Notes and Comment Blog

What happened in Baga

Jan 10th, 2015 5:33 pm | By

Amnesty International says, not surprisingly, that the attack on Baga may be Boko Haram’s worst massacre so far.

“The attack on Baga and surrounding towns, looks as if it could be Boko Haram’s deadliest act in a catalogue of increasingly heinous attacks carried out by the group. If reports that the town was largely razed to the ground and that hundreds or even as many as two thousand civilians were killed are true, this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught against the civilian population,” said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International.

“Disturbing” seems like a silly word there. Everything Boko Haram has done has been horrifying; to say this latest slaughter is disturbing is inadequate.


Boko Haram militants reportedly attacked Baga and surrounding towns on Saturday 3 January.

Since 2009, Boko Haram has deliberately targeted civilians through raids and bomb attacks with attacks increasing in frequency and severity.

The effects on the civilian population have been devastating with thousands killed and abducted and hundreds of thousands forced to leave their homes.

Evidence gathered by Amnesty International indicates that Boko Haram have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Nigerian government must investigate these violent abuses and ensure that those guilty of committing them are brought to justice.

No disagreement there.


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

Donohue to Muslims and artists: convert

Jan 10th, 2015 5:09 pm | By

Bill Donohue says we should all convert to Catholicism and then everything would be fine.

In an ideal world, Muslims who interpret the Koran to justify violence would convert to Catholicism, and artists who think they have an absolute right to insult people of faith would follow suit. If both did, we would have peace and civility.

Catholicism teaches that it is immoral to intentionally kill innocent persons, beginning with life in the womb. It is not a pacifistic religion—it believes in just wars—though it naturally inclines towards non-violence. It most certainly does not counsel violence as a right remedy to insolent behavior. Muslims who say it is morally justified to kill obscene artists, citing the Koran as their impetus, would do us all a favor if they converted to Catholicism.

Oh really? Catholicism naturally inclines towards non-violence? Catholicism does not counsel violence as a right remedy to insolent behavior? What was all that about the Inquisition then? What were all those burnings for? What were the crusades for? Why were church-run prisons for children in Ireland so rife with sadism?

What a bullshitter Donohue is.

Catholicism teaches that freedom is the right to do what you ought to do. As such, it is always tied to duty, and to individual responsibility. Once that understanding breaks down—as it has in the West—trouble follows.

Oh yes? What was and is all that about the rapey priests then? What was all that about shielding the priests and sending them to new parishes instead of reporting their rapes to the police? If that’s what Catholicism teaches, why is it so grotesquely bad at acting accordingly? Unless of course you simply define “what you ought to do” as obedience to stupid Catholic rules as opposed to respect for the rights of other people.

Unfortunately, many artists interpret their rights as a solo exercise, disconnected from duty or responsibility. But autonomy can never be a sturdy guide to morality: it devolves into relativism and to a wholesale disrespect for the rights of others. Narcissistic artists who associate obscenity with creativity would do us all a favor if they converted to Catholicism.

Ah so you are talking about the rights of others. But then why is church history so full of cruelty and exploitation? Why is its copybook so stained with blood and tears? Why has it been so horrible for so long?

The central problem with Muslim extremists and irresponsible artists is that neither embodies the virtue of restraint. If they did, they would not act as the barbarians and libertines that they are. Catholicism is the answer.

What a terrible human being he is.

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

Guest post: The kind of thinking that contributes to the vicious cycle of marginalization

Jan 10th, 2015 4:53 pm | By

Originally a comment by artymorty on A French style of anarchic left-wing social commentary.

There’s so much confusion and disagreement among liberals about whether CH’s cartoons are punching up (lampooning religious authority) or punching down (needlessly mocking an already marginalized group of people).

Many Muslims are marginalized in France, but Islamists and conservative Muslim leaders are not powerless. Quite the opposite: they derive a great deal of power by claiming to speak for Muslims as a whole, and they’re actively working to enrich their power by undermining secular values in the West.

They accuse those outside the religion who dare to challenge their power of intolerance, of racism, of punching down, as if criticism of any part of the dogma they’re selling is an attack on anyone who might have an investment with any other part of it.

There’s an array of people who identify as Muslim in diverse ways and to different extents; as liberals we surely agree that this is a good thing. But when liberals automatically conflate mockery of any part of Islam with “racist” attacks on Muslim people as a whole, they’re effectively letting the imams speak on behalf of everyone who happens to identify as Muslim, as if Muslimness is an unchanging, all-or-nothing, universal set of values that trumps any other part of a Muslim’s identity, be they doctor, merchant, social worker, single parent, left-handed, pescatarian, Center-Right, secularist, bicycle enthusiast, Arab, overly sarcastic, strawberry blonde, octogenarian, Type II diabetic, bisexual… whatever.

It’s that kind of thinking that contributes to the vicious cycle of marginalization.

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

Pencil v bullet

Jan 10th, 2015 4:28 pm | By

From World.Mic, some more cartoons about Charlie Hebdo

From the English-language newspaper Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed in Qatar:

From Makhlouf, a young cartoonist in Egypt:

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

A more precise characterization of Charlie Hebdo

Jan 10th, 2015 4:17 pm | By

From a comment by sff9 on A French style of anarchic left-wing social commentary:

It’s really not that complicated, CH’s staff are left-libertarians who enjoy over-the-top childish humor and practice hipster racism/sexism a lot. They fought racism by reproducing racist tropes with the intent of mocking them. All the sympathy that I had for Charb, Cabu, Tignous, and Wolinski, whose cartoons and comics I read or have read for years, does not change the fact that in a lot of ways CH’s spirit was akin to 4chan’s.

So while saying that the artists were racists is probably excessive, pointing out that a lot of CH’s cartoons are racist/sexist/islamophobic etc., or at least are problematic in this regard, and thus should not be thoughtlessly reproduced everywhere because their authors are now martyrs of the freedom of speach, does not seem so contemptible to me.

That makes sense to me, and it jibes with the sense I’ve gotten from the little I’ve seen of CH over the past few years. I don’t like the cartoons as cartoons, because I think the style is (deliberately) ugly and coarse. Saying it’s comparable to 4chan is a useful simile.

For a cartoon whose style I love, have a bit of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.

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

C’est tout

Jan 10th, 2015 11:51 am | By

Via Twitter

Frances Townsend ‏@FranTownsend 1 hour ago
“My brother was a Muslim…killed by people who pretend to be Muslims. they are terrorists, that’s it” #JeSuisCharlie

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That’s Malek Merabet, whose brother was Ahmed Merabet, who was shot in the head by one of the Kouatchi brothers as he lay wounded on the sidewalk.

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


Jan 10th, 2015 11:44 am | By

The BBC reports that some 700,000 people have taken part in marches across France to support free speech and Charlie Hebdo.

During the marches, some protesters held banners that read “I am against racism”, “unity”, or “I am Charlie” – the latter a reference to Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine whose Paris offices were attacked by brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi on Wednesday.

See there? Against racism and for Charlie – that wouldn’t work if Charlie were itself racist.

There’s going to be a massive march in Paris tomorrow.

Those set to attend Sunday’s rally include UK Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The rally will depart from Paris’s Place de la Republique at 15:00 local time.

Ahmed Merabet’s brother is anti-racist. He doesn’t consider the Kouachi brothers to be anti-racism campaigners.

The family of Ahmed Merabet, one of the police officers killed during Wednesday’s attack, gave an emotional news conference on Saturday.

Mr Merabet was “Muslim, and very proud of being a police officer and defending the values of the Republic”, his brother Malek Merabet said.

“Our family is devastated by this act of barbarity, and shares the pain of the families of all the victims.”

Malek Merabet added that “racists, Islamophobes and anti-Semites” should not confuse extremists with Muslims.

The family said they were “proud” of the gatherings that had taken place to commemorate the victims, saying they proved that France could be united.

It’s not Charlie Hebdo that’s racist, it’s the Kouachi brothers and their allies who are racist. It’s important to get this right. Ni le FN ni les Kouachis.

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

A French style of anarchic left-wing social commentary

Jan 10th, 2015 11:32 am | By

Facebook decided to ruin my mood by showing me posts by people I like ranting about the racism of Charlie Hebdo, as if it were self-evident and universally acknowledged. The idea is that Muslims are a marginalized group, therefore CH is racist.

O really? Then why did so many French Muslim groups immediately denounce the massacre?

The Grand Mosque of Paris, one of the largest in France, issued a statement on its website shortly after the attacks, saying its community was “shocked” and “horrified” by the violence.

We strongly condemn these kind of acts and we expect the authorities to take the most appropriate measures. Our community is stunned by what just happened. It’s a whole section of our democracy that is seriously affected. This is a deafening declaration of war. Times have changed, and we are now entering a new era of confrontation.

The Union of Islamic Organizations of France also responded on its website, writing: “The UOIF condemns in the strongest terms this criminal attack, and these horrible murders. The UOIF expresses its deepest condolences to the families and all the employees of Charlie Weekly.”

Hassen Chalghoumi, imam of the Drancy mosque in Paris’s Seine-Saint-Denis suburb, spoke with France’s BFM TV and condemned the attackers, saying, “Their barbarism has nothing to do with Islam.”

“I am extremely angry,” Chalghoumi said. “These are criminals, barbarians. They have sold their soul to hell. This is not freedom. This is not Islam and I hope the French will come out united at the end of this.”

Countless Muslim activists, leaders and authors took to social media Wednesday to express horror and dismay at the attack…

Then there is a long string of tweets.

A French woman commented on one of those “Charlie Hebdo is racist” posts:

Those cartoons are not, were not, inciting people to hate Muslims nor do they incite racial hatred. In fact, they represent only one subject tackled by those guys. Catholic church, politicians, and everything that made the news in France and abroad Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, etc. were given a fierce satyrical treatment under the pens of those very talented people. Some of these guys have been living with a death threat since they decided to go ahead and publish the Mahomet cartoons. For the paper and the journalists it was all about the freedom of speech and their right to exercise it. What happened today was despicable. You’re obviously not French and don’t know much about Charlie Hebdo and the cartoonists, so check your information before doing exactly what some our ‘lovely’ far right politicians will do in the next few hours, days that is incite racial hatred against Muslims in France.

And someone else on a different post:

Charlie Hebdot is more properly termed rude, vulgar, and blasphemous. It ridiculed radical Islam, the Catholic Church, religion in general, French xenophobia, the National Front Party, corrupt politicians of all stripes — it comes from a particularly French style of anarchic left-wing social commentary that goes back to the Enlightenment — the only American equivalent I can think of would be Lenny Bruce.

I think another might be Mad magazine.

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

Tens of thousands of Niçeoises

Jan 10th, 2015 10:49 am | By

In Nice today – via Twitter

RT ‏@RT_com 3h3 hours ago
Tens of thousands take to streets for silent #JeSuisCharlie march in Nice (Pic via @Orelip)

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

In the overlap

Jan 10th, 2015 10:06 am | By

I dislike Reason magazine most of the time, but there is some inevitable overlap on liberal and human rights values. One of those overlaps covers the disputes over Charlie Hebdo. Reason isn’t wrong on this one.

The massacre at the Paris offices of the venerable satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has been met with near-universal condemnation, but a growing chorus of self-appointed arbiters of good taste are going public, following up cursory denunciations of the murders with caveats that Charlie Hebdo is a “provocative,” “racist,” “Islamophobic,” “homophobic” publication who brought much of its trouble on itself.

Richard Seymour at Jacobin makes this point most succinctly in the final paragraph of his article…

Speaking of which, why are so many people passing around that article? Richard Seymour? Of Lenin’s Tomb? Come on.

Here’s that final para:

No, the offices of Charlie Hebdo should not be raided by gun-wielding murderers. No, journalists are not legitimate targets for killing. But no, we also shouldn’t line up with the inevitable statist backlash against Muslims, or the ideological charge to defend a fetishized, racialized “secularism,” or concede to the blackmail which forces us into solidarity with a racist institution.

Right. We should abandon “fetishized, racialized ‘secularism'” and settle down to theocracy instead. Theocracy is all about de-fetishization.

Jacob Canfield sneers at Charb.

Canfield spends much of his word count sneering at Charlie Hebdo‘s white editorial staff for having the temerity to satirize Muslims and their prophet, and cites this quote from a BBC profile on Charlie Hebdo‘s murdered editor, Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier, as evidence that he’s a “racist asshole”:

Charb had strongly defended Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad.

“Muhammad isn’t sacred to me,” he told the Associated Press in 2012, after the magazine’s offices had been fire-bombed.

“I don’t blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings. I live under French law. I don’t live under Koranic law.”

Charb defended Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons featuring Mohammed – yes, and? We’re all allowed to draw Mohammed. There’s nothing wrong with drawing Mohammed. Nobody should live under Koranic law, very much including Muslims. Theocracies give short shrift to human rights because they’re more concerned with putative goddy rights. Charb was on the right, just, freedom-loving, human rights affirming side of this question.

Self-described “Geeky Porn Starlet/Lecturer/Presenter/Sex Critical Feminist” Kitty Stryker wrote:

So, I’m generally pretty anti-censorship. I mean fuck, I just worked on a porn where we gently poked fun at the new British porn content laws by enacting all of them in a playful, consensual space. I am a big fan of art, and using humour to hopefully make people think and change their minds.

That said, I do not believe that racist, homophobic language is satire. I think it’s abusive, and I think it punches down, harshly and often.

Later, the “generally pretty anti-censorship” Stryker explicitly puts to words what so many others have danced around:

I don’t think that shooting up the Charlie Hebdo office was ethically Right with a capital R, ok? But I do think it’s understandable.

To steal a line from Bernard Williams, that’s one thought too many.

And it gives Anthony Fisher at Reason an opening I wish people wouldn’t give anyone:

These Social Justice Warriors must be very proud to be in the company of Catholic League President Bill Donahue, who yesterday opined:

“It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death,” said Donohue of Stephane Charbonnier, Charlie Hebdo‘s publisher.” 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.

People who use the pejorative “Social Justice Warriors” are assholes, so we shouldn’t give them excuses to use it.

USA Today published as a counter-point to its own editorial, an op-ed from “radical Muslim cleric” Anjem Choudary, who skips the mealy-mouthed platitudes about the right to free expression and instead puts the blame on the French government for not stopping Charlie Hebdo from provoking Muslims, “thereby placing the sanctity of its citizens at risk.”

This is because the Messenger Muhammad said, “Whoever insults a Prophet kill him.”

However, because the honor of the Prophet is something which all Muslims want to defend, many will take the law into their own hands, as we often see.

Choudary is a notorious outlier and flake and attention-seeker. He and Richard Seymour should get a room and set up a caliphate there.

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

Allons enfants

Jan 10th, 2015 9:42 am | By

Via AFP on Twitter:

AFP Photo Department ‏@AFPphoto 2 hours ago
More than 230,000 rally in France after Islamist attacks #AFP #JeSuisCharlie

Embedded image permalink

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

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!

Embedded image permalink

(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.)