On ‘Je suis Charlie, mais… ‘

Evan Davis - Charlie Hebdo

I wonder whether Newsnight anchor, Evan Davis, received a ticking off from his editor, Ian ’… it’s a mainstream Muslim position to think it’s offensive’ Katz, following his camera-visible holding of the cover image from the post-atrocity edition of Charlie Hebdo, thus contravening the BBC’s policy not to show images of a timorous Prophet. Katz’s concern for the ‘mainstream’ is puzzling. Because it is not the mainstream that threatens and acts violently, is it? Such activity is, by definition, extremist.

Though apparently reviewing its policy, the BBC is not alone in its apparent cowering to threats of sociopathic violence. Channel 4 News, in its coverage following the barbaric and despicable events in Paris, also reiterated its policy to not show (these) cartoons. The liquidising solidarity with fellow journalists and satirists runs wide, leaving many scratching their heads as to what the fuss is all about, particularly when the censorship is accompanied by descriptions of that being censored, thus implanting an image in the minds of those whose sensibilities the censorship is (supposedly) supposed to spare. The Guardian has climbed out of the foxhole it appeared to dig itself last week and printed the post-killing CH cover ‘… as its news value warrants publication’ (not so The Independent, as far as I’ve seen); but The Observer carried an interesting article on the history of depictions of Muhammad – absurdly, without any accompanying example. Rather than defiance and mettle, many outlets/publications, whilst claiming to uphold the right to free expression, have nevertheless been terrorised into self-censorship.

Charlie Hebdo cover

The fractionation of ‘free speech’ is underway again. The voluble, self-aggrandising fascist, Anjem Choudary, freely pipes up that ‘Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression’. I doubt that he’s recently polled them and has the data for such an absurd statement; rather, is it not him purporting to ‘speak’ for all Muslims by telling them what they should believe and how they should (re)act (and in effect telling them all to shut up)? Another who has never spoken for the majority of British Muslims despite being knighted for supposedly doing so, the homophobe Iqbal (‘death is too good for [Salman Rushdie]’) Sacranie, weakly proffered a trite non-argument, confirming he doesn’t understand the concept. On the same day when the mouthpieces were accepting profile-maintaining invitations from TV and radio studios requesting their sagacious sound-bites, I begrudgingly admit that I found myself nodding with Sayeeda Warsi’s condemnation of the atrocity, which she rightly said has ‘rightly been portrayed as an attack on free speech’ .

Opportunities for tweaking election manifestos are seized. Farage, not one to miss scoring populist points, blamed the murders – not on the murderers – but on the multiculturalism arising from failed integration (and so positions himself for some awkward questioning). Which allowed the confused atheist Nick ‘I wish I had [faith]’ Clegg, who said something about Islam being ‘… that great world religion…’ (he means ‘big’, right?), to distinguish his party colours from the Blue Spectre, who condemns whilst wasting little time justifying further encroachment on civil liberties. And Ed…. ? Err, must have missed him.

3.7 million people gathered in Paris last Sunday. Yet despite this, the double standardising by much of the world’s media aside, it seems many feel a need to qualify their solidarity. Due to the opinion or perception of many that Charlie Hebdo is a down-punching, racist, sexist publication – counter-argued as the opposite by many others. (Is it racist/sexist; or does it satirise attitudes to racism/sexism? Or both?) There’s been quite a lot of this over at (the advertising-litter-strewn) Freethought Blogs, where a couple of weeks back I attempted comment on a blog post requesting unsavoury Biblical quotations as a counter to proselytising Christians’ cherry-picking avoidance of the awkward (á la The God Delusion, though Richard Dawkins is none too popular at FTB these days it seems). I queried (fairly, I thought) whether the blogger intended a similar exercise with The Qur’an, but my comment remained hidden. Following the CH killings, the same blogger, like many others there, posted images of CH covers. But then, like others apparently prompted by a clamouring liberal reaction to the ‘Je suis Charlie’ slogan, there appeared a subsequent post seemingly feeling the need to couple condemnation of the killings with clarified rejection of CH‘s (perceived) racism/sexism. Lest fellow liberals perceive that solidarity with CH is somehow deemed as endorsing racism/sexism, etc? Irritatedly (and irritatingly) attempting to challenge this saw me promptly banned from the blog in question (the irony of which had me stamping my feet for a while).

It was even ventured somewhere else that the pledging of ‘Je suis Charlie’ solidarity by those who have never read CH is somehow invalid. But this is somewhat akin to arguing that those who have never read The Satanic Verses cannot reliably protest against its burning (by those who’ve never read it) – or object to the fatwā on its author. Elsewhere, I’ve encountered apparent sophistry over the sophistication of the cartoons: the hint of attitude that they weren’t worth killing over because they were sub-standard; the extension being that the drawers of ‘sophisticated’ cartoons are fair game? But it wasn’t the quality of Salman Rushdie’s (unread) writing that did for him.

How trite, the Sacranie-esque ‘freedom of speech comes with responsibilities’. Yes, we know: the responsibility not to murder somebody who expresses a disagreeable concept chief among them. How predictable, the political point-scoring. How problematical, the assumption (of the need to air rejection) of malign -isms and/or political side. How irrelevant the subjective assignment of quality. Thank goodness for the perspicacity of commentators such as Nick CohenKenan Malik and David Aaronovitch, who urge honesty about how we’ve arrived at this parlous state of affairs. Surely, the solidarity expressed by ‘Je suis Charlie’ is the deploring of violence and murder as means to perpetuate de facto blasphemy law. No qualifying ‘, but… ‘s necessary.

Je suis Charlie. C’est tout!


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