Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What’s the evidentiary basis for these claims about Charlie Hebdo?

The following claims have been made by – if I was able to keep names straight - Deborah Eisenberg, Francine Prose, Rachel Kushner, and Teju Cole about Charlie Hebdo and the reception of its work.* I would like to see them substantiated with solid, contextualized evidence:

• that “certain expressions of anti-Semitism are illegal in France, so Judaism is out of bounds for satire,” leaving only Catholicism and Islam (somehow) as satirical targets

• that “an insult particular to Islam lies in a visual portrayal of the Prophet, which is in itself interdicted”; and that “Christianity, on the other hand, not only condones, but actually encourages visual portrayals of the sanctified” (specifically, I would like to see a defense of the implication that portrayals considered blasphemous are not only condoned but actually encouraged, particularly in light of the history of Catholic lawsuits against CH)

• that “Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons that satirize Islam” are “not merely tasteless and brainless but brainlessly reckless as well”

• that to (presumably all?) Muslims in France, “Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet must be seen as intended to cause further humiliation and suffering”

• that the CH “staff…considered the context of their satire and its wide-ranging potential consequences to be insignificant, or even an inducement to redouble their efforts – as if it were of paramount importance to demonstrate the right to smoke a cigarette by dropping your lit match into a dry forest”

• that CH is a “tasteless, brainless, and reckless example of free expression” comparable to racist chapters of the fraternity SAE, “those recently responsible for the desecrations of a Jewish cemetery” in France, and “Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer and its satirical anti-Semitic cartoons”

• that their work constitutes “expression that violates the acceptable”

• that their work expresses “anti-Islamic and nationalistic sentiments”

• that in recent years CH “has gone specifically for racist and Islamophobic provocations”

• that “the Charlie Hebdo cartoons…mobilize popular sentiment against a vilified demographic”

• that the people of CH “expended their courage, and ten of them lost their lives, in what was essentially a parochial, irrelevant, misconceived, misdirected, relatively trivial, and more or less obsolete campaign against clericalism” (What does the line that follows – “It is also courageous to bait a hallucinating and armed soldier, to walk around naked in the dead of winter, to jump off a roof, to drink from a sewer, or to attempt sexual intercourse with a wild boar” – say about Muslims, I wonder?)

• that in contrast to the purposes of journalists and whistleblowers whose “courage has been fastidiously exercised for the good of humanity,” which are “noble, intelligent, and selfless,” those of the CH staff are “pitiful, foolish, and immensely destructive”

• that CH represents “repugnant” “prejudices”

• that theirs are not “endangered voices of dissent” but “voices of intolerance”

• that their ideals aren’t as progressive as those of Raif Badawi, Avijit Roy, Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning

• that CH aren’t “saying things that need to be said,…working actively to tell us the truth about the world in which we live” but instead “drawing crude caricatures and mocking religion” (these are assumed to be mutually exclusive, for some reason)

• that the magazine is characterized by “cultural intolerance” and promotes “a kind of forced secular view”

One protesting writer says that she has “nothing but sympathy for the victims and survivors.” But surely such sympathy should take the form of a genuine, thoughtful effort to fairly determine whether your beliefs about them are accurate and to amass evidence before issuing public condemnations.

* These claims appear here, here, and here.

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