I Am Not Charlie
So the question is whether Charlie Hebdo‘s offensive cartoons are actually protected speech. I think it’s pretty easy to see that these cartoons violate most hate speech laws. Imagine if a secular magazine in an Arab country regularly published cartoons featuring naked caricatures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary – the backlash would be violent and justified in the eyes of many Christians, if the government didn’t censor it first.
Now, even looking at my much wider definition of free speech, Charlie Hebdo‘s comics could very well be legitimately prohibited. This is not the first case of violence in response to irreverent depictions of Muhammad – ten died in protests outside the Italian consulate in Benghazi over cartoons printed by a Danish paper and worn on a T-shirt by Italian minister Roberto Calderoli in 2006, the US embassy in Benghazi was stormed as part of worldwide outrage over the film “Innocence of Muslims,” Charlie Hebdo wassubject to earlier attacks, and, even more recently a German tabloid that reprinted an offensive Charlie Hebdo cover suffered an arson attack. If such portrayals of Muhammad don’t present a clear and present danger, they come pretty close to it. – Marc Daalder, “The Charlie Hebdo Shooting: Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, And Free Speech”, Appeal To Reason, January 12, 2015
In the aftermath of the attacks on the headquarters of the French “satirical” magazine Charlie Hebdo, so many folks – either out of ignorance or adherence to principle – continue to insist Je suis Charlie, as if identifying with the target of a terrorist attack is some edgy moral accomplishment. The fact of the matter, however, are that the attacks are the result not of a single cartoon. Charlie Hebdo has years and years of insulting Islam, Judaism, and Christianity under its belt. Calling itself “far left” is an odd claim, if for no other reason than, week in and week out, being “humorous” by being an asshole is hardly something I would classify as “Leftist”. At some point, however, it seems that it became OK in some parts of the world to confuse satire with traditional racism. Thus, Charlie Hebdo not only prints attacks on the Prophet. They also truck in insulting, anti-Semitic cartoons and rhetoric, part of the general rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Am I justifying violence? No. I am, rather, trying to get people to think about how their actions, no matter how principled, perhaps even rooted in good faith, might in fact be perceived as further evidence that we in the West not only do not understand Islam, but in fact actively support deepening of Islamophobia. Standing with Charlie Hebdo, regardless of circumstances and the facts of the matter is to stand with the most base anti-Muslim rhetoric, gussied up as “humor” or “satire”, making martyrs for the cause of free expression out of people who may well be little different from your garden variety bigot.
So do I support censorship? No. I am, rather, trying to get people to think before they respond in ways that, regardless of intention, only make matters worse. It should be a no-brainer that we wouldn’t support bullies; on the contrary, we would side with the victims of bullying, stand up to bullies, perhaps even discover that the “bullies” are young sociopaths who need professional help. Why, then do so many people continue to insist Je suis Charlie without realizing they are, for all intents and purposes, siding with the bully? Why are they demonstrating to the world’s one billion Muslims that the honor of the Prophet is of less concern to them than some principle, particularly when that principle is embodied in hateful, dehumanizing words and images? How does siding with bigoted assholes who insist on their “right” to be bigoted assholes show anything other than contempt toward a people already feeling themselves excluded from so much of the world?
So, no, I am not now, nor have I ever been Charlie Hebdo. I have no interest in defending the indefensible. So a pox upon both houses in this case. The two Al Qaeda In Yemen shooters do a disservice to the Prophet and their fellow Muslims by killing in his name; Charlie Hebdo is, has been, and likely will continue to be a blight upon the landscape. I have no interest in defending their actions any more than those of their murderers. They have done nothing to deserve our sympathy except die. I refuse to honor martyrs for a cause that I do not accept, and practiced in a way that exposes their racism and hatred.