Jan 9, 2015

It Is Not Really About Freedom of Speech

 Note: The Government of Edan and I, personally, both condemn all evil acts and wish all those involved, directly or indirectly, in the premeditated murder of innocents to face the full force of justice. Criticism of the staff of Charlie Hebdo is not endorsement of their attackers, a desire for evil men to avoid punishment, nor a mitigation of any evil performed against those same people.

Note: Links to web pages not administered by the Kingdom of Edan is not an endorsement of those sites, of their views, their owners, their contributors, or their comments.

  The recent attack on the offices of relatively obscure French weekly called Charlie Hebdo have led to fascinating results. Reactions range from claims that a failure to support the weekly were because of a general cowardice of the West; the very frequent statement that any media outlet that does no reproduce Charlie Hebdo's content is cowardly or supports violence; a general belief that any criticism of Charlie Hebdo's content, methods, or motivations is supporting Islam, or murder, or censorship; and that the murders were 'a direct attack on perhaps the most crucial Western ideal'. And there are thousands, perhaps millions, of people using social media to repeat the phrase 'I am Charlie Hebdo'.

  But what was Charlie Hebdo?
  The weekly was very avowedly Leftist (in the true, European, sense) and staunchly atheist. While ostensibly a satirical publication it is of that brand of French humor that aspires to rise to 'juvenile' and which celebrates being offensive for the sake of offending.
  While a great deal of the current discussion is (naturally) focused upon various cartoons concerning Islam which the weekly had published media coverage is oddly silent about other cartoons. I will not link to these cartoons, but any brief search of the internet will find that Charlie Hebdo was very fond of anti-Semitic and blatantly racist cartoons. In one particularly offensive cover they portrayed the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram not only in Black stereotypes, they were also portrayed as what Americans would call 'welfare queens'. They had fired a contributor because she complained when Palestinians were called 'savages' and at least once they portrayed a Black woman as a monkey wearing earrings. While notorious for its anti-Islamic cartoons its anti-Christian cartoons were often more offensive and the anti-Catholicism was extreme, leading to the Charlie Hebdo headline which translates roughly as 'French Catholics are as stupid as Negroes'. Charlie Hebdo's staff enthusiastically embraced what an early letter writer called them - "bete et mechant" ("stupid and evil") and gleefully used the phrase to describe themselves.
  In short, Charlie Hebdo made its money by being offensive for the sake of shock and covered itself in a cloak of 'satire'.

 Can we say that the lack of support of Charlie Hebdo was because of, as a few have claimed, 'cowardice'? Hardly. While freedom of speech may be important to a particular person or nation that principle does not demand that you enthusiastically endorse everyone with a pen and a byline. The staff of Charlie Hebdo worked very hard to offend virtually everyone who was not a White bourgeois Leftist atheist who didn't mind racism too much. As a result they did not have a very broad base of support.

  Similar reasons easily explain why outlets that are not dedicated to offending people might not want to carry content that is offensive. This isn't cowardice, this is simply the fact that journalists reporting on the attack do not need to carry the content to report on the attack.

  As I stated clearly in the first note - the people who attacked and killed the staff of the weekly deserve to be brought to justice; my criticism of the content of Charlie Hebdo does not lessen their crime in any way. Likewise, the death of some of the staff does not render my critique less true.

  I also want everyone to bear in mind one key point: the Charlie Hebdo attack is not about freedom of speech in and of itself. It is not actually about censorship. Yes, these topics are peripherally involved, but contrary to the opinions of most they are not key.
  And this is fortunate because while the staff of Charlie Hebdo loved to use freedom of speech to protect themselves they did not extend it to others: in the mid-1990's the senior staff of Charlie Hebdo, including some who died in the attack, openly called for the banning of a political party whom they disagreed with. This desire to ban a political group they disagreed with went from articles to covers of Charlie Hebdo to a petition drive. It is very difficult for me to reconcile Charlie Hebdo as a bastion of freedom of speech when its principals worked very hard on this (failed) ban.

  What the attacks are really about are clashes between what can only be described as different nations which exist within the same state. Charlie Hebdo represented the bourgeois Leftist atheist citadins and the attackers represent the underclass Muslims.
  These two radically different nations (or 'groups that share a culture, language, religion, etc.') exist within a single state (or 'a political entity defined by borders, legal system, and government') that wishes to treat both of them (as well as a few others, such as rural Catholics) as totally equivalent when they most demonstrably are not in their desires for everything from the law to cultural norms. Yes, the things written and drawn by the staff of Charlie Hebdo was the trigger for this particular action but the underlying conflict is much broader and, frankly, more important.

  Why do I say 'more important'? Because the current conceptualization of the nation-state held by a majority of western politicians tends to reduce internal clashes between groups that can be called nations to a zero sum game: the monolithic state system combined with the errant belief that nation=state means that conflicts like that which led to the Charlie Hebdo attack will naturally amplify such differences into more and greater conflict over time. As we already see, the inability of the state to directly address the concerns of interior nations will necessarily lead to this conflict spreading.

  We can see this in some of the commentary about the attacks. In one of the linked article, above, a writer states,
 "The Charlie Hebdo massacre represents a direct attack on perhaps the most crucial Western ideal."
  He then goes on to list what he believes the core Western ideals are,
"...peaceable integration, tolerance, free speech, and openness."
  He naturally lists free speech as most important.
  This recitation is really nothing but a list of what bourgeois Leftist atheist citadins value, not any of the concepts critical to the development of what should properly be called Christendom. The author makes his 'citizenship' within the 'nation' of bourgeois Leftist atheist citadins quite clear in the rest of the article where he draws a faint equivalence between such attacks and the Crusades and the statement,
"We in the West believe that blasphemy is a right and not a crime."
  Which would be humorous if not said in such earnest. With this single statement he clearly defines millions of Western Jews, Catholics, Muslims, and Protestants as 'other', as 'nations' that differ from his, as potential or actual foes and states that those who disagree with him are not of 'the West', a term he seems to use as a synonym for modernity, or perhaps Modernism.

  This instinctive yet unconscious alignment with 'nations' is why a fair number of people are incensed that anyone, anywhere might point out that the attack was easily predictable and a consequence of the choices and actions of the staff of Charlie Hebdo.
  Again, see the note at the beginning of this article,
  If you go to a neighborhood known for violent crime and display a large amount of cash in your pockets while getting drunk you are greatly enhancing your chance of being robbed. No, this is no excuse for the robbers. Yes, the robbers committed a crime and deserve justice. But actions that increase risk make it more likely that you will be exposed to risk.
  The staff of Charlie Hebdo knowingly and actively continued to insult people who had threatened them with death and already attempted to harm them for insults. This made it virtually inevitable that some of them would be killed. This is not a controversial statement. It does not excuse the attackers. The attackers deserve to face justice. But anyone who expresses shock that Muslim extremists assassinated people who routinely insulted Islam needs to ask themselves why they expected any other results.

  I believe that the response to this attack also reveal a growing fear on the secular Left: what they value (peaceable integration, tolerance, free speech, and openness) is both anathema to those that oppose them and hinder them in their long-term survival; their preferred methods (shaming, ostracism, and indoctrination) have less and less effectiveness; and the long-term negative impacts of their basic life choices (a rejection of traditional roles and a focus on materialism) is beginning to strike deep into their numbers. As the secular Left grows weaker the will face more frequent and more severe existential crises. At some level many of the commentators seem to sense this, leading to anger.
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