In January and early this month, I wrote here and elsewhere about the murders at the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris and the public reactions to this violence:
• “Tragedy at Charlie Hebdo”I particularly challenged a tendency among some on the Left to rush to accept claims about the racism of CH, to refuse the identification with the victims and survivors of the massacre implied in “Je suis Charlie,” and, when presented with evidence that their initial beliefs were mistaken, either to engage in mental gymnastics to try to uphold those claims in some form or to go silent and let the claims stand:
• “Before the massacre”
• “Theocrats of all stripes”
• “Interview with Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Luz”
• “I wasn’t consulted about that faith compromise, and won’t respect it.”
• “Global dog-whistle politics and words we should do without”
• “A bad epistemic approach is anti-humanist, unwise, and unkind”I noted at the time that while I thought this approach was unfair, disrespectful, and harmful, in most cases I believed the motives behind it were good. Some on the Left, sadly, just aren’t strong supporters of free expression and the right to blaspheme, and so had little compunction about suggesting that the people at CH were irresponsible or callous. But many others, cognizant of the reality of anti-Muslim bigotry and violence in Europe, (rightly) felt responsible to decry this racism and violence at the same time as they stood for free expression and the right to blaspheme, and (wrongly) saw calling out CH’s alleged racism in these terms.
• “Guest post: The problem with ‘Je ne suis pas Charlie’”
• “Guest post: The community of the potentially mockable”
• “Preparing the ground for future crimes”
So my posts at the time were directed at the people on the Left – arguing that for too many the fear of contributing to racism was leading to a failure to follow sound procedures for reaching and defending conclusions. I suspected at the time that some on the Right would take advantage of this episode, using it as an opportune moment to proclaim that (large segments of) the Left defend Islamism or that the vast majority of leftwing claims of racism are unfounded. And they have. (So be it – I’m not interested in their cynical and disingenuous games.) I expected that many would use the defense of CH to advance a racist agenda, dishonestly joining CH to their hateful movement. And they’ve done this as well.
So the Right have fulfilled my low expectations. But I want here to reiterate that my own support of and identification with the staff at Charlie Hebdo was based on a shared commitment not only to defending free expression and blasphemy but to opposing racism. This doesn’t mean I think they’ve been immaculately correct in every possible way; neither has anyone. But they’ve seen these missions – to oppose systemic racism, to fight for social justice, to defend and demand free expression and blasphemy – as generally compatible, while recognizing that this can be complicated in practice and trying to be careful not to set back one of these goals while advancing another.
My support for CH was never just about free expression and blasphemy, but about their real and longstanding anti-racist actions. When I first put the “Je suis Charlie” logo up here in the hours after the attack, this was what I had in mind - a commitment to anti-authoritarianism, real skepticism, anti-racism, social justice, and free expression. All of it, at once.
In practice, of course, this means different things for different people in different contexts. For me, today, in this context, it means:
• bringing attention to rightwing (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, nationalist, imperialist, racist, patriarchal, corporate, neoliberal,…) ideas, practices, and policies in those areas about which I have some knowledge;
• refusing to focus almost entirely on one form of rightwing ideology;
• analyzing the cultural, political, and economic roots of rightwing movements;
• examining the shared bases and common core of all forms of rightwing thought (including, importantly, speciesism);
• promoting liberation and social justice struggles;
• challenging faith and deference toward faith in general and in liberation movements specifically, and encouraging good epistemic practices;
• supporting blasphemy that isn’t hateful, demeaning, or aligned with rightwing projects;
• trying as best I can to do all of this in a spirit of humility, compassion, and fairness