Nick linked to a piece by Mehdi Hasan so I just had to go read the whole thing. I do not like it. I never do like what Mehdi Hasan writes or says.
He frames this as an open letter to “Dear liberal pundit” – which is annoying. Should we reply “Dear conservative Muslim pundit”? Or should we play at being grown-ups.
The massacre in Paris on 7 January was, you keep telling us, an attack on free speech. The conservative former French president Nicolas Sarkozy agrees, calling it “a war declared on civilisation”. So, too, does the liberal-left pin-up Jon Snow, who crassly tweeted about a “clash of civilisations” and referred to “Europe’s belief in freedom of expression”.
In the midst of all the post-Paris grief, hypocrisy and hyperbole abounds. Yes, the attack was an act of unquantifiable evil; an inexcusable and merciless murder of innocents. But was it really a “bid to assassinate” free speech (ITV’s Mark Austin), to “desecrate” our ideas of “free thought” (Stephen Fry)?
Yes of course it fucking was, you buffoon. Do you think writers who criticize Islam feel safer today than they did on January 6th? Do you think the Charlie Hebdo massacre sent no message at all?
It’s easy for Mehdi Hasan to be smug, isn’t it, because he knows no one is going to burst into his office or study and machine gun him to death.
Yes, the Charlie Hebdo massacre was indeed an attack on free speech. Of course it was.
Please get a grip. None of us believes in an untrammelled right to free speech. We all agree there are always going to be lines that, for the purposes of law and order, cannot be crossed; or for the purposes of taste and decency, should not be crossed. We differ only on where those lines should be drawn.
Yes, that’s right – and drawing the line at “anything critical of Islam” is miles and miles from the right place.
Consider also the “thought experiment” offered by the Oxford philosopher Brian Klug. Imagine, he writes, if a man had joined the “unity rally” in Paris on 11 January “wearing a badge that said ‘Je suis Chérif'” – the first name of one of the Charlie Hebdo gunmen. Suppose, Klug adds, he carried a placard with a cartoon mocking the murdered journalists. “How would the crowd have reacted?… Would they have seen this lone individual as a hero, standing up for liberty and freedom of speech? Or would they have been profoundly offended?” Do you disagree with Klug’s conclusion that the man “would have been lucky to get away with his life”?
I’m glad you asked me that. Yes, I do. Of course I do. No they would not have seen that lone individual as a hero, but also no, they would not have torn him limb from limb. Then again it’s an imaginary, so neither of us knows, so it’s not a particularly compelling argument.
Lampooning racism by reproducing brazenly racist imagery is a pretty dubious satirical tactic. Also, as the former Charlie Hebdo journalist Olivier Cyran argued in 2013, an “Islamophobic neurosis gradually took over” the magazine after 9/11, which then effectively endorsed attacks on “members of a minority religion with no influence in the corridors of power”.
That depends on which corridors of power we’re talking about. The ones in Jiddah, Karachi, Mogadishu? The ones in households where brothers and fathers and sons tell the women what to do? Gay bars? The offices of satirical magazines?
You ask Muslims to denounce a handful of extremists as an existential threat to free speech while turning a blind eye to the much bigger threat to it posed by our elected leaders.
A handful of extremists is an existential threat to free speech when it murders five journalists in one attack for doing something they don’t like. It’s a threat because it’s…you know, a threat. A literal, forceful threat. The fact that they’re a handful of extremists doesn’t make them less frightening, it makes them more so – anybody could do what they did.
Weren’t you sickened to see Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of a country that was responsible for the killing of seven journalists in Gaza in 2014, attend the “unity rally” in Paris?
Somewhat, yes, but you know whose attendance grossed me out much more? The officials from Saudi Arabia who attended. Why aren’t you talking about them, Mehdi?
I feel dirty now.