Thursday, January 08, 2015

Je ne suis pas Charlie

Those "Je suis Charlie" proclamations are sprouting within the Worthy Media like American flag lapel pins in the House of Representatives. Hoist 'em high!

Are we all in fact Charlie? 

Maybe you are, and if so you have my profound admiration.

But me, alas, I am not brave enough to be Charlie Hebdo, and I guarantee you that few of those worthy journalistic organizations rushing to hoist their logos are Charlie either. The massacred editorial staff at Charlie Hebdo, practicing biting satire of a kind that has been vibrant in Paris since the run-up to the French Revolution, had the guts to continue pissing off murderous Islamicist thugs, even after Charlie offices had been previously firebombed. 

Would I have that kind of brazen, defiant courage in this kind of a situation? I consider myself a stand-up guy and have some scars to prove it, but I am damn sure that I would not have had the guts to stand up as boldly and bravely for editorial freedom -- yes, for the right to be a smart-ass when the stakes are very, very high -- as those slain journalists did in Paris. 

Already, some of the usual suspects in the media are equivocating, to make sure no one is offended by the "Je suis Charlie" bumper stickers they've slapped on. After all, religious insensitivity is abhorrent, they say. Take USA Today, which arrives today running this op-ed piece by a self-described "radical Muslim cleric and lecturer in sharia." The radical Muslem cleric declares essentially that the Charlie Hebdo infidels had it coming because they recklessly chose to ignore the clear consequences of causing offense to certain quarters of Islam. The editors posit this as a way to provide "balance" and "perspective" in their mission to defend free expression and encourage robust debate! There are two sides to every story, they say in effect.

Are such editors defending freedom of expression, a la Charlie? Nobody's questioning your right to print ravings that the French satirists got what they deserved for causing offense. What's in question here is your judgment and your adherence to a discredited journalistic concept called "balance" (the next time someone mentions that the world is round, I will look forward to the opposing viewpoint that it is actually flat).

Would would those same editors publish, or even allude to, serious opinion pieces like this one today by Jeffrey Taylor, in Salon, which has the headline, "We must stop deferring to religion," and states in part that Islam is "the prima facie yet material motive" for modern terrorist barbarities that invariably commence, as of course the one yesterday in Paris did, with bellowing of the war cry "Allahu akbar!"

I doubt it. They'll give a terrorist-apologist a say with impunity, because the mullah is so obviously an idiot with no constituency among our readers, but let's not cause the Archbishop to get upset about any suggestion that religion itself might be a problem.

Overall, what is the sensible response? "For starters, we need to cease granting religion, and not just Islam -- an exemption from criticism," Taylor writes.

But oh, if we do that, the letters we would get!  

The murdered cartoonists, writers and editors at Charlie Hebdo worked in a tradition that extends back to the earliest days of mass-circulation print, and encompasses the biting satire of Paris radicals who vilified poor hapless Marie Antoinette and ridiculed the king and helped to create the emotional atmosphere that brought down the ancien regime. (OK, the revolution was followed closely by the Terror, by Napoleon and the rape of Europe, but it did all eventually work out somewhat better).

Being a provocateur against the ancien regime in 18th Century Paris was relatively safe, even in the last throes of an absolute monarchy. 

(And let's not overlook a basic fact in today's France, a country that has been enthusiastic in legislating political, cultural and religious correctness. As law professor Jonathan Turley notes in this piece in the Washington Post, "if the French want to memorialize those killed at Charlie Hebdo they could start by rescinding their laws criminalizing speech that insults, defames or incites hatred, discrimination or violence on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, sex or sexual orientation." (At least for starters, I would add, please try to define what "insults, defames or incites hatred" means specifically.))

Doing what those who were murdered in the offices of Charlie Hebdo did was clearly dangerous. Their bold exercise of free expression took guts and, as USA Today's radical Muslim cleric and lecturer in sharia so piously points out from his protected pulpit in London, it demonstrably had consequences.

For a perspective on roughly the same issues from a respected voice in mainstream religion, kindly see this terrific piece today by Michael Sean Winters in the National Catholic Reporter.

And also this, from a Moslem point of view.


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