Charlie-Not-Charlie

We take a look at some of the better things written and said in the wake of the horrific terror attack in France this week. At a time when thousands of Muslims are fleeing Islamist tyrants in the Middle-East and looking to Europe for sanctuary, how ought Europe be dealing with Islamists of its own?

Writing on Facebook, Professor of Economics at Portsmouth University, Alan Collins highlights the following comments:

Tony Abbott, Australian Prime Minister: “We should not stop being ourselves because of this kind of attack. If we do engage in self-censorship, if we do change the way we live and the way we think, that gives terrorists a victory and the last thing that we should do is give these evil fanatics any kind of victory.”

Booker Prize-winning author Ian McEwan has suggested that children be taught freedom of speech in schools. Writing on his website in the wake of the Paris attack, he argues that what he calls “murderous and self-sanctifying, radical Islam” has become a global attractor for psychopaths. “We could really bring this right into the national curriculum in schools,” he told BBC’s Newsnight. “We need to be able to teach everyone just how important freedom of speech is. And how in that freedom there is mockery, satire, scholarly analysis. It’s going to be difficult but talking and writing is all we’ve got. Slaughtering each other is going to bring us to the very gates of hell.”

Nick Clegg writes in the Telegraph:

The same laws that allow satirists to ridicule Islamists allow Islamists (and other extremists) to promote their views. When extremists incite violence or promote terrorism, the criminal law is the right response. But when they peacefully express views which the majority of people find odious, we need to remember what is at stake. Free speech cannot just be for people we agree with. If it is to mean anything, free speech has to be for everyone.

For the record this is why I find ‘no-platform’ policies at universities so disturbing.

Nicholas Kristof (NYT) warns:

Muslims have shared with me their own deeply held false narratives of America as an oppressive state controlled by Zionists and determined to crush Islam. That’s an absurd caricature, and we should be wary ourselves of caricaturing a religion as diverse as Islam.

Writing in The Independent, Mark Steel notes:

The claim that Farage and many others appear to make is that Islam is inevitably violent, to which others reply that it’s a religion of peace, with each side quoting chunks of religious text to make their case. But this probably doesn’t help to settle the argument, as every religion’s holy book is a chaotic mixture.

The Old Testament is like an episode of The Sopranos written by someone on crack, with prophets murdering children for calling them “baldhead” and nations destroyed with locusts. But most of us can pass a church without thinking “we should deport those loonies, they want to turn you into a pillar of salt”.

Alexander Baines-Bufery observes:

There are two issues overlaid here: On some basic level all theism, even moderate theism is by its nature disconnected from reality. The second issue is; a bunch of psychopaths who look to validate their existence through violent acts. Even without the religious justification: These people may have found a reason to do what they did. But their justification is on religious grounds.

So I think we need the answers to these boring questions: Are these psychopaths in any important way different from regular garden variety murderers? Are they “made” by their environment?

If they are being turned into violent people: Is there a funding and support network of “moderate” or “hardline” theist which is enabling these theist to become violent? Are they causing more death and harm than regular Murderers we can’t do anything about? Is this an important problem? Or does it pale in comparison to the vast number of more mundane deaths?

If it is an important problem, what is the most cost effective way of dealing with it?

Back at the Telegraph, Michael Deacon has a theory:

Terrorists aren’t offended by cartoons. Not even cartoons that satirise the Prophet Muhammad. They don’t care about satire. For all I know they may not even care about the Prophet Muhammad.

Instead, they merely pretend to be offended by cartoons, in order to give themselves a pretext to commit murder. Murder so horrifying, on a pretext so unWestern, that non-Muslims – blinded by grief and rage – turn on Muslims. Blame them. Persecute them. Burn their book, attack their mosques, threaten them in the street, demand their expulsion from Western societies. Actions that, in turn, scare Western Muslims, isolate them, alienate them. And thus drive some of them to support – and even become – terrorists.

Result: terrorists swell their ranks for a civil war they long to provoke non-Muslims into starting.

In our angry innocence, however, we persist in thinking this is somehow about cartoons. In thinking that the terrorists “win” if we don’t reproduce those cartoons, and “lose” if we do. As if, at this very moment, terrorist leaders across the West are privately wailing in anguished disbelief because satirical cartoons have been reproduced this morning in several European newspapers.(“Disaster! Our plan has backfired in a way we couldn’t possibly have foreseen! Ink really does beat Kalashnikovs! Satire defeats us once again!”)

On the whole, I’m not sure that’s very likely. I don’t think the terrorists “win” if we fail to reproduce cartoons. I think the terrorists “win” if we leap up, gulp down their bait – and hate Muslims.

This is not about satire. This is beyond satire.

Adam Wagner (UKHR) concedes:

David Aaronovitch has a point when he says that a “reason why Charlie Hebdo could be singled out for attack is because the rest of us have been cowards“. Fear, says Aaronovitch, has caused us to surrender to the terrorists by refusing to ridicule Islam. Because of a longstanding failure to print images which might cause offence or violence, publications like Charlie Hebdo became outliers which were easily singled out and targeted.

There is a second kind of fear, and it is more pernicious. It is the fear of causing offence. We have become obsessed with this in the UK, to the extent that it is even illegal to cause “gross offence” on social media. I have written about this before. Indeed, people are regularly imprisoned for posting offensive jokes on Facebook.

There is a line between legitimate satire and hate-mongering. I am not sure where it is though, and I am certain the police don’t know either. It is right to criminalise speech which results in violence, but we have now gone too far. Criminalising offensiveness has had a chilling effect on speech, and this has been compounded by the press’s self-censorship.

…and the FT’s Robert Shrimsley concludes:

“Be glad someone had the courage to be Charlie.”

Je ne suis pas Charlie. I am not Charlie, I am not brave enough.

Charlie Hebdo’s leaders were much, much braver than most of us; maddeningly, preposterously and — in the light of their barbarous end — recklessly brave. The kind of impossibly courageous people who actually change the world. As George Bernard Shaw noted, the “reasonable man adapts himself to the world while the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself”, and therefore “all progress depends upon the unreasonable man”. Charlie Hebdo was the unreasonable man. It joined the battle that has largely been left to the police and security services.