September 26, 2020

Charlie Hebdo and the Right to Commit Blasphemy

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07-je-suis-charlie-hebdo-paris.w529.h352By Jonathan Chait From New York Magazine

Just over three years ago, the office of , the French satirical magazine whose staff was horrifically murdered, was firebombed. Time’s Paris bureau chief, Bruce Crumley, responded to the attack at the time with an outpouring of anger and contempt — mostly aimed at the target of the attack. “Okay, so can we finally stop with the idiotic, divisive, and destructive efforts by ‘majority sections’ of Western nations to bait Muslim members with petulant, futile demonstrations that ‘they’ aren’t going to tell ‘us’ what can and can’t be done in free societies?” he began, “Because not only are such Islamophobic antics futile and childish, but they also openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy in the name of common good.” Yes, Crumley carefully noted, terrorism is bad, too. But his primary villain was the satirical magazine that provoked the attacks.

The latest attack, which (unlike the previous one) succeeded in killing large numbers of people, casts the question in a different light. In the wake of actual (and not merely potential) bloodshed, few of us are willing to blame the staff of Charlie Hebdo for provoking their own murders. The trouble is that Crumley’s 2011 outburst is not just embarrassing today, it also lies uncomfortably close to the mainstream Western liberal view.

Consider, for instance, the official view of the Obama administration, as expressed by White House spokesman Jay Carney in 2012, when asked about Charlie Hebdo’s blasphemous cartoons depicting Mohammed:

Well, we are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad, and obviously, we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this. We know that these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory. But we’ve spoken repeatedly about the importance of upholding the freedom of expression that is enshrined in our Constitution.

In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it. And I think that that’s our view about the video that was produced in this country and has caused so much offense in the Muslim world.

Now, it has to be said, and I’ll say it again, that no matter how offensive something like this is, it is not in any way justification for violence — not in any way justification for violence. Now, we have been staying in close touch with the French government as well as other governments around the world, and we appreciate the statements of support by French government officials over the past week, denouncing the violence against Americans and our diplomatic missions overseas.

Carney put it more delicately, but his actual line did not stray very far from Crumley’s:

It’s obvious free societies cannot simply give in to hysterical demands made by members of any beyond-the-pale group. And it’s just as clear that intimidation and violence must be condemned and combated for whatever reason they’re committed — especially if their goal is to undermine freedoms and liberties of open societies. But it’s just evident members of those same free societies have to exercise a minimum of intelligence, calculation, civility and decency in practicing their rights and liberties—and that isn’t happening when a newspaper decides to mock an entire faith on the logic that it can claim to make a politically noble statement by gratuitously pissing people off.

Indeed, a columnist in the Financial Times continues to hold to this line (“Charlie Hebdo has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling French Muslims. If the magazine stops just short of outright insults, it is nevertheless not the most convincing champion of the principle of freedom of speech. is the land of Voltaire, but too often editorial foolishness has prevailed at Charlie Hebdo”). On the one hand, religious extremists should not threaten people who offend their beliefs. On the other hand, nobody should offend their beliefs. The right to blasphemy should exist but only in theory. They do not believe religious extremists should be able to impose censorship by issuing threats, but given the existence of those threats, the rest of us should have the good sense not to risk triggering them.

The line separating these two positions is perilously thin. The Muslim radical argues that the ban on blasphemy is morally right and should be followed; the Western liberal insists it is morally wrong but should be followed. Theoretical distinctions aside, both positions yield an identical outcome.

The right to blaspheme religion is one of the most elemental exercises of political liberalism. One cannot defend the right without defending the practice.

Photo: Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

For more on this story go to: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/01/charlie-hebdo-and-the-right-to-commit-blasphemy.html?om_rid=AACMTw&om_mid=_BUrZTzB8$pMRgC

See also related iNews Cayman story published January 7 2015 “UPDATED: Charlie Hebdo: Gun attack on French magazine kills 12”” at: https://www.ieyenews.com/wordpress/charlie-hebdo-gun-attack-on-french-magazine-kills-12/

Related story:

Attack on French magazine a “Black Day” for press freedom

Charlie-Hebdo-740From CARIBBEAN360  JANUARY 8, 2015

IMAGE: Charlie-Hebdo-740A. D. McKenzie

PARIS, France, Thursday January 8, 2015, IPS – “They are cowards who react to satire by going for their Kalashnikovs.” That was how renowned French cartoonist Plantu described the killers of 10 media workers and two policemen in .

One of the murdered journalists, cartoonist Bernard Verlhac who went by the pen name of Tignous, was a member of Cartooning for Peace, the organisation that Plantu founded with former Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006, following the protests sparked by the controversial Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.

Tignous worked for Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine that the murderers targeted.

According to police and eyewitness reports, two hooded gunmen entered the premises of the magazine and opened fire in the late morning. After they fled the scene, in a car driven by a third participant, 12 people were confirmed dead and at least 11 injured, some critically.

Drawing-for-peace-a-signature-cartoon-by-Plantu-527x472Video footage, filmed from neighbouring buildings, showed the attackers killing an injured policeman as he lay in the road. On Wednesday night, the police presence in France’s capital city was huge as security officials tried to track down the attackers who reportedly had been identified.

French President François Hollande said in a public address that the killers would be brought to justice and “severely punished” for their actions. Appealing for unity, he said the attack was an assault on national ideals and freedoms, including freedom of expression.

Drawing-for-peace-a-signature-cartoon-by-Plantu-527×472

Meanwhile, many French residents took to social media to express solidarity with the magazine’s staff, posting images with the words “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), and thousands gathered on the historic Place de la Republique in Paris, and in several other cities in France.

The magazine had been a target for several years, since it published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. In 2011, assailants firebombed its offices in the city’s 11th district, and its cartoons have been considered offensive by various groups over the past two years. Its cover this week featured the controversial French writer Michel Houellebecq, whose newly published novel “Soumission” portrays a future France living under an Islamic regime.

But condemnation of the murders came from all sides of the religious and political spectrum on Wednesday. The French Muslim Council said the “barbaric action” was also an attack “against democracy and the freedom of the press,” while the Protestant Federation of France expressed “revulsion” and said the “hateful” acts could have no justification in any religion.

Irina Bokova, the director-general of Paris-based UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, said she was “horrified” by the attack. “This is more than a personal tragedy,” she stated. “It is an attack on the media and freedom of expression. The world community cannot allow extremists to silence the free flow of opinions and ideas. We must work together to bring the perpetrators to justice and stand together for a free and independent press.”

Rights group Amnesty International said the attack was a “black day” for freedom of expression and a free press, while the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) called the assault a “barbaric act of violence against journalists and media freedom.”

EFJ president Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard stressed that journalists today face a greater range of dangers and threats than ever before.

Last year, 118 journalists and media workers died for doing their jobs, according to the EFJ and other organisations, bringing the total to more than 700 deaths over the past decade.

On Nov. 2, the United Nations marked the first international Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. The organisation said that the majority of the killings “were deliberate murders committed in connection with journalists’ denunciation of crime and corruption.”

Charlie Hebdo’s recent cartoons had poked fun at the head of IS, or the Islamic State, and had even seemed to forecast an attack, saying that fighters had until the end of January to “present their wishes” – a reference to the French tradition of government ministers presenting their “voeux” to the press each new year.

From around the world, condemnation of the acts and condolences for the victims’ families were transmitted to France by heads of state and foreign ministers. But perhaps the most profound messages came from colleagues in the media world – cartoonists.

Plantu said that Cartooning for Peace, where staffers worked late into the evening, had received thousands of messages and drawings.

“We are angry,” he said on French television. “Cartoonists – Christian, Muslim, Jewish cartoonists – are scandalised and angry. And to express ourselves, we take up a marker and we draw.”

He said that Cartooning for Peace had been created for the very purpose of creating bridges between people, religions and regions and that cartoonists’ work was “stronger” than the “barbaric acts” committed by the “cowards” on Wednesday.

Plantu told IPS at a conference last year in the southern French city of Montpellier that the work of the non-profit organisation was important in promoting dialogue, understanding and mutual respect by using cartoons as a universal language.

At that conference, one of the featured participants was Tignous, who showed himself to be funny in both speech and drawing. As he and a journalist got lost trying to make it to the conference centre, he cracked jokes about his legs being too short to jump fences, but he ended up being the one to find the right direction.

Later at the conference, he produced cartoons that had the audience laughing out loud. For him, and other cartoonists, the work was about freedom to poke fun at extremists and political hypocrites.

At the creation of Cartooning for Peace, the founders said the initiative was meant to highlight the notion that cartoonist’s influence comes with a “responsibility to encourage debate rather than inflame passions, to educate rather than divide.”

According to commentators, Charlie Hebdo may have inflamed passions with its satire, but the killings on Wednesday seemed an attempt to end all debate, and to foster further division in France, where the extreme-right National Front party has been rising in popularity.

“The targeted assassinations were staged in order to establish terror and muzzle journalists, cartoonists but also every citizen,” Cartooning for Peace said in a statement. It added that the attackers would not have the last word because “art and freedom will be stronger than any intolerance.”

For more on this story go to: http://www.caribbean360.com/news/attack-french-magazine-black-day-press-freedom#ixzz3OH0sDSfN

 

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