Below are my opening remarks at a 29 January panel discussion organised by UCL Atheist Society entitled “Living in outrageous times: Charlie Hebdo and the culture of offence”.
The two other panellists debating the issue reminded me of Caroline Fourest’s saying: “Racism must not excuse fundamentalism and fundamentalism must not excuse racism”. Peter Bradley, director of Speakers’ Corner Trust and Charlie Klendjian of the Lawyers’ Secular Society did just that. Bradley was of the opinion that if one was going to offend, they should be held accountable(!?) whilst Klendjian trivialised racism and prejudice and conflated Islam, Islamism and Muslims. (As an aside, I wish the debate had been filmed as it would have been the end of the Lawyers’ Secular Society or at least Charlie Klendjian. Having worked with the LSS in the past (but no longer doing so), I do hope someone will save the organisation from Klendjian who – along with his cohorts at Sharia Watch and UKIP – are taking the LSS down the path of xenophobia and bigotry.)
Anyway, here are my initial remarks:
If I was to make only one point on the Charlie Hebdo massacre it would be that the main issue is not “the culture of offence” because in reality we are all offended all the time whatever our beliefs – Muslim or atheist, Christian, Jewish… I’m offended right now – the fact that I must have this debate in the 21 century offends me.
Offence is subjective and what offends one is funny or completely insignificant to another – even when it comes to that which is deemed sacred and taboo by the gatekeepers of power.
Take the image of Mohammad, Islam’s prophet. There is a rich historical and artistic tradition of depicting Mohammad over many centuries but it’s not allowed today. Why?
“The culture of offence” is just the packaging which blames the victims and provides legitimacy to the Islamists and their unbridled violence and terrorism. You will often hear – especially in the British press – that the Charlie massacre is to be condemned BUT the cartoonists did offend “Muslims” thereby implying that they deserved what they got.
What the “culture of offence” packaging conveniently ignores is that not all “Muslims” are offended by the cartoons. Muslims are no more a homogeneous group than Christians, Jews or the French or British. Also, many are not practising Muslims; there are atheists and agnostics amongst them. And many are believers who are also secularists and feminists and anti-Islamists and gay and unveiled who eat bacon and don’t feel offended by the cartoon Peppa pig.
This is obvious. Even in the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a Muslim policeman, Ahmed Merabet was killed whilst an Algerian copy editor Mustapha Ourad was gunned down in Charlie’s hallway. Many Muslims (or those of “Muslim heritage”) joined rallies and held up “Je Suis Charlie” banners. You have heard of the East London French Muslim cafe owner who was threatened for putting up a “Je Suis Charlie” sign in his cafe. There’s Lassana Bathily, the Malian-born Muslim employee who hid customers at the Paris kosher supermarket and saved lives. And it’s not just people in Europe who supported Charlie. In Iran – a theocracy where blasphemy, heresy, apostasy, enmity against god… and another 130 offences are punishable by death – a rally of journalists in support of Charlie Hebdo was attacked and broken up by security agents wielding clubs and chains. A newspaper was shut down for publishing a photo showing solidarity with the publication. Over 180 journalists who condemned the attack are facing threats from the regime. In Turkey, two columnists from a daily are under investigation for ‘religious defamation’ for featuring the Charlie cover…
So there is no homogeneous “culture of offence”. Some are offended, some are not and most of those who are offended will not go on to kill for it.
The “culture of offence” is a smokescreen. It doesn’t exist. What is packaged as the “culture of offence” is really Islamism’s imposition of blasphemy rules and theocracy under the guise of “Muslim” culture. This is validated by multiculturalism as a social policy and cultural relativism, which sees “communities” and societies as homogeneous and one and the same with the Islamic states and far-Right political movements imposing their rules via force and intimidation.
In Europe, Islamists hide behind a “culture of offence” and also terms like Islamophobia to impose their rules and silence and terrorise dissenters. In Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Syria, they have no time for such niceties. There, the “offenders” are called apostates and blasphemers and legally murdered in broad daylight in the same way Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists were “executed”. If you don’t see this, you miss the bigger picture. You need to see Islamism for the international fascist movement that it is and you also need to see the many Charlie Hebdos in Iran, the Middle East, North Africa, Asia – across the globe (including many “Muslims”), who speak and mock that which is deemed sacred by the religious-Right at great risks to their lives.
Whilst many hold the cartoonists responsible for provoking the violence, in reality the cartoons are an excuse. What did Saudi freethinker Raif Badawi do to provoke a sentence of 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes? Or Soheil Arabi sentenced to death in Iran? Or the schoolchildren in Peshawar? Or the girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria? What about the gay men thrown off a building by ISIS? What did they do to “provoke” the threats and abductions and massacres?
Like the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, I am often told not to challenge Sharia or apostasy and blasphemy laws by publicly saying I am an ex-Muslim or not to challenge the Islamists’ hatred of women’s bodies via nude protest. I am told day in and day out to “stop provoking them”. But Islamists need no provocation. All those living 21 century lives are “provocations”. Being a woman, a freethinker, being gay, being unveiled, going to school, driving a car, having sex, falling in love… “provokes” them.
More importantly, though, it is Islamism and the religious-Right, which are the real offence. They are the real provocation and it is they who should be held to account not the many who refuse and resist.
Target the Islamists via mass and political mobilisation and unequivocally without any justification or excuses.
Not Muslims. Not immigrants. [Read more…]