Charlie Hebdo and the Turds That Won’t Flush

By David Paxton

‘Ding’ ‘Ding’ Round 57…

‘He’s obsessed’ you remark. Well yes actually, I am a bit. But even when I think enough should have been said on this matter yet more turds float to the surface and I think it important to try and flush them. By now however, it’s beginning to feel like nothing so much as playing whac-a-mole. But with turds.

Much has already been written about the PEN debacle. This by Tom Owolade is typically good. I have also attacked Glenn Greenwald’s laughable contribution here. But the same tropes keep coming up again and again. 10 days after the massacre I posted this long and, I had forlornly hoped, exhaustive piece breaking down the various forms of apologia. I think it holds up. However, the superbug like inability for some of this bullshit to die is quite something to behold and is itself worthy of examination.

As I said at the time, the filthy fifth-columnist detritus require little examination. They are Islamists and wish to exculpate Islamists. The Useless Idiots like Nabilla Ramadi suffer from a form of Muslim nationalism that makes her bend any truth or logic to ensure that all Muslims are not tarred with the same brush. Even though no serious person seeks to do so.

But there are the others. The sort of smart, talented and lauded person who when not writing novels sends letters to PEN explaining why the unbelievably brave shouldn’t be granted a bravery award. These are the ones deserving a second glance. Yes, because they really should be allies but also because their problems are seemingly a touch more complicated.

As Owolade wrote:

Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine whose staff were murdered for the crime of blasphemy. This fact alone should entail support and sympathy from everyone who believes the right to mock ideas and cause offence trumps acquiescence to blasphemy law.

This is obvious. He goes further:

But Charlie Hebdo are not racist and their staff were not murdered for racism and hate speech. They were murdered for depicting a religious figure.

And yet those writing to PEN, months after the event, keep insisting black is white.

Good people, not horrible Tories like me, but proper lefty types, people who know, people who work for Charlie Hebdo, people who are French, folks that have actually sodding read it, tell them in many different ways, repeatedly, what Charlie Hebdo were/are about. It is crystal clear what they are about and there is no possible excuse for ignorance. Yet ignorance is what flows from the fingers and mouths of these weapons. This is no longer a lack of information, or even a difference of opinion. This is a mental condition. It is the practice of denying clear reality no matter how much evidence is smashed across their heads.

As tempted as I am to call this mendacious, I truly believe most of it is not. They just don’t have the faculties to face up to objective reality and accept what that would mean for their comfort blanket of a world view.

I previously described such people’s world view as following the 3 Stages of Stupidity. In it short it goes thus:

1: Always holding unequivocal support of the underdog

2: Divide the world into oppressor/oppressed

3: Assume the superior virtue of the oppressed.

When David Frum obliterated Gary Trudeau he expressed a similar variation, which he knocks down into two stages:

1. Identify the bearer of privilege.

2. Hold the privilege-bearer responsible.

I won’t quibble.

There is really something in this. Please read my full and fleshed out explanation as I still think it is the clearest answer to the mystery of their pathology. Add to this explanation the tendency in many educated ‘liberals’ to be singularly unable to empathise with a thought process involving any aspects that mean nothing to them. A fervent devotion to religion and the feeling that blasphemy is enough gets no dice. It must be identity politics or economics. Those are the only tools in their box.

But I really didn’t expect things to have sunk quite this low:

Francine Prose on Comment is Free:

The narrative of the Charlie Hebdo murders – white Europeans killed in their offices by Muslim extremists

The fucking narrative? It was a massacre. It was events. Strange it should take a novelist to attempt remove all flesh and life from such a discussion. Though I suppose when it serves her purpose so clearly…

As for her summation of the narrative, white folks killed by ‘dem brown folk, if this were true it would be a fact and not a narrative. But it isn’t even true. Check the list of the dead. And who is spreading this ‘narrative’? Something this wrong needs a reason. She is actually willing to change the facts in order to not have to adjust her own pitiful ‘narrative’.

Comment is free but she comes close to making one wish it wasn’t.

She goes on:

The bitterness and rage of the criticism that we have received point out how difficult people find it to think with any clarity on these issues and how easy it has been for the media – and our culture – to fan the flames of prejudice against Islam. As a result, many innocent Muslims have been tarred with the brush of Islamic extremism.

The bitterness and rage is because people such as herself are denying reality and propagating 24 carat bullshit to obscure the obvious clarity about the murder of innocents.

If it is easy to fan the flames, perhaps it has less to do with our difficulties and more to do with the postjudice that follows yet more users of the right to free speech being slaughtered by religious maniacs. The very rights she nominally campaigns in support of. Her final sentence takes the biscuit though. If she wishes for the Muslims that have nothing to do with these crimes to be free from association with them, is it not best that her and others stop representing these crimes as springing from the collective anger of the same mass of people? By pretending it isn’t blasphemy but some reaction to socio-economic factors the suspicion is cast on those they have lumped together by a demographic distinction. If one seeks to deny the real motivation and replace it with their ‘narrative’ about reactions stemming from Muslim anger are they not doing the heavy lifting in this job of tarring?

She has plenty more:

But I also don’t feel that it is the mission of PEN to fight the war on terrorism; that is the role of our government.

When one realises the opponents in this war are the greatest threat to free speech going, it most certainly should be. It is all of ours. But nobody is asking her to pick up a rifle and stag on. There is some part of this fight that calls for removing the taboo of religious offence, which aids in demystifying the beliefs of these loons. That as it happens is dangerous work. Charlie Hebdo was doing that work. It is what they were to be recognised for. At worst she is seeking to undo that work and at best pretending it wasn’t being done.

I have nothing but sympathy for the victims and survivors.

This is untrue. She also has contempt for their output. She makes this clear.

As a friend wrote me: the First Amendment guarantees the right of the neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois, but we don’t give them an award.

If only we could all have friends so insightful and quotable. This thought from her chum works to show it is possible to stick up for the worst speech imaginable without approving of it. Fine. The problem is though, Charlie Hebdo weren’t Nazis, or even close. In fact, they were anti-Nazis and everyone is sick to death with having to point this out. There is no way she doesn’t know this. Yet still she pretends and willingly smears the dead as purveyors of detestable speech. It really is becoming ever more clear that reality is not unknown but merely unwanted.

And the idea that one is either “for us or against us” in such matters not only precludes rational and careful thinking

No. A thousand times no. Some people are for us. Some people are against us. That is rational and it is careful. If you have a masturbatory sense of your own intelligence that requires a masochistic search for nuance where there is none to be found, you have a problem. Not only were the attackers against us, they couldn’t be more clear and loud about this fact. Yet again they choose to listen to themselves rather than the facts.

One of the more disappointing aspects of this is that they are helping least the people their pitifully solipsistic sense of guilt is meant to be considering. The peoples most in need of the liberating view points of Charlie Hebdo are the Muslims, atheists and others stuck in places far less amenable to a free existence than France. Try Raif Badawi, Avjit Roy or Sabeen Mahmud if you wish to get specific.

This brings us on to Teju Cole. This ball of self-regard and pretension specifically draws a line between Charlie Hebdo and Roy and Badawi. In his letter to PEN he wrote:

I would rather honor Raif Badawi, Avijit Roy, Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning, who have also paid steeply for their courage, but whose ideals are much more progressive than Charlie’s.

Much more progressive? This really does confirm either startling ignorance or a willful denial of reality. I would like very much to hear his response to this question: What are Charlie Hebdo’s ideals? As I wrote in my Letter to Laurie Penny:

Charlie Hebdo consistently and unfalteringly engaged in opposition to the following:

  • Corruption in government
  • Unwarranted power of big business
  • Europe’s disastrous austerity policies
  • Israeli actions in Gaza
  • Restrictions on immigration
  • Anti-immigrant policies
  • Any form of racism
  • Organised Religion
  • The Le Pen family, the National Front and their populist politics

This list hints at some pretty progressive ideals no? I will go further, I cannot conceive of an organisation with more progressive ideals than Charlie Hebdo. On what grounds does Cole feel qualified to draw this line? He needs to back this up. Avijit Roy was described by many as Bangladesh’s Charlie Hebdo and Raif Badawi is in prison for the same reasons so many at Charlie Hebdo are dead. Could it be that there isn’t a real difference in their ideals but that the other two happen to be a bit brown? It’s the only answer that fits the facts. And it is pathetic.

To read the letters justifying the grandstanding of these people is depressing. I am both saddened and maddened that such self-serving discharge is openly expressed by people considered to be thinkers and that in our time this is what passes for an intelligentsia.

We are bound by duty and decency to show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. But more than that we are bound by self-preservation. A case I have made previously. (Shit, hasn’t all this been said previously?)

Their bravery is beyond question, that giving them an award for it should be questioned on taste grounds is wrong. That the objections to the taste are fabricated from falsehoods and smears is odious. Salman Rushdie said “I hope nobody ever comes after them”. It’s a noble sentiment. My nobility is really beginning to show cracks.

Don’t let’s be beastly to the North Koreans

By Citizen Sane

It’s not surprising. Finding something ridiculous in The Guardian and being surprised is like peeling a banana and being astonished to find there’s a banana in there.

Avoiding Guardian articles is more difficult than it used to be. I stopped buying the damn thing years ago and only visit Comment Is Free when I’m feeling masochistic. But in this age of social media there’s a good chance you’ll see at least half a dozen links to their website on Twitter or Facebook every day. And that’s how you’ll come across something like this: Dangerous, isolated and primed for war? North Korean clichés debunked wherein Hazel Smith (professor of International Relations and Korean Studies, and director of the International Institute of Korean Studies at the University of Central Lancashire) will put you in the picture.

The piece purports to be a corrective to clichéd conceptions about the people of North Korea. Which would be fine, although I’m not convinced that people in the West particularly have any conceptions about the residents of the nation itself – more likely they pity the millions of people who have to live in a brutal slave state under the rule of a psychopathic dynasty. Instead most of the article reads like an apologia for the regime itself.

North Korea, you see, is “idiosyncratic”. Idiosyncratic. Never mind the substantiated reports of widespread torture, starvation, summary executions, political imprisonment and death camps (not mentioned once in the extract, by the way). These are just quirks. North Korea is a bit whacky that way, like an eccentric uncle or something.

First myth: North Koreans are different from you and me. North Koreans, argues Hazel as she constructs a straw man so big it can be seen from space (along with, funnily enough, images of a blacked out North Korea at night), are not educationally backward or lacking sophistication. Indeed, despite a “relentless socialisation campaign” (her words) glorifying the Kim family, North Korean society still isn’t completely closed off, despite the best efforts of a regime that, to quote Christopher Hitchens, treats Orwell’s 1984 as an instruction manual rather than a work of literature. Hazel goes on to point out that the DPRK has high levels of literacy and university enrolment but, alas, the government works hard to prevent the free flow of information, permitting access to foreign books and films only if a genuine “need” can be demonstrated. I’d like to see how many such requests there are every year and how many are granted (and how many citizens requesting the materials are seized in the night and sent to prison as enemies of the revolution). I wonder if North Korea has a Freedom of Information Act? Seems unlikely, but then by supposing that I may well be falling back on the lazy clichés that this article is so keen to upend.

Next myth: North Korea is a dangerous and irrational military power. You’d be wrong to think that, despite any evidence to the contrary. No doubt when the DPRK threatens to attack Japan or the United States it’s just being idiosyncratic. It’s just larks. High japes. Banter. The DPRK’s military is dilapidated and poorly funded, they couldn’t possibly be a serious threat to anybody (apart from their own people, of course. And still no mention of the death camps in the article. How curious). They only spent $4.38bn on defence in 2009, for example, a trifling 15.64% of its GDP. A totally reasonable sum for a – no doubt – peaceful nation. Besides, North Korea only has an estimated four to eight operational warheads whereas the United States has over 2,200. There you have it then. North Korea has nuclear weapons, the USA has nuclear weapons. It’s all the same.

Next myth: North Korea is a criminal state. There’s no evidence to support this, it’s all just whispers, smoke and mirrors. Besides, all our media reports are founded on “allegations from defectors and unnamed US officials”. Defectors! Pah! Who could trust those traitors? There’s no real evidence that the state itself is behind any of this.

But hang on. I thought the point of this piece was to show how our conceptions of the people of North Korea were wrong? Indeed, a response on Twitter from The Guardian’s very own Guardian North Korea Twitter account (yes, they really do have one) stated that the author is arguing that “North Koreans – rather than rulers of – are active agents of their own destiny”.

“Active agents of their own destiny.” Apart from those in the death camps, of course. Did I mention that this article doesn’t even refer to the death camps?

Far from debunking any myths, this article instead ignores a very obvious truth: that North Korea is a uniquely paranoid and dangerous regime and that the people it endangers the most are its own. Of course the North Korean people are not any different to the rest of us: they’re just unfortunate to live in a concentration camp masquerading as a country. This article, constructed around puncturing myths that don’t even exist, is nothing but a thinly veiled justification of that regime.

Where else but The Guardian could you read DPRK propaganda dressed up as a piece about challenging prejudices?

P.S. The article doesn’t mention the death camps. Can’t remember if I pointed that out.

The limits of Cultural Appropriation

By Robbie Travers (@RobbieTravers)

Cultural appropriation is a concept that should be viewed with deep suspicion.

 My objections to it are simple: Firstly, it is deeply authoritarian to police the behaviour of people because they are deemed to be appropriating the property of other cultures, often ones that are deemed to be marginalised. We should never seek to police behaviour that does not call for violence, or behaviour that are not violent. For example: teens wearing Bindis and Indian headdresses at festivals.

 The argument that many of these teens don’t understand the culture behind these items of clothing is levelled. The argument that they are participating in oppression by wearing them, either in a state of blissful ignorance or actively, is actually redundant. Cultures often take items from other cultures and integrate them as part of their culture, and whilst it may offend some, not allowing cultures to share and adopt traditions of oppressed cultures becomes authoritarian. How so? It creates privileged groups of people with culture that cannot be mocked, discussed and that their culture is there property and theirs alone.

 But also, what is an oppressed group? as different groups have different ideas of oppression. Are our values universal? as many of those who dress as Arab’s are criticised, but yet not all Arabs are oppressed, look at the Saudi Royal family for example. The argument falls to scrutiny.

 Secondly, the often hypocritical proponents of cultural appropriation define culture as a commodity that is in the possession of marginalised groups. That this is something they alone should have the ability to control and they alone possess. Culture should never be anyone’s property, nor should it exclusively belong to one group: this is how culture stagnates as it goes without discussion or adaptation.

 However, these same proponents are incoherent when it comes to the culture of groups in perceived positions of power, with some individuals claiming that cultures only occur due to marginalisation, hence groups in power have no culture and others claiming that only marginalised groups have ownership of their own culture. This is ridiculous, promoting the thinking that only certain groups should be privileged to have ownership and control over their culture. I don’t think any group should have said powers, but it is inconsistent to suggest that certain groups should and shouldn’t have this ability.

 Yet somehow, it remains their belief that culture should remain in the property of those who own it, rather than anyone outside said groups to try and adopt or adapt aspects of it.

 Cultural appropriation also tries to appeal to the idea of collective and ancestral guilt, that white people are somehow responsible for the actions of their ancestors and hence should respect other cultures due to their “sins.”

 However, consider this closely, are all white people the same? No. Those who often claim that white people appropriate other cultures and hence create mindless stereotypes appeal to mindless stereotypes to prove their arguments are solid. But also we should bear in mind that we don’t judge groups not perceived to be in positions of power for the sins of their ancestors, why should we do so to groups in power.

 Or why at all. If someone hasn’t committed a crime, don’t punish them for it.

 Hence, Cultural appropriation should fail to be convincing to any logical and rational thinker, as it is illogical and hypocritical thinking.

A rebuttal to the censorious student Left

By Tom Owolade (@owolade14)

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The recent attitude displayed by the NUS Women’s campaign received scorn on twitter and elsewhere but they revealed a mindset undimmed by shame or contrition. Whether it was suggesting clapping be replaced by jazz hands, or insisting gay men stop culturally appropriating black women, the absurdity of these suggestions were plain to see. Yet, despite this, the values that informed these suggestions – emphasising narratives over facts, and identity over principles – is espoused unabashedly by many, and therefore merits examination.

 

The influence of these values is clear and growing. In universities, Individual liberty and moral universalism continues to dwindle whilst identity politics and a culture of moral relativism flourishes. Freedom of speech, a pre-condition for free and open societies, is being curbed by censorship and self-censorship, from debates to classrooms to online forums. This censorious climate is caused by a widespread belief that the freedom to express oneself must be balanced against securing the comfort of those without ‘privilege’. The assumption of individual liberty – and its possibility of offending anyone – is replaced by an assumption of collective responsibility to tiptoe around our thoughts, trying desperately not to offend those most vulnerable in society- namely people of colour, LGBT people and women. Freedom is speech is transformed from a right into a privilege, to be exercised responsibly in accordance with particular issues.

 

Firstly, self-censorship is nourished by this attitude: individual viewpoints are burdened with the responsibility of not being offensive when talking about issues that affect victimised groups. An offence to them, it is argued, constitutes an act of oppression, disabling their dignity and therefore requiring a response even – especially!  – at the expense of certain principles; principles are married with privilege and thus are meaningful only in consequential terms. Because of this, censorship in some instances can be excused under the invocation of victimhood – and the consequent challenge to privilege – however spurious: from no-platforming feminists with the ‘wrong’ and ‘oppressive’ opinions to banning music videos with the ‘wrong’ and ‘oppressive’ messages. And because of this, the central tenets of liberalism are unravelling in a relativistic swamp. The fundamental logic justifying this new censorship is indistinguishable from the logic that justified old censorship: the sheer arbitrariness of ‘offence’ legislating against individual liberty and conscience. Who is defined as oppressors and oppressed is done spuriously, one persons oppressors is another persons oppressed – to some, because of her identity, Julie Bindel qualifies as a victim. However, because of her views on Trans issue and Islam, her censorious critics paint her as a perpetrator of oppression. The fact that her censors don’t subscribe to objectivity means that there isn’t a meaningful criterion for distinguishing whether she is privileged or unprivileged – they rely on a binary that doesn’t account for the fluidity of identity and beliefs. Liberal minded people rely on an insistence on objective principles. Julie Bindel should be afforded the right to express her beliefs unencumbered by attempts to silence or intimidate her, as should anyone expressing their beliefs irrespective of whether their identity qualifies as victimiser or not.

 

We live in a world where the lucid expositions of Locke and Paine have lost their allure and potency and given way to postmodernism: an ideology so convulsed by a cult of victimhood it censors without compunction under the pretext of protecting the ‘victims’ and arraigning the ‘privileged’. It is through this context that we can observe the flourishing of safe spaces, trigger warnings and cultural appropriation. These practices contain within them principles one can reasonably be sympathetic with: empowerment of previously persecuted groups and an attack on structural inequality. The incontestable progress made by society partially depended on advocacy of these principles, it would be wrong to entirely dismiss them.

 

However, when these beliefs – admittedly noble – are shot through with the fanaticism induced by identity politics, then censorship and the policing of behaviour is normalised: a vital component of free societies –  individual rights – is made secondary to special rights accorded to groups, people are thereby viewed through regimented and differentiated moral prisms rather than through a universalism that views each person as an individual. Following from this, people are infantilised; People who, by accident of birth, happen to be ‘privileged’ have their behaviour and individual conscience policed; It also infantilises the victimised groups who, by accident of birth, are assumed to be allergic to controversial views, and are thus mollycoddled from dangerous and contestable beliefs. It is therefore counter-productive to its stated aims of empowering victimised groups.

 

It is also wrong in principle. It is carried out with noble intentions, confidently posturing as ameliorative. It intends to inoculate downtrodden groups from dangerous ideas and the hostile terrain of those with privilege. In reality, it limits civil discourse and stifles the engine of free societies: the capacity to discuss ideas and express one’s moral convictions with the inviolable liberty conferred to all citizens. This is why, most of all, this new manifestation of censorship necessitates a rebuttal.

James Snell has written a piece arguing the concept of trigger warnings is both wrong in principle and counter-productive in practice.

Robbie Travers has written a critique of the concept of cultural appropriation. Arguing it is myopic, dysfunctional and fundamentally reactionary.