The Abuse Of Satire
April 11, 2015 12:53 PM   Subscribe

"The French tradition of free expression is too full of contradictions to fully embrace. Even Charlie Hebdo once fired a writer for not retracting an anti-Semitic column. Apparently he crossed some red line that was in place for one minority but not another." -Garry Trudeau ruminates on The Abuse Of Satire in The Atlantic.
posted by hippybear (126 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
I read this earlier and I'm happy he said it. The punching down thing has always bothered me, as well as the double standard.
posted by nevercalm at 1:16 PM on April 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


Well, getting squicked out by anti-Semitism might have something to do with that WWII genocide thing, just maybe.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:17 PM on April 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


Perhaps my earliest memory of reading was reading Doonesbury cartoons. Not Peanuts, which I suspect I read earlier still... but Doonesbury. Which did, in fact, quite intelligently punch up. Even as a kid, I knew there was something there that was rather different and subversive... and a lot more prone to irony and intelligence than everything else in the comics at the time. I didn't always understand the jokes back then, but it made me *want* to understand them, and want to understand the world better, which was absolutely important.

It's good that someone who is a serious comic artist is pointing out the fact that Charlie Hebdo is not great art worth championing, just because it's offensive. Comics, by their very nature, need to communicate clearly, and excel at doing so. The good ones communicate about universal themes... and you can't do that and embrace racism at the same time.
posted by markkraft at 1:17 PM on April 11, 2015 [15 favorites]


Some of the core concepts in this piece seem generalizable to a variety of discussions:
Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean. [...]

What free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged. They’re allowed to feel pain. Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility. At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.
posted by Little Dawn at 1:20 PM on April 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


If someone says "if you make fun of me, I'll kill you", it is not punching down to not let that stop you. Charlie Hebdo makes fun of everyone, particularly everyone whose ideas have power and influence and need a bit more examining; and power is not less real when it comes from the barrel of a gun.

Also, his comment on the antisemtic column incident is dishonest framing that conflates unalike things.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:33 PM on April 11, 2015 [41 favorites]


Well, getting squicked out by anti-Semitism might have something to do with that WWII genocide thing, just maybe.

He claimed that a specific individual, Jean Sarkozy, was about to convert to Judaism to further his career. That's a bit different from, say, claiming that a historical character might be upset over what his more extreme followers are up to these days. "Cue outrage, argument, counter argument, argument. Was the original statement anti-Semitic? For Val, there was no doubt. Siné's statements, he said last week, 'could be interpreted as making a link between conversion to Judaism and social success' and that they spread the old stereotype associating Jews and money."
posted by effbot at 1:36 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


You know, there's a difference between attacking someone's race and attacking their religious beliefs.
posted by Segundus at 1:44 PM on April 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Alan Berg (January 1, 1934 – June 18, 1984) was an American attorney and Denver, Colorado, talk radio show host. Berg was notable for his largely liberal, outspoken viewpoints and confrontational interview style.
On the evening of June 18, 1984, Berg was fatally shot in the driveway of his Denver town home by members of the white nationalist group, The Order. He died immediately. Ultimately, two members of The Order, David Lane and Bruce Pierce, were convicted for their involvement in the case, though neither of homicide.

Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.

I am uncomfortable with Garry Trudeau's understanding of inciting violence.
posted by Bobicus at 1:45 PM on April 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


Also, can we drop this 'punching down' shit? We're not to criticise the KKK because they're all poor?
posted by Segundus at 1:46 PM on April 11, 2015 [30 favorites]


I, and most of my colleagues, have spent a lot of time discussing red lines since the tragedy in Paris. As you know, the Muhammad cartoon controversy began eight years ago in Denmark, as a protest against “self-censorship,” one editor’s call to arms against what she felt was a suffocating political correctness. The idea behind the original drawings was not to entertain or to enlighten or to challenge authority—her charge to the cartoonists was specifically to provoke, and in that they were exceedingly successful. Not only was one cartoonist gunned down, but riots erupted around the world, resulting in the deaths of scores. No one could say toward what positive social end, yet free speech absolutists were unchastened. Using judgment and common sense in expressing oneself were denounced as antithetical to freedom of speech.

This was only after a group of religious leaders wilfully spread falsehoods about what the paper had done. The Akkari-Laban dossier was the spark for violence, not the cartoons themselves.
posted by Thing at 1:46 PM on April 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also, can we drop this 'punching down' shit? We're not to criticise the KKK because they're all poor?

Intersectionality called, it would like to meet you sometime and explain that privilege and power aren't unitary and that a person can be advantaged by their race while being disadvantaged by their class.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:48 PM on April 11, 2015 [76 favorites]


The major organized religions make the very-short list of the most powerful--and most oppressive, and most regressive--entities in the world. If they're not fair targets for satire, there are no fair targets for satire.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 1:48 PM on April 11, 2015 [39 favorites]


You know, there's a difference between attacking someone's race and attacking their religious beliefs

Except when the one is commonly used as shorthand for the other.
posted by Artw at 1:55 PM on April 11, 2015 [15 favorites]


I dunno, "don't punch down" is a decent enough general rule but humor is a lot more complicated than that. Trudeau and many others conflate "inappropriate/wrong/mean" with "unfunny," which just isn't always true. He ends with "if no one's laughing, maybe you crossed the line." I'd say if no one's laughing, you almost certainly did not cross the line. If only bigots are laughing ... but actually, even if everyone's laughing, you might still have crossed a line. We may all want material that crosses our particular lines to never be funny, but that doesn't make it so.

With satirical humor, it's even more true that punching up is better than punching down, but on its own, punching up can get tiresome and preachy -- it's usually leavened with a whole lot of "punching sideways" at the satirist/reader's peer groups and status equals, and Doonesbury in fact has always been a great example of that -- at its peak, the political storylines were leavened by Zonker storylines that satirized hippie and post-hippie culture, and more recently it's been Mike's yuppie startup business career, May-December marriage, and cynical teenage kid.

And then, as George_Spiggott and Segundus point out, there's the question of what exactly you're punching at -- the people themselves, or their institutions / some particular aspect of their beliefs? The context really matters.
posted by neat graffitist at 1:56 PM on April 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


Not only was one cartoonist gunned down, but riots erupted around the world, resulting in the deaths of scores. No one could say toward what positive social end, yet free speech absolutists were unchastened.

"Unchastened." Jesus. They should have been chastened by the murders, Garry? Fuck that, and you. And talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations: we only expect someone to refrain from killing in response to irreverence if they're of European ancestry or something, because y'know, those other people can't control themselves and the constraints of civilization aren't really their thing? Damn. Who's the real bigot in this formulation?
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:04 PM on April 11, 2015 [33 favorites]


The major organized religions make the very-short list of the most powerful--and most oppressive, and most regressive--entities in the world. If they're not fair targets for satire, there are no fair targets for satire.

Yes, but who is primarily affected? Is it the oppressive religious institutions, or is it Muslims who are already at a social disadvantage in a country in which they're a minority?

By speaking of "religion,"as a single concept, as the target of satire, are we losing necessary nuance to use satire both as an effective medium of social change, and as a way of behaving with sensitivity towards disadvantaged people? Do we gain something by not saying "it's religion, it's powerful, therefore it's a valid target," and considering the differences between religious institutions, followers - or even just considering the diversity of thought and opinion among people who follow it?
posted by teponaztli at 2:05 PM on April 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.

While you can well propose that satire should attack privilege and authority, satire has for its whole history also ridiculed the powerless.

And besides, ideas are never powerless and never people. The fact that bad ideas often oppress the weakest people is all the greater reason to mock those ideas.
posted by Thing at 2:09 PM on April 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


The fact that bad ideas often oppress the weakest people is all the greater reason to mock those ideas.

Well said. In the same way that taking shots at the horrific conduct or damaging, oppressive and exploitative dogma of the Catholic church isn't attacking poor catholics; rather the opposite.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:14 PM on April 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


I wouldn't exactly call it free speech absolutionism to think that one should be safe to draw some cartoons, no matter how distasteful they may be (I haven't looked). Important social institutions do require maintenance, and when they're under attack is not the time to back off from defending and exercising them.

It's funny that the article mentions responsibility when the people who perpetrate the actual violence are always being absolved of theirs. We're told (in so many words) that cartoons caused offense, shootings, riots. We're even told that certain heinous missteps by the US in some areas are now causing beheadings, acid attacks, and the enslavement of women.

Ask yourself this: what bad thing could I say or show to you that could cause you to behead me? If the answer is "Nothing", then congratulations, you're not a psychopath. Yet our expectations change when some issues/people are involved. That, if anything, is what comes across as bigotry. It's essentially treating certain (mostly nonwhite) people like children. Majid Nawaz calls this the new Orientalism, and it can be hard not to see the point.
posted by pixelrevolt at 2:17 PM on April 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


The problem with the punch up/punch down metaphor is that it can fall so easily into this implicit vision of a reified Oppression Great Chain of Being where everybody has some clearly-identifiable vertical position relative to everybody else, which I think from an intersectional point of view seems like a drastic oversimplification of something that's constantly shifting depending on context. It's sort of a condescending view of Islam to take too, where it's reduced to a sort of undifferentiated subaltern that may be punched down to en masse and will naturally punch back up in return (e.g., by violating a religious prohibition on depicting the prophet that many currents of Islamic thought and jurisprudence don't even have).

I feel like this particular flavor of liberal guilt is just the narcissism of the Western elites repeating itself in a new key, where it's still a vision of the world where they're the only class that has any agency, they're just pictured as using it for evil rather than good.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 2:19 PM on April 11, 2015 [27 favorites]


In the same way that taking shots at the horrific conduct or damaging, oppressive and exploitative dogma of the Catholic church isn't attacking poor catholics; rather the opposite.

And yet anti-catholic tropes have tended to caricature and lampoon those exact same poor Catholics (and even more so if they were immigrants).

That said, even the shittiest and vilest art (which these cartoons are very much not) does not merit violence. The violence is what is vile and should be condemned; bad and offensive art should be met with better art.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:22 PM on April 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


As usual, Trudeau is inconsistent. I'm sort of interested in what Trudeau wants people to do? Perhaps he thinks imposing fundamentalist islam on those who are not islamic is not really a problem?

Except when the one is commonly used as shorthand for the other.

So, that makes the target exempt for criticism or satire? All they need is a religion which conflates somewhat with their lineage? I agree that there is a fine line to tread in certain cases, but publishing a picture of Muhammed is certainly not a criticism of the imagined attributes of a race -- it is of a religion.

And in particular, it is of applying the repressive constraints of ones religion on others. There's nothing wrong with not drawing or looking at images of M. if you are a muslim -- this kind of prohibition is common in other religions for a variety of interesting and potentially valid reasons. There is a BIG problem if you require everyone else in the world to abide by that rule otherwise you go apeshit. The picture of M. is not just a picture of M., but a proxy for a lot of other garbage that comes with this fundamentalist worldview.

The cartoonists are perfectly right to stick a huge middle finger in the direction of the fundamentalists. We do this all the time, to idiotic christians in the states, and even for the fundamentalist jews cozy in their illegal west bank settlements, or areligious hippies who fantasize that non-hierarchical structures and absolute tolerance is somehow the way things are accomplished in human society. I don't see why muslims who think others should pretend to believe what they believe should be exempt.
posted by smidgen at 2:43 PM on April 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


You know, there's a difference between attacking someone's race and attacking their religious beliefs.

Unless you're the one being attacked.
posted by klanawa at 2:47 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Charlie Hebdo columnist (and also sociologist, human rights and feminist activist) Zineb El Rhazoui recently gave her opinion on this topic during a Q&A at the University of Chicago Law School. She's currently facing death threats.
posted by elgilito at 2:53 PM on April 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Now that Gary Trudeau has finished his enjoyment of the fruits of free speech, he has decided it's overrated.

Tiresome.
posted by gsh at 3:02 PM on April 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


I read this earlier and I'm happy he said it. The punching down thing has always bothered me, as well as the double standard.

Yeah, because murdering unarmed people who say things to annoy is not at all an abuse of power. What was she wearing and saying when she got raped, well then, I guessed she *asked* for because she was mouthing off at the guy. Nice to know what the sick society is pushing down our throats these days.

Murder is the ultimate abuse of power. I don't care if the death sentence is decreed by the state or by a cowardly grassroots organization. Trudeau's speech was vile on every imaginable level, and though he has the right to say it without worrying if some offended person will kill him for it, he really has become the trembling Establishment. Too bad.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 3:10 PM on April 11, 2015 [20 favorites]


It's impossible to abuse satire.

Even though I've never laughed at a single "Doonesbury" ever, I get what he's trying to make fun of in the couple of strips I have seen and can see how it may ruffle a few establishment feathers.
posted by Renoroc at 3:18 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The initial quote there:

"The French tradition of free expression is too full of contradictions to fully embrace. Even Charlie Hebdo once fired a writer for not retracting an anti-Semitic column. Apparently he crossed some red line that was in place for one minority but not another."

This just kind of shows that Trudeau does not understand what he is talking about, at all. Charlie Hebdo's attacks on Islamist fundamentalism can be located squarely in a very long French tradition of anti-clericalism. Many of their depictions of Muhammad etc could be changed to "a priest/bishop/cardinal" and would be indistinguishable, except for style, from radical anti-clerical satire from 100 or 150 years ago (or from their depictions of recent popes, for that matter).
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 3:25 PM on April 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Also, can we drop this 'punching down' shit? We're not to criticise the KKK because they're all poor?

Correct! Don't criticize them because they're poor, criticize them because they're white supremacists.
posted by DGStieber at 3:44 PM on April 11, 2015 [12 favorites]


If someone says "if you make fun of me, I'll kill you", it is not punching down to not let that stop you.

If they had stuck with satirizing terrorists, it would not be punching down. However, Muhammed cartoons are more broadly also offensive to Muslims. It shows a lack of sophistication in your satire when you hit a much wider target than you intend. Punch up against a few murderers, but punch down at million innocents with the same act? Still punching down, for the most part.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:46 PM on April 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


So many cartoons of the hijab/burqa, but none of high heel shoes. The Catholic church is in a position of power and authority in French culture. Muslim and Jewish citizens are already the targets of daily xenophobic hatred; I'm not sure that Charlie Hebdo is serving its purpose by overly focusing on either group. They would do better by focusing more on attacking the belief that Muslims or Jews don't firmly belong in French society, which I realize they already do.
posted by Golden Eternity at 3:57 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


And here I thought the Abuse of Satire was reserved for the top comment to any Reddit thread.
posted by Catblack at 4:15 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


However, Muhammed cartoons are more broadly also offensive to Muslims

I would dispute this. Are they really ("broadly offended")? Certainly some are. Why is that some muslims are offended? And why should we be concerned that they are offended? Note that drawings (and films!) of Moses appear without incident, yet fall under the same rubric under some varieties of Islam.
posted by smidgen at 4:20 PM on April 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Well, The Last Temptation of Christ certainly caused millions of Christians to get mighty upset. So it's certainly possible to upset large amounts of christians with a artistic depiction (and that wasn't even intended to cause upset). Dogma wasn't well received by many Catholics either (and that was closer to a direct critique, but still not an overt attack on the faith).

So yeah, plenty of art has upset millions of christians (even when they haven't seen the art in question), and that art wasn't intended to be offensive. What would be the reaction at art that was intentionally offensive (well in one case a large attempt to defund all of public art in the US).

So lets not pretend that Muslims are some special group that can get upset but christians (and other faiths) are far more advanced than that. It ain't true.
posted by el io at 4:27 PM on April 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


I must have missed all the pointed and nuanced satire of Islamic fundamentalism in the Charlie Hebdo cartoons between the caricatures of turbanned bearded guys with big noses bent over and showing their anuses.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 4:38 PM on April 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


And why should we be concerned that they are offended?

The same reason you should always care about that, because it can be hurtful to offend someone, especially members of a minority group such as Muslims in Europe. If you can make your point without doing that, it's usually the better way to go.

Doesn't mean you can never say something offensive, just make sure it's really the right thing to do in the particular circumstance. People, unfortunately, do sometimes just use satire as an excuse to be hateful and offensive.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:44 PM on April 11, 2015


Ask yourself this: what bad thing could I say or show to you that could cause you to behead me?

This is a great point about, not just nuance, but about what it means to be civilized. When your reaction to verbal insult is violence, you're simply not a civilized human being. Go ahead, be angry. Pass laws. Beheading? Sorry, you lost your human card.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:56 PM on April 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's almost tautological that it's impossible to make a point powerful enough to justify your murder in your killer's mind without stepping on a few toes. It seems obvious to me that if the message was important enough to be killed for, that it must have been the right thing to do in that particular circumstance.
posted by Bobicus at 4:58 PM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just a brief invitation, for anyone actually inclined to engage in these topics fully again, to visit the original, very deep-reaching Charlie Hebdo thread. I'm seeing familiar straw men being trotted out, and it's just too late here to point them all out again.
posted by progosk at 5:00 PM on April 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Drinky Die, do do yourself the 30-minute favour of watching the U of Chicago Q&A by Zineb el Rhazoui elgilito linked above, in order to avoid falling prey to the "islamophobia" ploy, a neat tool to silence critique of an ideology, under the cover of protection from "offence".
posted by progosk at 5:09 PM on April 11, 2015


Beheading? Sorry, you lost your human card.

Oh, hey, can I play that game?

Cowardly drone strikes killing innocent civilians at funerals, wedddings? Sorry, you lost your human card.
posted by el io at 5:10 PM on April 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


This brings to mind the Suey Park #CancelColbert campaign, but also reminds me of Douglas Hofstadter's "A Person Paper on Purity in Language," and its Post Scriptum, in particular (WARNING: a very offensive word appears in the quote below!):
Perhaps this piece shocks you. It is meant to. The entire point of it is to use something that we find shocking as leverage to illustrate the fact that something that we usually close our eyes to is also very shocking. The most effective way I know to do so is to develop an extended analogy with something known as shocking and reprehensible. Racism is that thing, in this case. I am happy with this piece, despite-but also because of-its shock value. I think it makes its point better than any factual article could. As a friend of mine said, "It makes you so uncomfortable that you can't ignore it." I admit that rereading it makes even me, the author, uncomfortable! Numerous friends have warned me that in publishing this piece I am taking a serious risk of earning myself a reputation as a terrible racist. I guess I cannot truly believe that anyone would see this piece that way. To misperceive it this way would be like calling someone a vicious racist for telling other people "The word 'nigger' is extremely offensive." If allusions to racism, especially for the purpose of satirizing racism and its cousins, are confused with racism itself, then I think it is time to stop writing.
I'm really conflicted.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:11 PM on April 11, 2015


Aya Hirano, please do a quick search of the original CH thread for "context" - but be sure to let yourself be pleasantly surprised by the abundance of helpful material you will find.
posted by progosk at 5:15 PM on April 11, 2015


It's frustrating to talk about this because too many people (most of whom are ignorant of context and history) want to impose a dichotomy on the discussion where criticisms of things like racism in satire are the same as endorsing the murders of offensive cartoonists. This piece isn't really exploring that well; it's too centered on Trudeau, and sort of gets tangled in the same bizarre false dichotomy it's criticising. This is one of the better pieces I've read so far.

Anyway, it's frustrating, because while not nonstop, Charlie Hebdo do apparently have a persistent pattern of utilizing racist imagery, even when calling out racists; being a modern French Muslim is not an enviable position; and there have been cases of backlash violence and treating those who do not align with free speech absolutists as potential terrorists and so on. There is a lot of context, nuance and history here, that quips about directional punching and statements that French satire is just like that won't dispel.

I'm quite familiar with French and European (mostly printed in French) comics, actually, and there is a history of using racist imagery there. I love Hergé, but I don't believe that stuff like this is above criticism simply because they happen to be European cartoons. It's correct to say that that was society at the time, and that's a history that should not be buried, but that doesn't make it somehow beyond criticism; they're ugly images, even though they're largely free of malice. It can be difficult to criticize historically racist works because it's too thoughtless to declare them completely valueless for their racism, but we shouldn't not talk about it, either.

We're never going to be above images like that. Criticizing them and talking about them is always going to be an ongoing thing. No, people shouldn't be literally murdered for them; but it's beyond stupid that disclaimers like this have to be written.
posted by byanyothername at 5:16 PM on April 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


Mod note: A comment deleted. progosk, people can participate here even if they haven't met your stringent prerequisites, and telling them to go away is inappropriate. Thanks.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:23 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Charlie Hebdo do apparently have a persistent pattern of utilizing racist imagery

Well actually, "apparently" not.
posted by progosk at 5:41 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Literally two seconds' Googling. Like I said: not all the time, but it's popped up enough to be a pattern.

Now, there's tons of context for these; the Taubira one is a great example, because it's actually aimed at racists--but the imagery is itself still pretty clearly racist, and within the bounds of criticism. The Boko Haram one is something that could potentially actually work in prose--"This policy is so bad that even women forced into literal slavery by violent lunatics oppose it!"--but it's all kinds of questionable and, again, the imagery is quite ugly.
posted by byanyothername at 6:00 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


"This policy is so bad that even women forced into literal slavery by violent lunatics oppose it!"

That's what you think that means? I think you need to look into the concept of "context" a little further.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:06 PM on April 11, 2015


Perhaps you'd like to correct me instead of trying to score points? I generally actually appreciate that.
posted by byanyothername at 6:09 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


With the wealth of evidence to the contrary available on MeFi and elsewhere, you're being disingenuous, byanyothername - as is Trudeau; but to each his/her own I guess.
posted by progosk at 6:10 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I linked to a discussion of precisely this issue in the original thread. It's a long read, agreed; and it's way past my bedtime, do forgive.
posted by progosk at 6:12 PM on April 11, 2015


A lot of CH's really over-the-top stereotyped imagery, particularly when married in an incongruous way to a highly-charged topic the way that one is, is not attacking the thing apparently depicted but attacking the holders of certain views, in a way that French readers will recognize. The crude obviousness on the surface both masks and strengthens a subtle dig at certain entirely visible and potent cultural attitudes.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:16 PM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


One more fresh dose of El Rhazoui antidote available here.
posted by progosk at 6:39 PM on April 11, 2015


None of this is new to me, actually, and no, I am not being disingenuous. I am sorry, but nothing is ever above criticism, and that is not what "free speech" means. It means that grown adults are able to recognize that intent is not the be-all, end-all factor in art and speech; I fully understand that many instances of racist imagery used by CH are intended to attack racists, but I still find the use of racist imagery to that end worth criticising. Particularly in light of racism in French society, which to my understanding is quite less-than-stupendous.
posted by byanyothername at 6:45 PM on April 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also interesting to consider her point in perspective to the recent cropping up of "freedom/protection of faith" issues (laws in the US, a court case in Ireland)...
posted by progosk at 6:47 PM on April 11, 2015


You're not really convincing me at all progosk. The French version of secularism, the kind that bans Muslim girls from wearing a headscarf in school, is as much an infringement on free expression as a ban on offensive cartoons would be. She wants this: “Islam needs to submit to secularism and it also needs to get a sense of humour.”

She wants Islam, note that she does not say Islamic Terrorists, to submit to the French version of secularism and laugh at what they consider mockery of their beliefs. I don't think they should, and I don't think they should stop peacefully protesting against content that they consider offensive. They should fight it in peaceful democratic ways, and the people who are doing that should not be lumped in with terrorists.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:47 PM on April 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


She is speaking about France, and yes, that is the gist of secularism, Drinky Die. Hers is quite explicitly a critique of Islam, insofar as, in her opinion and experience, it denies universal rights, and insofar as it purports to install a law above and beyond that of the state.
You may not share her secularist views, of course.
posted by progosk at 6:53 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, this is probably not the time or place, but please do not argue like GamerGators. Explain your thoughts, and sincerely. I dislike the "court intrigue"/rules lawyering style of dialogue that relies on gotchas and passive-aggression. Corrections, counterpoints and expansions are more than welcome within reason (i.e., there aren't "two sides" to Bigotry vs. Not-Bigotry, but most issues are more complex than that), as are additional links, but it's helpful to provide a brief synopsis or at least a note that you don't have time to or something. Please also don't argue as if we're polar enemies who will never agree on anything, either. There are a lot of instances on the site where I disagree vocally with someone, or get upset by something they say, but still generally like them in other contexts. There really are very few people I actually dislike here; I appreciate when people don't automatically assume they're one of them.

To halfway tie this into the topic: those attitudes are poisonous to criticism and discussion. This stuff gets complex and heated but not pouring fuel all over it right off the bat helps.
posted by byanyothername at 6:53 PM on April 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


There are of course Islamic regimes and regions that do deny universal rights and secular law, but that isn't the entirety of Islam, or all that Islam can ever be or has ever been. Nor is that limited to Islam, or to Abrahamic religions, or to religions as broadly as we want to define them.
posted by byanyothername at 6:59 PM on April 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I do need to be off to sleep now, I'll have more time tomorrow morning. No aggression intended, it just seems absurd to have to defend CH against charges of "unintentional graphical racism" on the one hand, and "religious offence" on the other, when their mission, stated over and over again, and which they paid a dramatic price for, was always and still is entirely opposite to both. The "bad faith" that is ascribed to them so easily is just kind of hard to fathom for me. My invitation to revisit the other thread was altogether sincere - there was a lot of heart pour into it.
posted by progosk at 7:06 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


After the shooting, Charlie Hebdo was the subject of a smear campaign in the English language media. It's completely understandable that a lot of people were reluctant to hop on the "I am Charlie" bandwagon, when they didn't know what the hell "Charlie" was and what they were being asked to identify with. (Surviving Charlie Hebdo staffers had some critical things to say about that too.) Claiming that Charlie Hebdo is a right-wing, anti-immigrant rag, when that's pretty much the opposite of their actual politics, publishing made-up interpretations of their cartoons without understanding the language or the politics they were satirizing, and attacking bilingual Charlie Hebdo fans when they disagreed, was a different matter, and pretty disgusting.

You'd think that people uncomfortable with the "Je suis Charlie" campaign would just be able to say "The shooting was awful, and I support freedom of the press, but I don't who these people are ". (And I'm sure a lot of people did react that way.) Unfortunately, smear and harassment campaigns like this are catnip to a lot of people.

I get that Garry Trudeau disagrees with Charlie Hebdo's decision to reprint the Muhammad cartoons from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2006, but I'm sorry that he's decided to jump on the anti-Charlie Hebdo bandwagon without knowing anything about the magazine's own content, the political and social positions its writers and cartoonists have taken, and the kind satire they engaged in. I don't think Charlie Hebdo did much of the "punching down" Trudeau's accusing them of doing.
posted by nangar at 7:09 PM on April 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


I agree with the form of secularism where the state is not religious. I disagree with the form of secularism that dictates what hats religious people can choose of their own free will to wear in school. Being allowed to make that kind of individual, victimless choice about religious expression is not putting religion above the state. It's asking the state to stop overstepping it's reasonable bounds.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:10 PM on April 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's sort of a condescending view of Islam to take too, where it's reduced to a sort of undifferentiated subaltern that may be punched down to en masse and will naturally punch back up in return.

My understanding is more that the cartoons do not distinguish among the various groups of Muslims, or varieties of Islam, and take potshots that are offensive to Muslims in general. Amongst the broader category of Muslims in general, there is a subset to whom the cartoonists can pretty easily be seen as punching down. Within that subset, there is a violent, murderous minority that reacts in a completely barbarous, criminal way.

(e.g., by violating a religious prohibition on depicting the prophet that many currents of Islamic thought and jurisprudence don't even have).

Actually, it's not even just current jurisprudence. There have always been schools of thought and practice within Islam that have not prohibited depictions of the Prophet. That said, those schools of thought and practice are currently a very small minority of Muslims. I'm not conversant enough with the history of the prohibition to say whether this has always been a minority view.


Which brings me to
Are they really ("broadly offended")? Certainly some are. Why is that some muslims are offended?

Yes, yes we are. We are broadly offended. What we think is an appropriate response to that feeling of offense varies tremendously. Some of us (and I'm reluctant to call them us, but they self identify as Muslims) are apparently so unable to handle the offence that they are willing to contravene, in the most barbarous and dramatic fashion, precepts of Islam that are far more foundational than any prohibition on imagery. Some of us would not take part in the violence, but think it was the right thing to do. Some of us (and here is where the numbers grow dramatically amongst Muslims of my acquaintance), think unequivocally that violence is the wrong response, but that it was inevitable that some would respond violently. Some of us think unequivocally they violence is an unjustifiable response, but are also horrified at the disrespectfulness and rudeness of the cartoons, and do not at all understand why it would be considered okay to be that rude. Some of us think that the violence is completely unjustifiable and the cartoons are rude, unfunny, offensive, and that publishing them was stupid, but that they definitely deserve free speech protections, even if they would never want to speak to the cartoonists, ever. Some of us are offended because we identify as Muslims even though we don't think there is a meaningful prohibition on depicting the Prophet, and are far more embarrassed and outraged by our nominal coreligionists than it would occur to us to be by any cartoon. Some of us think it's incredibly stupid to draw so much attention to such unfunny and offensive cartoons.

The one thing all of those subsets of Muslims have in common on this issue is a shared feeling of offense. There is a very small group that is not at all offended, that thinks the cartoons were funny or on point, and that doesn't have any sympathy for those who feel offended. In my experience, these are Muslims who may identify themselves culturally as Muslim, and many of them would only be identified by other people as Muslims, they are really closet agnostics, ex Muslims, or atheists, living in a Muslim majority country where those identities are always uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. But I think it's safe to say that most Muslims who are aware of the existence of the cartoons and most Muslims who have seen the cartoons are offended by them. It's not just some Muslims.

The question of why we are offended is an interesting one, and I wish more people would ask it, both within and outside Islam.

In no particular order, here are some of the reasons I think Muslims are offended:

The Prophet is a highly revered figure, seen as an unequivocally good and benevolent man by most Muslims. There is a mainstream tradition that he should be dearer to any Muslim than any other human being. For many of us, that translates into holding him in high esteem and affection, on par with how we might feel about our parents. So the cartoons offend in the way that swear words about someone's mother or sister might offend. Additionally, feeling like the Prophet was just the ultimate mensch, it's unthinkable that anyone would want to lampoon him. And finally, under this broad reason, it is deeply painful to see the Prophet conflated with those of his nominal followers who are furthest from his actual example (so we share the horror at the actions of many clerics and all terrorists, and hate that the distinction between those horrible folk and the Prophet should be lost.)

Some are offended because they take the prohibition on depicting religious figures very seriously. Some don't take it so seriously, but are offended that people from outside the tradition would make such public fun of something they clearly don't understand.

Muslims across the world feel incredibly disempowered in relation to their own States and governments, in relation to "Western" governments, and in relation to "Western" cultures. So whether the "Western" reader sees the cartoons as punching down, they are widely experienced as punching down.

The circumstances of Muslims within France are not the greatest. They are subject to a great deal of racism, as well as other forms of socioeconomic disenfranchisement. In that context, the broad brush of the cartoons seems particularly insensitive to some.

And why should we be concerned that they are offended?

Because the vast majority of us have not and will not ever do anything to offend you? Because being sensitive to the feelings of millions of peaceful Others might help world peace rather than harm it? Because ignoring the offense makes the work of free speech activists in the Muslim world much more difficult? Because being polite, even in disagreement, is usually more effective in furthering our point of view than being offensive? Because you know someone, however superficially, who is hurt by this, and you take care of people within your community?

Note: My use of "we" here is not at all intended to signify that I speak for Muslims in general, just that I situate myself within the billion or more people who identify as Muslim.
posted by bardophile at 7:54 PM on April 11, 2015 [66 favorites]


Beautiful comment, thank you.
posted by Wolof at 8:05 PM on April 11, 2015


Can we safely say that everyone here can imagine a cartoon so offensive that they personally would not want it printed in any widely read publication? Perhaps an explicitly racist reference, played for laughs? Or a visual joke about rape?

I don't pretend to fully understand the cultural context of Charlie's reprinting of that cartoon, nor the full significance to observant Muslims of visual depictions of Mohammed, but it seems to me to show the deepest disrespect to a huge percentage of the human population to flagrantly choose to show an image that a large percentage of them will be deeply offended by, for the purpose of offending them.
posted by latkes at 8:10 PM on April 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Wish I had seen your comment before I posted bardophile. You expressed much better what I intended to say.
posted by latkes at 8:15 PM on April 11, 2015


So the cartoons offend in the way that swear words about someone's mother or sister might offend.

So no "yo mama" jokes, then?

(I keed, I keed. Thanks for the long and thoughtful comment."
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:20 PM on April 11, 2015


So no "yo mama" jokes, then?

I know you're joking, but of course, you can't make "yo mama" jokes to people you haven't established trust with.
posted by bardophile at 8:49 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


THAT'S WHAT SHE--oh, wait, yeah.

(that said, street/park basketball is probably off limits to people who share that view)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:00 PM on April 11, 2015


Point.
posted by bardophile at 9:03 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The fact that Charlie Hedbo is left-wing and pro-immigration doesn't insulate them from the charge of sometimes being racist in their attempts to get their point of view across. And as bardophile pointed out so well, if you're offending people you didn't mean to offend (e.g. moderate Muslims) while you were trying to offend people with views you consider repulsive (e.g. violent terrorists), then you're not actually making a productive contribution to the discussion of those repulsive views.

I dunno. To me this seems a lot like the dudes who claim to be feminist but talk all over the women they say they support. Having your heart in the right place doesn't mean you can just spray your opinions all over the place. You still have the power to hurt people, so you must take responsibility for how you wield that power.
posted by harriet vane at 9:45 PM on April 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


Having your heart in the right place doesn't mean you can just spray your opinions all over the place.

Of course you can "spray your opinions all over the place." That's the basic premise of free speech and press, regardless of the location of your heart.

you must take responsibility for how you wield that power.

Has someone put forth an argument to the contrary? Has anyone claimed CH should be free from criticism, boycott, or opposition? When weighed against the actual life-and-death problem of people getting murdered for making cartoons, it's hard for me to be too upset about some dumb comedians making social criticism in unsavory or offensive ways. After all, "take responsibility" can't possibly mean "get murdered," as I'm sure you'll agree.

I never ran around saying "I am Charlie Hebdo" or anything like it, but I think most people who did were just trying to express sympathy with victims of a tragic attack.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:17 PM on April 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


On second thought, I'll stay out of this. I don't really have a cuttlefish in this backgammon tournament.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:38 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I never ran around saying "I am Charlie Hebdo" or anything like it, but I think most people who did were just trying to express sympathy with victims of a tragic attack.

If terrorists attacked these guys, people would not use a slogan that identified with them. They would just condemn the attack. Some of the "I am" is not just supporting free speech, it's supporting the speech in question when other speech would not get that support.

The offensiveness of the Charlie Hebdo content is disputed, but the people who criticize them on that basis are coming from a place where they believe it to be there.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:09 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm fine with those critics. CH is not above or beyond criticism, but I'm not able (willing? interested?) to evaluate its merits.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:17 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't have any issue with your points here JG, it's just that my read of the overall conversation here and elsewhere has been that those critics have at times been challenged as either insufficiently supportive of free speech or excusing of the attack. You're just getting caught up in the crossfire of an ongoing debate I think.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:20 PM on April 11, 2015


Of course you can "spray your opinions all over the place." That's the basic premise of free speech and press, regardless of the location of your heart.

Fair enough. I'll rephrase: you can't just spray your opinions around without the potential for criticism from the people you are intending to help. And if that happens, it's worth taking a hard look at yourself even though you had pure intentions.

Has someone put forth an argument to the contrary? Has anyone claimed CH should be free from criticism, boycott, or opposition?

Not here, certainly. But making that criticism leads to a lot of people (including MeFites) assuming you don't value free speech, or are over sensitive, or unaware of the context. Which is why I was trying to explain that it's still possible to be making an arse of yourself even when your context and goals and values are known and approved of.

I hope it goes without saying, but I don't approve of terrorism and/or murder of people I think are being privileged idiots. But if we can't discuss the nuances of why or how much something is offensive, then the mad bombers have shut down our free speech after all. Turning it into a "you're with us or against us" vote instead of a discussion with varied opinions deprives us of the chance to understand each other better or maybe even find a middle ground.
posted by harriet vane at 11:40 PM on April 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


those critics have at times been challenged as either insufficiently supportive of free speech or excusing of the attack.

Oh yeah. I was really put off by conversations about CH after the attacks. Online and in person, every conversation boiled down to "you're implicitly endorsing these murders by criticizing the victims' cartoons."

I think people tend to view "leftist" causes as beyond reproach, and at the time I kept hearing comparisons to the #CancelColbert campaign; how people (presumably dense people like me) wanted to smear his Ching Chong Ding Dong character by saying it was racist. That the criticism was coming from effin' Michelle Malkin was a sign that obviously you're on the wrong side if you're not with Colbert.

We shouldn't be OK with racist caricatures just because they're coming from "one of us." Colbert seems like a great guy and a leftist, but this particular character is an excuse to laugh at an Asian caricature, and we need to be honest with ourselves about that. Similarly, Charlie Hebdo was staffed with socialists, communists, and other people who seemed like genuinely great human beings. This doesn't mean that their use of racial stereotype was therefore OK because they meant well overall. Talking about this doesn't justify their murders any more than calling Ching Chong racist means you support Michelle Malkin's transparently cynical campaign.

But of course, at the time I was told otherwise. Maybe it's just the people I know... And of course, none of this is to say that there has to be a bold conclusion either way. It's just been maddening to engage people on this, because never in my life have I been accused of supporting murder by saying "I don't like their cartoons."
posted by teponaztli at 11:46 PM on April 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think people tend to view "leftist" causes as beyond reproach, and at the time I kept hearing comparisons to the #CancelColbert campaign; people (presumably dense people like me) wanted to smear his Ching Chong Ding Dong character by saying it was racist.

Yeah, I followed that closely and have continued to pay attention to and think about the commentary that surrounded #CancelColbert. I'm still really conflicted, though. I wonder what you think about the Hofstadter piece I linked above?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:49 PM on April 11, 2015


(Or Swift's "A Modest Proposal," which includes pretty vile caricatures of Irish people)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:50 PM on April 11, 2015


Nicely put, bardophile.

Though it's slightly unsettling to speak to both of your senses of "us" (your personal view, and at the same time your gauging of a general, or majority view amongst Muslims), the question that follows then, is whether you are OK with the offending cartoons being legal to publish, and whether you would be OK with your government defending that right to publish them (as the French did, providing - tragically insufficient - personal protection to Charb after the arson attack on CH).

One of the valid reasons you provide of why giving offence is not generally a preferred mode of engagement, that it makes free-speech activism in Muslim nations more difficult - is this something you're involved in? It would be interesting to hear more, as it's an angle that hasn't really come up much.
posted by progosk at 12:22 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought #CancelColbert was way off base. The only point of the character was to use satire to point out that Asian stereotypes are often not seen as racist. The Colbert character was meant to be an asshole at all times if read literally.

That isn't the same as the Charlie Hebdo situation to me, the cartoons weren't intended to be read as sending a message against Muslim stereotypes like Colbert intended to communicate against asian stereotypes.

Even so, the Colbert character was a failure because a portion of the audience he was intending to support did not see it that way. Colbert is good at satire, but that was an obvious misfire.

It should be noted that Malkin was absolutely not the moving force behind it, it was Suey Park.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:28 AM on April 12, 2015


It should be noted that Malkin was absolutely not the moving force behind it, it was Suey Park.

You're totally right, I realized my mistake after the fact. I was going off my memory of Colbert talking about Michelle Malkin's enthusiastic support for it at the time (I guess she hopped on the bandwagon).

Although I'd never read that about Suey Park! She sounds really interesting. Now that I know more about her I feel kind of sheepish about what I wrote - it sounds like I agree completely with Park on this one. I guess I, and many people, missed the point at the time. Still, I hope the broader point matters - that a satirical use of racist jokes is still an opportunity to laugh at racist jokes.

Also, Joseph Gurl, no time to give the Hofstader a fair reading right now, but I'll set it aside. I tend to cringe when neurologists and other hard-science types weigh in on racism and social issues (I'm looking at you, Pinker), but I'll reserve judgment until I've actually read it through.
posted by teponaztli at 12:44 AM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


(Looking back on the use of the character that set off #CancelColbert, it was actually mainly about how Native American stereotypes exactly as offensive as Ching Chong Ding Dong are still accepted in mainstream American society. That was afield of the original usage which was just, "This character is super racist." The Washington football team name issue still remains unresolved. Even so, there were likely a lot of better ways to make that point a show with the quality of writing staff Colbert had could have come up with.)
posted by Drinky Die at 1:07 AM on April 12, 2015


the question that follows then, is whether you are OK with the offending cartoons being legal to publish, and whether you would be OK with your government defending that right to publish them

I didn't realize that was unclear, although reading back, I can see that it is. I'd probably put myself somewhere squarely in the middle of the spectrum. Free speech rights should be protected, and the cartoons clearly fall in that realm, even though I'm not sure I'd want to have a conversation with the people who drew them. Yes, I think governments should protect free speech rights. I haven't at all thought about, until right this minute, whether I think that extends to providing personal protection to people who engage in "dangerous" (for lack of a better word) speech. I guess I would put such people in the same category as anyone who receives realistic personal threats. I'm not entirely sure why my precise personal position on these issues is of interest.

As for free speech activism, I've been a teacher and debate coach for over fifteen years. I am heavily involved with the national debating society. In those contexts, advocating for free speech is a big part of my life.
posted by bardophile at 3:49 AM on April 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


strangely stunted trees: I feel like this particular flavor of liberal guilt is just the narcissism of the Western elites repeating itself in a new key, where it's still a vision of the world where they're the only class that has any agency, they're just pictured as using it for evil rather than good.
This times 1000. So often, both here and elsewhere on the web, conversation seems to segue from intersectionality → white privilege → the speaker's own white privilege → how very, very bad this makes them feel → how emotionally scarring it really is to be saddled with all these economic and cultural and educational advantages, which the speaker will then enumerate in great detail in order to admit just how very privileged they are. Privilege, in this ostensibly left-liberal discourse, is still a token of cultural capital to be deployed in order to impress other white people. Only the way of doing that is to be suitably contrite and deprecatory about one's own privilege. It's white guilt as social performance, in which economic privilege and educational advantage are still status markers, but only when we represent them as psychic injuries that confer a kind of victim status on us, too. It's upper-middle-class humble bragging, essentially.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:18 AM on April 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


> The fact that Charlie Hedbo is left-wing and pro-immigration doesn't insulate them from the charge of sometimes being racist in their attempts to get their point of view across.

I don't have any problem with informed criticism, including criticism of leftists. And leftists can definitely be racist. It's a major problem I have with American liberalism. It's a problem in the French left too.

Most of what I was seeing passed around on the English-speaking web after the shooting, though, were variations of 'Hey, look, I found some Charlie Hebdo covers on the web, though I can't read the texts, and I made up some inflammatory shit about their supposed political ideology'. I don't even think that counts as criticism.

> To me this seems a lot like the dudes who claim to be feminist but talk all over the women they say they support.

Yeah, some leftists in French North African immigrant community have accused Charlie Hebdo of doing exactly that. The paper's decision to hire the French-Moroccan journalist and political activist Zineb El Rhazoui a few years back may even indicate that they'd taken some of that criticism to heart (though she's not the first immigrant from North Africa to work for the publication).
posted by nangar at 7:59 AM on April 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


bardophile, thank you profoundly for that comment.

As someone who does not identify as Muslim I found it very helpful. I'm not capable of imagining why and how I'd be offended in various situations unless people like you express things like that.

I also note you said "identify as Muslim", which I've emulated. I think(?) I appreciate the point you're emphasizing - there's a wide variety of viewpoints among people who would call themselves Muslim, and phrasing it the way you did makes it easier to see the diversity present under the one label. I tend to agree that referring to "Muslims" makes that point less clear. This is not to cheerlead for politically correct speech, and I apologize if I'm misinterpreting your remarks, but when trying to empathize with Other I think clear language helps.

Not sure if it needs repeating but empathy is actually difficult, and very unintuitive. I found myself surprised by a few things you said, then surprised that I was surprised. Thanks!
posted by iffthen at 12:42 PM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


> I'm not entirely sure why my precise personal position on these issues is of interest.

It might be because of the number of people in the U.S. who segue seamlessly from "I'm offended by X" to "The government should outlaw X". Most recently X has been same-sex marriage and the people have been self-identifying Christians, but extended reading on the Internet has made lots of people feel that you can't just assume the person you're chatting with is a reasonable human being, so you end up making checks that seem puzzling to a reasonable human being.

My analogy is you're out for dinner with some co-workers, talking about the meal, and some one says to you "So you agree with me that the meat was over-cooked. Great, let's go kill the chef." It makes you a bit cagey about dinner discussions.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:15 PM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, bardophile, when you say "Muslims across the world feel incredibly disempowered in relation to their own States and governments", you intend that as referring also to Muslims in Muslim states, correct?
Because that's part of what CH would point to also, and certainly be the group that Zineb El Rhazoui would identify as her kindred audience.
posted by progosk at 1:46 PM on April 12, 2015


you intend that as referring also to Muslims in Muslim states, correct?

Yes. I was referring primarily to Muslims in Muslim majority states.
posted by bardophile at 6:24 PM on April 12, 2015


benito.strauss, that makes sense, though it feels disconcerting.
posted by bardophile at 6:26 PM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


> ... that makes sense, though it feels disconcerting.

I know that feeling. The times when I've felt I had to include a qualifying "I'm not awful" statement in a comment here I've often thought "for god's sake, does this really need to be stated explicitly", but then this is the site where I've seen people suggest that we just let poor people die and that it's no big deal if someone's a Nazi, so, yeah, sometimes I guess it does. It reminds me kind of like a classroom where 5% of the students take up 40% of the energy. But I'm glad that there are still people who make the effort.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:09 PM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Though thinking about it further, there is the fact that Muslims in America are more frequently, even automatically, asked to affirm their basic decency. Which I don't experience and, yeah, is disconcerting.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:15 PM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Relatedly [AP]:
PARIS (AP) — The late former editor of French weekly Charlie Hebdo condemns "Islamophobia" as thinly disguised racism in a posthumously published book that was completed two days before he was killed in France's worst terror attack in years. [...]

Charb also condemns people who demonize Muslims: "If one day all Muslims in France converted to Catholicism ... these foreigners or French of foreign origin would still be seen as responsible for all ills," he wrote.

He suggests that such attitudes should be characterized as "Muslim-o-phobia" — since it amounts to an irrational fear of people — instead of "Islamophobia," which would be an attitude against a religion.

In what some might consider poignant prescience, Charb muses at one point about how "one day, just for laughs, I should publish all the threat letters that I received at Charlie Hebdo from Catholic fascists and Muslim fascists" alike.
posted by Little Dawn at 9:24 AM on April 16, 2015 [4 favorites]




I'm not not reading that as ridicule, at all.
posted by nangar at 8:51 AM on April 25, 2015


Golden Eternity: a quick fact check shows this isn't Charlie Hebdo material.
posted by progosk at 9:33 AM on April 25, 2015


The cartoonist is definitely currently on staff with Charlie Hebdo, though there does not appear to be an online version of the magazine so I can't check if the cartoon is printed in it as well or not. The current cover is some sort of Titanic joke referencing the drownings.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:22 AM on April 25, 2015


To be a little more explicit, I'm reading it as "This is fucked up! Family reunions shouldn't consist of people drowning and ending up together at the bottom of the ocean." The "family reunion" thing is ironic, but I think it underscores the tragedy.

People can be really maliciously creative in their interpretations once they've decided in advance that Charlie Hebdo's employees are all a bunch of really horrible people who deserved to die. And I don't see how Jeet Heer can possibly come up with this interpretation without that kind of preconception. I think most people would look at this and go "Yeah, that was really awful". That's certainly how I reacted.

And ... I was going to give Jeet Heer some credit for at least understanding the text of the cartoon until I saw the link progosk just posted. So, this was a panel taken out of context from a strip in a French-language Algerian newspaper about European reactions to the deaths of immigrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and relabeled on Twitter as "Charlie Hebdo ridiculing the African migrants". That's dishonest as fucking hell.

And double checking, I also see that Jeet Heer retweeted this, so it's maybe he didn't know it was false, and Golden Eternity almost certainly didn't.

But why the hell do you people keep doing this? There has to be some pay off for you, some joy or pleasure you get out making up shit like this, taunting Charlie Hebdo fans who are grieving over losing some of their favorite cartoonists with blatant lies just because you're on the internet and fairly anonymous. I don't expect an answer, because the dishonest slime that do this don't give honest answers. I do feel uncomfortable sharing a site with so many people who engage in this kind of behavior.
posted by nangar at 11:49 AM on April 25, 2015


>they've decided in advance that Charlie Hebdo's employees are all a bunch of really horrible people who deserved to die.

Little advice, don't use bad faith presentations of what people are saying when you are asking for good faith readings for others.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:52 AM on April 25, 2015


> Little advice, don't use bad faith presentations of what people are saying when you are asking for good faith readings for others.

I don't think that "assuming good faith" is reasonable or even possible with something that is so obviously false and so obviously duplicitous as this. But, yeah, I was initially blaming the Twitter user Jeet Heer for that interpretation when they were apparently just repeating it.
posted by nangar at 12:21 PM on April 25, 2015


What he said was:

1. This cartoon illustrates a persistent problem with Charlie Hebdo.

2. The intent of the cartoon is to mock Europe's indifference to death of migrants. But the execution is at odds with intent.

3. For a cartoon magazine, Charlie Hebdo is singularly obtuse about the actual message conveyed by images (as opposed to the intent).


There isn't really much of a, "I'm looking for the good faith answer here..." approach that will get you to him thinking the staff of Charlie Hebdo deserved to die. It's an accusation that is being used as a sledgehammer against people who are critical of the potential Islamophobia or racism in the content when it's a position that basically none of the critics actually hold. Try harder.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:26 PM on April 25, 2015


nangar: contrast/compare to similar (albeit less vehement) creeping accusatory and cognitive dissonance found in the recent Sally Mann thread. Sadly, it's just a sign o' the times...
posted by progosk at 12:48 PM on April 25, 2015


@lxndrnthrtn: Er. What about the racist drawing, though?

@PhilippeAuclair : 'Racist'? The drawing highlights the denial of rights to immigrants' families in France.
Missing the point, perhaps?

@lxndrnthrtn: No, I'm making the point that whatever the intention, racist stereotypical drawings are clearly alienating people of colour, who find the representation racist. I am talking about the drawing of the faces that looks like English jam lids from the 1970s. Or the front of seaside shops in Margate from 2015.

@judeinlondon: Those are racist drawings not sure what you’re on about

@PhilippeAuclair: Do you actually know what 'regroupement familial' refers to?

@judeinlondon: Yes, thanks to colonialism I am both fluent in French and a former asylum seeker
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:26 PM on April 25, 2015


I mean I give them the benefit of the doubt because racism in caricature seems very dependent on context, for example an American using blackface is extremely racist while in Europe the taboo is not nearly as strong in some areas because of the lack of the extensive minstrel show history.

All I can say as an American observer is that both the cover I linked and the other cartoon we are talking about would definitely be considered racist in an American context. Even an anti-muslim right winger would not use that style of caricature and expect mainstream publication here.

Reiterating, it could be entirely diffrent in the context of an Algerian born cartoonist, but it's not a criticism that should be discounted without some thought and I don't think someone should be accused of thinking victims of a terrorist attack deserved to die just for raising the issue.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:34 PM on April 25, 2015


It's a horse that's been flogged to within an inch of its resurrection, though, here and elsewhere. So the real question is why it's still so tempting to cling to it.
posted by progosk at 1:54 PM on April 25, 2015


Because Islamaphobia and racism in western media are ongoing issues that have not been solved, and accusing people who perceive it in the case of Charlie Hebdo of being supportive of terrorist attacks is really playing in to tropes commonly associated with Islamophobia. It deserves to be called out, now and in the future whenever it appears.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:59 PM on April 25, 2015


The "family reunion" thing is ironic

nangar: it's actually the crux of the cartoon: regroupement familial was a policy put in place by the French government in the late 70's, as an officially sanctioned motive for a right to immigrate. The cartoon is a bitter dig at what's become of France's stance on migration.
posted by progosk at 2:09 PM on April 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


The point that was being made is that this cartoon was racist because of how it depicted African migrants. The rebuttal is that that's just utterly misreading both the point/joke of the cartoon and the context within which it is drawn. Can we stop extending this self-same misunderstanding into other accusations, as seems to happen so recurrently?
posted by progosk at 2:15 PM on April 25, 2015


I am responding extremely directly to the assertion in this direct quote that the criticism comes from a position of believing the Charlie Hebdo staff deserved to die, nothing more.

People can be really maliciously creative in their interpretations once they've decided in advance that Charlie Hebdo's employees are all a bunch of really horrible people who deserved to die

posted by Drinky Die at 2:25 PM on April 25, 2015


critical of the potential Islamophobia or racism in the content

Seems to me it's not a critique of "potential", but rather an accusation of actual (and what's worse: denied) Islamophobia and racism, that Golden Eternity posted. Not even Charbonnier's own posthumous testimony seems to be able to nip the bad faith in the bud...
posted by progosk at 2:32 PM on April 25, 2015


Drinky Die, my invitation was also to nangar, to be sure.
posted by progosk at 2:34 PM on April 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah as soon as I posted that I had a, "Wait a minute I went off half-cocked there..." realization.

I call it potential because I'm not making a personal judgement on if it is or not. To the critics, it is likely not perceived as potential but actual, yeah.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:35 PM on April 25, 2015


> Can we stop extending this self-same misunderstanding into other accusations, as seems to happen so recurrently?

Yeah, I deserved that. I went on a rant based on Golden Eternity's link to Jeet Heer's tweet. I didn't realize it had been taken out of context. In the series of tweets it was taken from, Jeet Heer seems to to be giving Charlie Hebdo a lot more benefit of the doubt than I was giving him credit for. Jeet Heer was responding to a panel from a strip that had been had been taken out of context by another person on Twitter, apparently without realizing it had been taken out of context. All in all, not a great way to be engaged in a discussion.

All I can say as an American observer is that both the cover I linked and the other cartoon we are talking about would definitely be considered racist in an American context.

Nope. Sorry, I disagree. Black people regularly appear in cartoons in the US and other English language media, there are even strips that mostly feature black characters. We don't automatically assume all of them are "racist caricatures" just because they're cartoons that have black people in them. There has to be something else about the cartoon, the context, the references it makes, the way it's drawn, to make us think that.

If the Belkhadem et Saâdani strip we're talking about was translated into English and Charlie Hebdo's name wasn't associated with it, I don't think anyone would think it was racist. It would just be seen as a rather bitter commentary on Europeans' attitudes toward immigrants – which it is. The thing that provoked outrage about this cartoon is that Twitter user Tera Pyu posted an image of a panel from it and identified it as Charlie Hebdo cartoon (even though it wasn't actually published in Charlie Hebdo). That's the context that makes people on the 'we hate Charlie Hebdo' bandwagon perceive it as racially bigoted, just that and nothing else. The actual content of the strip is completely different.
posted by nangar at 10:20 PM on April 25, 2015


Nope. Sorry, I disagree. Black people regularly appear in cartoons in the US and other English language media, there are even strips that mostly feature black characters. We don't automatically assume all of them are "racist caricatures" just because they're cartoons that have black people in them. There has to be something else about the cartoon, the context, the references it makes, the way it's drawn, to make us think that.


Yes, I know that all depictions of black people are not automatically racist. Jebus. Seriously? I'm saying these cartoons appear as racist caricatures from an American perspective because of things like the oversized offcolor lips and the use of pure black rather than a more true to life skin tone. The people look like Little Black Sambo.

(even though it wasn't actually published in Charlie Hebdo).

Is there another source for that besides the link above? Cartoons are frequently published in multiple outlets.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:19 AM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, the LICRA (a french "international league against racism and antisemitism") chose to feature it on their facebook page. Actually, seeing the kerfuffle that's ensuing, I wouldn't put it past CH to choose to publish it even if they haven't/hadn't done so.
posted by progosk at 2:02 AM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dilem being accused of racism paints him into the identical corner as was El Rhazoui. Now, what is it they have in common that denies them even the benefit of the doubt?
posted by progosk at 2:11 AM on April 26, 2015


You know, Drinkie Die, I think your criticism of my rant earlier was a lot more on point than I realized. I've seen so many BS allegations about Charlie Hebdo that I totally had a knee jerk reaction to the tweet linked above just because it was in English and posted on MetaFilter. It wasn't until progosk linked to some criticism of Dilem in the French-language media that I took it seriously enough to poke around and try to see what people were talking about. The way Dilem depicted back people this cartoon didn't bother me, probably because because the migrants in most of the panels are shown in silhouette, but he does generally draw black people in a retro stereotypical way, and in other cartoons where it's more prominent, it does rub me the wrong way. I can see why people reacted the way they did.

So, apologies. I still disagree with the allegation that the cartoon is "ridiculing the Africa migrants who drowned", but I can see where people are coming from. It was a mistake to assume bad faith.
posted by nangar at 8:02 AM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is there another source for that besides the link above? Cartoons are frequently published in multiple outlets.

Looked into this a little further: Ali Dilem publishes work on his official Facebook page (and in parallel on his two Twitters), where he specifies that the drawings are for the Algerian paper Liberté and/or the French TV channel TV5Monde.

The drawing in question is still on the Liberté site, dated 19 April - a date for which neither his Facebook nor his Twitter have an entry - possibly having since been deleted? The Radio France Internationale site's African press review for 20th April mentions it (as "un dessin très simple et digne").

The controversy (and conflation with CH proper) seems to have ensued (five days later) after LICRA's now also deleted reposting of the cartoon - with the comment "La crayon toujours aussi incisif" = [from] the consistently poignant pencil [of Ali Dilem] - and was fanned by various African focus sites, and notably also by Dieudonné.
posted by progosk at 8:56 AM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


For more background on Dilem, I can only recommend Time's profile from two years ago.
posted by progosk at 9:15 AM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


After which, I'm not sure how Trudeau's recent self-defence, in response to criticism of his original speech, will strike you.
posted by progosk at 10:07 AM on April 26, 2015




@SalmanRushdie: "The award will be given. PEN is holding firm. Just 6 pussies. Six Authors in Search of a bit of Character."
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:45 PM on April 27, 2015


Just 6 pussies.

/groan
posted by Drinky Die at 2:48 PM on April 27, 2015


Dedicated thread here.
posted by progosk at 11:35 PM on April 27, 2015


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