Thursday, January 08, 2015

Thoughts on Paris #JeSuisCharlie

To arms, comrades! #CharlieHebdo
By Chilean political cartoonist Francisco J. Olea

Writing, drawing, and publishing criticism of people's religion--and doing so in a deliberately crass, offensive, and even obscene way--is not something that I personally would engage in. Even if it was not, in today's environment, the equivalent of poking at a wasp's nest or splashing kerosene on smoldering coals, I simply wouldn't do it. Not in that manner.

I don't belong to any organized religion. But some of the people I love, do. To them, and to people I don't know and may never know, but whose rights to believe as they see fit I nonetheless recognize and respect, it is my custom to extend the courtesy of not mocking their religion. Of refraining from questioning tenets of their faith, no matter how silly I might consider them, until and unless they affect me personally or affect public policy. And even then, I would challenge their beliefs only inasmuch as they restricted the freedoms of others; I would do my best to avoid being nasty or sneering. TL;DR: I'm a nice girl, and being a provocateur is not my job.

At the same time, though, I not only wholeheartedly support the right of citizens and members of the press to write, draw, and publish criticism of people's religion--even highly offensive criticism--I'm also moved to reiterate the absolute necessity of them doing so in a free society, and to oppose any and all notions that the state should somehow restrict the free expression of religious criticism.

To invoke Frank Zappa: Words. Just Words.

I sometimes get offended by things I see and read. But I am not harmed by them: instead, they provoke me to examine my thinking, at which point I may be offered, as Mill once said, "the opportunity of exchanging error for truth", or else "the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."

Moreover, I have the freedom to click away; to turn my head from the television; to not buy the magazine; to ignore; to forget.

When power--be it in the form of traditional government or self-appointed or state-sponsored terrorist forces--gets involved in restricting free speech, we no longer fully have those opportunities, perceptions, or rights. Because the end result of the restriction of speech by power is violence, as it was in Paris yesterday. And when people wind up dead, we no longer have anything at all--neither freedom, nor rights, nor, ultimately, breath.

Je suis Charlie.


  1. Anyone tell you that you need to write more often?

    1. Thanks, Carl. I definitely felt rusty whipping this together early this morning--I had to go back and correct myself several times and wound up making Son 3 late for school. It was like going to yoga class after avoiding it for months!

  2. "Because the end result of the restriction of speech by power, ultimately, is violence, as it was in Paris yesterday."

    And as it is in Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, etc. etc. All the places where the brute power of the world's superpowers isn't called "terrorism" but which should be.

    And how different, by the way, is the reaction of the French now from the reaction of the US after the Boston Marathon bombing. Talk about restriction of speech by power. Entire neighborhoods were locked down, put under military siege by our own government, whereas all over France the opposite is happening. Millions of people pouring out into the streets in solidarity, in support, in defiance. In speech.

    1. Agreed. That siege bullshit needs to be protested, loudly and often.

      Also: did you see General Hayden making the rounds, using yesterday's tragedy to trumpet the NSA and its unconstitutional privacy-invading? He actually said he felt the French would probably like to get their hands on all that saved cellphone metadata and use it to find the murderers. I wanted to throw things at the TV.

    2. The fucking mainstream media gives wankers like Hayden free rein to spout their bullshit. Just like that war criminal Cheney who gets invited in so-called news shows all the time.

    3. Lisa, I'm also reminded of the way the police/state stomped on the press during the Ferguson protests. Reporters had set up a de facto headquarters at the local McDonalds, a place to recharge their phones and submit reports and updates via laptops, and of course, refuel. The police, who felt the no-fly-zone wasn't doing enough to contain the stories about their misdeeds, stormed into the McDonalds in broad daylight and began ordering reporters to leave or be arrested. Several protested, saying this was a public place, they weren't doing anything illegal, under what authority were the cops making such orders? Some of them tried to videotape what was going on. For their trouble, reporters were ordered out, some at gunpoint, and some were roughed-up and arrested--one Huffington Post reporter was slammed into a soda machine, handcuffed, and taken to jail. He was held for a few hours--never charged--and when they ultimately unlocked the cell and ordered him to "leave", he asked for the paperwork so he could see what charges he'd been detained on. Of course, there was no paperwork and there were no charges. But he most definitely wrote about the episode.

      It's just one more naked attempt to restrict speech. No less disgusting than authoritarian states shutting down the Internet, as they did in Iran in 2009, which only led to people taking to Twitter on their cellphones, uploading photos of the revolution in progress.

      Expression is a deeply-engrained human need. Every effort to tamp it down ultimately fails, kind of like when you try to push an air-mattress under water: as one part is submerged, other parts pop up.

    4. But we live in a "free" country.

  3. This is all well and good, but you can believe everything you wrote without "being Charlie". Attaching your complex thought on a matter to a pithy slogan negates the nuance.

    1. There's something wrong with expressing support? Wow. Learn something new every day.

    2. davidly, attaching complex thought on a matter to a meta-concept in current use--represented by a slogan and/or hashtag--speaks to the very nature of blogging. Twitter, as useful as it is to disseminate ideas in real time, is by nature restrictive, pithy, and slogan-driven. Rather than confine thoughts to 140 characters, one can write a blog post, expand on the idea, and simply link to it in social media, which is how most of us publicize our work, as opposed to just screaming into a void. Maybe it would help to think of the "pithy slogan" as a headline designed for SEO.

      Je suis Charlie is not meant literally, obviously--it's a magazine--or even in the directly representational sense that "I, too, engage in that sort of deliberately offensive humor, so I am like Charlie". Rather, it is saying, "As Charlie Hebdo is under attack--literal, violent attack--for expression, so ultimately am I, whatever that expression may be."

      In any event, thanks for reading.

    3. Thank you for your reply, Deborah. I get where you are coming from, I just disagree that it is the right course. Blogging does not have one definable nature. You can choose to express yourself in any way you want. You have chosen to identify with someone who engaged in a way you do not, and would not.

      That's your prerogative, of course. But you are free to identify with the concept of free speech in a unique way - which is indeed the pinnacle of free speech.

      At any rate, when one attaches oneself to such slogans, they risk identifying themselves to others by way of something that just might have elements in it they'd think more than twice about.

      Sorry this isn't meant to be a lecture, just letting you know why I commented at all.

      Here is an example of how satirists (among them cartoonists) have replied to this whole thing, which I find pithy and effective because it says more than all of the above:

  4. H.A. Hellyer د. إتش @hahellyer
    If Muslims worldwide have to apologise for #CharlieHebdo, do Muslims worldwide have to be congratulated for #LassanaBathily? Just checking.
    12:15 PM - 10 Jan 2015

  5. "A Message From the Dispossessed"
    by Chris Hedges

    ". . . We have engineered the rage of the dispossessed. The evil of predatory global capitalism and empire has spawned the evil of terrorism. And rather than understand the roots of that rage and attempt to ameliorate it, we have built sophisticated mechanisms of security and surveillance, passed laws that permit the targeted assassinations and torture of the weak, and amassed modern armies and the machines of industrial warfare to dominate the world by force. This is not about justice. It is not about the war on terror. It is not about liberty or democracy. It is not about the freedom of expression. It is about the mad scramble by the privileged to survive at the expense of the poor. And the poor know it . . . ."

  6. "The cartoons of the Prophet in the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo are offensive and juvenile. None of them are funny. And they expose a grotesque double standard when it comes to Muslims. In France a Holocaust denier, or someone who denies the Armenian genocide, can be imprisoned for a year and forced to pay a $60,000 fine. It is a criminal act in France to mock the Holocaust the way Charlie Hebdo mocked Islam."

  7. Greenwald, as usual, nails it:


  8. I love Glenn's writing--he really does nail it, this time and always.

    #JeSuisCharlie, but far more importantly, #JeSuisFreeSpeech. Because Charlie, apparently, isn't always.

    Thanks for that, Lisa.