Media Circus: #JeSuisCharlie Edition

I posted at Feministe about my first reactions this morning. There have been some interesting op-ed pieces published since then, and political cartoonists around the world have responded by turning to their art. There have also been increasingly belligerent calls to republish some of the magazine’s cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhamed, because pious vengeance was the reason given for attacks by the attackers (overheard by survivors), so supporting free speech allegedly demands that these particular expressions should be more widely seen.

Juan Cole argues that purported vengeful outrage against the cartoons is merely a dog-whistle excuse, a reason that appeals to the pre-existing prejudices of several already antagonistic groups and that targeting these particular satirists and cartoonists was cynically calculated to escalate existing anti-immigrant tensions :

The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam.

[…] This horrific murder was not a pious protest against the defamation of a religious icon. It was an attempt to provoke European society into pogroms against French Muslims, at which point al-Qaeda recruitment would suddenly exhibit some successes instead of faltering in the face of lively Beur youth culture (French Arabs playfully call themselves by this anagram).

Patrick Nielsen Hayden at Making Light linked to Cole’s essay and added his own thoughts:

I never cease to be amazed at how many people, including thoughtful, intelligent friends of mine, look at political events without ever considering the possibility that some actors might be doing things for reasons other than those they declare. My guess is that we’ve all become so chary of the dreaded wrongthink of “conspiracy theory” that we no longer have the common sense to extrapolate our everyday knowledge that people lie a lot into the world of larger affairs.

These days we tend to expect, in our jaded cynicism, that politicians in a democracy will lie to voters in order to gain power. Yet somehow the idea that ruthless killers pursuing an extremist ideology wouldn’t lie in order to further their goals? Especially when, unlike other radicalised religious dupes, these assassins tried to escape rather than martyr themselves? Perhaps our major media organisations, and our own contributions to social media, should pay more attention to the possibility that there really is more going on here than the terrorists’ own stereotypically simplistic spin.

The sacrilegious cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo made the magazine a target of convenience in a conflict where polemics is one of the tactics that furthers the divisive goals of anti-democratic fanatics. Genuine religious outrage on the part of the assassins is arguably hardly the most likely motive for why this murderous mission was carried out. So focussing on retaliatory “free speech” perpetuation of those sacrileges is most likely not going to be the most effective strategy for frustrating these Islamofascist goals, because it’s most unlikely to convince normal non-political Muslims that the non-Muslim world respects their religious freedoms, and those are the toxic chinks in which polarisation, division and radicalisation grow.

The eulogising of Charlie Hebdo as idealistic speakers to truth also erases their long history of white male staffers repeatedly promulgating xenophobic, sexist and homophobic tropes as part of their art. Nobody deserves to die for that, but for-shock’s-sake cartoons are not the stuff of heroism either, no matter how well beloved the artists might have been. I look at the archives of Charlie Hebdo and as much as I feel the pain and the power of Canberra Times cartoonist Dave Pope’s tribute to the slain satirists, I don’t think they’re anywhere near his class as a social commentor.

Nonetheless, I still want to be stalwart in solidarity with the French as they resolutely stand against terrorism aimed at the heart of their multicultural democracy, and by extension, our multicultural democracy as well. How to best do that in this swirl of emotion following these murders while refusing to fall into the polarising trap that the terrorists have set for us? I don’t have any easy answers.

What news story/commentary/analysis has grabbed your attention lately?

As usual for media circus threads, please share your bouquets and brickbats for particular items in the mass media, or highlight cogent analysis or pointed twitterstorms etc in new media. Discuss any current sociopolitical issue (the theme of each edition is merely for discussion-starter purposes – all current news items are on topic!).

Categories: culture wars, ethics & philosophy, media, violence

Tags: , , , ,

8 replies

  1. Firstdog’s cartoon (sorry on tablet device and don’t know how to easily do links) really gets to the heart of this I think.

  2. First Dog’s cartoon – Charlie Hebdo: Cartoonists don’t live by the sword, we live by the pen

    Racist cartoons are now a beacon for free speech and we are in a strange terrible place. No one should die for such things.

    Aoife at Consider The Tea Cosy: We should not kill people for speech. But I am not Charlie Hebdo.

    I strongly believe that if you want to tackle extremism, the way to do it isn’t to further alienate people who your society has already been marginalising.
    This is what Charlie Hebdo was doing.
    We can condemn murdering people without valorising victims.
    I don’t want a response to murder that punches down. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, at least three (at the time I’m writing this) French mosques have been attacked in ‘retaliation’. That is not okay.
    It is also not okay to respond to the murder of people who were doing problematic things by repeating the worst things that they did.
    When you say “I am Charlie Hebdo” and repost their racist, islamophobic (and most importantly inaccurate) cartoons, you’re not standing up for freedom of speech. You’re valorising hate speech and bullying of oppressed groups.

  3. I posted on the reaction too, specifically looking at how reprinting the cartoons widely just makes the problem worse, but wondering if that’s not really accidental. Which is a bit of a downer.

  4. I read the Making Light post about it yesterday (as something of an antidote to the whole “oh gods it’s horrible, it’s horrible” fuss in the news both locally and abroad – I think the thing here is that journalists were being killed for being journalists, which has, understandably, touched a few raw nerves in the mainstream media). To be honest, I really wish a lot more people were thinking “agents provocateur” rather than “representative of Islam overall” when they saw reports about these things.
    I’m sorry the people working at the magazine were killed like that. It was a horrible thing to happen, and it shouldn’t have happened to anyone. But, like Aoife, I am not Charlie Hebdo. I never was, and I probably never will be – I don’t like bullies, and the sort of “satire” they were publishing was pure bullying. Anti-Islamic cartoons were a good idea… once. After the storm about their publication in the Danish newspapers, though, they became just an easy way of gaining notoriety for being “edgy” (rather like the male comedians who get that reputation by spouting rape jokes). Republishing them doesn’t do anything useful for anyone.
    If we want to do something useful in the wake of the killings, I’d suggest working to protect the interests of non-political and non-radical Islam.

  5. This article has descriptions of a video recording the violence. I found it very confronting.

    Dyab Abou Jahjah @Aboujahjah
    I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so. #JesuisAhmed

    I am really really uncomfortable defending the right of people to be racist, so I can’t say ‘je suis Charlie’. I am feeling very much like First Dog. No words.

  6. I’m really glad to other people expressing the same things I have been thinking and feeling. It is absolutely terrible that people have died, no-one deserves to be killed. But I also can’t say ‘je suis Charlie’ in good conscience.
    I also find it interesting how the massive faux-‘free-speech’ outcries only happen when it’s the right of white men to be bigots that’s under attack. A la George Brandis.

  7. I thoroughly agree. Jim Hines made some of the same points on Twitter today, as well as addressing the horrible point (that I also saw some jerk making on FTB) that criticising Charlie Hebdo for racism right now is like criticising a woman for her dress after she has been raped. Storified here.

  8. The Weekend Conversation newsletter today is FULL of Charlie Hebdo. To the point where I’m really getting narked with the whole thing. I mean “full” quite literally – fifteen articles listed in the newsletter, all of them about the Charlie Hebdo thing.
    Clearly if you want to get your cause into the media, the thing to do is attack journalists, or better yet, cartoonists.

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