Thursday, 15 January 2015

A Compendium of Charlie Hebdo Posts

An index to some good pieces on Charlie Hebdo...

Pieces previously discussed, by Stephen Law and Kenan Malik.

Daniel Fincke's excellent analysis of the worst responses to CH:
Charlie Hebdo assumed disproportionate risk because they kept their head up where it was a target when the rest of the media ducked. That made it so that the extremists could say, “We can finish the job and make it so no one satirically depicts Muhammad if we can just pluck off those few heads remaining!”
Jason Rosenhouse, 1, 2 and 3:
Claiming that publishing satirical cartoons constitutes openly begging for violence is awfully close to claiming that violence is an appropriate response to blasphemy.
Jerry Coyne, Charlie Hebdo's cartoons weren't racist:
But of course even if CH was racist, sexist, and homophobic, that doesn’t excuse what happened.
Taslima Nasreen, Cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo and me:
The murder of so many talented people by a few insane and barbaric men to please their God and their prophet, in order to get into paradise, is an offense to human decency.
Accusations of racism are generally beside the point when discussing Charlie Hebdo and their attackers; the cartoonists were murdered for blaspheming the prophet, not for racism (or sexism or anything else).

Nabila Ramdani made this error on PM last night (@15mins), when she complained that the cover depicted above was stigmatising but when challenged simply said this was because it depicted the prophet, and that offended her. How could a mere depiction of a supposed Mohammed (no-one knows what he looked like), which does not denigrate the prophet, stigmatise? Remember, it's the mere depiction that is blasphemy. She describes images like the one above as 'a vicious stereotype', and I fail to see how it is. If the cartoonist depicted the prophet as a Frenchman, would that avoid the charge of stereotyping, and therefore be acceptable to Ramdani? I doubt it. She constantly slides between her subjective offense at the image and the objective racism of the image. This is unacceptable behaviour. The religious frequently claim offence at some arbitrary sleight whilst denouncing non-believers as less than human and destined for some unpleasant eternal punishment. That should be considered more hateful than any blasphemy, but in the skewed worldview of the religiously sympathetic it is considered de rigueur.

Ramdani said that because people would respond negatively to blasphemy, this is a good reason not to publish; but if blasphemy is a tool, or is used as a tool, to prevent examination of some ideology's core beliefs and to buttress its authority, that is the very reason why such images must be published.

Therefore, a discussion needs to be had about the role of blasphemy in western societies. My view is that blasphemy itself needs to become as taboo to proclaim as the contents of blasphemous views currently are to the religious; just as we now wince at the n-word and frown on anyone who drinks and drives, so we should come to find bizarre anyone taking blasphemy seriously. Ramdani should be embarrassed to suggest that blasphemy is a good reason to curtail publication in a free press. Sadly this is far from being the case at the moment, when many countries still have blasphemy on the statute books.

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Thursday, 8 January 2015

Blasphemy must be Normalised

Below is a good discussion between Douglas Murray and Maajid Nawaz. Murray says:
...the gunmen went in to assert Islamic blasphemy laws in a European city on twelve people in the office of Charlie Hebdo... to enforce a particular idea of blasphemy law.
If nothing else is clear, that surely is. This is not to say that global politics has not played its part in fomenting disaffection amongst Muslims in the world, but it is to make clear the proximate cause of the atrocity; if Charlie Hebdo had never committed blasphemy against the prophet, they would not have been targeted.

I have often puzzled at theists, and not a few atheists, who complain about those who ridicule religion. Theists consider their gods sacred, and, finding them empirically indistinguishable from imaginary friends, resort to high dudgeon in defence of their beliefs. An excellent tactic for the ambitious authoritarian belief system is to invoke horrendous punishment for any questioning of what they can't prove empirically.

But ridicule is a perfectly normal part of social interaction. It can go too far, that much is true, but its power is in its debunking of authority. Bogus authority needs something to raise its balloon, so it can climb in the basket and look down on us, and hot air and pomposity do just the job. Ridicule punctures that balloon of pomposity to release the hot air, and since religions are amongst the most pompous institutions in the world, it is often an appropriate response to their teachings. Rather than grounds for ring-fencing religion, I see grounds for exposing it to more ridicule than other institutions.

I'm glad to see this sentiment in some responses to Charlie Hebdo. Here is Kenan Malik:
To ridicule religion and to defend free expression is not to attack minority communities. On the contrary: without doing both it is impossible to defend the freedoms of Muslims or of any one else. So, yes, let us challenge the Islamists and the reactionaries within Muslim communities. Let us also challenge the anti-Muslim reactionaries. But equally let us call the fake liberals to account.
And another excellent article by Stephen Law, who articulates my own feelings well:
Laughter may not be the only way of getting people to recognise the truth, but it’s sometimes the quickest and most effective way. Satire and mockery are tools that can be employed entirely appropriately, particularly if we’re criticising figures and institutions that maintain a faithful following in part by fostering attitudes of immense reverence and deference. What the pompous and self-aggrandizing fear most is that small boy who points and laughs - and whose name, in this case, is Charlie Hebdo.
Sadly the little boys and one girl who pointed with their pencils at the Muslim emperor were murdered for their ridicule.

It's good to hear Muslim Maajid Nawaz, from the moderate Quilliam Foundation, saying this:
...the editors need to get together ... to share the risk, enough is enough, satire plays an important role in democratic societies, and freedom of speech an even more important role...
Quite right; the appropriate response to Charlie Hebdo is for everyone to blaspheme, to normalise it, to debunk it and to own it; blasphemy is no reason to harm someone, anyone, and ridicule does not need to tread carefully around religion, any more than it has to around any subject.

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