Glenn Greenwald – “One Year On”

By David Paxton

The anniversary of the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo has inevitably generated some reflection in the media. Some people dug out what they wrote at the time to see how they’d fared, a new BBC documentary was screened and several commentators have written their ‘one year on’ pieces.

Glenn Greenwald became such a commentator when he posted Where Were the Post-Hebdo Free Speech Crusaders as France Spent the Last Year Crushing Free Speech. Normally you would have to pay me to read Greenwald but after having been so revolted by his post-Hebdo article a year ago I was intrigued to find out what the 12 months had taught him.

As it turns out, not very much.

The gist of his piece is that people that stuck up for Charlie Hebdo’s right to do what they did seemed not to care when other speech was threatened. It’s an argument about double standards. To justify it he gives examples to support his impression of inaction and links to his magnum opus of false equivalence from last year (I criticised it at the time here).

Greenwald might be correct in stating that the people adamant about the rights of the satirical magazine were less adamant about the rights of Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. He may also be correct in saying the noise about people being arrested for BDS protests was insufficiently loud.

However, in doing so the way he does he is making a category error and presumably doing so knowingly. Charlie Hebdo’s staff were not killed for ‘hate speech’ they were killed for blasphemy and it was the speech they were killed for that others expressed solidarity with.

I don’t approve of hate-speech laws. I don’t agree with holocaust-denial laws either. I don’t think BDS campaigners should risk arrest under any speech laws and although I think Dieudonné M’bala M’bala is an antisemite and a terrorist sympathiser I don’t think court is the place to fight him. Seemingly though, French law disagrees with me. The mistake Greenwald is making is to assume that it is unreasonable to agree with French law, see value in blasphemy, and stick up for Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish, without being a hypocrite.

In order to make his case of hypocrisy Greenwald, once again, chooses to mischaracterise what Charlie Hebdo did, what they were killed for and why people rightfully expressed solidarity.

He says:

It was only when anti-Islam cartoons were at issue, and a few Muslims engaged in violence, did they suddenly become animated and passionate about free speech. That’s because legitimizing anti-Islam rhetoric and demonizing Muslims was their actual cause; free speech was just the pretext.

I think it predictable that slaughter and mayhem might provoke passion and animation and that its suddenness would be directly proportional to the suddenness of the violence. This is regardless of whether Islam is involved or not. By what logic does Greenwald make the assumption that a dislike of Islam, rather than a dislike of slaughtering cartoonists for blasphemy, is the animating factor here?

Without pretending this is so he is unable to then falsely compare it to the lack of objection to the legally-approved French treatment of hate speech and thus demonstrate hypocrisy.

Note how he moves seamlessly from support of an anti-religious cartoon to wishing to ‘demonize’ the followers. This is how he does it, a bait and switch. He seeks to prove hypocrisy by mischaracterising the blasphemy for which they were killed as the equivalent of the illegal racism of others .

A year ago Greenwald made this hypocrisy case by comparing it to antisemitism and the reaction to it.

He is pretending to make the following point:

“If you allow Muslims to be demonised then you must allow Jews and others to be demonised”.

But what he is actually saying is:

“If you thought that Charlie Hebdo were right to draw Mohammed then you can’t object when others are racist.”

This is no better than suggesting that if you defend the content and intention of Monty Python’s Life of Brian you are obliged to defend the content and intention of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

His latest piece continues:

They insisted that it was not enough to denounce or condemn those who murdered the Hebdo cartoonists. Instead, they tried to impose a new obligation: one must celebrate and embrace the ideas of the Hebdo cartoonists, support the granting of awards to them, cheer for the substance of their views. Failure to embrace the ideas of Charlie Hebdo (rather than just their free speech rights) subjected one to accusations — by the world’s slimiest smear artists — that one was failing to uphold their rights of free expression or, worse, that one sympathized with their killers.

Greenwald doesn’t mean the idea of religious satire in a general sense. He suggests people demand that you have to agree with all of the specific content of Charlie Hebdo. I say this is false. Supporting, and advocating the supporting of, their bravery in continuing to blaspheme and stand in solidarity with Jyllands-Posten, under threat of death, is not to say you must agree with all of their content all of the time.

You can claim that some of what Charlie Hebdo did is bad (I don’t), even that it is anti-Muslim (I don’t), and still completely agree that the work they were killed for, namely the blasphemy and religious mockery, is distinct and of value. It is even easier to make the case for supporting it and disseminating it when it is threatened by violence.

In attacking the ‘slimiest smear artists’, he is actually addressing the reaction many, including myself, had to the ‘but’ brigade. Those that would say, “Of course nobody should be murdered for drawing a cartoon but they were virulent racists…” etc.

The objection to statements like this came not from an insistence that one must agree with the contents of the magazine but that the formulation and its timing hints at something malign, namely that the author is blaming the victims and/or minimising the crime of their murderers.

If your opening section of a piece about the newly dead expresses your agreement with the murderer’s opinion of them then it may well raise questions. If the synopsis of that opinion is a smear and a mischaracterisation then the suspicions are only raised further.

If you then seek to highlight examples which they were not murdered for AND these examples too are false, then it really doesn’t require the ‘slimiest of smear artists’ to start questioning your sympathies.

If what Greenwald says is on the up he should have had little difficulty a year ago demonstrating where Charlie Hebdo were demonising all Muslims. Instead, for example, he falsely claimed that the following cartoon was “mocking the African sex slaves of Boko Haram as welfare queens.”


Greenwald has had plenty of time to learn that the abuse of asylum seekers and immigrants by French nativists is the target of the satire but he shows no sign of acknowledgement.

Those he derides for stating he should acknowledge the value of printing the Mohammed cartoons were not also insisting that he supports the point made in the above cartoon. Not even what it actually meant let alone what Greenwald pretends it does.

He wasn’t attacked because he refused to say he liked Charlie Hebdo but because he smeared them in his first piece after they were slaughtered and because he pretended that blasphemy was racism.

Charlie Hebdo’s staff were not killed for the persistent demonising of a minority or for racism or for anything of the sort. They were killed for blasphemy. The killers were abundantly clear on this point.

The riots, calls to murder, and the razing of embassies following the Danish cartoons publication did not constitute a movement speaking in solidarity to the Muslim underclasses of Europe. These occurred across the world and in Muslim majority countries. They were religious chauvinism. They were ‘avenging the Prophet’ and defending religious honour.

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo were a continuation of this and it was against this that people stood in solidarity. The objections to BDS campaigners and Dieudonné M’bala M’bala are not the same thing. You are not being hypocritical when you say that the blasphemy for which they were specifically murdered is valuable and antisemitism and racism is not. Greenwald insists on conflating them.

As Caroline Fourest puts it:

Others, completely irresponsible, with their twisted minds, insidious semantics and complicit blindness have again started to fabricate targets, by confusing blasphemy with “Islamophobia”.

Fourest, Caroline (2015-12-01). In praise of blasphemy : Why Charlie Hebdo is not “islamophobic” (essai français). Grasset. Kindle Edition.

If Greenwald says that free speech on the continent should better resemble the American model under which he operated as a lawyer, I would agree with him. If he wishes to campaign against hate speech laws in Europe, and in particular France, I will support him. But if he does so by saying that Charlie Hebdo were doing the same thing as Dieudonné M’bala M’bala or Der Stürmer,  I will say he is still, one year on, lying.

When confronted by events which generate conclusions unfavourable to our existing and cherished views, we have a bad habit of saying things which we later regret. Sometimes we abandon logic or decency and sometimes we lash out at the wrong people. Fortunately, some reflection often brings the best out in us and we reassess and we adapt and we evolve. This happened for some that disparaged Charlie Hebdo in the same articles, and sometimes in the same paragraphs, which condemned their slaughter. But not for Glenn Greenwald.


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.

Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad and Freedom of Religion

This is a cross post from Dead White Male by Allan Gilmour (@allanglmr) The original article is here.


Following the attacks in Paris made on the Charlie Hebdo staff, there has been a clear need to restate and reaffirm the need and importance of freedom of speech: the freedom to question, parody, and puncture any ideology is an essential part of democracy and a healthy society. However, some questioned the wisdom of publishing (or even re-publishing) the images of Muhammad on the Charlie Hebdo covers (for example, Jonathan Freedland and Joseph Harker of the Guardian) because they thought it would cause needless offence to a very large number of Muslims – maybe even the “vast majority of Muslims around the world”. But to argue that the cartoons shouldn’t be re-published because they might offend a large number of people is to simply reinforce a religious taboo; it’s an argument to make blasphemy an acceptable restriction on free speech. This makes it more difficult for those who are not offended to express themselves as Maajid Nawaz found when he went onto Twitter to say that he didn’t find one of the Jesus and Mo cartoons offensive. He was expressing an opinion about his own faith and for this he received death threats. If it becomes normal in the media, and in public life in general to take blasphemy seriously, then this will in fact restrict the freedom of Muslims to express their faith as happened with Nawaz. For anyone who might think there is a need to be sensitive to the feelings of Muslims that are against depictions of Muhammad because of the general prohibition of it in Islam, and who do not want to offend a large number of these Muslims by reproducing the pictures in question, they should remember another principle; one that is inextricably linked to free speech – freedom of religion. Respecting this prohibition is insensitive to the diversity of opinion and practice in Islam. Not only that, it fosters the conditions in which an idea is immune from being challenged by anyone – especially other Muslims. A tradition of depicting the prophet in some Islamic art does exist. For some Muslims it is part of their worship. They should be allowed to create and admire these images without fear of censorship or fear of violence. A prohibition which silences critics, or anyone who wants to break any of these taboos for whatever reason, is only helping one group of Muslims force their interpretation on the rest of the Muslim population and everybody else. By taking the demands and actions of one group of Muslims seriously (and taking it as the general opinion of all Muslims) narrows the definition of Islam and makes it harder for others to express their thoughts on it and to practice it how they wish. It smothers diversity within the religion and any dissenting voices. The prohibition of the depiction of Muhammad is open to interpretation for those that want to follow it. Whether this interpretation is correct or not (and that goes for any rule that a religion sets out), it does not need to be followed by everybody. Even if it were undeniable that scripture prohibited depiction, that would not mean that people have to follow it. And even if the majority of Muslims find it offensive as is claimed, it still does not mean all Muslims or anyone else must observe it. With freedom of religion comes the right to interpret your religion as you want to and to practice it in the way you want to. This means you don’t have to follow all the rules that you don’t think are important, and nobody should be able to make you. Whether it is extremists, conservative Muslims, or anyone else who thinks that nobody should be depicting Muhammad, they are all damaging the diversity of practice in Islam and making it harder for other Muslims to express their faith in different ways. For Muslims who want to be able to discuss, develop, and express their faith without limits to doing so, there needs to be a commitment to freedom of religion and ultimately freedom of speech.


An Open Letter to Laurie Penny

By David Paxton

Ms Penny,

Apologies for the rather trite format. I am no fan of open letters but I have long been blocked by you on Twitter and this is the remaining method of contacting you openly.

It’s now been over five weeks since the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. 48hrs subsequent to them you posted the following:

Murder is vile and unconscionable. Freedom of the press must be protected. But racist trolling is not heroism. Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie.

This single tweet is all this is about. You didn’t say much else about the attack as far as I could find. And I looked.

I was appalled by many responses to the attacks and wrote a piece highlighting my problems with them. Your tweet is featured in it under the section ‘Reflexive Smearing’. Reading it back I was still struck by what you had written and think it valid to revisit. I believe there is a disparity between what you profess to believe in, how you usually conduct yourself and the content of your statement. Something doesn’t add up and I would be much obliged if at the very least you could help clarify it and end my confusion.

My objections to your message are as follows:

1: You force equivalence/balance into the statement via the formulation. Namely: ‘The murderer is wrong but so are the victims.’  It seems to suggest you were incapable, for some reason, of being satisfied merely with condemning Islamist murderers.

2: You reduce Charlie Hebdo’s work to mere ‘trolling’. Under some definitions of trolling this might be accurate but you only ever employ it as a pejorative. I am assuming you have done so here.

3: You chose to distance yourself from those expressing solidarity with them.

4: You deny their heroism.

5: You accuse the dead of being racist. I believe unfairly.

The first objection is probably worth leaving. I explained in my previous piece how the selective use of this formulation is perhaps a symptom of something else. I stand by that. But in its plain meaning it is merely the expression of two opinions side by side. I cannot definitively prove the ill-intent of the implied equivalence so I won’t ask you to deny it here. Although as a writer from whom I have read the term ‘victim blaming’ with some frequency, can you not see why your formulation gives off the strong whiff of it?

The remaining four points collectively amount to something quite egregious. I think it is incumbent on you to explain why you stand by your statement or repudiate it and apologise. I shall explain why this is so.

But before anything else I would strongly recommend you read this excellent piece by Frenchman Olivier Tonneau. It’s called A Letter to My British Friends and I’m sure he means you more than me, a conservative. Perhaps after reading it yourself we can be done with this early and move straight on to your repudiation and apology. There are several pieces explaining Charlie Hebdo’s content and style but I chose this one as a starting point because the author’s views are closest to what I perceive to be your own about most subjects.

I was aware of what Charlie Hebdo was since the 2006 Danish Cartoon controversy. However, I speak lousy French and five weeks ago I could not claim detailed knowledge of its content and history. Many of the first voices to speak out after the attacks were adamant of its malign intentions and conduct and there were cartoons, taken out of context, to back this up. Did you see an unexplained cartoon of Boko Haram sex slaves perchance? Is that what made you write what you did?

Knowing as I did that they were a far left, secular, deeply anti-racist organisation, the initial accusations did not ring true to me and I endeavoured to find the context and explanation of the images being circulated. That did take some time. Therefore I can understand how people under pressure to comment quickly and without foreknowledge may well have relied on these spurious accusations of racism. Perhaps you were one of those people? Did you perhaps not know what you were talking about but were as yet unaware of this ignorance? You follow Graham Linehan on Twitter, he set out early to speak against the victim blaming and was quick to disseminate backgrounds and explanations to the more controversial cartoons. Did you miss his commendable efforts before commenting? More to the point, five weeks on, are you still content in calling them unheroic racist trolls?

Assuming you are:

Let’s look at the trolling accusation. Judging the value or quality of satire is difficult. But 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

Are there any on the list you wish that they didn’t attack? Or dispute that they did? These seem far closer to your political agenda than my own and I would have thought you a confirmed supporter of their efforts. Have you evidence they did things beyond this you felt worthy of condemnation? Do tell.

Even if you choose to describe their pieces and cartoons as being on the level of a troll’s output, surely the specific and righteous targeting elevates it above that? Why did you feel it reasonable to summarise the work they died for as merely trolling? As often as not your use of ‘troll’ is aimed at the sort of rampant misogynists who hurl rape threats at your feminist comrades. At this point I would invite you to examine this obituary of Elsa Cayat. Please read about this wonderful woman, named and singled out by the murderers, the only woman who was. Was her work trolling? If she was Charlie when she was murdered why aren’t you subsequently? Please spell it out.

As for choosing to expressly deny solidarity, I think the case for declaring solidarity is overwhelming, regardless of approval of the content. I made this case here and so will save myself the bother of making it in detail once more. However, a summation would be that for you to enjoy the freedoms we take for granted you’ve a duty to show solidarity with those threatened for free expression regardless of whether you approve of the expression. What is more, not stating “Je suis Charlie” is the simplest way to not express solidarity but to state “Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie” is something else altogether. The former hashtag came first and the latter was a repudiation of it. You therefore positively stated opposition to standing with them. Is there not something questionable in choosing to make your only contribution to the aftermath of a massacre include a repudiation of solidarity with the victims? I can scarcely imagine the crimes one would have to commit for me to make such a clear statement of separation from them after their cold-blooded murder. Why the hell did you?

“…not heroism”: Well this is a tricky one because surely such things are relative? Allow me to put my refutation in the form of a question. Imagine, you’re an editor of a magazine dedicated to secularism and you know for doing this job you are on the hit lists of active terrorist groups who have already taken serious risks to kill others. You acknowledge that you are under the most dire of threats and following a previous attack you say, and clearly mean, “I would rather die standing than live on my knees”. You can quit any time, but you don’t. Is that not heroic?

Now imagine that after this situation has transpired two religious-extremist thugs enter your place of work, call you out by name and shoot you in the head with an assault rifle. Assume you’ve enough time after realising certain death is imminent to contemplate that a fellow feminist, anti-racist, left-wing writer with 106,000 followers decides to publicly denounce your effort as unheroic. Ok, that might be the last thing on his mind but what if that was the final thing on Stéphane Charbonnier’s mind? Are you happy with that?

I have met two VC recipients and multiple MM/MC recipients, all of whom are heroic by virtue of combating pretty nasty people while being fortunate enough to be armed and trained. I know none who have faced the same people with nowt but a pen and a metaphorical prayer. If that isn’t heroic, Ms Penny, tell us what is? Can you name examples of people who are significantly more heroic? I honestly cannot. We’re up near Dietrich Bonhoeffer levels here. Tell us who has more steadfastly done what they considered right in the face of such apparent risks? Charb knew the risks, they were grave and they manifested in his murder. If you wish to claim this is not heroic that’s up to you but without explaining why, forgive me for thinking you not only wrong but so very clearly wrong that one has to start to question what motivation would lead you to choose to label such clear heroism as the opposite. Would you deign to enlighten? I contend you owe it to the dead whom you so casually choose to belittle.

Finally we’re left with racism. I’ve read thousands of your words so, although never having met you, I think if I were to sum up what you’re about politically, in a few bullet points, ‘anti-racist’ would feature high up and you wouldn’t disagree. I’d then also assume you know the following: Good people have exerted enormous effort to make the charge of racism, when proven, an enormous stigma. In fact it’s so virulent that it’s an enormous stigma even when unproven. The former case is a cause for celebration and for much of the advancement our societies have made regarding racism. The latter is, unfortunately, a temptation for those who wish to discredit or silence people they disagree with by misusing the power of the charge.

There is something uniquely pernicious about casual and false accusations of racism. This is because it diminishes the weight of the accusation that so many have fought to make weighty. I contend your attribution of racism is both false and casual and therefore you are making it easier for racists to express themselves without pause. You are making the social penalty harder to apply. Why did you choose to apply it?

There’s a burden of proof problem here. I could blow another couple thousand words explaining why these avowed anti-racists are not racist but ultimately one cannot prove a negative. The burden of proof is on you. If you are going to make an accusation that defies the stated mission of the newly dead, is the burden not on you to show why? Why have you shirked it?

No matter how hard one tries to think the best here it seems inescapable that you smeared the dead as racists. And with no valid justification. It’s not just an insult to the victims it clearly works against any serious effort to fight racism. How low is that? How do you live with that?

I wonder how firm you are in your convictions? Let’s try this…

12 Dead In French Magazine Shooting

This is the unheroic, racist, troll Stéphane Charbonnier. The man who contributed his talent to the National Movement Against Racism by the way and the one whose activities you felt comfortable to condemn in the same tweet as condemning his murder.

This was his partner:

Jeannette-Bougrab-portrait-en-2007_exact1024x768_l copy

Her name is Jeannetter Bougrab. Of Muslim parentage she had, by the time she got her PhD in public law from the Sorbonne, become a secular atheist. At one point in her career she was the Chair of the French Equal Opportunities and Anti-Discrimination Commission.

If something is true, it is true at anytime, in any place and in any company. So I ask you if you would be earnestly able to explain to this woman why her loved one was not just a troll, not just unheroic but also a racist? Do you think this news would be a shock to her? That she had given her love to a racist by being duped and that somehow you know better than her? Or do you suggest she knowingly loved a racist? Do you think your evidence would be strong enough to convince her? Or perhaps you merely smeared her loved one from a condition of total ignorance or for reasons of malice? Which is it? Is there another option?

I’ll sum up:

I easily understand why fifth columnist extremists head straight for the implications you made. They seek to shift the blame from their own Islamic ideology. However, I don’t understand how you’ve ended up on the opposing side to Caroline Fourest. Do you understand this? Can you justify it?

Stating you’re not Charlie is on the one hand a contemptible denial of support but on the other a clear statement of fact. You don’t deserve to be considered alongside those that died that day or whom managed to continue producing their magazine in the aftermath. At least not for as long as you are willing to stand by your opinion.

Now this time has passed and you are able to reflect upon what you wrote, have you altered your opinion any?

I would like you to do one of the following:

1: Justify your opinion. For although you have the right to make it, such a strong opinion, especially about those unable to reply, requires justification.


2: Repudiate your previous statement. Do so publicly and set straight those whom you influence and may have taken your ignorant and precipitant declaration as somehow based on thought and knowledge. Of course, with this should also come an apology and an explanation. What serious person could provide less?

Remember the true victims – Charlie Hebdo and terror

This is a cross-post from Politics ad Infinitum by Tom Owolade

Some people are missing the point. The victims of the Charlie Hebdo assault in Paris are not the Muslims satirised by the magazine or the Muslims who face the possibility of backlash. The victims are the 10 journalists, murdered for drawing cartoons. Their murder deserves better analysis. They don’t deserve to be defiled after death-for exercising the right which caused their murder. They certainly don’t deserve their status as victims to shift to people who weren’t murdered for drawing cartoons. They deserve unreserved sympathy, not for their cartoons, but by existing, and confidently asserting their right to do so.

What happened on Wednesday was viscerally clear: A cornerstone of liberal democracy was assaulted by theofascists. Focusing exclusively on the ‘maleficence’ of the cartoons, immediately after their assault, distorts this: whether the cartoons are horrible or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is whether they have the right to exist, unburdened by the threat of murder. As the incidents on Friday suggest, this is more profound than the contents of the cartoons. This is an assault against free speech, Jews, gays, women and anything or person inconsistent with their warped ideology. This is a cult of death and an attitude of appeasement, apologetics and equivocation constitutes suicide.

But people are still missing the point. They’ll continue to do so because, put simply, the victimhood of non-white people is the premise with which they draw conclusions; 10 journalists murdered for cartoons is really about the Muslims they portrayed and the Muslims who could face backlash. The murder of these journalists is not an assault on free speech-that is too simple, straightforward and direct. It is really about race narratives, interconnectivity between power structures and “islamophobia“. The fetish for nuance nullifies an honest analysis. Rather than saying the force of radical Islamism directly threaten our liberties, we inwardly gaze for our Islamophobia and imperialism. Rather than saying “x” we say “x, but”. If we can’t respond to straightforward evil with a straightforward moral response, our values will continue to degenerate intermittently.

It has already begun. Freedom of speech being qualified with respect to beliefs is indistinguishable from de facto blasphemy law. Hate speech laws, blasphemy laws, every tenet of civil liberties will soon be sullied. Unless, of course, rights are affirmed and analysis is honest. The two go hand in hand and depend on positive dynamism. Not self-loathing and not paralysis.

This attitude, though, will continue to fester amongst people of my generation. Anti-racism is developing from a principled position into a vehicle for excusing and mollifying totalitarian forces. These forces don’t possess shaven heads or white masks. They do possess the same impulses, instincts and the same pathological supremacism. The response to them should also be the same. I fear it won’t and my fears are not being assuaged at the moment.

The very deep thoughts of Deborah Orr

Twitter is an astounding thing. Remembering back to when I first used it, we’d describe it in terms of a great leveller, able to break down barriers between the public and the previously unseen conversations of certain elites. It allowed students like me to gain insight and access to the worlds that really fascinated and alluded them: politics and the press.

Whilst this peak behind the curtain should have been an exciting insight in to the workings of the British media, it was in fact a monumentally depressing view into a culturally vapid, morally relative, boring community of slack-jawed fuckwittery with little or nothing to recommend it except for the extreme hard work of their editors and my own schadenfreude. This took some time to get used to, but I think it probably does society the world of good to see the all too human failings of those who would like to pronounce on how we should think, feel and act.

Anyway… back to the point. Deborah Orr is pronouncing on the good (or bad) taste of publishing the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo. I’m not going to delve in to how ironically tasteless I find her pronouncements – given the people who drew them were murdered in cold blood for doing so a matter of mere days ago, I am sure you can all judge for yourselves. I do, however, find the idea that she is not in the least embarrassed by assuming this role (of deciding what is or isn’t suitable for public consumption based on her own distaste of the topic/image/idea), and she is therefore doing it in view of the public, utterly astounding.

Good God, we’re adults for crying out loud, are you going to come round my house and go through the bookshelves to remove the books that make you blush, or feel uncomfortable, or challenge you?

The truth is often unpleasant, life is nasty, brutish and short. Worthy journalism, worthy writing, is there to report on that truth, to help us to comprehend the world in which we live and to bring in to sharp focus the narrative and connection between events. We really are in a sorry state of affairs if distaste becomes the basis by which we embargo news stories. The images are context without them the story is anchorless. They are part of a long and complicated narrative that talks of the ageing and maturing of European revolutionary politics, globalisation, inter-cultural relationships, secularism, Islamophobia, Islamo-facism, intolerance and tolerance and more besides. This is the history and the context in which we live.

There are many reasons editors might not want to publish the images (the safety of their staff not being a small matter), but taste should never, ever be one of them. Deborah, avert your damned eyes if you don’t like it, but how dare you condescend to tell us, in the name of good taste, what truth should be kept from us.


Exit Wounds: On Condemning Charlie Hebdo After The Attacks

By Anthony Breach

This past week has seen more tragedy than most, even after a year of worsening Islamist violence.  Public condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo murders has been universal, and most of the discussion surrounding the attack has centred on the conviction of the paper to publish their views in spite of credible and eventually fatal death threats from Islamists.

Most of this coverage has been admirable of the paper, or if disagreeing with the paper as either puerile or offensive, respectful of the courage all of the journalists at Charlie Hebdo require to speak their mind and scribble for the journal. Nevertheless, a minority have made it clear that whilst they also condemn the murders, their condemnation is qualified, usually in the form “They didn’t deserve to be killed, but…”. The ‘but’ refers to their disgust at Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, and necessarily following from that, disgust that people are supporting or praising the paper following the murder of most of the editorial team.  For this minority, the attack on freedom of speech by violent Islamists is a trivial concern – the priority is instead criticising Charlie Hebdo for their sense of humour. This is an attempt to shift the focus of the discussion away from the murdered journalists and police officers and towards the sensibilities of this minority and their taste in cartoons.

Some brief, tweeted examples:

“Deliberately producing something you know is racist and offensive still makes you an ass. There are no heroes here.”

“I find it hard to get riled up about a guy who got killed for doing hate speech when Islamophobia kills Muslims regularly”

“The real problem and cause of the violence is the eurocentric cultural supremacy that nurtured ‘s .”

“Killing journalists for what they say is despicable. Spreading bigotry under guise of “satire” is also despicable. Both are wrong.”

Longer, less crude pieces have also been written – these set out to move the immediate focus away from the murder and Islamist violence towards ‘The Real Problem’ of Western foreign policies in the Muslim world and anti-Muslim bigotry in the West (usually linked together, and always as opposed to an additional or related problem concerning the murders). The idea that this is somehow an attack on free speech is also dismissed:

These images then, can be played down as just a ‘bit of fun’ as no doubt the least perceptive of you will try to argue, or it can be seen through the prism of the war on terror — just another front on the war against Islam that has claimed so many lives — and the demonology behind it.

“When faced with a terrorist attack against a satirical newspaper, the appropriate response seems obvious. Don’t let the victims be silenced. Spread their work as far as it can possibly go. Laugh in the face of those savage murderers who don’t understand satire.

In this case, it is the wrong response.

Here’s what’s difficult to parse in the face of tragedy: yes, Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical newspaper. Its staff is white. Its cartoons often represent a certain, virulently racist brand of French xenophobia. While they generously claim to ‘attack everyone equally,’ the cartoons they publish are intentionally anti-Islam, and frequently sexist and homophobic.”

“I am not, in case I didn’t make it perfectly clear up top, saying the staff of Charlie Hebdo “asked for it” or “deserved” to get shot. The public discourse isn’t between people who think they “asked for it” and people who don’t—it’s entirely among people who agree that the violence was unacceptable, but some of whom feel that this obligates them to elevate Charlie Hebdo to heroes and to hold up “Je Suis Charlie” signs, and others who don’t.

Charlie Hebdo weren’t asking to be shot. They were asking for a reaction, though, and for half a century now they’ve been surviving pretty much on the notoriety of constantly trying to provoke a reaction. And let’s be real: pushing buttons, by itself, doesn’t make your work more virtuous. Pissing people off is just pissing people off.”

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

Several assumptions run through all of these attitudes. Most obvious is the idea that it is impossible to support Charlie Hebdo without being a crypto-bigot. This would be a surprise to the many Muslims, secular or pious, who have written in support of and turned out to the #JeSuisCharlie rallies in France and around the world, the Arab and Muslim cartoonists who drew comics in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, and Charlie Hebdo’s sub-editor, Moustapha Ourad, who was killed in the attack. These examples are only the easiest way of demonstrating that there is no relationship between support for the paper and Islamophobia. Whilst there have already been racist reprisals against the Muslim community in Europe and the wider West, responsibility for these belongs only to those who are inciting and committing that violence. For one to say #JeSuisCharlie is not to side with the European far-right, just as much as standing up for Muslims is clearly not to side with the Islamist far-right.

Another assumption is that Charlie Hebdo was guilty in its satire of Islamists of “punching down”:

“satire doesn’t work when you’re punching down. that’s just punching someone you’ve got pinned and laughing at them while you’re doing it”

“It’s not JUST satire. It’s never JUST satire. It’s rooted in racist ideologies that perpetuate violent harm on innocent people.”

“Satire is about punching up against oppressive powers, not punching down on marginalized groups in society. Stop defending it.”

Almost the entirety of Charlie Hebdo’s output is dedicated to punching upwards, and they devote far more space to appropriately monstrous caricatures of the Le Pen family and each member of the French establishment than they do for Islamists. Whether their satire is tasteful or not bears no relevance on whether we should qualify our support for Charlie Hebdo in the aftermath of the murders. The attackers have stated that they did not attack the paper because of racist cartoons about a black slave on a leash or Boko Haram’s sex slaves demanding benefits, but specifically because of the paper’s willingness to mock Islamists.

Islamists are not a powerless or victimised minority. That they are repressed and jokes are told about them in both the West and the Muslim world is not prejudice but rejection. The paper was chosen because of both this rejection and as it was considered a soft target of liberalism, as the Jewish schools in Toulouse, the Belgian Holocaust Museum, and the youth wing of the Norwegian Labour Party all were.

However, what is truly central to the position that Charlie Hebdo should be opposed in the aftermath of the murders is a scepticism, even suspicion of free speech. It goes without saying that the cartoons are deserving of criticism in a society with free speech, and that position has been well-argued in France for years prior. But, free speech as a value is sneered at by these people as a matter of pride, as a way of demonstrating antagonism towards mainstream politics and liberalism:

“Dear the press, I get that your freeze peach is very important to you, but it does mostly seem to be other people’s religions you desecrate.”

“Gee, I can’t believe how often defenders of ‘free speech’ and bigots intersect. I mean…what are the odds?”

“These murders are understandably being seen as an attack on free expression; if nothing else, this tragedy is considerably more serious than the last free speech martyr we collectively anointed, in the form of a dreadful Seth Rogen film.

But the ever lingering threat, already rapidly swelling up in commentary online around the world, is that of an equally violent [sic] reactionary backlash that — unlike Islamic extremists — cloaks itself in the lofty rhetoric of democracy and liberty…. All this screaming beneath a banner of “Free Speech.” ”

For a political position which claims to place such a strong emphasis on empathy, it has been sorely lacking on the far-Left in recent days. That all of the journalists were murdered over a difference of opinion is apparently irrelevant; instead, I have seen a far greater effort on the demonstration on far-Left credentials through the condemnation of Charlie Hebdo and freedom of speech than on solidarity with democrats and anti-Islamists. More importantly, in criticising the cartoons in response to an outpouring of sympathy for Charlie Hebdo, it is implied that their deaths are less important than if those cartoons had never been drawn.

“Those criticising Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons are implying that the victims are unworthy of sympathy whilst denying they’re doing such a thing.”

This is the heart of the opposition towards people celebrating free speech in defiance of Islamist violence – that ultimately, people who disagree with the far-Left are worth less as people, and the legitimacy of what they have to say is devalued as a result. This perspective is far more dangerous to freedom of speech than violent lunatics, as rather than arguing the problem with freedom of speech is a cartoon mocking Islamist demagoguery, freedom of speech is instead criticised as a flawed value. It is what prompts the usage of ‘Freeze Peaches’ or “Free Speech” in quotation marks. This, not gun-toting maniacs, is the real threat to freedom of speech over the coming weeks and months – that Charlie Hebdo’s insistence on satirising Islamism makes them too irreverent for their principles to be defended.  They and their values must be.