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).
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!).