Charlie Hebdo And The Pressurisation To Conform With Racism

An unutterably heinous attack occurred yesterday in Paris perpetrated by Islamic extremists.
A prominent french satirical publication Charlie Hebdo lost members in the attack, a maintenance worker was killed and two police officers including a Muslim were killed. The assault has been characterised as an affront to freedom of speech with many governments and Muslim groups denouncing the barbarism.

The attack comes in the midst of a proliferation of anti-Muslim in Europe and the implications of it are far-reaching. In 2013 a Muslim woman was brutally attacked and suffered a miscarriage because of her faith. In the last few weeks Germany has seen an alarming number of protestors attending demonstrations which are anti-Muslim.
Muslims have also been subjected to arson attacks on their mosques in Sweden. The chasm between anti-Muslims and liberals will be compounded by this attack; anti-Muslim people will see this as a vindication of their prejudiced views and will be emboldened to increase their toxic rhetoric.

Thankfully there’s vigilance from some after this tragedy, quite cognisant of the perils of the hysteria that will ensue. After 9-11, America exploited the disaster to propagate their aggressive and evil foreign policy – a form of collective punishment – which ended up killing thousands of Muslims in the Middle East. Already we see the MI5 chief attempting to use this attack to justify expansions in power, a French minister advocated a collaboration from government and internet companies to suppress content construed as ‘hateful’ or ‘terrorism apologism’, and British PM, David Cameron insidiously said there should be no means of communication which the government can’t read. Anti-immigrants will too try and capitalise on the mourning by generalising Muslims and claiming they pose a threat to ‘our way of life’ completely oblivious to the fact they’re playing right into the extremists hands. Extremists want an “us vs them” mentality and this rhetoric encourages that. Sadly reports have emerged of reprisal attacks, mosques were attacked and other forms of violence towards Muslims ensued following yesterday’s tragedy, thankfully no one was killed but it lends credence to the idea that sensitivity after such an attack is paramount. What’s irresponsible is seeing some broadcasters providing a platform to a bigot like Anjem Choudary which serves to exacerbate people’s prejudice towards Muslims. There are many peaceful Muslims who could be solicited for their views, many who vehemently disagree with his extremist opinions and who could dispel the misconceptions about Muslims which contribute to the scourge of anti-Muslim prejudice.

After the calamity people understandably wanted to show solidarity with the irreverent Charlie Hebdo by glorifying and celebrating their work but parts of their satirical cartoons were problematic and incendiary. Some of their work contains caricatures of black people, Muslims and other minorities and is overtly racist in parts – being racist under the guise of satire is still racism and no amount of rationalisation will change that – under no context is depicting a black person as a monkey innocuous, which they have done. Being gratuitously provocative is a poor form of satire, effective satire is subversive and punches up not down. Throughout history art has been a force for good but it has also been utilised to peddle insidious ideas, quite often targeting subjugated groups; by dismissing it as “only satire” you insinuate art isn’t influential in constructing views which is manifestly incorrect.
Promoting content which is brimming with prejudice to the disregard of minorities is journalistically irresponsible; an integral part of being a journalist is judiciousness and that means being able to discern what content is problematic and the aforementioned content meets that criteria.
Extolling the virtues of freedom of speech is an admirable act but there are alternative non-problematic ways of doing that, than valorising prejudiced content which is antithetical to peace. What’s more perturbing is how a refusal to embrace this glorification of their work was met with disdain by several participants. Following the attack the sentiment arose that it was moral duty to celebrate and venerate their work and failure to do so is somehow tantamount to disrespecting their memory or a form of cowardice. In someways it’s rather reminiscent of the rhetoric following 9-11 – 5 days after the attack, Andrew Sullivan, a revered intellectual in America said this – “The middle part of the country – the great red zone that voted for Bush – is clearly ready for war. The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead -and may well mount a fifth column.” After 9-11 if you didn’t yield to the compulsion to support the ‘patriotic war’ you were a traitor standing with the enemy. Today, it’s if you don’t republish and glorify the work of Charlie Hebdo, you’re disrespecting your nation. Self-evidently the consequences are vastly different but the principle is the same: You’re either with us, or you’re with them. There is no dissonance in abhorring barbaric murder while simultaneously recognising the absurdity of being pressurised into celebrating work you perceive to be racist. Irrespective of whether their work was problematic or not, the assailants and the assailants alone are responsible for this attack, there is no rationalisation of any sort available for this nefarious act . You’d think this would be self-explanatory but journalists espousing the same view as I have are being accused of “victim blaming”

The Guardian’s editorial team encapsulated the fallaciousness of the assumption that to show solidarity to Charlie Hebdo one needs to republish the inflammatory pictures or one is disrespecting the memory of the satirists:

Some, though, are looking for other shows of support. In social media, the call has been loud – and aimed at several British newspapers, including this one – to take a stand by publishing the very images that made Charlie Hebdo a target. For the most vociferous, republishing a sample of the magazine’s usual fare, which the Guardian has already done, is not enough: they insist that true defenders of free speech would reprint Charlie Hebdo’s depictions of the prophet Muhammad, especially the crudest, most scatological examples.

That case is straightforward. Since these are the images the gunmen wanted to stop, the surviving free press is obliged to deny the killers that victory. No other gesture can show that we refuse to be cowed by their crime. By repeating Charlie Hebdo’s action, we would demonstrate our resistance to the edict the terrorists sought to enforce on pain of death. We show that Charlie Hebdo was not alone.

There is an appealing simplicity to that stance, but it rests on faulty logic. The key point is this: support for a magazine’s inalienable right to make its own editorial judgments does not commit you to echo or amplify those judgments. Put another way, defending the right of someone to say whatever they like does not oblige you to repeat their words.

In 2009, a satirist of Charlie Hebdo was fired for a joke perceived to be anti-Semitic and charged with a hate crime.
A true testament to someone’s commitment to freedom of speech is not whether they defend the right to views they deem acceptable but when they vociferously defend the right to views they find repellent. This is why people’s claim that Charlie Hebdo are a paragon of freedom of speech when they have succumbed to pressure to fire someone for lampooning Jews rings rather hollow.
In the summer of 2014 when the people of Gaza were embroiled in a brutal spree of bombing conducted by the IDF the French government banned Pro-Palestine protests, which hardly exemplifies a free society. The erosion of freedom of speech extends to their draconian libel and hate-speech laws. The coverage which has surrounded this disaster belies France’s record on civil liberties, showing support to France during their plight is essential but portraying them as this embodiment of freedom of speech is a mistake when their curtailment of free speech is well documented.

Another sad inevitability of an attack committed by Islamic extremists, is the expectation that Muslims globally should have to denounce or apologise for the attack and failure to so is tacit approval. This thereby implies that Muslims are complicit in extremism which self-evidently is ludicrous – Islam is not a monolith and with 1.6 billion Muslims in the world their faith has diversified. The interpretation of Islam those violent extremists subscribe to is in no way representative of the vast majority of Muslims in the world who are peaceful. This expectation evinces an implicit bias – namely that Muslims should be held to a different standard than the rest of us. When anti-Muslim fascist Anders Brevik perpetrated one of the most deadliest terroisist attacks in Europe, Norwegian Christians weren’t expected to apologise. George Bush and Dick Cheney engaged in a ferocious war against the Iraq people, and the American people weren’t expected to apologise. America continues to this to day to subsidise repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia which inflicts suffering onto the citizens of that country, but Americans aren’t expected to apologise. Israel has occupied Palestine and subjected their people to tyranny for decades, but Jews aren’t expected to apologise. Outrage at terror committed by extremist Muslims while completely overlooking how the West has contributed to extensive suffering to people in the Middle-East underscores the racialisied element of this – the notion that lives in the West are more valuable.

One of the trite retorts to the assertion that anti-Muslim prejudice is racialised is that racism towards Muslim is not possible because Islam is not a race. Some think adopting this line of reasoning is a sign of rationalism but it’s more indicative of a facile understanding of how racism works. No one has actually ever claimed Islam is a race, ergo this is a strawman but regardless, this piece of illogic has to be confronted considering its increased prevalence. Race is something which is mostly socially constructed by people to categorise groups of individuals. Throughout human history it has been a tactic by oppressors to categorise those who they deem inferior into an “other” in a way to rationalise their prejudice, targeting these groups becomes acceptable by convincing people they are simply different to us – more primitive or not as sophisticated. This phenomenon has also occurred with Muslim people, they’ve been socially divided into another group and this been internalised by many; generalisations about 1.6 billion people simply cannot survive without the perpetuation of misconceptions.
Furthermore Muslims are predominately non-white which can expose them to racially motivated bigotry. This explains why non-Muslims are violently targeted because of the perception they’re Muslim, why non-Muslims are racially profiled in airports, and why that when a Mosque is targeted by bigots the slogan inscribed onto the Mosque is “death to Arabs”; western society indisputably thinks of Muslims in racialistic ways. Not all criticism of Islam is racist, but it would be remiss to ignore the racial component of anti-Muslim prejudice, or to suggest as some do that because Islam isn’t a race you can’t be racist in your criticism of it.
In the west, white Christians are the hegemonic group in society wielding the power, this is why criticism of Islam has to be done with more tact and judiciousness because to more of an extent than Christianity the danger lurks that the criticism can be exploited to justify prejudice against Muslims.

This tragedy should be a time for reflection & unity. As we mourn the deaths of the innocent let us resist the temptation to prejudice. Hate only begets hate, instead of demonising law abiding citizens we should remain committed to the virtues we hold dear: Love, freedom, inclusiveness, justice, peace and acceptance.

Update: Another terrorist attack occurred shortly after with a police officer being killed and 4 civilians in east Paris also losing their lives bringing the death toll to 17 victims. 15 hostages were rescued and the culprits were killed.
We express our deepest condolences to the families of the victims.

Essential pieces to read which pertain to the tragedy:

In the Wake of Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech Does Not Mean Freedom From Criticism

How to draw Muhammad without being racist