Les articles de Charlie Hebdo relève de la satire et non de la haine

And now with extra added Le Figaro and Slate France.

Malheureusement Slate France called me Olivia, but oh well. Ce n’est pas au sujet de moi Ce n’est pas à mon sujet.

From Le Figaro:

Jennifer Cody Epstein a fait partie des écrivains anglo-saxons qui se sont opposés à la remise du prix Courage et liberté d’expression au journal satirique français lors du gala organisé par l’association littéraire PEN. Un choix qu’elle déplore aujourd’hui.

Jennifer Cody Epstein regrette amèrement le choix qu’elle a fait il y a quelques semaines. La romancière américaine a fait partie des 204 auteurs anglo-saxons qui ont signé la lettre ouverte qui stipulait leur opposition à la remise du prix Courage et liberté d’expression à Charlie Hebdo, par l’association mondiale littéraire PEN (Manhattan).

Aujourd’hui, elle reconnaît avoir eu tort: «Ce fut une erreur de remettre en question la liberté d’expression. Les articles de Charlie Hebdo relève de la satire et non de la haine» a-t-elle écrit dans une lettre adressée à ses collègues écrivains…

Un repentir salué par Salman Rushdie , l’ancien président du PEN American Center: «Respect à Jennifer Cody Epstein pour son acte honorable d’avoir admis son erreur à propos de Charlie Hebdo», a-t-il écrit sur son compte Twitter. L’auteur des Versets sataniques avait traité de «lâches» ses confrères écrivains opposés au prix, accusant ces derniers d’être «à la recherche d’une personnalité».

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Jennifer Cody Epstein’s letter to the anti-Charlie Hebdo faction

I have permission to publish the letter that Jennifer Cody Epstein sent to her colleagues who organized the petition opposing the PEN award to Charlie Hebdo. In it she describes doing what I wish more people had done: finding out more and changing her thinking as a result.

Herewith that letter:

Dear Colleagues:

Six days ago I received your petition protesting PEN’s decision to award Charlie Hebdo with its 2015 Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award. I added my name to the list based on a number of factors, chief among them the fact that while I was sickened by the fatal repercussions of Hebdo’s repeated lampooning of Islam, I was also deeply troubled by the idea that a magazine that seemed to cater shamelessly to Islamophobia (in a nation that has already banned the hajib from its schools, no less) might be celebrated in any way for its work. I was also influenced by the fact that I am currently at work on a historical novel set in Nazi Germany, and found Hebdo’s visual similarities to Der Sturmer jarring, to say the least.

Over the past week, however, I’ve found myself doing further research and considerable soul-searching, and have come to the somewhat chastening conclusion that my decision, while well-intentioned, was misinformed and (quite frankly) wrong. [Read more…]

One of the Charlie Hebdo dissenters did change her mind

Whaddya know – Jesus & Mo Author alerted me to the fact that one of the Charlie Hebdo protesters actually did listen and did learn and did reverse her position. It was reported in the Norwegian weekly paper Morgenbladet.

«Dårlig informert». – Jeg har akkurat bedt om at mitt navn tas vekk fra listen, skriver Jennifer Cody Epstein, bestselgende forfatter og oversatt til norsk to ganger.

Også hun har endret mening.

– Min opprinnelige impuls var basert på noen alvorlige feiloppfatninger som jeg frykter at flere andre underskrivere deler, selv om de kanskje ikke snur offentlig i en litt pinlig form, slik jeg gjør nå.

Epstein sier at hun misforsto Charlie Hebdos oppdrag og innhold fundamentalt, og etter hvert skjønte at Charlie Hebdo var satire, ikke et forsøk på å utnytte «rasismen, islamofobien og anti-semittismen som vokser frem rundt om i verden».

Google translate with some tweaks based on guesses:

Translation by Harald Hanche-Olson:

“Misinformed”. – I have just now requested the removal of my name from the list, writes Jennifer Cody Epstein, bestselling author and translated to Norwegian twice.

She too has changed her mind.

– My original impulse was based on some serious misunderstandings which I fear are shared by several other signers, even if they don’t turn around in public and somewhat embarrassingly, the way I am doing now.

Epstein says that she fundamentally misunderstood Charie Hebdo’s mission and contents, and came to understand that Charie Hebdo was satire, not an attempt at exploiting “the racism, islamophobia, and anti-semitism that are growing around the world”.

– After some investigating and soul searching, I have concluded that my opinion was based on information that was lacking and, to be quite honest, wrong – even if the intentions were good.

So, good for her. If only more would follow suit!

Majority viciously attacking small numbers of dissent

Speaking of the Charlie Hebdo protests…a few days ago Joyce Carol Oates retweeted a string of remarks by Dan Therriault, then made some of her own.

The first:

Dan Therriault ‏@dantherriault May 22
With PEN dissent, I suspect more writers would have separated themselves from Hebdo content if those few who dissented were not so vilified.

Majority viciously attacking small numbers of dissent used to stop more dissent, to threaten quiet others & maintain their majority opinion.

This devaluing of dissent in the US bleeds into everything, the media questioning authority, political parties, attacking corporate culture.

But it’s truly disheartening to see writers pulled along the cultural move to the right to attack fellow writers for their rational dissent.

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“The Muslim world was enraged”

Ok now I’m curious enough about Rafia Zakaria to read her piece about Charlie Hebdo in Al Jazeera. It’s a relief that she does at least know how to adjust her style for a broader audience. The clarity is welcome.

She starts by summarizing the controversy, ending with a very odd description of its core event:

The question whether Charlie Hebdo needs to be valorized is contentious. It tragically lost eight staff members when gunmen affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Yemen stormed the magazine’s offices on Jan. 7.

Charlie “lost” eight staff members. So I guess when the gunmen stormed the offices, Charlie just somehow misplaced eight of its people and has never been able to find them? And that’s what all this is about?

What a weasel. Charlie didn’t “lose” any staff members. The Kouachi brothers, in masks and body armor, forced their way into the office and shot everyone they saw, killing eight people.

She’s a cowardly weasel about saying what happened to Charlie, but she makes up for it by being assertively blunt about the nature of Charlie – blunt but untruthful. She veils the truth and puts the untruth out into the glare of noon sunlight.

Those who are withdrawing from PEN’s gala support Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish the material, but they argue that its racist and Islamophobic content should not be endorsed with an award.

She treats it as established fact that Charlie Hebdo has “racist and Islamophobic content” when she must be aware that that’s hotly contested.

The magazine has a history of singling out Muslims for jabs and ridicule.

Note the gross factual mistake, or pair of mistakes. CH doesn’t single out Muslims, and the jabs and ridicule are for the ideas and the bosses more than for “Muslims” in general.

Its editorial staff occupies a privileged position compared with that of European Muslims or Muslims in general, whom they have long targeted with irreverent satire.

Oh really? Muslims in general? So the staff occupies a privileged position compared with that of the rulers of Saudi Arabia for instance? Compared with that of the Saudi religious police? Compared with that of Daesh and Boko Haram? Privileged in what sense, privileged in relation to whom? In short, that’s bullshit; simplistic, self-pitying bullshit.

Over the years, PEN has done exemplary work in supporting and speaking out for persecuted writers. However, its award to Charlie Hebdo appears counterproductive to the ideal of literary truth by elevating Islamophobic and racist content that instead deserves condemnation. Although the magazine’s editors and cartoonists were victims of terrorism, their work reflected and fed into the collective sensibility that led to the mass slaughter of Muslims as a way to fight terrorism. I support freedom of speech, and I deplore the tragedy, but their work does not deserve honors.

Again – she’s just pretending it’s established fact that Charlie Hebdo is full of “Islamophobic and racist content” when that is at the very least contested.

Literary organizations such as PEN have often been too silent about Western interventions in the Muslim world and the mayhem they have caused. For example, while PEN regularly champions Muslim writers persecuted by foreign governments, it has rarely done this when Muslim writers are persecuted by the U.S government or its allies under its “war on terrorism.” Such silence or tacit support of U.S. foreign policy has led to the elevation of Islamophobia as an acceptable prejudice in the West.

She gives no examples. I would like to know what Muslim writers she has in mind.

And then she takes a turn for the completely disgusting.

Leading the countercharge in PEN’s defense is Rushdie. In 1988, when he published his fictional account of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, “The Satanic Verses,” the Muslim world was enraged. Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini accused him of blasphemy and issued a fatwa with death threats. More than 20 years later, Rushdie still enjoys worldwide acclaim.

Look at that. Look at it, and quail with disgust. For one thing, The Satanic Verses is not “his fictional account of the life of the Prophet Muhammad.” And then saying “the Muslim world was enraged” is completely ridiculous, and an insult to the very set of people she takes herself to be defending or justifying or speaking up for. It’s not the case that all Muslims were enraged.

And then, worst of all, is that glib callous brutal jump from Khomeini’s murderous fatwa to her apparent resentment that Rushdie still enjoys worldwide acclaim. I guess she wishes he were reviled and long-dead?

But it gets worse.

He has championed Charlie Hebdo. In addition to his comments on the authors behind the PEN boycott, he continues to castigate the writers who have raised objections about the award as “being in the enemy camp” and “fellow travelers” in the cause of Islamic jihad.

Rushdie’s accusations sound eerily similar to George W. Bush’s now famous mantra “You’re either with us or against us,” which has been a huge part of the U.S wars abroad. In March, on the 12th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, a report revealed that the conservatively estimated human cost of Washington’s military campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to stand at 1.3 million people.

Yes really. She’s linking Rushdie to Bush (hey, even the names are similar) and thence to the body count of Bush’s war and the Islamist murder-campaigns. Really.

(Yes, Bush’s war created the vacuum that made the Islamist murder-campaigns possible. I’m not defending Bush’s stinking war.)

Questions about privilege and Islamophobia have been difficult to discuss in the U.S. literary sphere, not least because of the lack of diversity in this realm and the politics of the “war on terrorism.” While U.S. military interventions have altered the global view of Muslims for the worse, organizations such as PEN have remained silent. In this context, valorizing Charlie Hebdo’s pillorying of Muslims ignores the 1.3 million mostly Muslim casualties of U.S. operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Making jokes about Muslims and their identity in the aftermath of Washington’s wars serves only to reinforce the war’s propaganda.

What she seems to be doing here is conceptualizing Islam as just “Muslims” – and “Muslims” as all subalterns, parishioners, members, audience – ignoring imams and scholars, religious police and Islamist organizations, monarchs and dictators, madrassas and sharia courts. She is, in short, eliding the very existence of power relations within Islam, and of the millions of Muslims who are subject to theocratic power with no way of modifying or appealing it. What about the “identity” of the judge who sentenced Raif Badawi? What about the “identity” of the machete-wielders who murdered Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman? What about the “identity” of the heavily armed men who have enslaved thousands of Nigerian women and girls?

She doesn’t say.

A sneer too many

There’s another one. This article is much longer, and more “sophisticated” in what I think is a rather bogus way. What Rafia Zakaria says isn’t all wrong, by any means, but it’s…I don’t know what to call it. Academic, perhaps. Too sophisticated by half. Unfeeling. And, in places, just nasty.

My subject today is after all a philosophical one, dealing with my opposition to the PEN American Center’s decision to honor the French magazine Charlie Hebdo with the 2015 Freedom of Expression Courage Award. The star-studded gala, tickets to which cost more than a thousand dollars a person, took place on Tuesday evening, May 5, 2015. Thunderous standing ovations were given to the recipients. The fact that six writers and then eventually 145 others had objected to the granting of the award to a magazine that publishes Islamophobic content whetted the self-regard of the attendees. Their puffed presence at the gala stood for more than just literary renown or monetary privilege; it was a moral victory. It was they who really stood for freedom of speech, were truly sincere in their opposition to murder.

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Instead of listening to the minimally informed voice in your head

There’s one compensation in all the stupid treacherous bullshit about Charlie Hebdo, and that is the discovery of new best friends. Mihir S Sharma is my new best friend for this morning. He has thoughts on The vanity of good souls:

I have already stated, in this column, my reasons for thinking that the highest duty of any writer – or indeed human being – is to refuse to ignore oppression and silencing, even if that silencing is ostensibly on behalf of a marginalised community. Without allies from outside, it is difficult for any stomped-on member of a community to escape. And the focus on that individual, instead of the community to which they are forced to belong by birth, is central to every progressive and humane development in the centuries since writers in France and Scotland created the Enlightenment out of little more than hope and anger. Everywhere the values of the Enlightenment are threatened, mocked and diluted – in our country not least. If you believe the values of the Enlightenment, which stress our common humanity and shared – but not communal – rights, are necessarily racist, European, or discriminatory, then naturally you will disagree with me. You are grievously and tragically wrong, but I cannot set you right in the 500 words remaining in this column.

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He doubts, he imagines

More provincial ignorant backstabbing from people on the left, this time Jon Wiener in the Nation replying to Katha Pollitt.

The headline is terrible, for a start.

Defend Charlie Hebdo’s Publishing Disgusting Cartoons About Muslims? Yes. Give Them an Award for It? No.

That’s probably an editor, because Wiener said “about Islam,” not Muslims. Bad editor. Bad headline.

It’s a simple distinction, but somehow it’s been overlooked by a lot of those who support the decision by PEN to give its “Freedom of Expression” award to Charlie Hebdo. Those who signed the protest against the award (I was one of them) agree that Charlie Hebdo had a right to publish cartoons about Islam, no matter how disgusting, and not be killed for doing it. The question is whether Charlie Hebdo should be given an award for publishing them.

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Une fois de plus, bravo à #CharlieHebdo

Some more beautiful snaps from the PEN gala when Charlie accepted the award, via Alain Mabanckou on Twitter.

Alain Mabanckou @amabanckou · May 6
Une fois de plus, bravo à #CharlieHebdo : j’ai eu grand plaisir à présenter le prix Courage reçu à #NYC au #PENgala

[One more time, bravo to Charlie Hedo: I had the great pleasure of presenting the Courage prize, received in NYC at the #PENgala]

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