticism of Judaism or Jews, but the vast bulk of their attacks are reserved for Islam and Muslims, not Judaism and Jews. Parody, free speech and secular atheism are the pretexts; anti-Muslim messaging is the primary goal and the outcome. And this messaging – this special affection for offensive anti-Islam speech – just so happens to coincide with, to feed, the militaristic foreign policy agenda of their governments and culture.

Glenn Greenwald, In Solidarity With a Free Press: Some More Blasphemous Cartoons, The Intercept, 9 January 2015


Democracies and free speech

Austria – Criminal law Article §188 : Vilification of Religious Teachings

Brazil – Article §208 of the penal code states that “publicly vilifying an act or object of religious worship” is a crime punishable with one month to a year of incarceration, or fine

Canada – blasphemous libel is an offence under section 296(1) of the Criminal Code. It is an indictable offence and is punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

Denmark – Paragraph §140 of the penal code, The hate speech paragraph (266b)

Ireland – Article §40.6.1.i. of the Constitution, which states “The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law”

Finland – Section 10 of Chapter §17 of the Criminal Code relate to blasphemy.

Germany – Article §166 of the German criminal law, if a deed is capable of disturbing the public peace, Whoever publicly or by dissemination of writings (§ 11 par. 3) defames, in a manner suitable to disturb the public peace, the substance of the religious or world view conviction of others, shall be fined or imprisoned for up to three years.

Greece – Article §198 “Malicious Blasphemy”, One who publicly and maliciously and by any means blasphemes God shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years.

Israel – Articles §173 of the penal code “Insult to religion”, If a person does any of the following, then the one is liable to one year imprisonment: (1) One publishes a publication that is liable to crudely offend the religious faith or sentiment of others;

Italy – Article §724 of the penal Code, blasphemy now is considered as an “administrative offense” and punished with a fine.

New Zealand – section §123 the Crimes Act 1961 to publish any blasphemous libel. The maximum punishment is one year imprisonment.

Poland – penal code, “Whoever offends religious feelings of other people by publicly insulting an object of religious cult or a place for public holding of religious ceremonies, is subject to a fine, restriction of liberty or loss of liberty for up to 2 years”

Russia – Article §148 of Russian Crimianl Code 1 it is declared a federal crime to conduct “public actions, clearly defying the society and committed with express purpose of insulting religious beliefs”.

Spain – Article §525 of the penal law in Spain considers “vilification” of religious “feelings”, “dogmas”, “beliefs” or “rituals”.

Switzerland – Article 261 of the penal code titled “Attack on the freedom of faith and the freedom to worship” (Störung der Glaubens- und Kultusfreiheit) criminalizes public and malicious insult or mockery of religious convictions of others

U.K – The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 (c. 1) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which creates an offence in England and Wales of inciting hatred against a person on the grounds of their religion.

“Religious insult”, which is a subset of the crime of blasphemy. It is forbidden in Andorra, Cyprus, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine.

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