The Extremist Tail Wagging The Whole Pig

A man holds a placard which reads "I am Charlie" to pay tribute during a gathering at the Place de la Republique in Paris

If you want to run around the street shooting cartoonists and police officers you can apparently be sure that the next day people will write articles blaming the cartoonists for “provoking” you.

For example,

It is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo, and Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims, but are actually just being stupid. (Source).

Or, even worse:

While Charlie Hebdo’s antics made it a plucky champion of free speech it left a succession of French governments in an awkward position. They were obliged to defend a fundamental value while warning against unnecessary provocations of the nation’s 5m Muslims that risked “pouring fuel on the fire”, as Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said in 2012.

Mr Charbonnier had been on a particular collision course with France’s Muslim community since 2006, when he rushed to support a Danish newspaper that stoked tensions worldwide by publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. (Source).

This line has been trotted out for years, in defence of the thugs who killed anyone Scandinaviany after a Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons that depicted Muhammed in various ways  (including one cartoonist who poked fun at the right-wing politics of Jyllands-Posten- but don’t worry about details like that if you want to censor people by killing them) and in defence of the various attempts on Salman Rushdie’s life, including the successful murder of his translator, Hitoshi Igarashi.

Just to put that particularly horrible and grisly death into context: one man writes a novel, another man translates it, and then a third man issues a public decree calling for their deaths. So far my moral compass has not been sent astray, except for the part where a dictator of a foreign state demands death upon a novelist for writing a novel, and anyone involved in the publication of that novel, no matter what. Death to all! Years go by, and someone decides to visit Hitoshi in his office at the University of Tsukuba, stabs him repeatedly in the face, killing him, and is never caught.

But really, Salman should not have started it, should he? Charlie Hebdo were “just being stupid” weren’t they?

It seems like a ridiculous argument, but people are fond of saying it. (It’s easier than thinking, I guess.) Take for example this classic line from Shirly Williams on an episode of BBC’s Question Time, regarding Salman’s knighthood:

The department of culture…were not very wise to put (Salman’s name forward). This is a man who has deeply offended muslims in a very powerful way, who has been protected by the british police against threats of suicide (sic) for years and years at great expense to the taxpayer, and frankly I think that it was not wise and not very clever to give him a knighthood.

Following this line of argument leads us into some murky territory- if Shirly was upset that the taxpayer had to protect Salman from death threats, perhaps she would prefer a situation in which he could be stabbed in the face by crazed fundamentalists following a fatwa? That wouldn’t cost taxpayers anything, and we don’t have to worry about defending any of those vague concepts like free speech. So long as the fundamentalists are not offended, everything will be fine.

I hardly need to rebut her arguments, because Christopher Hitchens did it so well. In fact he spoke frequently about Salman’s fatwa and of the Danish cartoon saga, and I only wish he could have been around today to offer his commentary on the recent events in Paris. Here he is in top form reminding us how pernicious these arguments are (watch from 13:48-25:20; the whole video is great, if you have the time. Or, read his article on the issue).

Though I am just a lowly blogger with only a few months of posts behind me (to paraphrase Flight Of The Concords, I’m a “part-time satirist”) it truly does terrify me that I could theoretically be gunned down by intolerant savages simply by writing something that “offends” them.

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I have chosen not to publish some things in an attempt to avoid crossing the line, and sometimes I wonder if it would be better to just publish it regardless of what I think people will say. That is my choice, and so it should remain. It is also your choice to read my work, and if you feel I have crossed a line you can express your disapproval to me with your comments and criticisms. You can’t run into my house shooting an AK-47 at anyone who happens to be there, and then shoot the policemen who come to stop you. It seems that some commentators would be only too happy to blame me for inciting it. We need to better than this. We are better than this.

 (And yes, I did see The Interview just to spite the hackers, and I did think it was mostly terrible. But Eminem’s cameo was brilliant, and there was at least one other joke I liked; but even if it was irredeemable rubbish, I still would have wanted to see it.)

In the end, if you write a cartoon no matter how tasteless or bad, it is in no way your fault when murderous thugs kill you and anyone around you. I think this guy summed it up quite well on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 00.12.50

 

Update: More voices of unreason:

Stephane Charbonnier, the paper’s publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death. In 2012, when asked why he insults Muslims, he said, “Muhammad isn’t sacred to me.” Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive.

Source.

Update 2: The flabby, ignorant excuses continue.

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3 Responses

  1. revgerry says:

    Saying someone should watch what they say lest they be killed is like asking women to wear hijab so they won’t be raped. There are crazy people everywhere who need little provocation to kill, based on their far-outside-the-normal belief systems…religious (all religions – even Buddhists), political extremes far right and left, racial prejudices, homophobia, or even voices talking in their heads. It has always been a fact of life. Think about it. Jared Loughner attacked my then-Congresswoman, Gabby Giffords, and killed 6 people because she didn’t answer his letter to his satisfaction – and because he was crazy. The onus of blame is on the attacker – and their instability – not on the victim.

  2. Excellent post, excellent Lachlan Markay tweet.

    Just to add really quick – saving taxpayer funds is not the holy grail. A better question is – is this a legitimate use of public funds? If not, then sure – cut the whole program and save taxpayer funds. If, however, something is a legitimate use of public funds, say, services for the disabled, public infrastructure, or securing our first amendment rights, well then maybe we ought to get comfortable with spending some money. Obviously we would want to consider cost-effectiveness, but we should resist the urge to cheap out at the expense of necessary objectives.

    On a side note, I watched The Interview as well, and I am pleased to report that I enjoyed it more than I expected to. Granted, it was Seth Rogen so my expectations were rock bottom, but still.

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