Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

We bitterly regret and weep for the violence against Raif Badawi

Jan 9th, 2015 5:58 pm | By

The IHEU has a passionate and moving post on Raif Badawi.

It is reported that officials have carried out the first 50 lashes of a 1000-lashes sentence against Saudi liberal, Raif Badawi. The charges related to his running of a Liberal Saudi website, focused on advocating greater religious freedom, which was deemed “insulting to Islam” and a threat to the state.

The order papers indicated that the lashings should be “severe”. Witnesses said that despite the severity of the beating today, Raif Badawi “did not flinch; he held the victory symbol and [a] guard had to hold his hand down“.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has consistently protested the prosecution and detention of Raif Badawi, and today unreservedly condemns the punishment. (See also our recent call to action page.)

Then Bob Churchill adds:

We bitterly regret and weep for the violence against Raif Badawi.

Only yesterday it was reported that Saudi Arabia condemned theCharlie Hebdo shootings, and yet the authorities choose this week to brutalize a young man because he had the audacity to stand up and say that his countrymen should have greater liberty. The Saudi state’s condemnation of terror in Paris is hypocrisy of the highest order.

Around the world for many months, human rights groups have been calling for reprieve, for justice. Saudi’s Western allies have largely held their tongues, calling widely for a pardon only at the eleventh hour. They failed him. We must, all together, call it what is is —Saudi Arabia’s flogging of Raif Badawi is barbarity and torture, plain and simple.

My country is one of those allies – the US is one of Saudi Arabia’s Western allies. The UK is another. Canada is another. We’re all in this up to our tonsils.

Bob continues:

Raif Badawi was whipped in front of a mosque in public after Friday prayers. Not only is the sentence savage, and an absolute violation of human rights and dignity, but its execution is designed for maximum humiliation, for vengeance. It is a naked attempt to intimidate all those who question authority into silence.

King Abdullah has branded liberal values and atheist thought as acts of ‘terror’. The reality is abundantly clear today: Through corporal and capital punishment against all those branded “dissidents”, it is the kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself that acts as a terrorist. To all those who call for freedom of thought and expression, the state of Saudi Arabia is terrorist, no less than the murderers of journalists in Paris.

In less than a week they’ll do it again.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

To accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be challenged

Jan 9th, 2015 4:37 pm | By

A terrific essay by Kenan Malik – je suis charlie? it’s a bit late.

The expressions of solidarity with those slain in the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices are impressive. They are also too late. Had journalists and artists and political  activists taken a more robust view on free speech over the past 20 years then we may never have come to this.

Remember the fatwa on Rushdie? That’s when it started – people saying “wellllllllll maybe he really shouldn’t have…”

It’s partly fear, Kenan says, but not only that.

There has also developed over the past two decades a moral commitment to censorship, a belief that because we live in a plural society, so we must police public discourse about different cultures and beliefs, and constrain speech so as not to give offence.

In some ways, I do think we should do that (and I think Kenan would agree). I do think we should all refrain from shouting racist or sexist or homophobic epithets whenever we get irritated. I do think we should constrain our own speech in that sense. But discourse about beliefs? No.

So deep has this belief become embedded that even free speech activists have bought into it. Six years ago, Index on Censorship, one of the world’s foremost free speech organizations, published in its journal an interviewwith the Danish-American academic Jytte Klausen about her book on the Danish cartoon controversy. But it refused the then editor permission to publish any of the cartoons to illustrate the interview. I was at the time a board member of Index – but the only one who publicly objected. ‘In refusing to publish the cartoons’, I observed, ‘Index is not only helping strengthen the culture of censorship, it is also weakening its authority to challenge that culture’.

I remember that.

The irony is that those who most suffer from a culture of censorship are minority communities themselves. Any kind of social change or social progress necessarily means offending some deeply held sensibilities. ‘You can’t say that!’ is all too often the response of those in power to having their power challenged.  To accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be challenged. The right to ‘subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism’ is the bedrock of an open, diverse society. Once we give up such a right in the name of ‘tolerance’ or ‘respect’, we constrain our ability to confront those in power, and therefore to challenge injustice.

Yet, hardly had news begun filtering out about the Charlie Hebdoshootings, than there were those suggesting that the magazine was a‘racist institution’ and that the cartoonists, if not deserving what they got, had nevertheless brought it on themselves through their incessant attacks on Islam. What is really racist is the idea only nice white liberals want to challenge religion or demolish its pretensions or can handle satire and ridicule. Those who claim that it is ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic’ to mock the Prophet Mohammad, appear to imagine, with the racists, that all Muslims are reactionaries. It is here that leftwing ‘anti-racism’ joins hands with rightwing anti-Muslim bigotry.

That second link is to Bill Donohue’s press release, which is fitting. If Bill Donohue is echoing you, you’ve gone terribly wrong somewhere.

What is called ‘offence to a community’ is more often than not actually a struggle within communities. There are hudreds of thousands, within Muslim communities in the West, and within Muslim-majority countries across the world, challenging religious-based reactionary ideas and policies and institutions; writers, cartoonists, political activists, daily putting their lives on the line in facing down blasphemy laws, standing up for equal rights and fighting for democratic freedoms; people like Pakistani cartoonist Sabir Nazar, the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, exiled to India after death threats, or the Iranian blogger Soheil Arabi, sentenced to death last year for ‘insulting the Prophet’. What happened in the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris was viscerally shocking; but in the non-Western world, those who stand up for their rights face such threats every day.

They do. I know some of them; I’ve heard some of their stories.

What nurtures the reactionaries, both within Muslim communities and outside it, is the pusillanimity of many so-called liberals, their unwillingness to stand up for basic liberal principles, their readiness to betray the progressives within minority communities.

So don’t be that kind of liberal. Really don’t. Stand with the progressives, the Taslima Nasreens and Raif Badawis and Charlie Hebdos.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

In front of the al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah

Jan 9th, 2015 3:54 pm | By

Raif Badawi did receive those 50 lashes today.

What follows is making me writhe with rage and grief and more rage, so be warned.

The CBC reports:

“We received confirmation that the 50 first lashes were given this morning,” Mireille Elchacar told the CBC Radio showQuebec AM,adding that Badawi spoke with his wife not long after receiving his first 50 lashings.

“Of course she is devastated. I think he was not very fond of giving details to his wife to not scare her, so he did not give any more details.”

Elchacar, who is a spokeswoman for Amnesty International, said Badawi is not in good health.

“They decided to make him see a doctor before the lashing — to make sure he is in good health to receive the lashing … After the lashing, he was sent directly to his prison cell.”

They made him see a doctor to make sure he was “healthy” enough to be whipped 50 times. Nobody is healthy enough for that: there is no such form of health!

Amnesty International quoted a witness as saying the flogging took place before the public and security officials in front of the al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah.

In front of the mosque. After Friday prayers. I read somewhere (I don’t remember where now) that the watchers yelled the usual “Allahu akbar.”

Fuck Allah. Allah is an evil demon. Allah is the projection of people’s most horrible impulses and attitudes. Allah is a monster of sadism and domination.

“The whole ordeal lasted around 15 minutes. Afterwards, he was put back in the bus and taken away,” the group said in a statement.

Badawi, who was first arrested in June 2012 for  setting up the “Free Saudi Liberals” website, is sentenced to 50 lashings every Friday for the next 19 weeks.

Prosecutors had demanded he be tried for apostasy, which carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, but a judge dismissed that charge.

Yeah, right, except that 1000 lashes are fatal anyway.

Badawi’s website included articles critical of senior Saudi religious figures and others from Muslim history.

Saudi Arabia’s legal code follows sharia Islamic law. Judges are trained as religious scholars and have broad scope to base verdicts and sentences on their own interpretation of religious texts.

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday condemned the killings of 12 people in an attack on a French satirical newspaper which had lampooned Islam. But it has also in the past called for an international law to criminalize insults to the world’s main religions.

Fuck Saudi Arabia, too.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: The community of the potentially mockable

Jan 9th, 2015 3:23 pm | By

Guest post by Salty Current

I posted the other day just after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, referring to a film I’d recommended back in 2011 – It’s Hard Being Loved By Jerks.¹ It was a documentary about Charlie Hebdo’s decision to publish the Danish cartoons and the court case that followed. What was clear in the film was that the staff at CH, a leftwing, antiauthoritarian publication, were very concerned that their publishing the images not contribute to racism or be seen as supporting the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant Right. The choice of cover, with Mohammed in despair saying “It’s hard being loved by jerks,” was quite brilliant, targeting the Islamists and separating them from the Muslim community.

CH was almost uniquely in a position to print the images as a defense of free expression and the right to blaspheme, because over the years they’d targeted the sacred figures of numerous religions as well as atheists and all sorts of political leaders. They had also openly targeted racism in French society. They had been sued by the Catholic Right more than a dozen times in recent years. This history made their argument in court ring genuine: in addition to considering the right to blaspheme as fundamentally necessary to their art and journalism, they regarded targeting Islam’s sacred cows as a gesture of inclusion. They were saying they lampoon everything held sacred and lampooning Islam’s sacred symbols meant that they see Muslims as part of the French community, the community of the potentially mockable.

As Claire Jean Kim wrote in 2007,² referring not to mockery but to criticism:

Immigrants need protection from cultural imperialism and nativism, but receiving and giving moral criticism and engaging others on issues of moral concern are important parts of membership in a moral community. The risks of being seen as outside of this community may well be higher than the risks of being included. [emphasis added]

Even if you don’t believe that Charlie Hebdo was entirely effective in making their satire bulletproof in every case, such that it could never be seen or used to promote racism, this understanding of their motives shows them to be radically different from those of, for example, the FN.

I wanted to share this information for a few reasons. First, I didn’t want to see CH misrepresented, much less celebrated, as thoughtless or intentionally baiting or trying to marginalize Muslims. Second, because I didn’t want that fake-Voltaire defend-to-the-death narrative to take hold about respecting the freedom of speech of even the worst ideas, as if CH represented something we on the Left would find appalling. It doesn’t matter to the question of whether they should be murdered, but it matters to the shape our response takes: if they really were a racist publication, declaring “Je suis Charlie” would be considered inappropriate by many of us. We don’t have to agree with everything someone says to support their right to say it and condemn violence used to silence them (I’m sure many of the people in Muslim countries for whom we’ve expressed support have ideas I’d disagree with, and vice versa), but we can certainly have solidarity standards. Finally, I thought it was relevant to our understanding of just how tragic this attack was that they murdered people who were actively opposing racism and working to avoid promoting it.

Yesterday, I started to see comments asserting that CH was a racist and misogynistic publication. Since the film I’d recommended had been made in 2008, I considered the possibility that the paper had changed dramatically since then, and was open to evidence that this was the case. But these comments seemed to cite nothing, or only a single cartoon image devoid of any context or explanation. What surprised me most was the response to people providing the relevant context: without missing a step, the critics moved on to looking for other “evidence” of racism, to speculative hyper-parsing, to handwringing about imagined splash damage, and to reciting “Intent isn’t magic” and “hipster racism” like some sort of magical incantations, with apparently no concern that they were participating in smearing people who were just massacred for their courage in defending human rights.

The idea that the facts that CH self-identifies and is known by others to be an antiracist paper, that their intent, in one image cited, was to attack the racism of a rightwing publication, or generally that they’re engaged in satirical commentary on specific people, statements, or events about which we lack knowledge are somehow negligible factors in assessing the publication’s racism is bizarre. When I first posted links to videos of Stephen Colbert at Pharyngula, some people who weren’t from the US didn’t recognize it as satire; some people even in the US probably still don’t. But if Colbert were murdered like this, it would be atrocious to attack him in this way.

People have posted claiming that CH “was a publication that produced and distributed vile, racist material in the guise of satire. Unlike any satire worth the name, it punched down at already-marginalised minorities in an environment that just encouraged an intensification of preexisting anti-Muslim sentiment,” and that “When you say “I am Charlie Hebdo” and repost their racist, islamophobic (and most importantly inaccurate) cartoons, you’re not standing up for freedom of speech. You’re valorising hate speech and bullying of oppressed groups.” They’ve linked at FTB to posts calling the people at CH “a bunch of racist, sexist, shit-stain hacks” based on a few images with no context.

We owe these people better than this. They don’t have to be perfect in intent or effect to deserve some basic respect and fairness. Fair criticism of the publication and its successes and failures based on much more complete knowledge and a sympathetic understanding of the complexities of sharp political humor is fine, but probably can wait. But the vicious evidence-free attacks, the speculative hyper-parsing used to try to shore up preformed characterizations, and the willful ignoring of relevant factors look less like careful vetting than like thoughtless self-righteous posturing.

¹ Unfortunately, I no longer have it recorded, and I’m not finding it available anywhere. I hope Sundance or the filmmaker decides to replay it or make it available online.

² “Multiculturalism Goes Imperial: Immigrants, Animals, and the Suppression of Moral Dialogue.” Du Bois Review 4: 1, 233-249.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Astérix même est Charlie

Jan 9th, 2015 12:48 pm | By

Via Twitter

John Moffitt ‏@JohnRMoffitt 2h2 hours ago
#JeSuisCharlie I couldn’t be more proud to hear that 87 yr old Uderzo (father of Asterix) coming out of retirement!

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(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Ce sont Charlie

Jan 9th, 2015 12:41 pm | By

Via Samantha Power on Twitter

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(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Bright spots

Jan 9th, 2015 12:35 pm | By

Via Twitter – the popularity of #jesuischarlie

View this content on L'Express's website

That little bright spot in the northwest corner of the US/Southwest corner of Canada – that’s the Vancouver-Seattle corridor. C’est nous.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Anti-racism and a passion for equality among all people are the founding principles of Charlie Hebdo

Jan 9th, 2015 11:26 am | By

Stéphane Charbonnier in the Toronto Star in 2013 said firmly that Charlie Hebdo is not racist.

Charlie, our Charlie Hebdo, is feeling decidedly ill. Because an unbelievable lie is going around, among more and more people, and we hear it every day. According to them, Charlie Hebdo has become a racist sheet.

One day, an Arab taxi driver tells someone who works for the paper, whom he recognizes, to get out of his car – supposedly because of images mocking the Muslim religion. Another day, someone refuses to do an interview with us because he “doesn’t speak to a newspaper full of racists.”

We’re almost ashamed to recall that anti-racism and a passion for equality among all people are and continue to be the founding principles of Charlie Hebdo…

Mockery of religion does not equate to racism. Yes, it can be used as a proxy or stalking horse for racism or classism or xenophobia or other kinds of othering and hierarchy-policing. It can, but it needn’t, and it’s not right to treat the two as simply interchangeable.

Charlie Hebdo is the child of May ’68, of the spirit of freedom and insolence… The Charlie Hebdo of the 1970s helped to form the critical spirit of a generation. By mocking the powers and the powerful. By laughing, sometimes uproariously, at the ills of the world. And always, always, always by defending the human individual and his universal values…

It remains to understand why. Why has this ridiculous idea been spreading like a contagious disease? We are Islamaphobes, claim those who defame us. Which means, in their own kind of Newspeak, that we are racists. That’s how this backward thinking has won over so many people.

Forty years ago, it was considered obligatory to jeer, run down, even crap on religion. Anyone who set about to criticize the way the world was going could not fail to question the great power of the biggest clerical organizations. But according to some people, in truth more and more people, these days you’ve got to shut your mouth.

And yet, what could be less legitimate than the power of religious institutions? What could be more elitist and authoritarian and mystification-mongering than deriving authority from an absent god?

Charlie still devotes many of its cover illustrations to Papists. But the Muslim religion, imposed like a flag on innumerable people across the planet, as far away as Indonesia, must somehow be spared. Why the hell? What is the relationship, unless it’s just ideological, between the fact of being Arab, for example, and belonging to Islam?

We refuse to run away from our responsibilities. Even if it’s not as easy as it was in 1970, we’ll continue to laugh at the priests, the rabbis and the imams – whether that pleases people or not. Are we in the minority on this? Maybe, but nonetheless we are proud of our traditions.

That’s an example right there – in English*, the word “Papists” has a terrible ring: it sounds quasi-racist. But in France, of course, where Catholicism is the majority religion, it wouldn’t. As a Yank, I would never say “Papists” but I do say god-botherers; the strict meaning is fairly comparable.

Now, obviously, Charb wouldn’t have said “yes, we’re racist, so what?”…but then again he did say “yes, we bash religion, so what?” so maybe we really do get to take him at his word.

*outside Ireland, at least

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: Tehmina Kazi on Debunking Nine False Assumptions you may have heard in the aftermath of the Paris atrocities

Jan 9th, 2015 10:49 am | By

Tehmina sent me this Wednesday evening my time, moments after I’d gone offline for the day. It appeared at Left Foot Forward yesterday and now I’m cross-posting it (LFF is cool with that). Tehmina is the director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy.

Debunking Nine False Assumptions you may have heard in the aftermath of the Paris atrocities

False Assumption One

“Charlie Hebdo magazine was needlessly provocative.”

Manufacturers of outrage and assorted agitators do not need any kind of “provocation” for their actions.  When Jyllands-Posten published the Danish cartoons in September 2005, protests in Muslim-majority countries did not start until four months later.  Mona Eltahawy’s interview with Jytte Klausen, the Danish-born author of the Yale Press’s forthcoming book, “Cartoons That Shook the World,” recognised that lag. According to Yale Press’s Web site, she argues that Muslim reaction to the cartoons was not spontaneous but, rather, that it was orchestrated “first by those with vested interests in elections in Denmark and Egypt,” and later by “extremists seeking to destabilize governments in Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya, and Nigeria.”

Further, Quilliam Foundation Director and Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Maajid Nawaz re-tweeted a “Jesus and Mo” cartoon on 12th January 2014.  Most of the people who called for his de-selection – and helped to whip up the resultant furore – conveniently ignored his original mention of the cartoons on the BBC’s “Big Questions” programme earlier.  The broadcast itself attracted barely a whisper on social media.

False Assumption Two

“The Left should defend all expressions of Islam at all costs.”

Professor Karima Bennoune said it best in her article, “Why Bill Maher and Ben Affleck are both wrong” ( “We do not need either stereotypical generalizations, or minimizing responses to fundamentalism, however well-intentioned. What we need is a principled, anti-racist critique of Muslim fundamentalism that pulls no punches, but that also distinguishes between Islam (the diverse religious tradition) and Islamism (an extreme right wing political ideology).  We need support, understanding and to have our existence recognised.”

False Assumption Three

“The French hate Muslims, don’t they?”

From the Pew Global Attitudes survey 2014, which interviewed 7,022 citizens in seven European countries, 72% of French citizens polled said they had a favourable opinion of Muslims in their country (  This was higher than Italy, Greece, Poland, Spain, Germany, and even the UK.

False Assumption Four

“‘Not in our name’ campaigns are a real help!”

As well-intentioned as these undoubtedly are, they send out a problematic subliminal message to non-Muslims: that Muslims are unwilling to sort out the problems in their own back yard.  No-one is expecting us to eradicate all gender segregation in public events overnight, or to change the minds of all homophobic preachers in a few months, or to re-introduce music lessons in all Muslim-majority schools that have cancelled them.  No-one is saying that we have to devote several years of our lives and careers doing this (as I have). However, we are expected to make some effort to condemn obscurantism from all quarters, or as much as we are able to within our own circles of influence.  Given that the Qu’ran takes such a strong line on humans challenging injustice wherever we find it, this shouldn’t be too difficult.

False Assumption Five

“Religious minorities have less to gain from democratic freedoms than the majority.”

The same legislation that promotes freedom of expression also protects freedom of religion, and from religion.  Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion (unless state interference with these is shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim).  In a non-legal context, the culture of rights and freedoms we have in the UK leads to strong civil society projects that monitor anti-Muslim attacks, such as Tell MAMA.

False Assumption Six

“Condemnation is sufficient.”

Sombre press releases and widely-shared Facebook updates are better than nothing, but many of their authors have inadvertently contributed to the problem in the past.  How?  By endorsing blasphemy laws, treating the words of Zakir Naik and Junaid Jamshed as gospel, or turning a blind eye when feminist or progressive Muslim activists (like Sara Khan of Inspire) are viciously attacked for their work on Twitter.

False Assumption Seven

“It is always someone else’s fault.”

Then there are those who won’t even condemn acts of violence and terrorism, but automatically paint the attacks as false-flag operations, with a cast of extras to rival “Titanic.”  In my experience, attempting to reason with these people is a waste of time and energy.  Better to leave them to their echo chambers.

False Assumption Eight

“Beliefs deserve more protection than people.”

Under the Equality Act 2010, beliefs are only protected insofar as they apply to the rights of individuals.  For instance, it is unlawful for someone to discriminate against you because of your religion or belief (or because you have no religion or belief):

  • in any aspect of employment
  • when providing goods, facilities and services
  • when providing education
  • in using or disposing of premises, or
  • when exercising public functions.


False Assumption Nine

“The way forward is to treat each event as a passing accident of horror.”

Laissez-faire approaches like these have led us to the near-perpetual state of tragedy we are in.  These acts are neither passing nor accidental; they are part of one long atrocity continuum, compounded by mainstream society’s cowardice and unwillingness to champion unpopular causes.  Instead, campaigning groups that happily take on the far-right should challenge the Muslim right-wing with equal ferocity, rather than giving their behaviour a free pass.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: The problem with “je ne suis pas Charlie”

Jan 9th, 2015 10:32 am | By

Originally a comment by Salty Current on Charlie Hebdo is not racist.

This is a tough one. I don’t think you can legitimately make the claim that Charlie Hebdo was a racist publication, but to say as a blanket statement that it was not racist, full stop? That seems extremely unlikely, given what we know about the pervasiveness of racism*.

I didn’t write that title, but honestly if this is how people are going to be arguing, I don’t think a real discussion can be had. People haven’t been making general statements like “No one’s immune from racism.” They’ve been arguing for the past day or so that CH is a racist publication, using a couple of cartoons as alleged illustrations. The clear implication is that they are espousing racist ideas in the manner of Minute and other racist publications, using racist tropes and dog whistles for humor not caring about who’s hurt, or at the very least disregarding whether their content promotes racism. People are just flinging these claims out there and then failing even to acknowledge when the images’ context and intent are revealed to them.

The idea that racism is pervasive and so therefore they’re racist like everyone is just vacuous here. References to people you know who found certain (uncited) images racist are a problem. As was discussed on the other thread, many people are taking the images at face value, without knowing, in one case, that an image was explicitly targeted at a racist rightwing publication. People are interpreting the cartoons and speculating about their effects without knowing relevant facts about their targets, the contemporary political context, the historical context, CH’s history, the local history of visual humor, or their public reputation (the fact that they openly consider themselves to be and present themselves as an antiracist publication doesn’t, of course, mean that they’re purified of any racism, but it’s certainly relevant to the assessment of both racist intent and the local reception of the images).

Sure, but that implies there isn’t a racist Left.

No, it doesn’t. I’m trying to understand why people are seizing on a couple of putative examples as evidence of CH’s racism, ignoring their intent and the context of the images’ production and reception to cling to weak arguments about possible splash damage and so on. Why people are allowing others to declare that it’s a racist publication and “Je ne suis pas Charlie” and the like while demanding that anyone challenging these claims prove that CH is entirely free of any trace of racism, even unintentional, or let the claims stand. I find this morally and intellectually irresponsible, and I’m trying to understand the reasons people might be doing it. One motivation that I’ve experienced is that we recognize the danger of millions of people being seen as allied with and encouraging the FN and other violent far-Right European parties, so we want to make sure that isn’t the message we’re sending by showing solidarity with CH. But vetting CH shouldn’t mean demanding perfection, or failing to appreciate the complexities and pitfalls of political humor in this context. We’re far from perfect ourselves.

Charlie Hebdo’s intent with the particular cartoons that are appearing as examples, while important and significant, isn’t any more magic than anyone else’s.

Magic and highly relevant are not the same thing.

(I also know a few people who are clearly over-compensating because I know they do not know enough about not being white or the French cultural context to make a decent judgment on whether any of the cartoons are racist.)

I see it as wise and basic fairness to people who were just massacred to try to understand the situation as well as possible before forming judgments.

Ultimately, I don’t think it’s useful at this point to either make the claim that Charlie Hebdo was a racist publication or that it wasn’t racist at all. I think both are pretty clearly false. I do think it’s important to remember and celebrate and perpetuate what the victims stood for, even when their execution was flawed.

Ultimately, I think that’s an empty comment. It suggests that there is no definition of racist or possibility of intelligent investigation of the evidence to come to any even tentative conclusion. It fails to remember or perpetuate what they stood for, or even to show any real concern with finding out what they stood for.


Yes. He was. I’m appalled to see that racism, transphobia and misogyny defended.

This thread is about racism. You haven’t seen racism defended here. You’ve seen people who are trying to form a fair and informed impression of other imperfect human beings.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Redesigned in solidarity

Jan 8th, 2015 5:55 pm | By

From the IHEU –

IHEU ‏@IHEU 1 hour ago
The international symbol of humanism; redesigned in solidarity. …

#JeSuisCharlie #FreeRaif

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(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Bill Donohue shits on Charlie Hebdo

Jan 8th, 2015 5:50 pm | By

Bill Donohue put out one of his press releases yesterday, saying that the people at Charlie Hebdo deserved what they got.

Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated. But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction.

Those who work at this newspaper have a long and disgusting record of going way beyond the mere lampooning of public figures, and this is especially true of their depictions of religious figures. For example, they have shown nuns masturbating and popes wearing condoms. They have also shown Muhammad in pornographic poses.

Evil theocratic bastard. Yes we should and must tolerate satire of “religious figures.” There’s nothing special about religious figures, and they don’t get to have magic circles drawn around them. Bill Donohue lives in a secular democracy with strong protections for freedom of the press. If he wants Catholic fascism, he’ll have to emigrate (though I’m not sure where to; falangism isn’t very popular these days).

While some Muslims today object to any depiction of the Prophet, others do not. Moreover, visual representations of him are not proscribed by the Koran. What unites Muslims in their anger againstCharlie Hebdo is the vulgar manner in which Muhammad has been portrayed. What they object to is being intentionally insulted over the course of many years. On this aspect, I am in total agreement with them.

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. Muhammad isn’t sacred to me, either, but it would never occur to me to deliberately insult Muslims by trashing him.

Anti-Catholic artists in this country have provoked me to hold many demonstrations, but never have I counseled violence. This, however, does not empty the issue. Madison was right when he said, “Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuses of power.”

Vile, disgusting, hateful man.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

By Ana Juan

Jan 8th, 2015 5:40 pm | By

The New Yorker’s next cover, by Ana Juan:

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(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

In the name of “respect” of religions

Jan 8th, 2015 5:33 pm | By

Maryam also rejects the claim that the people at Charlie Hebdo brought the massacre on themselves or even perhaps deserved it.

A quick look at the English-speaking media shows that whilst many condemn the violence itself, they also assert that Charlie Hebdo courted (and maybe deserved?) a strong response from “Muslims”. Charlie’s regular cartoonists did not spare Islam, any other religion, nor fanatics and bigots.

This trend in the media requires our attention. Apparently secularists, agnostics and atheists must keep silent and do not deserve the kind of respect that believers are entitled to; nor can they enjoy free speech to the same degree.

Religion and religious figures deserve respect; people with no religion and thus no religious figures – they’re on their own.

In the name of “respect” of religions and of the religious sentiments of believers, it is indeed the fanatical religious-Right that is being supported and given centre stage. Meanwhile, those who are on the forefront of countering armed fundamentalists are left to their own devices. It is high time to give these secularists prominence, to recognise their courage and their political clarity and to stop labelling them “Islamophobic”.

In October 2014, secularists – including atheists, agnostics and believers from many countries, in particular many Muslim-majority countries, met in London to denounce the religious-Right and to demand being seen as its alternative. It is high time to learn from their analysis and lived experiences.

The tragic massacre in Paris will undoubtedly give fuel to the traditional xenophobic far-Right and the immediate danger is an increase in racism, marginalization and exclusion of people of Muslim descent in Europe and further.  We do not want to witness “anti-Muslim witch hunts” nor do we welcome the promotion of “moderate” Islamists by governments as official political partners. What is needed is a straightforward analysis of the political nature of armed Islamists: they are an extreme-Right political force, working under the guise of religion and they aim at political power. They should be combated by political means and mass mobilisation, not by giving extra privileges to any religion.

Their persistent demand for the extension of blasphemy laws around the world is a real danger for all. France has a long – and now growingly endangered – tradition of secularism; which allows dissent from religions and the right to express this dissent. It has had a rich tradition to mock and caricature powers that be – religious or otherwise. Let us keep this hard won right which cost so many lives in history, and, alas, still does – as Charlie Hebdo’s twelve dead and numerous wounded demonstrate.

There follows a list of signatures. You can add yours in the comments.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Charlie Hebdo is not racist

Jan 8th, 2015 4:52 pm | By

Salty Current has a post explaining the nature of Charlie Hebdo’s satire.

In 2011, I recommended a documentary about the paper and their struggles surrounding the publication of anti-Islamist cartoons. What struck me in the film, surprising given the paper’s (often self-promoted) image as not just irreverent but irresponsible, was how thoughtfully the people at Charlie Hebdo approached humor in this case.

Guess what, they didn’t approach it the way, say, Ricky Gervais does, basically saying that (as Salty puts it) “humor should offend.”

The attitude of the editors at Charlie Hebdo, as shown in the film, was quite different.

They recognized the potential for harm to innocent people and went to great lengths to avoid, as far as possible, provoking racist sentiment, trying to ensure that the humor itself was clearly targeted at Islamists and wouldn’t be seen as a characterization of Muslims generally. Rather than using an appeal to free speech as a blanket justification for any statements, they acted to defend everyone’s right to publish – without much support from the government or the rest of the French media – while remaining thoughtful about what they did say. Their publication of these satirical cartoons, they emphasized, formed part of a history of satirizing numerous religions and political tendencies.

The people at Charlie Hebdo have been courageous, refusing to shrink from sharply mocking even the most humorless and violent. But it would be a disservice to present them as heedless provocateurs or martyrs of a freedom of speech devoid of all content and ethical responsibility, or to react to this attack in a careless and stupid manner. As portrayed in the documentary, they represent an approach to humor that is as thoughtful and responsible as it is raucous and hard-hitting. That, I believe, should guide the response to this vicious attack.

I’ll have to see that documentary.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Nous sommes

Jan 8th, 2015 2:16 pm | By

Photos via Stephanie Beauge of AFP on Twitter:

New York Times World @nytimesworld · 4 hours ago
A crowd gathered in Toulouse for the national moment of silence for the #CharlieHebdo victims

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This one made me choke up:

Grégoire Lemarchand @greglemarchand · 5 hours ago
#JeSuisCharlie #AFP

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Bodies lay strewn on the streets

Jan 8th, 2015 1:50 pm | By

Meanwhile things continue to get more horrendous every day in northern Nigeria.

Bodies lay strewn on the streets of a key north-eastern Nigerian town following an assault by militant Islamists, officials have told the BBC.

The Boko Haram group attacked Baga town on Wednesday, after over-running a military base there on Saturday, they said.

Almost the entire town had been torched and the militants were now raiding nearby areas, they added.

Musa Alhaji Bukar, a senior government official in the area, said that fleeing residents told him that Baga, which had a population of about 10,000, was now “virtually non-existent”.

“It has been burnt down,” he told the BBC Hausa service.

Ten thousand people either killed or driven away – that’s “ethnic cleansing” on a large scale.

The BBC includes tragic pictures.

Boko Haram was now in control of Baga and 16 neighbouring towns after the military retreated, Mr Bukar said.

While he raised fears that some 2,000 had been killed in the raids, other reports put the number in the hundreds.

Fleeing residents spoke of the stench of rotting corpses on the streets and surrounding bushes, he said.

That’s Boko Haram.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Free expression without the right to criticise religion is meaningless

Jan 8th, 2015 1:01 pm | By

Maryam wrote a letter to Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief, Gerard Biard.

Dear Gerard

I spoke on a panel with you in November last year at the International Feminist and Secular Network in Paris.

I am writing to express my outrage at the cold-blooded murder of freethinkers at Charlie Hebdo today and to give my unequivocal support.

Freedom of expression and the criticism of religion and Islam are basic rights. Clearly, free expression without the right to criticise religion is meaningless. Throughout history, criticism of religion (that which is deemed sacred or taboo) has been intrinsic to human progress.

And that, of course, is exactly why the murderous theocrats hate it and kill it wherever they can. They don’t want human progress. They want human stagnation and submission, with themselves as enforcers.

The Islamists who killed today said they were “avenging” Islam’s prophet but Mohammed cartoons are merely an excuse. The aim of such acts of terrorism – whether in Paris or Afghanistan – are to defend their theocratic and inhuman values. They must know that we too will defend our human values – secularism, equality, citizenship, the right to religion and to be free from religion, the right to criticise and mock religion… which are not “western” values but universal ones.

Today’s killers are part of the same movement that massacres schoolchildren in Peshawar, throws acid in the faces of “improperly veiled” women in Iran and crucifies secularists in Kobane.

And destroys whole towns in Nigeria.

The battle to commemorate the lives lost today is an ongoing one. It’s a battle between secularists versus theocrats everywhere. And it is a fight that we have to win. No ifs or buts.

In solidarity

Maryam Namazie

She’s right you know.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Raif Badawi will get his first installment of lashes tomorrow

Jan 8th, 2015 11:47 am | By

A press release from CFI – more horror in the world – this time not from people we can safely label terrorists but from our motherfucking allies. This isn’t black-clad murderers storming an office in Paris, it’s Saudi Arabia in all its respectable state glory, meting out ONE THOUSAND LASHES to Raif Badawi for the crime of uttering humanist values in public.

Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian human rights activist serving a decade in prison for “insulting Islam” and running a liberal website, will begin to suffer the first 50 of his 1000 lashes tomorrow morning, the Center for Inquiry has learned. CFI demands that the Saudi Arabian government end this persecution, forego this brutal punishment, and free Raif immediately.

“It’s not too late for Saudi officials to discover their humanity and make the choice to spare Raif this barbaric cruelty,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of CFI. “The notion that Islam or any religion must be protected from questioning is incompatible with fundamental human rights, and can motivate extremists to engage in outrageous acts, as confirmed by the attacks in Paris. It is human beings who deserve respect, and it is the right to free expression that must be protected.”

Said Lindsay, “We unequivocally demand that Raif not be harmed and that he be released without charge, and we also ask the world community to stand with us in pressuring Saudi Arabia to do the right thing.”

Badawi, a 30-year-old father of three, was convicted of “insulting Islam” and other crimes of dissent in 2013 for helping to found the website Liberal Saudi Network, which was dedicated to fostering debate on religion and politics, and promoting respect for the freedom of religion, belief, and expression, as well as women’s rights. For his crime, Badawi was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes, which was in May increased to 10 years and 1000 lashes, plus an onerous fine and a ban on travel and access to electronic media for 10 years following his prison term.

A Saudi Government official will flog Badawi in public after Friday prayers in front of al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah.

In December, CFI acquired a rare official judicial document from Saudi Arabia’s criminal court in Jeddah, which outlined the quasi-theocratic reasoning upon which it punishes those who dare question the government or its interpretation of Islam. More:

CFI has repeatedly spoken out on Badawi’s behalf at the UN Human Rights Council, and on one such occasion this past July, the Saudi delegation tried unsuccessfully to shout down CFI’s spokesperson. In addition, CFI has also held protests, waged publicity campaigns, and worked alongside diplomatic allies to free Raif Badawi and return him to his family. Learn more about CFI’s efforts to fight blasphemy laws and other forms of religious persecution at the Campaign for the Free Expression. (

It’s absolutely horrific, and these are not criminals hunted by the police, they are government officials in a state that is an ally of the US and the UK and other more-or-less secular democracies. Never forget that. Our governments suborn covertly endorse these horrors.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

They’re filling the streets in Amsterdam

Jan 8th, 2015 11:25 am | By

Via Twitter

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)