Friday, January 9, 2015

Commentary on Charlie Hebdo Attack: Freedom of Speech, Economic and Social Oppression, Violence, and Religion

Here's a selection of commentary (running a wide gamut) that has caught my eye about the murder of the staff of Charlie Hebdo by terrorists in Paris this week:

For John Nichol at The Nation, this event is an unambiguous call to stand for freedom of speech: 

We who practice and appreciate the right to freedom of expression must stand now and always in solidarity with every journalist in every country who challenges corruption, abuses of power, violence and the intolerance that underpins violence. We must do so in the defense of freedom of expression, in the name of pluralism and in the knowledge that without the liberty of wide-ranging and controversial discourse, there can be no real debate nor anything akin to true democracy.

At her Marginal Musings blog, Tina Beattie notes that democratic freedoms run a range from religious to political to economic; in her view, the greatest threats to democratic freedoms today are political and economic rather than religious:

I mourn the deaths of those defiantly brave journalists, and I mourn the further wounding of our increasingly fragile and threatened democratic freedoms. But the greatest threats to those freedoms are political and economic, not religious. Long before radical Islamism conquers the world, we will be drowning in the suffocating fog of our own polluted environment, victims of a secular culture dominated by a ruthless and inhumane ideology colonised by the politics of greed and exploitation. Let our intellectuals, artists and comedians satirise the real enemies of freedom, so that we might become societies that reasonable people of all religions and none might agree are worth living in - and maybe even dying to preserve.

At Slate, Jordan Weissmann notes Charlie Hebdo's sometimes offensive racism (others are pointing to its homophobia), as he concludes that we have both to defend its freedom of speech and critique its sophomorism:

But it’s wrong to approach this issue as an either-or question, to blaspheme or not blaspheme. Free speech allows us to say hateful, idiotic things without being punished by the government. But embracing that right means that we need to acknowledge when work is hateful or idiotic, and can’t be defended on its own terms. We need to recognize, as Vox's Matt Yglesias argues today, that standing up for magazines like Charlie Hebdo is a "regrettable" necessity, in part because it provides cover for anti-Muslim backlash.  

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League jumps the shark and blames the Charlie Hebdo staff for their murders — because too much freedom:

Stephane Charbonnier, the paper's publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death. In 2012, when asked why he insults Muslims, he said, "Muhammad isn’t sacred to me." Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive. 

At Salon, Sophia McClennen argues that the critical thinking inherent in satirizing sacred cows enrages fundamentalists, who prefer to think in binary dogmatic terms:

Satire requires some of the highest functioning of the brain; while fundamentalism — especially terrorist fundamentalism — runs on fear and anger. The more the satirist sees fundamentalism, the more they want to call it out. But their tools infuriate those that think in stark, binary, dogmatic terms. 

For Juan Cole at his Informed Consent site, if we construe the events in Paris as the actions of an entire people and religion, we play right into the hands of the terrorists:

This horrific murder was not a pious protest against the defamation of a religious icon. It was an attempt to provoke European society into pogroms against French Muslims, at which point al-Qaeda recruitment would suddenly exhibit some successes instead of faltering in the face of lively Beur youth culture (French Arabs playfully call themselves by this anagram term deriving from wordplay involving scrambling of letters)  . . .  
The only effective response to this manipulative strategy (as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani tried to tell the Iraqi Shiites a decade ago) is to resist the impulse to blame an entire group for the actions of a few and to refuse to carry out identity-politics reprisals. 

At Mother Jones, Jaeah Lee echoes this analysis, citing Peter Neumann: 

"This is a dangerous moment for European societies," Peter Neumann, director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King's College London, told the New York Times. "With increasing radicalization among supporters of jihadist organizations and the white working class increasingly feeling disenfranchised and uncoupled from elites, things are coming to a head." 

In an opinion piece for The Guardian, Owen Jones points to what we might learn from how Norwegians reacted to the terrorist attacks of Anders Breivik three and a half years ago:
Norway's response was not retribution, revenge, clampdowns. "Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity," declared the prime minister Jens Stoltenberg. When Breivik was put on trial, Norway played it by the book. The backlash he surely craved never came. 
Here's how the murderers who despicably gunned down the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo do not want us to respond. Vengeance and hatred directed at Muslims as a whole serves Islamic fundamentalists well.

(I'm grateful to Philomena Ewing of Ennis Blue for pointing me and other Facebook friends to Tina Beattie's essay.)

The graphic is a depiction of a central point of Dom Hélder Câmara's essay The Spiral of Violence (1971), which argues that violence begets violence begets violence, and will not cease until someone chooses to stop the spiral. Câmara also insists that violence can take "cold" forms of economic, social, and political oppression, and is not always the "hot" violence of guns and swords. I find this graphic at a number of websites, with no information about its origins.

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