Sunday, July 5, 2015

Good news!

No more Icelandic blasphemy law…,

and another huge march in Honduras.

Historical quote of the day

“Nothing like the battle of Omdurman will ever be seen again. It was the last link in the long chain of those spectacular conflicts whose vivid and majestic splendour has done so much to invest war with glamour.

…This kind of war was full of fascinating thrills. It was not like the Great War. Nobody expected to be killed…. To the great mass of those who took part in the little wars of Britain in those vanished light-hearted days, this was only a sporting element in a splendid game.”
- Winston Churchill, My Early Life: 1874-1904, quoted in Sven Lindqvist,‘Exterminate All the Brutes’: One Man’s Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide (1992), pp. 53-54

The art of the gouge/model of the market

“Excessive on its face, such largesse at the top is all the more appalling for the widespread poverty and debt enabling it.”
- “The art of the gouge: How NYU squeezes billions from our students—and where that money goes”
“The actual scandal of ‘The Art of the Gouge’ is that even if NYU is a particularly egregious offender of basic decency and honesty, most of the report’s indictments could apply equally to nearly any American university.”
- “‘The Art of the Gouge’: NYU as a Model for Predatory Higher Education”
“[N]eoliberal rationality disseminates the model of the market to all domains and activities...and configures human beings exhaustively as market actors, always, only, and everywhere as homo oeconomicus.”
- Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Historical quote of the day

“The enterprise of deculturation turns out to be the negative of a more gigantic work of economic, and even biological, enslavement.

The doctrine of cultural hierarchy is thus but one aspect of a systematized hierarchization implacably pursued.

…The apparition of racism is not fundamentally determining. Racism is not the whole but the most visible, the most day-to-day and, not to mince matters, the crudest element of a given structure.


This precise cultural element, however, has not become encysted. Racism has not managed to harden. It has had to renew itself, to adapt itself, to change its appearance. It has had to undergo the fate of the cultural whole that informed it.

The vulgar, primitive, over-simple racism purported to find in biology – the Scriptures having proved insufficient – the material basis of the doctrine….

Such affirmation, crude and massive, gave way to a more refined argument. Here and there…an occasional relapse is to be noted….

These old-fashioned positions tend in any case to disappear. This racism that aspires to be rational, individual, genotypically and phenotypically determined, becomes transformed into cultural racism. The object of racism is no longer the individual man but a certain form of existing. At the extreme, such terms as ‘message’ and ‘cultural style’ are resorted to. ‘Occidental values’ oddly blend with the already famous appeal to the fight of the ‘cross against the crescent’….

Racism…is only one element of a vaster whole: that of the systematized oppression of a people….

…In reality the nations that undertake a colonial war have no concern for the confrontation of cultures. War is a gigantic business and every approach must be governed by this datum. The enslavement, in the strictest sense, of the native population is the prime necessity.

For this its systems of reference have to be broken. Expropriation, spoliation, raids, objective murder, are matched by the sacking of cultural patterns, or at least condition such sacking. The social panorama is destructured; values are flaunted, crushed, emptied.

For a time it looked as though racism had disappeared. This soul-soothing, unreal impression was simply the consequence of the evolution of forms of exploitation. Psychologists spoke of a prejudice having become unconscious. The truth is that the rigor of the system made the daily affirmation of a superiority superfluous. The need to appeal to various degrees of approval and support, to the native’s cooperation, modified relations in a less crude, more subtle, more ‘cultivated’ direction. It was not rare, in fact, to see a ‘democratic and humane’ ideology at this stage. The commercial undertaking of enslavement, of cultural destruction, progressively gave way to a verbal mystification.

The habit of considering racism as a mental quirk, as a psychological flaw, must be abandoned.

It is not possible to enslave men [sic] without logically making them inferior through and through. And racism is only the emotional, affective, sometimes intellectual explanation of this inferiorization.

The racist in a culture with racism is therefore normal. He has achieved a perfect harmony of economic relations and ideology.

Race prejudice in fact obeys a flawless logic. A country that lives, draws its substance from the exploitation of other peoples, makes those peoples inferior. Race prejudice applied to those peoples is normal.

Racism is therefore not a constant of the human spirit.

It is, as we have seen, a disposition fitting into a well-defined system. And anti-Jewish prejudice is not different from anti-Negro prejudice. A society has race prejudice or it has not. There are no degrees of prejudice. One cannot say that a given country is racist but that lynchings or extermination camps are not to be found there. The truth is that all that and still other things exist on the horizon. These virtualities, these latencies circulate, carried by the life-stream of psycho-affective, economic relations…”
- Frantz Fanon, “Racism and Culture,” in Toward the African Revolution, first presented as a talk at the First International Congress of Black Artists and Writers, Paris, 1956

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How is it possible…

that the promising The Divide was cancelled, while the atrocious Murder in the First was renewed? Murder in the First is so very bad – the writing, the characters, the storylines,…did I mention the writing? I’m actually offended by this show. It’s not that the stories are lazy or mediocre, but that they’re actively, aggressively awful. I truly hate it.

On the other hand, Lifetime’s UnREAL is a summer surprise. Not that Devious Maids isn’t entertaining, but this is in another league.

Quote of the day

“Reverend Pinckney, as a colleague in ministry, was not just opposed to the flag, he was opposed to the denial of Medicaid expansion, where now the majority of the state is opposing Medicaid expansion where six out of 10 black people live. He was opposed to voter suppression, voter ID in South Carolina. He was opposed to those who have celebrated the ending of the Voting Rights Act, or the gutting of Section 4, which means South Carolina is no longer a preclearance state, and the very district that he served in is vulnerable right now. He was opposed to the lack of funding for public education. He wanted to see living wages raised.

So I would say to my colleagues, let’s take down the flag—to the governor—but also, let’s put together an omnibus bill in the name of the nine martyrs. And all of the things Reverend Pinckney was standing for, if we say we love him and his colleagues, let’s put all of those things in a one big omnibus bill and pass that and bring it to the funeral on Friday or Saturday, saying we will expand Medicaid to help not only black people, but poor white Southerners in South Carolina, because it’s not just the flag. Lee Atwater talked about the Southern strategy, where policy was used as a way to divide us. And if we want harmony, we have to talk about racism, not just in terms of symbol, but in the substance of policies. The flag went up to fight policies. If we’re going to bring it down, we’re also going to have to change policies, and particularly policies that create disparate impact on black, brown and poor white people.

…This flag is vulgar. And it took 52 years, after ’62, to get it down. It was raised because of policy. In civil rights, when Shwerner, Chaney and—excuse me, when the girls were burned up and blown up in the Birmingham [church], and President Kennedy was killed, we got the Civil Rights Act, an omnibus bill to deal with civil rights. When Jimmie Lee Jackson and others were killed in Bloody Sunday, we got the Voting Rights Act—Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman. When Dr. King was killed, we got the Fair Housing Act, that made it so you could sue people if they didn't allow you in their community. To suggest that nine lives and taking a symbol down is sufficient to honor nine deaths, nine—nine, nine deaths—is to diminish those lives.

What I’m saying to our brothers and sisters, brothers who are on the phone this morning, is look at what Reverend Pinckney stood for and those members at Emanuel fought for. They fought for more gun control. They fought for Medicaid expansion. They fought for public education. They fought to raise the living wage to—the minimum wage to a living wage. By the way, you deny Medicaid expansion, people die. People die. You deny living wages and create poverty and resegregate the public, people die. That’s been proven in a study by the Columbia University. And so, what I’m suggesting, Amy, is we ought to look at all of these issues. We ought to—and we can’t say the flag is just a start and this honors them. It does not fully honor these deaths.

And if we’re going to start and then wait and then politicize and be political—Lee Atwater said, in an infamous radio interview, he said that we stopped talking about race in a very open way, using the N-word, and we started talking about policies like tax cuts, states’ rights, forced busing. He said they sound benign, but they actually have a negative impact on the lives of African Americans, and they promote this idea that Southern whites—the problem of Southern whites is rooted in the advances of black people. That’s what this young man was, in essence, saying. He was, in essence, saying, you know, somebody’s taking over his country.

And so, I’m calling on persons, Democrats and Republicans—we’re calling the NAACP—if you really want to honor the death, these vicious deaths, then, like we’ve had to do with other deaths in this country, let’s have some substantive policy change. Why not name the Voting Rights Restoration Act, since the Supreme Court has gutted it and we haven’t fixed that in two years, why not name it the Emanuel Nine Voting Rights Act Restoration? And why not every Republican and Democrat come out and say, “We are for fixing the Voting Rights Act, because without preclearance, the very seat that Reverend Pinckney held is in jeopardy”?

Those are the kinds of substantive conversations we need to have. And gun control ought to be among those, as well. And we can do this in an omnibus way. We don’t have to wait another year or two years. We just have to have the moral courage to do it, and we have to follow what the Constitution of South Carolina already says. It’s already in the South Carolina Constitution that we should be concerned about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and doing what is best for all of the people.
- William J. Barber II, on Democracy Now!:

Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguan Valley - watch free online beginning on Sunday

This Sunday will be the sixth anniversary of the Honduran coup. The makers of Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguan Valley will be screening the film online for free for two weeks beginning on that day.

Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguan Valley | OFFICIAL TRAILER from Makila, Coop on Vimeo.

(As the resistance continues, Miguel Facussé, shown in the trailer, is gone:
In Honduras, Miguel Facussé, dubbed “the palm plantation owner of death,” and one of Honduras’ wealthiest and most powerful figures, has died at the age of 90. Facussé and private security guards with his company, Dinant, were accused of taking part in violent land grabs and dozens of murders of campesino land activists in Honduras’ Aguán Valley as he sought to expand his palm oil fortune. Diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks showed the United States knew of Facussé’s role in cocaine trafficking but continued funding Honduras’ military and police, who reportedly worked closely with Facussé’s guards. Facussé backed the 2009 coup that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya…)
[via David Swanson, “Resistance in Honduras is Alive and Jumping”]

Quote of the day

“I expose misogyny in my part of the world to connect the feminist struggle in the Middle East and North Africa to the global one. Misogyny has not been completely wiped out anywhere. Rather, it resides on a spectrum, and our best hope for eradicating it globally is for each of us to expose and to fight against local versions of it, in the understanding that by doing so we advance the global struggle.”
- Mona Eltahawy, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution* (2015)

* WARNING: A drinking game involving Rangita de Silva de Alwis’ use of the words “powerful” and “powerfully” in that interview could pose serious health risks.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Quote of the day

“As neoliberalism submits all spheres of life to economization, the effect is not simply to narrow the functions of state and citizen or to enlarge the sphere of economically defined freedom at the expense of common investment in public life and public goods. Rather, it is to attenuate radically the exercise of freedom in the social and political spheres. This is the central paradox, perhaps even the central ruse, of neoliberal governance: the neoliberal revolution takes place in the name of freedom – free markets, free countries, free men – but tears up freedom’s grounding in sovereignty for states and subjects alike.”
- Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (2015), p. 108

An illustration – the “liberation” of Iraq by the invading and occupying force, as described by Mark Neocleous in Critique of Security (pp. 146-147):
These [corporate-friendly and corrupt] practices are clearly due to the need to get the Iraqi people ready for a new life organised by and for capital, an Iraq which, in Rumsfeld’s words, ‘provides opportunities for its people through a market economy’, following the policy developed by the US Agency for International Development under advice from BearingPoint (formerly KPMG), in their report ‘Stimulating Economic Recovery, Reform and Sustained Growth in Iraq’ (February 2003) specifying a liberalisation of the Iraqi economy. …But this liberalisation of Iraq was to be conducted under a decidedly dictatorial political order. So from May 2003, when Iraq was declared open for business, to June 2004, when the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was dissolved, the new authoritarian liberalism saw the introduction of 100 Orders fundamentally altering Iraqi law in order to implement a capitalist economic model. After first firing more than half a million employees of the 190 state-owned companies (Orders 1 and 2) and passing an Executive Order granting non-Iraqi companies (that is, American companies) immunity from prosecution for any acts undertaken in relation to oil exploration, production or sale, a raft of other Orders was set in place including a trade-liberalisation policy removing all protective barriers (Order 12), a flat-tax policy (Order 37), the opening of the Iraqi banking sector to foreign ownership (Order 4), the rewriting of the patent, trademark and copyright laws to ensure access to foreign producers (Orders 80, 81 and 83) and, most importantly, the selling off of all of Iraq’s state-owned enterprises (Order 39). The only laws left intact were the previous regime’s limitations on labour rights and trade union membership. All these Orders were then upheld with the passage of the constitution in October 2005, Article 25 of which requires that the State guarantee the reform of the Iraqi economy according to ‘modern economic principles’ and ensures the ‘development of the private sector’. A commitment to capitalism is now a constitutional requirement.
Sweet freedom.

The Saudi Cables and the TPP Healthcare Annex

Two new troves of documents published by Wikileaks: the Saudi Cables, of which a portion were released yesterday (evidently the most damning are to appear any moment now...), and the TPP Healthcare Annex (to the “transparency” chapter), which was released last week.

The Saudi Cables:
Today, Friday 19th June at 1pm GMT, WikiLeaks began publishing The Saudi Cables: more than half a million cables and other documents from the Saudi Foreign Ministry that contain secret communications from various Saudi Embassies around the world. The publication includes “Top Secret” reports from other Saudi State institutions, including the Ministry of Interior and the Kingdom’s General Intelligence Services. The massive cache of data also contains a large number of email communications between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and foreign entities. The Saudi Cables are being published in tranches of tens of thousands of documents at a time over the coming weeks. Today WikiLeaks is releasing around 70,000 documents from the trove as the first tranche.

The Saudi Cables provide key insights into the Kingdom’s operations and how it has managed its alliances and consolidated its position as a regional Middle East superpower, including through bribing and co-opting key individuals and institutions. The cables also illustrate the highly centralised bureaucratic structure of the Kingdom, where even the most minute issues are addressed by the most senior officials.

As’ad AbuKhalil has a post today about the Saudi regime’s comical – well, they would be comical were the regime not in the habit of imprisoning, torturing, and beheading noncompliant “citizens” – warnings:
This is hilarious. The Saudi foreign ministry issued this directive to its citizens: It reads: ‘Dear Aware Citizen: Avoid entering any site for the purpose of obtaining leaked documents or information that may be untrue, for harming the security of the homeland’. Kid you not. The second one reads: ‘Dear Aware Citizen: Don’t publish any documents that may be untrue which could aid the enemies of the homeland in attaining their goals’. Kid you not.
The TPP Healthcare Annex:
Today, Wednesday 10 June 2015, WikiLeaks publishes the Healthcare Annex to the secret draft “Transparency” Chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), along with each country's negotiating position. The Healthcare Annex seeks to regulate state schemes for medicines and medical devices. It forces healthcare authorities to give big pharmaceutical companies more information about national decisions on public access to medicine, and grants corporations greater powers to challenge decisions they perceive as harmful to their interests.

Expert policy analysis, published by WikiLeaks today, shows that the Annex appears to be designed to cripple New Zealand's strong public healthcare programme and to inhibit the adoption of similar programmes in developing countries. The Annex will also tie the hands of the US Congress in its ability to pursue reforms of the Medicare programme.

The draft is restricted from release for four years after the passage of the TPP into law.

Few people, even within the negotiating countries' governments, have access to the full text of the draft agreement and the public, who it will affect most, have none at all. Hundreds of large corporations, however, have been given access to portions of the text, generating a powerful lobby to effect changes on behalf of these groups.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Quote of the day

“My opinion is that it's a medieval sentence. It's a medieval method that does not have its place in a society that allows a free media and allows people to express their point of view.”
- Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, reiterating her view of the punishment of blogger Raif Badawi by the Saudi government

(Get spinning, Qorvis!)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Historical quote of the day

“You’re going to be puking up everything in your guts, you shitty intellectual.”
- policeman’s comment to Benaissa Souami, 27-year-old Algerian political science student, prior to his torture in Paris by the DST (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire), led by Roger Wybot, in 1958; from his testimony reported in Gangrene, compiled by Béchir Boumaaza, published in 1959 by Éditions de Minuit and immediately seized by the French government, which also destroyed the printing plates

Quote of the day

“What’s clear is that Isis and its monstrosities won’t be defeated by the same powers that brought it to Iraq and Syria in the first place, or whose open and covert war-making has fostered it in the years since. Endless western military interventions in the Middle East have brought only destruction and division. It’s the people of the region who can cure this disease – not those who incubated the virus.”
- Seumas Milne

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Indecent: my position on (the response to) Charlie Hebdo

“Tignous and his from now on inseparable comrades. Journalists, cartoonists, economist, psychoanalyst, proofreader, guards—they were the sentinels, the watchmen, the lookouts even, who kept watch over democracy to make sure it didn’t fall asleep. Constantly, relentlessly denouncing intolerance, discrimination, simplification. Uncompromising. Armed only with their intelligence, with their sharp eyes, with this art of making it possible to see. Armed with only their pencils. Inseparable. United in irreverence, in a gentle cruelty. They brought about the awakening of three generations. The awakening of the consciences of three generations. They taught us, sometimes without our knowing it, about the virtues of freedom of thought and speech. They nurtured our capacity for indignation. And they led us sometimes into the dizzy pleasure of forbidden laughter.

…And at the end of these horrible crimes, we can see that something was in the process of going lax in us. And this alarm reminds of our ambitions—which have been too long silent, too easily abandoned—for social justice, equality, education, and attention to others. We must find again that humanity and that uncompromising outlook that characterized Tignous.”
I’ve been asked to clarify my argument with regard to Charlie Hebdo and the various claims that have been made about the magazine since many of its staff were murdered by an Islamist death squad in January. I have never claimed, as this comment insinuates, that my views about various individual cartoons, whatever they may be, are the only decent ones. My argument all along has concerned the ethics of learning and speaking about the magazine.

See, for example,

“A bad epistemic approach is anti-humanist, unwise, and unkind”

“Guest post: The problem with ‘Je ne suis pas Charlie’”

What I’ve consistently found indecent is the approach so many have taken, one in which they were immediately prepared to believe the worst claims about Charlie Hebdo and to coldly repeat them. One in which people who knew nothing or virtually nothing (or less than nothing, having seen altered images and read false reports) about the publication set themselves up as implacable judges. One in which upon learning that the claims of intentional racism were false, people immediately shifted to accusations of negligent, callous, or irresponsible racism, propped up by clichés about intent not being magic, punching down, and splash damage.

I expected better. I expected that people would show a modicum of intellectual humility and responsibility, especially when they began to see indications that their early suspicions didn’t hold up on further inspection. First, because our community is supposed to be about humility, questioning, curiosity, evidence, and care in our claims-making. Second, because having been murdered the people they were discussing were no longer here to defend themselves. Third, because tossing out irresponsible claims about the willful or negligent racism of people who were just massacred for drawing cartoons and whose families and colleagues are grieving is disrespectful and cruel - not to mention hypocritical - and so the only decent way to proceed is to take great care in our public statements so as not to perpetuate falsehoods. (I think this is what we’d want for ourselves in similar circumstances.) Fourth, because isolating the victims and targets of Islamist hit men on the basis of an ignorantly-applied purity test endangers us all.

Certainly, the fact that Charlie Hebdo is and is well known in France to be a leftwing, anti-racist publication whose primary target is the racist, xenophobic Right, was information easily available to anyone who cared to look, and is relevant not only to understanding their intent but to understanding the likely reception of the images in context. If nothing else, I would have expected that fact to give people pause before they continued to comment on the subject. No one was being compelled to declare themselves Charlie. It makes sense for people who don’t feel they have enough information to step back before taking a position. But in that case the decent approach is to remain silent while you seek out more information, including the statements of the survivors and of the victims before their deaths, and listen to those who perhaps know more. It’s also to conscientiously retract previous public statements or insinuations that have turned out to be unsupported.

At the time the people of Charlie Hebdo were being isolated on the Left on the basis of some image-mined cartoons of which the self-appointed critics had little understanding, their funerals were ongoing. The person rendering the moving tribute at the funeral of Tignous quoted at the top of this post was Christiane Taubira, the French Justice Minister who now seems to be known on the English-speaking internet as “the black woman they drew as a monkey.”

I think we can all agree that her understanding of the image, its intent, context, and effects is probably greater than ours. But many of Charlie’s critics were either ignorant of or unconcerned with her views. Those who thought the publication of the images of Mohammed was racist or purely provocative in intent or consequence didn’t care to hear from those of us who knew better. Those who had claimed the magazine targeted Muslims weren’t generally provoked to correct themselves when this appeared. In fact, in general the self-appointed prosecutors went silent – not, as I’d hoped, in order to learn more so as to correct misconceptions, but evidently more for a lack of continuing interest.

Then came the controversy surrounding the PEN award. Shortly before the awards gala, several writers who were members of PEN wrote an open letter explaining their objection to the magazine’s receiving the award and announcing their intent to boycott the awards gala. They had clearly done little research since January to determine whether or not their beliefs about CH were correct. They refused to support their claims or to engage with those pointing out their ignorance. They evidently weren’t interested in the strong words of Dominique Sopo, head of the French anti-racist organization SOS Racisme, who attempted to set the record straight:

We’ve reached an incredibly high level of stupidity and intellectual dishonesty.

This must stop. Charlie Hebdo is the greatest antiracist weekly magazine in this country. Every week in Charlie Hebdo, every week, half [of the magazine’s articles] is against racism, against antisemitism, against hatred towards Muslims… I mean, [some people didn’t like a caricature and said “Well, okay but…”] There is no “but”. Charlie Hebdo fought against all kinds of racisms. Cabu drew cartoons for us, he even made a book for us. Charb drew cartoons for us, they [the cartoonists] gave us drawings on a regular basis, every time we asked; we used those drawings as we wished. Wolinski did the same. [Take a look at the past and ask] every antiracist organisation, they’ll tell you [that] they [Charlie Hebdo] really were antiracist and obviously everyone knows it. And so, people who argue that “Ah, Charlie Hebdo, so full of hate…” Did you know that Charlie Hebdo petitioned to ask for Claude Guéant [then minister of the Interior] to resign right after his anti-Muslim words? For an islamophobic weekly magazine, honestly, that’s quite unusual. So actually, this must stop, okay? And these people who try to make you believe that Charlie Hebdo was a racist magazine, honestly, this is scandalous, they insult the memories and the fights of the ones we lost, most of whom we knew on a personal level, needless to say, and you have to stop insulting the living and the dead. Because when you insult, and when you spread an ideology full of hate, when you lash out at journalists like a pack, this is what happens. So this must stop, everyone is called to its personal responsibility.
The morning of the awards gala in New York there was a panel discussion on “Charlie Hebdo and Challenges to Free Expression.” I went, reported back, and posted the video of the event.* I was hoping that at least one or two of the more than 200 writers who had sanctimoniously denounced the magazine would accept the invitation to come and discuss the matter with Charlie Hebdo’s editor and film critic. But none did. Not a single one. I don’t think anything could have been a bigger insult to the dead and to the survivors at CH than this refusal even to talk with them. That was indecent.

They went ahead with the boycott. Dominique Sopo was among the speakers at the presentation of the award:
I think that for us tonight, in honoring Charlie Hebdo, we honor the magazine, we honor the talent and the courage of the people who work for it, and above all we honor their antiracist commitment which has been consistent throughout their existence. Charlie Hebdo in France is something that has stood for the antiracist voice in many kinds of combat, whether it be combat due to religious dogma, a rising up against anti-Semitism, against violence, against Jews, against the Roma people, against Arabs. Charlie Hebdo is always in the forefront of all of these battles. I speak both on behalf of my own organization, SOS Racisme, but also for all of the other organizations—we know this.
Fortunately, Biard and Thoret, accepting the award, received a standing ovation. And then, from the boycotters, silence. There was a bit of self-righteous muttering about how the protest had been necessary, but now it was over and can’t we all just move on? I was thrilled last week to see that one of those who’d signed the letter, Jennifer Cody Epstein, asked for her name to be removed, apologizing and acknowledging that she had failed to adequately inform herself before taking a public position. This was admirable, but so far she’s the only one. That’s indecent.

There are new books by Caroline Fourest, Charb (posthumously), and Luz. I’ve yet to read these last two, although I’ve read excerpts from Charb’s, but I have read Fourest’s, which was published earlier this week. It gives a good deal of background which would be useful to those trying to sort out their understanding of Charlie Hebdo. But again, I haven’t seen people who were so keen to interrogate CH going out of their way to engage with them.

And guess what? Both Fourest and Charb, as well as others I agree with in general, say several things with which I disagree. There are probably also many individual CH cartoons I’d find cringeworthy or offensive or “problematic” (not the ones I’ve seen shared around, but surely some). And I’ve never seen any representative of CH dismiss that reaction or treat it as invalid. In fact, even in the face of the most vicious attacks and unfair criticisms, they’ve been entirely decent.

As I said at the beginning of this post, my concern here isn’t about any specific content. My idea of what’s decent, as I’ve said all along, doesn’t necessarily concern any particular opinion, but the way in which opinions are reached, expressed, and revised. I think it’s decent, when people have just been massacred, to avoid rushing to judgment about them. To appreciate the limits of our knowledge, recognizing when we might not have the requisite information or skills to form a proper opinion. To hold off on making public suggestions about their motives, actions, or impact until we’ve learned more. To treat the question holistically instead of plucking a handful of superficially questionable images out of context. To approach the matter, not with a prosecutorial zeal, but with a high level of care that we not erroneously smear people (we could still in the end conclude that they’re intentional or negligent racists, but this is different from beginning with this presumption and then expecting to have to be convinced out of it).

To correct previous statements if they prove to have been exaggerated or mistaken, and to correct other people when they make those errors. To apologize if we’ve said something ignorant and potentially damaging. To seek out more information, especially from the people about whom we’re forming our views, and to take that information fully into account. To appreciate that our intentions are (ha – not magic!) irrelevant, no matter how good or well-meaning, if their application is based on misinformation and stubborn ignorance. To recognize that it doesn’t show a weaker commitment to social justice or give comfort to racists to admit that our initial judgments were mistaken in any particular instance.

To proceed otherwise is, yes, offensive and indecent.

* Incidentally, Voltaire’s play Fanaticism was mentioned there. I’ve now read it and have been writing about it: part 1, part 2.