Philosophers and Theorists on the Charlie Hebdo Attacks (updated)

Philosophers and Theorists on the Charlie Hebdo Attacks (updated)


Yesterday, twelve people were shot dead at the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine. It was reported that the gunmen shouted “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” and “God is Great” in Arabic (“Allahu Akbar”), and so the attack is believed to be the work of militant Islamists in response to offensive cartoons that appeared in the magazine.

I am posting this as a place to collect relevant writings and media appearances by philosophers, political theorists, and others on or relevant to these attacks, or to the general issues underlying them. Please post them, with links if possible, in the comments.

Here are two:

First, there’s an interview with  Jacob Levy (McGill) on the BBC in which he praises the widespread support for freedom to speak offensively in the wake of the attacks, but notes the hypocrisy of such support in conjunction with France’s ban on certain traditional Muslim clothing, in particular, veils to cover women’s faces.

Second, there is a piece by Jason Stanley (Yale) in The New York Times. He arrived in Paris, coincidentally, right after the attacks, to give a series of lectures. An excerpt from his “Postcard from Paris”:

Liberalism is a political philosophy that has as its two chief ideals, liberty and equality. In a liberal democracy, all citizens have equal power, because all are possessed of reason, and have the liberty to employ it in expression. In France, which has a right to be considered one of the modern birthplaces of the liberal democratic revolution, satire has long had a special role. Satire is the ultimate method by which reason can address power. With the use of satire, even those without control of resources can, with merely the use of a pen, bring figures of authority down to earth.

The revered cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo had not only mocked the chief religious figure of the Islamic faith; they also had subjected Pope Francis to equal ridicule. No authority figure was safe. To take Charlie Hebdo as singling Islam out for abuse is a misunderstanding, one might think. Their target was authority, whatever its source.

Yet, as the staff of Charlie Hebdo was aware, there surely is a difference, in France, between mocking the Pope and mocking the Prophet Muhammad. The Pope is the representative of the dominant traditional religion of the majority of French citizens. The Prophet Muhammad is the revered figure of an oppressed minority. To mock the Pope is to thumb one’s nose at a genuine authority, an authority of the majority. To mock the Prophet Muhammad is to add insult to abuse. The power of the majority in a liberal democracy is not the power of monarchs, to be sure. But it is power nonetheless.

(image of window at Charlie Hebdo, from Associated Press)

UPDATE (1/10/15 – 2/1/15): I’ve gone through the comments and gathered up links submitted in response to the OP, and added some seen elsewhere:

– Patrick Savida (Université de Poitiers) – “Charlie Hebdo: un courage democratique” (in French) (via Nick)

– Nigel Wartburton (Philosophy Bites) – tweets and links (via Nick)

– Bob Kirkman (Georgia Tech) –  “Charlie Hebdo

– Chris Bertram (Bristol) – “Charlie Hebdo” (via Brian Weatherson)

– Samir Chopra (Brooklyn College, CUNY) – Kill All The Cartoonists; God Will Sort Them Out

– Justin E.H. Smith (Université Paris Diderot ) –  “Finding Something to Say about Charlie Hebdo” (via S)

– Stephen Law (Heythrop College, University of London) — “What’s the point of lampooning religion? To upset the religious?”

– Serene Khader (Brooklyn College)  – “Why You Won’t See Me Posting ‘Je Suis Charlie’” (via More Indeed)

– Kenan Malik (writer, lecturer, broadcaster) –  “je suis charlie? it’s a bit late”  (via L)

– Amol Rajan, Editor of The Independent interviewed -“Publishing Muhammad cartoons would have been too risky” (via David Wallace)

– Fredrik deBoer (Purdue), “On Debating Dead Moral Questions”

– David Brooks (NYT columnist) – “I Am Not Charlie Hedbo” (via Bob Kirkman)

– Joe Sacco (graphic novelist, journalist) – “On Satire – a response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks” (via Anon)

– Glenn Greenwald (journalist) – “In Solidarity with a Free Press” (via J C McG)

– Scott Long (human rights consultant) – “Why I am not Charlie” (via J C McG)

– Adam Shatz (journalist) – “Moral Clarity”  (via J C McG)

– Catarina Dutilh Novaes (Groningen) – “Charlie Hebdo and the Intolerant Enlightenment”  (including a link to a piece by Eric Schliesser — in Dutch) (via Nick)

– Teju Cole (writer, photographer, art historian) – “Unmournable Bodies” (via sin nombre)

– Glen Newey (Leiden) –  “Rival Sanctities”

– Slavoj Žižek (Ljubljana) – “Are the worst really full of passionate intensity?

– Amos Guiora (S.J. Quinney College of Law, Univ. of Utah) – “To Fear Offense or Reprisals Is to Surrender Our Values” (via anonymous 17)

– David Atkins – “When Defense of “The Other” Runs Contrary to Liberal Values”  (via Blain Neufeld)

– Seyla Benhabib (Yale)  – “Piety or Rage? On the Charlie Hebdo Massacres

– Noam Chomsky (MIT) – “One Man’s Terror Is Another Man’s War

– Catherine Liu (UC Irvine) – “Intellectual History and the Death of Politics: Jacobin, Sade, Charlie Hebdo

– Etienne Balabar (UC Irvine)  – “Trois mots pour les morts et pour les vivants

– Brian Klug (Oxford) – “The moral hysteria of Je suis charlie

– Zygmunt Bauman (Leeds) – “The Charlie Hebdo Attack And What It Reveals About Society

– Jameel Jaffer (ACLU) – “Charlie Hebdo, The Interview, and Censoring Torture Photos

– Daniel Weinstock (McGill) – “The (Messy) Ethics of Freedom of Speech

– Antonio Negri – “Charlie Hebdo, fear and world war: two questions for Toni Negri” (by Mike Watson)

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Nick
Nick
6 years ago

In French (sorry), by political philosopher Patrick Savida:
http://www.raison-publique.fr/article714.htmlReport

Nick
Nick
6 years ago

Nigel Wartburton has been tweeting a lot too, and linking to lots of materials, including Philosophy Bites, on free speech.
https://twitter.com/philosophybitesReport

Bob Kirkman
6 years ago

I offered one small comment, off to the side of the main stream of commentary and demonstration following the attack, here: http://www.ethicsnotes.net/2015/01/charlie-hebdo.html.

My concern is not so much with the discussion of free speech or liberal democracy as such, which I agree is part of the wider significance of the attack and should be expressed.

My concern is that the particular horror of the deaths of twelve human beings is being obscured by all the abstractions flying around. The gunmen are said to have attacked freedom, liberalism, democracy, France . . . but they also killed twelve individuals.

I am still more concerned with the moves of some, including otherwise respectable thinkers who espouse a strident form of atheism, to use the attacks to score points against religion in general, Islam in particular. It is more than a little offensive to use the deaths of human beings as mere means to less-than-admirable ends.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

Good for Jason Stanley to point out that Charlie Hebdo’s satire of Islam is a form of abusive power, but I don’t think this goes far enough. Charlie Hebdo publishes racists (mostly Islamophobic) and sexist cartoons. They did not serve a noble cause. Satire was an important political instrument before free speech when the press could be shut down by legitimate authorities. It is a good tool against those who hold power over the satirist. France is no longer that world and the cartoons lampooning Muslims are not speaking to power, they are a sign of white privilege speaking down to Muslims. Not all victims need be noble ones and racists have a right to life, too. I think we need to put these cartoons into perspective. If an American press ran a cartoon lampooning Bush for whatever and then ran a cartoon with president Obama’s beer summit where Obama and Gates had their beers with a slice of Watermelon and were drawn stereotypically black, I think it would be fair to say that that particular newspaper ran a racist cartoon. If they did things like that repeatedly, we would probably be right to call that newspaper racist even if they were only making fun of prominent black figures or extremist black figures. From everything I can find on Charlie Hebdo, this is the French equivalent of what they published. I know we aren’t supposed to speak ill of the dead, but I don’t like the idea of making racist cartoons some sort of noble venture.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

Sin Nombre writes:
“the cartoons lampooning Muslims are not speaking to power.”

I’d say a sufficient condition for “speaking to power” is that you are murdered for doing so.Report

Here is a Name
Here is a Name
6 years ago

“Yet, as the staff of Charlie Hebdo was aware, there surely is a difference, in France, between mocking the pope and mocking the Prophet Muhammad. The pope is the representative of the dominant traditional religion of the majority of French citizens. The Prophet Muhammad is the revered figure of an oppressed minority. To mock the pope is to thumb one’s nose at a genuine authority, an authority of the majority. To mock the Prophet Muhammad is to add insult to abuse. The power of the majority in a liberal democracy is not the power of monarchs, to be sure. But it is power nonetheless.”

If there are a significant number of people who believe that others should die for insults and cartoons, then there is a need to insult and mock that very group and their revered figures. Stanley goes through the motions of condemning the attack, and I’m sure is quite sincere, but my mother taught me that anything comes before a ‘but’ is meaningless and I imagine she would say the same about ‘yet’. To vilify these brave cartoonists as abusing an oppressed minority rather than thumbing their noses at evil—and to do so on immediately after their murder by the very evil they mocked–is disgusting and shameful.Report

Brian Weatherson
6 years ago

Chris Bertram (Bristol) has an excellent post up at Crooked Timber – http://crookedtimber.org/2015/01/07/charlie-hebdo/Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

This is an equivocation. Either you do not know what “speaking to power” means or you are intentionally distorting its meaning.Report

Here is a Name
Here is a Name
6 years ago

The idea that the only appropriate targets of satire are those who fall under some notion of “power” is absurd. Any number of people need to be satirized for any number of reasons, and those people aren’t restricted to the some range of people who are in “power.” For instance, people who believe that others should be murdered for mocking religious figures are people who are good targets of satire.Report

Bob Kirkman
6 years ago

As Rousseau would say, a gun is also a power.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

How’s this, satirizing extremists in itself is not wrong and is healthy for any democracy. It is the manner in which extremists are satirized that bothers me about Charlie Hebdo. They frequently use racialized or sexist images to characterize Muslims. They played on Islamophobic and Orientalist themes. They were racist and to pretend that they weren’t racist is to deny a very important fact. I have a hard time seeing how racism is political satire. Reading the comments here and elsewhere on their work makes me feel like the Islamophobia is escaping everyone’s notice. I get this feeling that Fanon mentions in Black Skin, White Masks where he talks about people’s surprise that he is so civilized or when they criticize black people, they mean other black people. That’s basically what those cartoons are. Oh, we don’t mean all Arabs, just those bad Arabs (as we gleefully mock them using stereotypical Arab imagery). There’s a way to do political satire against extremist that doesn’t buy into racist stereotypes and then there’s the way the all white staff of Charlie Hebdo decided to do it. I’m saying there way is racist. Were Rush Limbaugh to meet a similar fate would we all be saying “I am Rush”?Report

Darius Jedburgh
Darius Jedburgh
6 years ago

Sin nombre, it is superficial to point out that what the cartoonists did would not conventionally have been described as ‘speaking to power’. I take it that that was part of David Wallace’s point. The real issue concerns why it should *not* be described that way, given that they were murdered. Often the point of using that expression is to praise the speaker’s courage. The cartoonists were well aware of the danger; their building was under armed police guard.

I am heartened, however, by your acknowledgement of their right to life.Report

Here is a Name
Here is a Name
6 years ago

A sudden change in view or tactics?

And, yes, I would say ‘I am Rush’ or ‘I am Chomsky’ or ‘I am anyone else who was murdered for saying or thinking something’: I support an open society.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

To be clear, no one should be killed for their beliefs or their drawings. My point is that these cartoons are not brave. They are drawn by people who have an extraordinary amount of white privilege in a country that has a lot of Islamophobic people and these cartoons cater to them. To pretend that they are anything more is either to be unaware of one’s own privilege (not uncommon), to be unaware of France’s very long and racist history with the Other, or to be unaware of the sort of work that Charlie Hebdo publishes. Please stop reminding me of why philosophy has a white male privilege problem, because that’s what these comments sound like.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

A change in tactics since my real point is that these cartoonists were racist seems to be lost. So would you then say that Rush was a crusader for free speech? Would he some how be doing noble work perpetuating racist stereotypes? I am for an open society too, but let’s not pretend people are who they are not even if they were murdered.Report

Here is a Name
Here is a Name
6 years ago

Actually, your original point was that the murderers were not “in power.” And THEN that some of them (or, at least, you should have said some of them since Muslims are some times white) are racial minorities, and that criticism of them was really criticism of a race, apparently Arabs (and many Arabs are of course not Muslims).

And a flip through the cartoons shows nothing racist. Just goofy looking cartoons of people of a number of races. That’s sort of what cartoon satire does.

I’m not aware of Limbaugh crusading for free speech. I don’t really keep up with him though. The people are Charlie Hebdo obviously did, and they paid for it with their lives. We should honor them not try to use them as pawns in goofy fake academic activism.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

Darius, I take it that courage means saying something that is unpopular in that one might be harmed in doing so. Generally this means speaking to a legitimate authority who has the power to harm the speaker. A gun alone does not give one authority (even if Mao says it does). Also, I assume that courage is something noble. Perpetuating orientalist images of Muslims is not courageous. I notice no one is taking up my earlier analogy about black stereotypes. I don’t know why since this would be a fair French equivalent. Being a racist is not courageous even if one’s racism does come with the threat of violence, which, obviously, it should not.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

Sin Nombre writes:
“My point is that these cartoons are not brave.”

I’d say a sufficient condition for an action to be brave is that you carry on doing it even after your office has been firebombed for your doing it, and even though you know that doing it is placing your life at risk.

As for Rush Limbaugh: if saying the (by and large disgraceful) things he says was leading to credible threats against his life, then yes: if he carried on saying them regardless, I think I would call him a crusader for free speech.Report

william lewis
william lewis
6 years ago

What possible definition of “power,” political or otherwise, could you have which has the corollary that being murdered can be proof of said power? If you mean by “power” some little agency like the power to organize a few boyhood friends from the 19th, buy a gun, and shoot people, then you are correct. However, this is a trivial kind of power. In common usage, “speaking to power” is what one does when one speaks critically of a dominating, political power. If this is how Sin Nombre is using the phrase (which would make sense), then your claim is as false as it is obfuscatory.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

I don’t think your abstraction holds, David. Let’s say someone plots to assassinate a police office, which could mean they will face the death penalty. At the risk of that person’s own life he kills a police officer. Was that person brave? The courage of speaking to power also involves systemic racism. In that case, Charlie Hebdo benefited from systemic racism. They are part of the white male power structure of France and Rush Limbaugh is part of the white male power structure of the United States. While Charlie Hebdo faced death threats and that made their work dangerous, it does not follow that all dangerous work that risks one’s own life is brave. While I (uncomfortably) think hate speech should be allowed, I wouldn’t call anyone who perpetuates it a crusader for free speech since this obscures the traditional fight for free speech, which was born as a form of human liberation. Hate speech is a form of human subjugation.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

So many problems in your comment, Here is a name. First, my original point is that they were racist and not speaking to power as they insulted Muslims. I still stick to this and still think you are equivocating on this concept since you ignore the importance of systemic racism. Second, racism is not just about skin color (or racial identification). It is a wide net about oppressed minorities who have various othering features. Third, those goofy pictures are only funny because of specific and historical orientlist images we have inherited. I strongly suggest you read Edward Said’s book on Orientalism if you are not seeing what makes those cartoons racist (also you obviously haven’t seen the one that reads: “Le Pape a Paris: Les Francais Aussi Cons Que Les Negres.” I’m going to guess that you are not familiar with the literature on racist jokes and racist cartoons. This isn’t fake academic activism and they deserve no more honor than any other person who is murdered.Report

Swift
Swift
6 years ago

Assume that the cartoonists and the cartoons were in fact racist. What follows from that that is relevant in the immediate discussion of this act of political violence? I’m seriously asking, though I do admit to being dubious that there’s a reasonable case for such a fact being relevant to any discussion that would be in good taste this week.

Further, it’s not obvious to me that it is all things considered wrong to make martyrs of the cartoonists even if their work was racially insensitive. (Why ‘racially’? Islam is not a race. Not just mincing here. There are crucial differences between racism and religious bigotry.) No actual martyr is perfect, and the lionization of martyrs can obviously serve a powerful and legitimate role in the political struggle against the evil that killed them.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

To William Lewis: in my usage, at least, “speaking to power” is what one does when one speaks critically of a group which credibly threatens harm to those who so speak.
If I am threatened with harm for a speech act, if carrying out that speech act causes my office to be firebombed and my life to be threatened, if I keep doing it despite the threats, and if I am then murdered, I have spoken to power and died for it, and it’s secondary at best whether that power was wielded by government authorities, criminal gangs, or terror groups.

More generally (and to sin nombre in particular)-
Whether some speech act (be it racist, or misoygnist, or blasphemous, or whatever) is a defence of free speech is *crucially* dependent on whether it’s being made against a background of threats and coercions against that act. The reason Rush Limbaugh is *not* a crusader for free speech has nothing to do with the content of his speech and everything to do with the fact that he speaks in complete safety. Charlie Hebdo’s speech acts occurred against a background of (all-too) credible threats to their lives; they were perfectly aware of this; their editor was completely explicit that they carried on with what they were doing in significant part *because* of the principle of free speech. This is close to a textbook case. To respond to their slaughter by foregrounding the content of their speech is to offer a defence of free speech so half-hearted as to border on lip service.Report

Sacco
Sacco
6 years ago

sin nombre writes, “Third, those goofy pictures are only funny because of specific and historical orientlist images we have inherited.”

False. It seems to me that I found this image (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/4/4d/Charliehebdo.jpg/220px-Charliehebdo.jpg) to be funny, not because of any “specific and historical orientlist [sic]” connotations that it may have inherited, since I’m not too familiar with such connotations, but because I took it to be lampooning a ridiculous system of rules (Sharia) and advocates of it.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

I apologize for so many comment posts. I will try to keep my responses to a minimum.
To swift: what follows from CH being racist is that we not honor the work of racists. If they are martyrs, then people retweet their covers and perpetuate racialized images of Muslims. I say race even though Islam is a religion because we in the West have a particular racialized image of a Muslim (dark skin, turban, beard, big nose, etc.). There’s more to this but I think it is important to recognize that the Muslims who face Islamophobia in France are in many ways discriminated like blacks and Latinos are in the US. So my concern is that we honor Charlie Hebdo and make racist speech more politically acceptable. I don’t care if this is distasteful, and quite frankly given the circumstances that is a funny argument to make. I think this is a helpful way to think about why we need to be realistic about what Charlie Hebdo publishes: http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2015/01/in-the-wake-of-charlie-hebdo-free-speech-does-not-mean-freedom-from-criticism/

To David Wallace. Your strip a very important factor from “speaking to power”: the systemic racism as the heart of most power relations. It does matter where one derives their power as I think is evident from our reaction. In fact, compare two types of reactions. The murder of twelve people in Paris has filled the streets with peaceful protesters (and some horrible people attacking Mosques); the bombing of the NAACP, which almost received no press coverage though it happened the same day. Both are obviously horrible acts, but because Charlie Hebdo is speaking from power, because they are part of a white supremicist power structure and because we are all riled up against Muslim terrorists, that is where our focus lies. The reason this is not a text book case is because CH is the victim of those who are disadvantaged in society, not those with power. It makes their deaths no less awful, but it does not make their work courageous.

To Sacco. That is actually a textbook case of exaggerated orientalist features. I have a hard time believing you were never exposed to orientalist images and many of our orientalist beliefs (as racist beliefs in general) are more or less subconscious. This particular image makes the prophet (?) wearing a turban, long nose, dark skin, and beard are all to make him monstrous and other. Notice the lack of racially exaggerated features on pope Benedict:comment image%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.businessinsider.com%252F16-bold-covers-from-the-satirical-paris-magazine-that-was-attacked-today-2015-1%253Fop%253D1%3B800%3B1053Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

I found Ross Douthat’s article in the NYTimes very helpful (http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/07/the-blasphemy-we-need/). I think it contains a persuasive response to the worries expressed by Sin Nombre, especially in the following passage:

in a cultural and political vacuum, it would be okay to think that some of the images (anti-Islamic and otherwise) that Charlie Hebdo regularly published, especially those chosen entirely for their shock value, contributed little enough to public discussion that the world would not suffer from their absence.

But we are not in a vacuum. We are in a situation where my third point applies, because the kind of blasphemy that Charlie Hebdo engaged in had deadly consequences, as everyone knew it could … and that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good. If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more. Again, liberalism doesn’t depend on everyone offending everyone else all the time, and it’s okay to prefer a society where offense for its own sake is limited rather than pervasive. But when offenses are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  Anon
6 years ago

No, my problem is not with blasphemy nor with the importance of saying unpopular views. My problem is that we are pretending that the provocations of Charlie Hebdo that were targeted at Muslims were anything other Islamophobic. Were the KKK to print a news letter that had wide circulation (and keep in mind almost every state in the US has an active chapter of the KKK) and they were threatened and killed for publishing racist cartoons of Obama with say watermelons, it would still be a horrible event but I would hope my colleagues would not pretend that the KKK’s magazine was something to defend and that their cartoons perpetuating racist images were something to reproduce in the name of standing against the intolerant. Both parties here are intolerant and the three men who committed this crime are unacceptably intolerant, but let’s not pretend racialized images (I do not care about the blasphemy as I am an atheist) aren’t racialized images made by the dominant white group.Report

Sacco
Sacco
6 years ago

Since you’re willing to go as far as to claim that I’m either mistaken about my own beliefs or being disingenuous in reporting them, I’m sure my replies will continue to fall on deaf ears. Nevertheless, let me assure you, on pain of coming off as a seriously ignorant person, that I really didn’t, at least until now, have a concept of an oriental as “wearing a turban, long nose, dark skin, and beard.” Again, on pain of coming off as an even more seriously ignorant person, I used to only associate ‘oriental’ with, I don’t know, China in the 1800s. So, I know you’re having a hard time believing that I never had the former concept, and so you’re having a hard time accepting my explanation about why the image is funny, but believe it. I found the image to be funny for the reasons I cited above. I’m only bothering to go on about this rather incidental point about what’s funny about the images because I think our exchange is evidence of just how far you’re willing to go to maintain your view of this topic.Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
6 years ago

So, sin nombre is pretty clearly correct about the notion of “speaking to power” only applying to speech aimed at dominant political power. Of course, this is also why the notion is morally neutral and has no interesting implications. The Nazis, prior to their ascent to power, were speaking to power. They then ceased to speak to power as soon as they attained power. Same with communists, fascists, etc. Likewise, radical Islamicists are speaking to power when they call the West decadent and morally depraved (as long as they do so within the borders of a Western country). If, however, they came to power in these Western countries and imposed Sharia law, they would then cease to speak to power. The notion of “speaking to power” is largely a form of non sequitur that allows one to avoid talking about the ideological content of the speech in question, which is what is truly morally relevant.

Charlie Hebdo was pretty clearly racist. How this is relevant to anything is beyond me. There is no need to glorify them. The entire focus on freedom of expression appears to be a gigantic red herring. No one was suggesting that we legitimately curtail freedom of expression in the first place. This was an act of extremists operating outside the law. It’s as if someone robbed a bank and everyone decided that this was a good opportunity to justify property rights.

The only real thing that we should be discussing is the nature of radical Islam, and how best to deal with it. The term “Islamaphobia” appears to be used as some form of ad hominem used against anyone who would suggest that radical Islam is not just a fluke phenomenon that is solely the result of Western Imperialism. No doubt Western imperialism played a significant role in the current levels of radical Islam, but it is not the sole cause. One simply cannot ignore the core texts of Islam and the history of the religion. People who self-identify as Muslims can believe almost anything. This, too, is a red herring. The radical ideology has a clear basis in the core texts of the religion. Those who suggest that mere cultural sensitivity will resolve the problem have not, to my knowledge, provided any significant evidence to back this claim aside from calling everyone who disagrees with them an Islamophobe. It may simply be that countries with significant Muslim populations we will have to live with a significant level terrorism due to Islamic extremism no matter how culturally sensitive they become.Report

Swift
Swift
6 years ago

Can you honestly think of no relevant disanologies between the Klan and Charlie Hebdo? Can you honestly think of no explanation other than racism for why this story received more coverage than the Colorado bombing? I’m sensitive to the possibility that lionizing CH could cause unwarranted harm to oppressed and innocent people. If you make the case that it would, I’d try to be open to accepting it. But such clear false analogies make that a lot more difficult.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

I am baffled by Sacco’s comments. I don’t know what to say other than one need not be aware of the racists beliefs they have inherited to in fact have them. Oriental means eastern and since the Middle East is east of the West we generally lump in those inhabitants of the Middle East (who come from many different ethnic groups) into one big group, usually Arab. There are a lot of cultural images we have of Arabs that are pretty much what I described.

To Grad Student, I mostly agree. Charlie Hebdo’s racism is relevant only in that we must not pretend that that publication does not exist within a larger context of Islamophobia . So this is relevant because of the red herring of freedom of expression, which makes these cartoons look honorable rather than racist. Islamophobia is a serious problem, especially in Europe. Read recent reports about how Muslims are being treated in Western European countries. A majority of Germans think Islam is a threat. Look up PEGIDA if you don’t believe me.

Swift, of course there are differences and important ones. I just think too many people are pointing to the religious aspect, which we have a long history in the west of challenging rather than the fact that these are basically racist cartoons. I’m regretful for using such an absurd example. I honestly don’t think there is any better reason than racism as to why the NAACP bombing received so little press. In the one case, white people were victims to what appear to be Islamic radicals (that plays nicely into our fears of Muslim terrorists); in the second, black people had their lives threatened by an unknown bomber (but we so rarely think of terrorists as being white). A bombing in the US should be a huge deal. Why isn’t it? I won’t say racism is the only reason, but I think our unacknowledged racist beliefs. Lionizing CH is harmful because it perpetuates these awful images of Muslims and because it plays into the clash of civilizations narrative (that Grad Student seems to be arguing).Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  sin nombre
6 years ago

The majority of people involved do not need to be violent monsters in order for there to be a clash of cultures or values. If a Muslim population ends up producing enough radicals, then that population will not be able to live peacefully with the broader Western society in which it is embedded, no matter how peaceful or well-intentioned the majority of the members of the population might be. People generally aren’t willing to live under a perpetual threat of violence *when they have the power to do something about it*. The question is whether the current radicalism is due to fluke historical contingencies that can be corrected, or whether Islam itself inherently offers the ideological basis necessary to produce a steady stream of radicals. There is a clear basis for the radical authoritarian ascetic ideology in the central texts of Islam, so the latter seems like a distinct possibility. Alternatively, it may well be the case the radicalism is solely due the fact that Western countries oppress their Muslim populations in various ways.

On a side note, I just don’t see how anyone could deny the effect of racism/implicit bias in the way Western media portrays Muslims. It’s so obvious.Report

Nick
Nick
6 years ago

I can’t start to fathom the disanalogies between the KKK and Charlie Hebdo…Report

Nick
Nick
6 years ago

Here, you can start counting the overwhelming number of anti-racist, anti-fascism, pro-immigrants cartoons found in the magazine these last years. http://stripsjournal.canalblog.com/tag/x%C3%A9nophobie

Many supporters are reasonably arguing that, if “islamophobic” (assuming they were), the cartoons are not racist. They’re also part of a variegate myriad of grotesque representations of anything the cartoonists thought both worth discussing and laughing at in France (and abroad). You can find there at least as many stereotypes as there are kinds of people pictures. And there’s a hell of a lot of such kinds. Good luck singling out stereotypes supporting your story against every other possible alternative.

Again, no one is denying that France is plagued by implicit and explicit racism, and a structural inequality between religions and ethnic origins resulting colononialism. On the least charitable interpretation, i.e. assuming a few cartoons were truly racist in your sense, they’re at worst of symptom of this problem, not a cause. And perhaps more accurately a (healthy) reflection of France’s problem, not a convenient scapegoat.Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  Nick
6 years ago

This was a reply to sin nombre. Also, apologies for typos.
§2 – “pictureD” not “pictureS”
§3 – “resulting FROM colonialism”Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

Nick, just because Charlie Hebdo makes fun of everyone doesn’t mean they don’t contribute to Islamophobia in France and perpetuate it. I already used this example above, but let’s say a newspaper publishes a cartoon lampooning Bush, and that same paper publishes a racialized cartoon of Obama (and they do a lot of them, as CH did a lot of cartoons about Muslims). Well, I have a hard time seeing how that paper isn’t racist. I don’t know what distinction you are making between Islamophobia and racism since, especially in France, Islamophobia is often part of a hatred towards racialized people. I guess I don’t see a difference that makes a difference here (especially since I think both are equally morally reprehensible). I am not saying CH is a cause of this Islamophobia, but they are working within a white supremacist system to perpetuate negative stereotypes about Muslims in France. Even though CH poked fun at others, this does not make them not-racists, since Muslims are an oppressed minority in France. If you don’t know what’s going on there, here’s a good place to start: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/10/02/are-muslims-permanent-foreigners-in-france/

So I am not sure how showing that there are other people being lampooned is important. X lampoons oppressed minority and their beliefs, perpetuating stereotypes in a racist country. Is X a racist? What does it matter that X also lampoons others, even those in power? How does that make the first act not racist? What am I missing? I feel like your argument is basically the equivalent of saying, sure I make racist jokes but I make jokes that also offend wealthy white people. Well, making racist jokes sort of makes you a racist.Report

Christian Marks
Christian Marks
6 years ago

To state that systemic racism is at the heart of most power relations goes against current anthropological understanding. The ability to kill conspecifics from a distance with projectile weapons distinguishes homo sapiens from all other species in the animal kingdom. Hominds acquired this ability approximately two million years ago; anthropologists believe that this unique ability played and continues to play a crucial role in human evolutionary development, including the development of cooperative behavior and language. Human political organization and social control tracks the development of projectile weapons. I would consider the ability to kill conspecifics at a distance with projectile weapons a defining characteristic of the human. One cannot discount the all-too-human power-equalizing use of assault weapons in the case of Charlie Hebdo, which continued to publish despite continued threats. Their putative “white supremacist” power did not protect them.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

Now we are going to pretend there’s no such thing as white supremacy. Alright, I’m done. Thank you colleagues for reminding me why there aren’t more minorities in philosophy.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

Grad Student writes:
It’s as if someone robbed a bank and everyone decided that this was a good opportunity to justify property rights.

If some organisation was threatening banks with mass slaughter if they continued to operate, and then repeatedly acted on that threat, then yes, I think the immediate aftermath of one such slaughter would be quite a good time to defend the rights of banks to operate.

On the other hand, the immediate aftermath of a mass murder of bank staff strikes me as quite a *bad* time to discuss the problems with that bank’s loan policy.Report

Christian Marks
Christian Marks
6 years ago

One doesn’t have to pretend there is no such thing as white supremacy. What one has to do is define what one means by power, who has it, and why.Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
6 years ago

Defend the rights of banks to whom? The radical organization that doesn’t believe in property rights? Or to the majority of people who already believe in property rights and have expressed no wish to change these rights? In the first case, your arguments are likely to be ineffective. (To complete the analogy, the people who target the banks would have to do this in part because of beliefs in supernatural phenomena that are recalcitrant to any sort of reasoned argument or empirical evidence.) In the latter case, your defense would amount to an empty platitude. This is why I don’t think the discussion about the freedom of expression makes sense.

(Well, aside from the point about the rather severe tension between the affirmation of freedom of expression and France’s decision to ban burkas. That’s pretty ridiculous.)Report

Swift
Swift
6 years ago

There is something I am missing in your position. Is the musical The Book of Mormon racist because it lampoons an oppressed minority in the US? If not would it be racist if, say, Mormons were predominately black? I think the gap between personal animus towards a religion and towards a race is pretty huge. Religions are (in part) ideologies that people choose and which may be morally pernicious. Race is neither voluntary nor morally evaluable. So prejudice against a religion could conceivably be justifiable in a way that racial prejudice never could.Report

Nick
Nick
6 years ago

OK, I’m wrapping this up too because I feel we’re bumping against a wall with you, sin nombre.
As a native French citizen who has spent most of his life there until very recently, and one whose French is the native language, I am — at least prima facie — in a decent position to assess “what’s going on there,” unlike too many uninformed commenters (I’m not saying you are). But a caveat: I’m a fortunate, albeit not proud, privileged white (atheistic) male.

– Maybe I’m biased, but it seems to me that making fun of everyone in equally irreverent ways dramatically undermines the charge of racism

– Islamophobia is an actual social fact, and when it’s a fear of muslims rather than fanaticism, it’s something we should fight against. But it’s also very often a red herring waved by simplifying minds to avoid debating the merits of a religion, or at least of the governance of its most harmful followers. Unless YOU think we should racialize muslims, islamophobia may well be completely disconnected from racism.

– In the specific case of Charlie Hebdo, arguable instances of islamophobia can more charitably be interpreted as (i) directed against a creed they otherwise would be happy to ignore because (ii) it comes in increasingly radicalized forms among the youth, hence (iii) more accurately targetting fanatics and terrorists rather than believers and any race whatsoever. Now on this interpretation — and that’s actually the correct one if you take the full context into account —, stereotypes in the supposedly islamophobic/racist caricatures are more readily seen as stereotypes of their targets, namely, the crazies, the fanatics, those precisely who believe it’s their duty to kill cartoonists for their offense. Recall the caricatures first were a response to the Denmark case, then to the terrible movie on the life of Mohamed, finally to the very threats they were receiving accordinlgy. Now, it seems to me that most — I agree not all — modern islamists (not muslims) pretty much nicely fit the stereotypes. A caricature has to be recognized or else this defeats its whole purpose. Unless you can show me that offensing terrorists is (i) racist, (ii) an unwarranted use of one’s dominant position, (iii) a contributor to France’s real problem with racism, I remain unconvinced.

(I’m sure I left typos but heck it’s getting late)Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

I won’t respond to Christian because I think that given his remarks there is no possibility of having a common ground (and if you truly hold that view I suggest that at the next APA meeting you go to the African American philosophy talks and tell them that white supremacy does not trump some teenagers with guns).

Swift, I think this is a complicated case. On the one hand, Mormons are an oppressed minority in this country and did have to flee. I think, though, that maybe I am not making myself clear on what my problem is. I don’t care about the cartoons because of their blasphemous nature (though it does seem cruel and mean spirited given the power structures in France). My problem is that the cartoons are racist. In the case of Muslims, because most people’s conception of a Muslim is some dark skinned person from the middle east in a turban, a big nose, beard, etc. Muslims are generally racialized. There is fantastic work on this particularly on the confusion between Sikhs and Muslims, etc. being done. In the case of Muslims, then, I do not think the gap between race and religion is so big (and in fact it is equivalent to being anti-Semitic where Jews are still discriminated against even if they are atheist Jews or non-practicing Jews). I think this is an important part of European Islamophobia in general, that it’s not just lampooning religious ideas, but more like attacking an oppressed group who we can Other in many of the same ways oppressed groups have continually been othered.

Nick, thank you for your insight but I think all your points are very problematic or outright false. You say, “Maybe I’m biased, but it seems to me that making fun of everyone in equally irreverent ways dramatically undermines the charge of racism.” This is certainly testable. Try it with some colleague who is a woman or a minority. Tell sexist or racist jokes around them and then just excuse yourself because you tell jokes about all people. In seriousness, this point is false because the different positions of power say the French president has versus the position of power most Muslims have in France. Making fun of the president or the pope is challenging those in power, making fun of oppressed minorities is being a bully and abusing your power. There is more to this, as I will get to later.

You then write, “Unless YOU think we should racialize muslims, islamophobia may well be completely disconnected from racism.” I do not think we should racialize Muslims, I think Muslims are already racialized in our image of them as Westerners. My problem with this entire debate about religion is that too many people are looking at this in the abstract as if we don’t already have racialized images of people based on their religion. As if religion was something that didn’t already come with it’s own stereotypes. So Islamophobia is a racial problem (again, similar structure as anti-Semitism).

As far as your defense of Charlie Hebdo, let’s say your interpretation is the right one. I’m in no position to judge, I suppose. I think this argument is premised on a bad understanding of racism. Your whole defense is about offense. I don’t care about offense. Perhaps I have not been very clear about this, but it’s not that the cartoons offend anyone that matters to me. Maybe it matters to the three troubled youth who did this horrible crime. The cartoons are racist because they perpetuate negative stereotypes of Muslims and they do so in a country that is rather Islamophobic. The harm comes because its readers will consume these negative stereotypes and depictions and it will be part of the way they think about Muslims. This is my whole point about my earlier comparisons with racist comics about blacks in the US. What’s dangerous about racism is that people who may not be racist will start to believe the racist stereotypes. An analogy. Here in the US we have a problem with stereotypical depictions of young African American men. People believe they are more dangerous and often less innocent than young white men (http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/03/black-boys-older.aspx). What happens as a result? Well, African American men are far more likely to be shot by the police and are far more likely to serve longer jail sentences for the same crime than young white men. Negative stereotypes harm anyone who posses those ethnic markers and since there are particular ethnic markers for Muslims negative stereotypes likely harm Muslims in France.

Now to your challenge. “Unless you can show me that offensing terrorists is (i) racist, (ii) an unwarranted use of one’s dominant position, (iii) a contributor to France’s real problem with racism, I remain unconvinced.” It quite frankly does not make much sense in light of what I said above (I hope). My point isn’t that Charlie Hebdo does something blasphemous but that in doing so it perpetuates racist stereotypes about Muslims that do not only harm terrorist but law-abiding Muslims who just want to live their life. Now, making racist cartoons is an unwarranted use of one’s dominant position (I don’t know why this would need to be proven). I think that perpetuating negative stereotypes about Muslims contributes to France’s problem in the same way anti-Semitic rags contributed to France’s anti-Semitic problem. The similarities between the two problems are striking to me.

If you still remain unconvinced, I strongly suggest you talk to someone who is Muslim not about blasphemy or religions, but about the stereotypes that person faces. Since you gave some insight about yourself, here’s some about me. I live in perhaps the must Muslim neighborhood in Brooklyn and am married to a Pakistani national. I see firsthand the religious intolerance Muslims face and the stereotypes about them. When I have worn a beard, I have been mistaken for Muslim. Religions are not separable from cultures, even large religions like Islam. Often Islam is viewed as a monolith religion or viewed as synonymous with Arab. Often it is thought of as a backward religions (as if sexism, racism, and violence somehow aren’t all in other religious texts). That means people think of Muslims as backwards, a stereotype that isn’t helped given current world economic divisions of rich and poor. When I see French Islamophobia I see wealthy powerful westerners looking down at people they think are poor, 3rd world, and backward. I see what Fanon describes as depictions of blacks by whites. You’d be surprised the sorts of questions people who are Muslim or minorities in general (as I am) get asked by ignorant people who have bought into stereotypes: did you have plumbing in your country, how do you speak English so well (not knowing that your country was very recently a former British colony), etc. This is what is harmful about racism. This is not satire to take down powerful people of influence, this is hate speech that furthers horrible images of people from other parts of the world and other religions.Report

Andy
Andy
6 years ago

“Maybe I’m biased, but it seems to me that making fun of everyone in equally irreverent ways dramatically undermines the charge of racism.”

I’m surprised that you think this, not least because Sin Nombre’s reply at #38 seemed perfectly clear to me. If a magazine ridicules Obama by drawing him as a monkey, that’s obviously racist–and what’s equally obvious is that nothing that appears elsewhere in the magazine can change that. Do people really think that mocking other groups as well somehow makes that okay? I am sympathetic to Sin Nombre’s arguments throughout this thread, and am pretty disappointed by most of the responses that he or she has received.Report

L
L
6 years ago

Kenan Malik: je suis charlie? it’s a bit late https://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/je-suis-charlie-its-a-bit-late/

excerpts:

Yet, hardly had news begun filtering out about the Charlie Hebdo shootings, than there were those suggesting that the magazine was a ‘racist institution’ and that the cartoonists, if not deserving what they got, had nevertheless brought it on themselves through their incessant attacks on Islam. What is really racist is the idea only nice white liberals want to challenge religion or demolish its pretensions or can handle satire and ridicule. Those who claim that it is ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic’ to mock the Prophet Mohammad, appear to imagine, with the racists, that all Muslims are reactionaries. It is here that leftwing ‘anti-racism’ joins hands with rightwing anti-Muslim bigotry.

What is called ‘offence to a community’ is more often than not actually a struggle within communities. There are hudreds of thousands, within Muslim communities in the West, and within Muslim-majority countries across the world, challenging religious-based reactionary ideas and policies and institutions; writers, cartoonists, political activists, daily putting their lives on the line in facing down blasphemy laws, standing up for equal rights and fighting for democratic freedoms; people like Pakistani cartoonist Sabir Nazar, the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, exiled to India after death threats, or the Iranian blogger Soheil Arabi, sentenced to death last year for ‘insulting the Prophet’. What happened in the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris was viscerally shocking; but in the non-Western world, those who stand up for their rights face such threats every day.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

Returning to the original request for relevant writings: here’s the one I found most disturbing, not by a philosopher or a theorist but by the editor of the Independent newspaper, interviewed in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/jan/08/charlie-hebdo-muhammad-cartoons-independent-amol-rajan .

excerpts:

The editor of the Independent has said “every instinct” told him to publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons caricaturing the prophet Muhammad but described it as “too much of a risk”…

[The editor, Amol Rajan,] was “very uncomfortable” with his decision not to reprint Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, which he described as “self-censorship”. Rajan said he had a duty to his staff and had to “balance principle with pragmatism”. “Every instinct that you have as an editor is to publish and be damned. You don’t like the idea of self-censorship, you don’t like the idea that you grant a victory to these religious fanatics by not publishing something that instinctively you would like to,” Rajan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday.

“But the fact is as an editor you have got to balance principle with pragmatism, and I felt yesterday evening a few different conflicting principles: I felt a duty to readers; a duty to the dead; I felt a duty to journalism – and I also felt a duty to my staff.[“]Report

Nick
Nick
6 years ago

You can’t keep saying X is racist without putting X in context. Again, caricatures of Mahomet and muslims were mostly if not exclusively targetting fanatics. Now these guys tend to picture themselves (e.g. progaganda videos) under this very guise: that which you keep insisting is merely an orientalist stereotype. If caricatures were in the first place targetting fanatics, not muslims, and if the caricatures in fact resemble the fanatics (if only through the proxy of the Prophet), then this can’t possibly be a genuine form of racism. As for your analogy with racist jokes against Obama , as far as I know, that’s again strongly disanaloguous: here we’re focusing on religion, we’re not picturing muslims as monkeys, and most importantly, any human being was likely to be depicted with disgracious animal-like features by the cartoonists. And for what it’s worth, comedy shows consistently make fun of everybody, with sometimes racist-like jokes. Not all of them are funny for sure, but a crazy mix of jokes agaisnt jews, muslims, catholics, blacks, Asians, French, Americans, you name it, before an audience made up of equally diverse people, in a comedy context, strikes me as benign.

Now, will you please give a sense to mourning and stop telling people what they should read or do. I have talked and sometimes laughed about stereotypes with victims of such stereotypes — Arabs, blacks, Indians, Chinese, jews, gays, lesbians, … I know what they mean, how harmful they can be, but also when they’re harmless in context. But none of this should actually matter since, again, caricatures never targetted muslims/arabs but stupid, crazy, evil fanatics. The very fact that arabs worked at Charlie Hebdo (and one policeman, Ahmed, and one proofreader, Mustapha, were killed by the terrorists) and that the magazine advocated for the right to vote for foreigners, and against the Front National, Sarkozy, neocons and racists at the UMP, European neo-fascism, Gaza blockade, among others, clearly adds up to a relevant context you keep failing to take into account.

I think we’re done, now. At least I am. More people are being killed in my country right now.Report

Bob Kirkman
6 years ago

David Brooks is distinctly not a philosopher, but his column today raises some points worth mulling: http://nyti.ms/1yHtC90

In particular: “The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.

“Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.

“So this might be a teachable moment. As we are mortified by the slaughter of those writers and editors in Paris, it’s a good time to come up with a less hypocritical approach to our own controversial figures, provocateurs and satirists.”

He also echoes something I’ve been thinking, though my reasons are quite different.

In response to all the cries of solidarity, it occurred to me that there’s one important difference between all those saying “Je suis Charlie” and those who actually were, in a sense, Charlie: they died horribly, while we are alive and safe and free to march and rant and roar for freedom and against Them.

So, I’ve been thinking, “Je ne suis pas Charlie.”

Brooks makes his point for a different reason: “The first thing to say, I suppose, is that whatever you might have put on your Facebook page yesterday, it is inaccurate for most of us to claim, Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, or I Am Charlie Hebdo. Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in.”Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

I just want to thank sin nombre for his or her contributions to this thread. For the record, I generally agree with SN’s posts, but I can also think of perfectly reasonable arguments and criticisms of them, so I have some sympathy with the critics, too.

However, I’ve been very disappointed by the quality of most (not all!) of the responses to SN–especially the straw man, you’re with us or with the terrorists–style responses that are so embarrassing to see in a philosophy blog’s comments.

Despite the uncharitableness of many of his or her critics, SN’s posts have been for the most part thoughtful, calm, patient, considered, and charitable. So, thanks!Report

Patrick Mayer
Patrick Mayer
6 years ago

So there are two meanings, at least, for ‘racism’. On one meaning it names a moral vice had by some individuals. On the other it is the name for a kind of social force, a feature of institutions. Among non-academics people often refuse to interpret charges of racism using the second meaning, even when doing so would be obviously the more charitable reading. Among academics many will refuse to admit the legitimacy of the first without ever explaining where their linguistic authority comes from. I think both concepts expressed with the word ‘racism’ are useful, but they are useful in different contexts. The differences between them, when they ought to be employed and the inferential relationships between them seems to me to be ignored in this thread, especially by sin nombre. Is/was Charlie Hebdo racist? On the second sense, clearly yes. They are an institution that engaged in behavior which has a tendency to decrease the effective social power and the well being of minorities. I take the perpetuating stereotypes stuff from sin nombre to be right on. This is true even if the intention of the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo was to go after fanatics. Their intentions are not relevant to the question of whether the publication was racist in the second sense. All that matters is what they do and what the consequences of what they do are. Institutions don’t have intentions, not in any normal sense, and the second sense of racism applies to institutions and institutional behavior.
Are they racist in the first sense? I don’t know. Neither does sin nombre. Much (though not all) of what sin nombre says sounds a great deal like accusing them of having the moral vice of being a racist, and that shows a real lack of intellectual humility.
And of course it is often the case that we know the answer to ‘IS X A RACIST?’ when racist is used in the second sense, but do not know the answer if it is used in the first sense. That is because you can engage in racist activities in the second sense without being racist in the first (I imagine most Americans, myself included, unfortunately are guilty of engaging in behavior that marginalizes racial minorities, but there is no good reason to think that most Americans hate racial minorities or think them inferior)
So which sense should we be employing now? Well different ones for different questions. If the question is whether we should think it is a good thing about French society that Charlie Hebdo published, I think the second sense is the relevant one and the answer is ‘no’. You can do intelligent satire without perpetuating racist stereotypes. If the question is whether we should engage in public displays of sadness about and solidarity with the individuals who were murdered, then it seems to me the first sense is in order. Saying that they were not involved in noble work, or comparing them to Rush Limbaugh (who we have more than enough evidence on to conclude he is racist in the first sense), is simply to infer from the fact that they were part of an institution that perpetuated racist stereotypes and contributes to white supremacy, that they themselves had racist beliefs and sentiments. That is intellectually shoddy.
I will also say that choosing the days after their murder to call them racists, is, in addition to being intellectually illegitimate, morally repugnant. We should not accept a rule that says never speak ill of the dead. But perhaps a ‘Don’t speak ill of the dead when their murderers are still out killing people, and they haven’t even been buried yet’ rule would be a good rule to follow. It also shows a complete lack of perspective to choose their cartoons as the thing to complain about in this news story. As much harm as their cartoons (not racists institutions or stereotypes in general, but just their cartoons) might have done, that is outweighed by the harm done by the people who killed them. Maybe racist European/American institutions cause more harm overall than Islamist terror groups (I think that is likely true), but focusing on that question rather than the question of what to think about the 12 particular people who were murdered and the people who murdered them evinces a lack of moral sensitivity.
Also, when the teenager with the loaded machine gun in pointing it at you, yes the machine gun is more powerful than your white privilege. How powerful something is depends on context.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

For what it’s worth, I found graphic novelist and journalist Joe Sacco’s cartooned response especially thoughtful and thought-provoking. I think it gets to the heart of why there’s something wrong with not allowing us to have complicated, mixed emotions about it (and ironic, since it’s supposedly in support of free speech that so many are demanding we suppress our reservations): http://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2015/jan/09/joe-sacco-on-satire-a-response-to-the-attacks?view=mobileReport

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

I’m starting to wonder whether some of the US commentators (here and in some of the links given) are (understandably) naïve about the status and security of free speech in Europe (including the UK). In the UK, and so far as I understand it in most of continental Europe, there is no legal protection for free speech with anything like the force of the First Amendment, and indeed genuine pressure, some of which has met with success, to place legal restrictions on various forms of speech thought to be racially or religiously offensive. And in Europe it’s been fairly commonly expressed, including by fairly senior politicians, that various speech acts ought to be discouraged, or condemned, or occasionally even restricted legally, precisely because of the risk of violence that they invoke. The sheer horror of Wednesday’s attacks have muted those kind of expressions this time around, but a few minutes on Google will find plenty in the context of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons, or the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo’s office, or the murder of Theo van Gogh, or the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. For all I know free speech may, as Fredrik deBoer puts it (link above) be a “dead moral issue” in the US, but not on this side of the Atlantic.Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
6 years ago

“This is another classic dead moral question: there simply is no question that the world will go to war to prevent another Holocaust.”

Unless it happens in Africa, of course.Report

anonfrome
anonfrome
6 years ago

Nothing substantive, more a rhetorical point. When I say that those doing the “its bad but…” routine are mistaken this does not make me (or anyone else who agrees with me) guilty of supressing other people’s reservations. Nor am I doing anything to prevent people from expressing their unpleasant views. Nor am I saying that those who express them are ‘with the terrorists’ as 55 suggests. As a group proud of the sophistication of their own moral judgements they could be a little more charitable and attribute the possibility of nuance to those who think that the “yes but-ers” are on completely the wrong track.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

“free speech may, as Fredrik deBoer puts it (link above) be a “dead moral issue” in the US, but not on this side of the Atlantic.”

This is very misleading. To be sure, the debate about *what counts as* free speech or a violation of free speech is alive, but I doubt there’s any substantial debate in Europe that free speech is a basic democratic right.

It’s also probably true that regulation of speech is more extensive in Europe than in the US, but that’s not because the value of free speech is up for debate, but because the correct application of the classical harm principle of liberalism, that freedom ends where harm begins, is still up for debate, since what kind of harm and what degree is sufficient for regulation is hardly a clear or easy question to answer.

Everyone agrees that free speech is a right, and everyone agrees that that right is limited by some definition of “harm.” To suggest otherwise is possible only if we pretend we’re using a naive definition of “free speech” where any regulation at all is a violation of it. And no one, including in the US, holds such an absurd view.

American law, for example, has no problem regulating speech that is libelous or that incites violence, but that doesn’t mean in that in a strong sense free speech is not a “dead moral issue.”Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
6 years ago

You’re right, I had totally forgotten about Europe’s hate speech laws. I completely retract my previous comment about the dispute over freedom of expression being pointless. I’d say freedom of expression is probably the only thing that America has over countries like Germany.Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
6 years ago

“It’s also probably true that regulation of speech is more extensive in Europe than in the US, but that’s not because the value of free speech is up for debate, but because the correct application of the classical harm principle of liberalism, that freedom ends where harm begins, is still up for debate, since what kind of harm and what degree is sufficient for regulation is hardly a clear or easy question to answer.”

You realize that this amounts to a triviality, right? For instance, countries like Germany have deemed holocaust denial a punishable offense. This is not libel, defamantion, or an attempt to incite violence. It is simply an idea (albeit a stupid one). Thus they have deemed that some ideas can be banned simply in virtue of the fact that their content is politically dangerous. With that precedent on the books virtually no political speech is safe from future legislation.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

anonfrome,

The concerns about “with the terrorists” arguments and “suppressing reservations” were not about any specific post or you in particular. The former comment was about the general tenor of the replies to sin nombre, which seemed to refuse to seriously engage or directly debate rather than dismiss SN’s concerns.

The comment about “suppressed reservations” deserves more clarification, since I think it connects to an important misunderstanding between sides in these comments.

“Suppressing” was a poor choice of words By “suppressing reservations,” I didn’t mean to imply any coercion of speech, but I did specifically have in mind the spirit of the “je suis charlie” language and the common endorsement of Charlie Hebdo as heroic, praiseworthy, etc. To endorse this campaign is to tell people to have a very simple, unnuanced response: that if the terrorists are bad, Charlie Hebdo must be good. It isn’t in any way a “suppression” of free speech, it’s just very much at odds with the spirit of free speech, since it encourages people to pretend their view is simpler, less ambiguous than it is and ought to be, since it encourages people to create the illusion of moral simplicity and unanimity where it doesn’t actually exist.

This brings me to what I think is a major misunderstanding of positions like sin nombres. I think SN’s critics are worried that if we focus on Charlie’s moral failings we are minimizing the profound seriousness of the terrrorists’ crimes. I agree that would be a mistake: we should not criticize for minor moral mistakes a victim of very serious moral wrong.

However, I don’t think that’s what sin nombre was doing. SN and the critics of the “je suis charlie” approach are objecting to treatment of Charlie as praiseworthy and not arguing that we should see Charlie as blameworthy. Their main point is to refuse setting up Charlie as models to identify with or emulate. The moral criticisms are not meant to demean or blame the victims, but just to provide reasons why it may not be appropriate to raise them morally above the norm.

Ideally, we would neither criticize nor praise Charlie, and focus entirely on condemning the murderers. But because some people have gone out of their way to make Charlie moral heroes, it secondarily becomes necessary to morally critique Charlie to justify a more neutral position. But the main point was always just: let’s just condemn the criminals, don’t insist we deify the victims.Report

Patrick Mayer
Patrick Mayer
6 years ago

“I doubt there’s any substantial debate in Europe that free speech is a basic democratic right.”
Based on my time living in Europe (Germany and the UK) and the fact that there are laws against supporting Nazism publicly in multiple countries, laws against wearing the niqab in France, a years long law against Gerry Adams’ voice being played over television or radio in the UK (they dubbed his voice for the news), and other things of the same sort, I will just say I disagree.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

Thank you, Anon 55, I appreciate it.

Patrick Mayer, I don’t understand what makes you think that I am saying that the people at Charlie Hebdo are racist in the first sense. I take it that Rush Limbaugh is a racist in both senses since he has a large audience. It’s true, I don’t know (nor do I really care) if someone is a racist in their heart. My point has consistently been that the work that CH does perpetuates racist stereotypes. I never said they hate people or anything else that might suggest racism in the first sense (as far as I can tell). So please, tell me where you are getting this from?

As far as why I brought up their racism in the first place. This is a complicated issue and I take it that it wouldn’t be on this blog if it were just another mass shooting in the world. Horrible things like this happen every day. What’s not on this blog? The bombing of the NAACP office (even though racial tensions in the US have been very high) or car bombs in Yemen or drone strikes in Pakistan. All manners of ways people are dying. This is more than about 12 people dying horribly because a lot more people die horribly in all over the world. This is an ideological problem.

Prima Facie, this looks like a simple problem of the suppression of free speech. A satirist newspaper that has been threatened in the past was attacked and satirists died as well as others stationed to protect them. The gun men had ties to al-Qaeda and so it was labelled a terrorist attack. On those facts alone, one may well come to the conclusion that this appears to be the squashing of freedom of expression, something satire was in many ways born to attack. Thus, we ought to honor that satire and many do by feeling solidarity with the satirist and spreading their message of resistance to power.

Here’s where I think it gets messy. Satire was born to resist legitimate political authority that held sway over freedom of expression. As Stanley called it, the power of monarchs. And Charlie Hebdo has actually faced similar political power when they were originally shut down before reconstituting and taking the name Charlie Hebdo. Now, mocking the powerful is important for a healthy democratic society and for that I applaud all who do. But, that’s not really what Charlie Hebdo was doing always. Not being in France, I do not follow the latest publications of Charlie Hebdo but numerous sources have noted that they have played to a rather Islamophobic message (that unfortunately is popular in Europe). They are mocking people not only are bereft of legitimate political power, but those who are actually an oppressed group in France (and most of western Europe in general). So, I wanted to raise that point because I didn’t think that we should be lionizing them, at least not without being critical of the racist message they were spreading. I don’t think that’s distasteful. I wasn’t insulting anyone (as far as I can tell), I just think we need to be critical about the sort of material that we so easily see as noble and good. I don’t know why some arbitrary time line needs to be placed on that. When’s a good time to be critical of someone we’ve lionized? When the next story is up and we no longer care about Charlie Hebdo? And why should we wait? Are you grieving for them? Why grieve their deaths and not the deaths of other unfamiliar people? If the point of this post was to say some uncritical platitude about free speech, then I suppose I am the villain. If the point of this post was to have a nuanced discussion about a complex problem in the world, well maybe I am not so charitable to others (though I do try to be and apologize for not being so always) but I think we are missing some important points about racism and hate speech against oppressed minorities.

I don’t think that we should per se censor speech and I am uncomfortable with the idea of hate speech laws, though I understand why some countries in Europe have them and am rather torn about them, honestly. I do understand that we want to say no one should be threatened with their lives for their speech and agree with that sentiment. I’m not blaming Charlie Hebdo for the reaction against them. Those three men are to blame. I am saying that we seem to be glorifying a bully and maybe we shouldn’t do that. Satire is noble because it speaks from a position of weakness to those who have power. Racist portrayals (and again, not talking about the blasphemy of drawing the prophet but the rather orientalist depiction of Muslims and others) in a country that has institionalized racism is a form of bullying.

As to the power issue, I don’t agree. If institutionalized racism is more dangerous than terrorist (and I think it is and Pogge has an excellent article on all manner of things that kill more people than terrorists), then it doesn’t seem to make much sense to me that a teenager with a gun is more powerful than institutionalized white supremacy. Yes, in that instance, white supremacy will not come down like a shield to save you, but keep in mind that terrorism is a tactic of the politically weak. It is because people have little political power to change institutions that they utilize terrorism. I do not say that to endorse terrorism, but to note that the power of violence is ephemeral and as such less effective in general than institutional power. Warfare is not constant, but race, gender, class structures, and other divisions are pervasive and harmful in ways that a few insecure men are not.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Patrick, since the entire point of that quote depends on a contrast between debating *what counts as* free speech vs debating the value of *free speech as such*, I have no idea how to interpret your disagreement.

Do you disagree with the distinction? Do you claim that those who support the laws you mention–e.g., laws against hiqabs, public support of Nazism, etc.–would explicitly consider their position to be a rejection of free speech? Because my point was precisely about those kinds of examples: rightly or wrongly, such laws have been defended using the classical liberal harm principle. The debate is about where the line between free speech and harm is drawn. If you reject that line, you reject every actual form of free speech that exists in the political world, since everyone, including U.S. law, draws that line somewhere.

You might disagree with the harm principle, you might disagree with its application in those cases, you might disagree that they have defined “free speech” correctly. But you still would not necessarily be disagreeing with the point I made in that post.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Grad Student,

“You realize that this amounts to a triviality, right? For instance, countries like Germany have deemed holocaust denial a punishable offense. This is not libel, defamantion, or an attempt to incite violence.”

That’s the point: libel, defamation, inciting violence are where the U.S. draws the line between “free speech” and “harm.” Many European countries and Canada often draw the line in very different ways. The debate then is: where does free speech begin and end, where should we draw the line? The debate is NOT: should we have free speech?

It’s hardly a “trivial” point, it’s the heart of the issue philosophically: if you claim to endorse “free speech,” you have to draw the line that gives that concept content–and that line has historically, in the philosophical, legal, and political spheres, been defined as the point when speech becomes “harm” and thus an infringement on another’s freedom. Some think libel is “harm” in the relevant sense, others disagree. Some thing actively promoting Nazism is “harm” in a sufficient sense, others disagree.

But in every case, you’ll see that supporters of such laws defend it not as infringement of free speech, but as the proper delineation of free speech’s bounds. Maybe they’re wrong, but that’s the debate.Report

anonfrome
anonfrome
6 years ago

@64, you’ve done lots to clarify your point s thanks. 3 things: 1) i see no reason to think many of the je suis charlie folk are not capable of nuance. many muslims the world over retweeted it, I think i saw cartoons in newspapers from muslim countries running with that moto. I am sure many of them have misgivings about some of CH’s published images, they just did not think it was relevant to the show of solidarity that the slogan is supposed to represent (granted i havent shown they are unwittingly participating in a simple-minded campaign to deify a group of racists, however i’ll only try attack that claim if others raise it).

2) i dont think fairly substantial moral failings necesarily preclude someone from being praised or even celebrated. Whatever you want to say about CH (and I admit im not at all convinced by the comparsons to der sturmer) they really were brave. And yes some peopel are barver, but most come nowhere near, and they were brave in defending a principle which really is worth defending, namely the right express oneself freely in print.

3) i think its possible that the cartoons play into the hands of some racsists but also serve a really important function in lampooning religious psycopaths. they can do both these things at the same time do greater or lesser degrees. But given the fact they were just murdered by the very sorts of people they claimed to be lampooning, and as far as I know we dont have solid efvidence that these cartoons were the motivation for any violence and opression other than that which happened in the CH office, the idea that we should be laying much if any emphasis on the racist aspect seems a little of balance.Report

Patrick Mayer
Patrick Mayer
6 years ago

I think that if the concept of free expression has any parameters at all, then banning the wearing of the niqab is going to count as a violation of it. I think the same thing goes for the banning of speech denying the Holocaust. Another way of putting the disagreement is if debate over what counts as free speech can involve debate over whether to allow the banning of the niqab or the banning of Holocaust denial, then the shared commitment to free speech is empty, it is simply the disposition to utter sentences that lack any content. In fact, I do not accept free speech as a fundamental value. I endorse the banning of Holocaust denial (I don’t know enough about the traditions that involve wearing the niqab to say for sure that I am against banning it, though my default is to be suspicious of the ban), and take myself thereby to be denying that free speech is a fundamental value. As for the Harm Principle, I take it to be a non-starter, for reasons familiar from the literature on Mill. Let people defend their content based restrictions of expression all they want by appeal to that principle, and you still won’t have a good account of free speech on which it is a fundamental value and banning the niqab is consistent with the defense of that value. I would agree that a commitment to free speech as a fundamental value is a feature of liberalism, and I would then deny that Western Europe is committed to liberalism, at least to the extent that the US is.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

anonfrome, I’m not really certain I understand your first point, if you could speak to this more I would appreciate it. As to the second and third, I think you are minimizing the racism of some of their cartoons about Islam. As I mentioned above, particularly in the west, Islam is a raced religion and so our cultural images of Muslims are not really divorced from our cultural images of people who come from those countries and cultures we think are Muslim. Responding to point 2, I honestly don’t see anything brave or noble in publishing racist cartoons that perpetuate negative stereotypes even if doing so threatens one’s life. I think it’s a form of bullying (as I mention above). As to point 3, this is really minimizing a rather extensive Islamophobic culture in Europe particularly now when 57% of Germans think Islam is a threat. Their cartoons about Muslims were catering to that Islamophobia. While they might be lampooning radicals, it is sad state of affairs to note that many people unfortunately identify all Muslims with radicals. I would suggest that there is at least some indirect correlation to the Islamophobia the paper spreads and the attacks on mosques that followed the horrific deaths of these 12 people. I don’t think that matters because my critique was just that we shouldn’t uncritically treat as noble anything but especially what is essentially hate speech.Report

Sacco
Sacco
6 years ago

What is the argument for sin nombre’s claim that, “particularly in the west, Islam is a raced religion”? To be sure, it must be a pretty powerful (externalist) one, since it has led him or her to flat out reject reports above, such as mine, of not having had this concept of Islam prior to this thread. This is a philosophy blog, after all, so it’d be nice to see sin nombre argue for some of his or her more controversial claims, instead of merely rehearsing them.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Patrick Mayer: I agree with you that some of the stuff that CH published contributed to disenfranchise the European Muslim minority. But the net effect of CH’s existence was pretty clearly an overwhelmingly positive one. As others in this thread have noted CH was one of the most vocal French voices on issues such as the systematic oppression of Roma by both right-leaning and left-leaning governments in France, prison overcrowding, the dismantling of public services and its harmful effects on the least privileged segments of the population, the tightening of our asylum laws– the list could go on and on. On many of those topics CH was in fact the only influential voice to be heard. (It’ s worth pointing out that a typical CH issue would consist of maybe 25% cartoons and other satiric material, and 75% investigative reporting, opinion pieces, book reviews, and so on.) That’s why even those of us on the French left who felt really uneasy about the Islam-bashing stuff in CH are not only horrified by the murders but also deeply saddened by the brutal disappearance of what was on the whole a positive counterforce in the increasingly right-leaning French political landscape.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

Sacco, well put. I say that Islam is a raced religion (and, indeed, all religions are raced) because religions do not exist in some vacuum independent of other cultural factors. I honestly don’t think this is a controversial claim, but here goes: while there are roughly 1 billion and a half Muslims in the world and while, as Malcolm X once observed, they come in many different shades of colors, races, ethnicities, etc. this is not the immediate image we in the post-9/11 West have of Muslims. There are certain markers that people usually look for to identify someone as a Muslim. For women, they look for the burqa or niqab or hijjab; for men, the turban, beard and for semitic features, dark skin, etc. After 9/11 in New York many people who were Latino (because of dark skin) or Sikh (because of the turban) were singled out as Arab or Middle Easterner or terrorist and attacked in the streets.

Why those features in particular? Well, those are the ones of the Muslims most commonly in the media. People watch the news and hear about some country in the Middle East the first assumption might be that the people are Muslims or they have oil. Because of the sorts of cultural images of Muslims that are generated before 9/11 we might think about things like wealth sheiks, harems full of women (1,001 Arabian nights imagery), belly dancing, other erotic features. I obviously don’t know your cultural background or what media you consumed as a child growing up or consume now, but Arabian themes like djinns, harems, crusades, etc. were pretty common in western culture and it is where we get a lot of our images about Muslims. Cultural images of non-white non-males form our own images of those people, especially if we have little contact with people from those Othered groups. I mean, where else are we going to get our images of them?

Now, because Islam is often identified with the Middle East, our view of Islam and Muslims in general is hard to rend from our view of Middle Easterners. I think the same is true of other religions since religions develop along side cultures, geographies and people of similar ethnic groups. Obviously religions are not ethnicities and in most religions anyone from anywhere can convert to that religion, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have some pretty basic assumptions about the people who belong to those religions. While anyone can be a Hindu for example, most people would assume you are talking about people from India, or if we’re talking about Christians they will think a white person from Western Europe or one of the Americas. So when I say Islam is raced, I mean that people’s assumptions of a Muslim are pretty much tied to their assumptions of people from that ethnic group and so when you make fun of Muslims who are raced Middle Eastern you are in a way making fun of people of a certain ethnic group (at least to the ears of an average person).

Many of our assumptions about the Middle East are racist. People assume that everyone lives in poverty or that everyone has diseases (someone said this about my wife on a subway ride home here in Brooklyn), etc. I guess you can call this a sort of matter of fact, because this is obviously contingent, but it is the way things are. I think a good example of a raced religion that is pretty much accepted as a raced religion is Judaism. I hope that answers your question.Report

Patrick Mayer
Patrick Mayer
6 years ago

Anon, I am willing to admit ignorance about CH’s overall work. I did not read it and know it only from the reports since the attack. I should revise my comments to say just that the cartoons were probably harmful.

Sacco is right. This is a philosophy blog. We are owed an argument that Islam is a racialized religion. We are also owed an argument for why Sacco has authority over the content of his own concepts and utterances sufficient to place a significant burden on the argument that Islam is racialized. I seem to remember a fair amount of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language over the past few decades which tends to undermine such a claim.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

I provided the first request but I’m afraid I’m a bit dense when it comes to phil mind and phil language as to understand your second request.Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

It seems highly relevant to me that 12 people were killed in Paris, whereas nobody was injured by the (likewise obviously abhorrent) bombing in Colorado. If things were vice versa, I’d be surprised if the comparative balance of media coverage of the two incidents weren’t largely inverted (which is however not to say that people would be paying just as much attention to the counterfactually lethal Colorado bombing as they are to the actual events in Paris–and of course this kind of plausible potential asymmetry could well be explained by reference to the systems of racial intolerance that you’re pointing to; it’s just not at all clear that this is the main factor at issue given the actual outcomes in Paris and Colorado). In short, it seems like the comparison you’re drawing is pretty sloppy.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

anon 77, I don’t think so given how under-reported violence against African Americans is in the US and how over reported violence by “terrorists” is. I put terrorist in scare quotes because it is unfortunately vague and can seem to apply to many different phenomena. I am mostly made that point out of anger because I don’t think a lot of people here were taking the racism claim seriously and because the news media largely ignored the bombing, which is horrible and at least partially attributable to white supremacy. I’m also bothered in general because we take the deaths of whites so much more seriously than anyone else’s deaths, which why many of us in the US have need to take to the streets to remind people that black lives matter. Where were the calls for solidarity with Mexico with the recent massacre of students for example. There are other examples, but I think it is pretty clear that Western media focuses on whites more so than on others. I find this frustrating and an indication of systemic racism. Sure, there are other reasons people focused on the CH killings, but nary a peep about a bombing in the US. That’s absurd.Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

I think it’s often not particularly rhetorically effective to try to get people to take an important point seriously by apparently tying it to a glaring false equivalency, even if this tie turns out to be merely apparent. And if your remark that you ‘don’t think so’ means that you don’t think U.S. media would be covering Colorado more heavily than Paris if a dozen people had been shot in Colorado and a bomb had gone off outside the Hedbo office in Paris without injuring anyone, I guess we just disagree about this quasi-empirical claim, and I have to say I find your hypothesis radically implausible.Report

Sacco
Sacco
6 years ago

Well, Patrick, sin nombre’s claim that Islam is racialized is doing a whole lot of work in many of his or her further arguments (e.g. his or her argument that we shouldn’t “lionize CH”). That’s the reason he or she had a burden to deliver a defense of it in this context. Since the premise is not obviously true (I gave some prima facie reasons to doubt it), and since sin nombre seems to have some interest in persuading the rest of us of the truth of his or her claims (why else would he or she be participating in this thread?), I would have thought that the burden was on him or her to give, as I intimated above, the argument for his or her brand of externalism about the content of our concepts. His or her argument for this view is, in effect, that _we’ve_ all seen a lot of racialized images of Islam on TV since 9/11. But given sin nombre’s own admission that he or she doesn’t know _my_ “cultural background” or the media _I’ve_ “consumed growing up or now,” I’m not so sure why he or she is so confident that that _I_ had a racialized concept of Islam.Report

J C McG
J C McG
6 years ago

Ignoring the debate but adding more links to discussions elsewhere…

Glenn Greenwald has an absolutely superb piece here, which focuses on the hypocrisy of how we defend freedom of speech more in some circumstances than in others which are morally equivalent: https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/01/09/solidarity-charlie-hebdo-cartoons/

This piece makes some similar points, but is different enough to be reading as well: http://paper-bird.net/2015/01/09/why-i-am-not-charlie/

The LRB has chimed in with a blog post about the us/them mentality the debate is in danger of getting stuck in, and is characteristically brilliant, though it’s only a blog post, not a proper article: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2015/01/09/adam-shatz/moral-clarity/

They’re all great, but the Greenwald piece is devastating.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

I’m sorry I wasn’t clear. The “I don’t think so” was that the comparison is a bad one. Obviously there would be more media coverage in Colorado if there were deaths, but let’s face it I don’t think many folks in the states knew what Charlie Hebdo was before the attack but there has been a lot of racial tension in the US over police violence, mass incarceration, etc. so why so little coverage over a bombing attempt in the US? I think it is also relevant to note the naming tendencies and reaction to motives of mass shooters based on their race. Darker people are generally called terrorist, white people disturbed individuals; terrorism means ramp up the war on terrorism, disturbed individuals means offer mental health services to them.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

Because the his/her thing is driving me crazy, I’m a he. I guess it is hard to think anyone in the English speaking world isn’t aware of the cultural images of Muslims since (and before) 9/11 since most forms of media draw from this cultural reservoir either as part of a story , a reference, or some other hook. Are you really saying that you have never encountered images of harems, djins (genies), flying carpets, turban wearing bearded men, etc. given how ubiquitous these images are just from popular media like Disney’s Aladin (which I’ve never seen) or other media sources? Also, are you saying that you don’t think of Judaism as a raced religion so someone who is an atheist cannot be a Jew? I’m not sure I understand if you are offering a critique or what. I guess I would want an argument as to why religions are somehow believed to be separate from cultural context.Report

Patrick Mayer
Patrick Mayer
6 years ago

Sin nombre, of course we have all seen that. What I think some of us find non-obvious is that because these images exist, there is racial content built into our concept of Islam. Now, so many people I know make the mistake of treating ‘Muslim’ as a racial group that I am inclined to think that there is some important connection between the popular concept of Islam and race, but I don’t take myself to have an argument for that. Sacco is asking for the argument. The Judaism point also doesn’t do the work you need it to do. I think everyone realizes that the concept is no longer the concept of a religion, but that doesn’t make it a racial concept. I think most people treat it as a national or cultural concept, and national and cultural boundaries cut across racial lines.

As for Sacco, I know why you want the argument. What I am suggesting is that you take as less important your own avowals about the contents of your own thoughts as reasons to reject his position. I think we have good reason to be suspicious, especially for concepts that have been the subject of extensive propaganda, that we have reflective access to all the features of our concept, or that we are aware of all the ways the employment of that concept shapes our behavior. There are well known arguments that certain concepts have their content determined by facts we do not have reflective access to (Content and Semantic Externalism were the views from philmind and phillanguage to which I was referring), and in a post where you reminded us that this was a philosophy blog I thought it would be worth pointing out that you seemed to be assuming the falsity of major philosophical positions.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

I see what you mean. I use racism and raced as short-hand for othered (and othered based on physical and cultures features associated with people from certain geographical locations and cultural backgrounds). The concept of race is messy because it was born within a context of scientific racism. I don’t take it that there are races as such but that people are ascribed by races because of contingent factors in history. When I say that Islam is raced I mean that people’s concept of a Muslim is one who has certain physical features that mark him/her as an other (non-white, non-western, etc.) and an other from a certain place that elicits other stereotypical beliefs (dirty, violent, illiterate, backwards, etc.). I think that when people think of Muslims they think of those stereotypes and those stereotypes tend to be considered essential features in the same way someone might think a person of a certain race (whatever that might mean) have certain essential features. So basically, Islam (especially in France) is considered the religion of the Other and that other has certain “essential features” that people might lampoon and believe of all people from that religion. Does that help clarify it?Report

Patrick Mayer
Patrick Mayer
6 years ago

I think your position is clear, I am just not sure that it is true. It seems to me that many people make inferences that are best explained by their accepting a concept that is racialized in the sense you mean. But it also seems to me possible that many people do not. For example, I think many who lack significant medical knowledge think of bronchitis as a disease in the same way the flu is, when it is just inflammation of the bronchial tubes that can be caused by a wide range of diseases. But that doesn’t lead me to believe that everyone makes such mistakes. In particular I do not think medical professionals inevitably use the concept bronchitis in that way, I assume they use it the correct way. It seems to me something similar could be true of the concept ‘Muslim’. Most people I know seem to treat it as some kind of supra-race, containing Arabs, Turks, Mongols, etc. But many people might not. It seems to me quite possible that Sacco, just as he claims, does not. Now I know there are differences between technical medical concepts and concepts like ‘Muslim’, and those differences lead me to be skeptical of those who claim that their concept of Muslim is free of racial content, but I don’t think I know the content of their concepts. The kind of argument Sacco is looking for, I believe, would require empirical evidence from the social sciences, not just the presentation of the idea.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  Patrick Mayer
6 years ago

Perhaps, but my point is tied to the Islamophobic cartoons in CH, which would presumably reach a wide enough audience that would make the racial assumptions I am making. Also, even if Sacco or anyone else has a nuanced view of Muslims (seeing that Islam is not a monolith) they could still have (and very likely do have) racialized images of Muslims that fit the description of the cartoon since the cartoon hits on a lot of markers. In the first case, criticism of Islam (especially were one to say it is backwards and promotes violence as many Islamophobes do) reinforces harmful stereotypes; in the second case, racialiazed image of a Muslim as in the cartoon can very well be laughable because of the grotesqueness of those markers of the other. I mean, why is that cartoon funny? Well, it would presumably have to be something that is realistic at some level for it to be identified as the prophet (hence racial markers) and then exaggerate the features for the grotesque image (kind of like the Cleveland Indians’ mascot) to the point he looks goofy. So haha, Muslims are goofy looking not like normal white people (as in the pope Benedict picture I linked to earlier). I admit it isn’t a knock down argument, but it seems implausible to me that a large enough plurality of people don’t identify Islam with the Other and think of Muslims having racialized features (even if some people are more critical about their assumptions than others). And even if someone is critical, they still recognize that cartoon as being of a Muslim because of those identifying features so I just don’t buy the claim that he doesn’t have inherited orientalist views of Muslims otherwise why assume that’s the prophet and not just a Sikh? Although, I suppose, Sacco never did say it was the prophet of a Muslim and I might just be projecting that (but I don’t it).Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
6 years ago

Anon @67… First of all, libel and inciting violence involve specific properties beyond merely causing harm. The first case involves deceit, while the latter case involves more than mere assertion (i.e. some sort of imperative). If it were simply degree of harm that was important the law would be awfully arbitrary.

Second, by “trivial” I meant “not at all comforting to people who live in that country”. Why? Because the government could just keep deciding to draw the line however it wants by giving crappy philosophical arguments because it doesn’t constitutional checks.

Third, I highly doubt there is one concept of “freedom of speech” that carves more at the joints than others in a way that is not relative to human interests. Thus I doubt that the question “What is the true nature of freedom of speech?” is a substantive one. The fact that countries in Europe ban certain speech that isn’t deceptive and isn’t a direct imperative to act in a violent manner just because of the content or historical associations is all the relevant information you need. Call what Americans have Freedom of Speech #1, and what the European countries have Freedom of Speech #2. What I’ll tell you is that #2 sucks, and if #2 is the One True Freedom of Speech, all this would show is that the One True Freedom of Speech sucks.Report

anonymous17
anonymous17
6 years ago

Here is an actual quote from a CH cartoon: “It is hard to be loved by morons”. In the cartoon these are words which are put in the mouth of the Prophet. Is this a racist cartoon?Report

Anonymous90
Anonymous90
6 years ago

Here are some more examples of CH cartoons:

http://avantblargh.tumblr.com/post/107422672105

What are people’s thoughts on them?Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

anonymous17, it’s the way the prophet is drawn that makes it racist. Note the grotesquely exaggerated features (and think about ways Jews are streotypically drawn in racist cartoons about them). This is very common of cartoons about non-whites. Bugs Bunny does it with native Americans in the same way (and again, the Cleveland Indians logo). There are other examples that are more obviously racist like portraying the girls taken by Boko Haram as welfare queens, but really just they way cartoons are drawn to focus on racial markers and then make them grotesque (non-white = ugly) is classic racist cartooning.Report

anonymous17
anonymous17
6 years ago

Grotesquely exaggerated features? That’s called *caricature*, and it is certainly not limited to nonwhites. Pick up any issue of the New Yorker for a dose of cartoons featuring grossly exaggerated features of white people.

Here is a link to the NY Times sort documentary about your “racists” who were killed:

http://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000003439513/charlie-hebdo-before-the-massacre.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=timesvideo-heading&module=watch-in-times-video&region=video-player-region&WT.nav=video-player-regionReport

anonymous17
anonymous17
6 years ago

Your link gives the impression that CH were only interested in mocking Islam. But they mocked every religion. See:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/01/07/charlie_hebdo_covers_religious_satire_cartoons_translated_and_explained.html

for the cartoons mocking Pope Benedikt. (And note that the present Pope celebrated a mass in honour of the cartoonists 2 days ago.)Report

anonymous17
anonymous17
6 years ago

My last comment was a reply to Anonymous 90.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

I know what it’s called and non-white are more often caricatured in a grotesque manner than whites. Why don’t you look at the link anonymous90 posted or respond to the Boko Haram cover? I guess the best I can say is what the Jacobin said about Charlie Hebdo, if you don’t think it’s racist you should read Edward Said’s book on Orientalism. I’m frankly troubled by your comments because non-whites often experience racism denial by people who refuse to be critical these sorts of images and think non-whites are just being sensitive.

Also, watching that video makes me really wonder: what’s the point of making fun of a minority’s religion? Should people make fun of, say, Haitian religious practices in the US? Haitians are a very much oppressed group in the US and coming from one of the poorest countries in the world. But what is gained by making fun of their religious practices? I get this feeling of Cortez knocking down the religious idols of the natives. Here someone powerful is destroying the religious idols of the powerless because he can, because he’s free to do so, because it’s a free society and nothing should be left out of bounds (like calling child sex slaves welfare queens). I find it disturbing and oddly reminiscent of earlier anti-Semitic rags published in France and Germany spreading conspiracies about the Jews (let’s not forget that there is actual fear of Islam in Europe, and, if I’m not mistaken, CH has spread some fear of a Eurabia).Report

anonymous17
anonymous17
6 years ago

“Should people make fun of, say, Haitian religious practices in the US?”

Sure. If I were a satirist and I had reason to satirise Haitian religious practices in a newspaper, I would pay those people the compliment of being able to take a joke about their religion.

I am as much for helping repressed minorities as anybody is. (In fact I am a member of one.) You are not helping me by censoring cartoonists, you help me by taking concrete action on behalf of my group.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

I’m not censoring cartoonist. Let them draw racist cartoons but let’s not call that work noble.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

Also, you keep avoiding the hard ones. What’s so funny about child sex slavery?Report

anonymous17
anonymous17
6 years ago

Reply to SN at 98: You have to know the local context, and CH’s tendency toward using meta-satire as a vehicle for criticising racist views.
About the Boko Haram cover, it conflates 2 items that were in the news that week. From

http://www.quora.com/What-was-the-context-of-Charlie-Hebdos-cartoon-depicting-Boko-Haram-sex-slaves-as-welfare-queens

“This cover is mixing two unrelated elements which made the news at about the same time:
– Boko Haram victims likely to end up sex slaves in Nigeria
– Decrease of French welfare allocations

In France, as in probably every country who has welfare allocations, some people criticize this system because some people might try to game it (e.g., “welfare queens” idea). Note that if we didn’t had it there would probably be much more people complaining because the ones who really need it would end up in extreme poverty.

Charlie Hebdo is known for being left-wing attached and very controversial, and I think they wanted to parody people who criticize “welfare queens” by taking this point-of-view to the absurd, to show that immigrant women in France are more likely to be victims of patriarchy than evil manipulative profiteers.

And of course if we only stay on the first-degree approach, it’s a terrible racist and absurd cover.

As Adrien points out in his answer, it was neither the first nor the last time Charlie Hebdo used this kind of “satirical news mixing”, and had no “preferred target”.”Report

anonymous17
anonymous17
6 years ago

One more quote form the link I have above:

“This cover is a double snipe in classical Charlie style, both against Boko Haram and our right wing, NOT against the sex slaves or “welfare queens”. To misunderstand that shows complete ignorance of French press and the left wing / anarchist tradition of Charlie.”Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

And yet these meta satiric images perpetuate racist stereotypes. The welfare queen is a Reagan-era racist term about black women gaming the welfare system in the US. Now they apply it to child sex slaves in Africa. Let’s also remember the context of deep Islamophobia and colonialism in France, if we are going to look at other contexts. White cartoonist drawing racist looking images of non-white people catering to a mostly white audience. Even if I accept your interpretation, that’s not the only way people are going to read it and I think it does a lot more harm in perpetuating racist stereotypes than in challenging racism. Creating more racist images and evoking other racist images is not the best way to challenge racism. I think it is actually detrimental to that cause. Also, on strictly philosophical grounds, giving authority of interpretation to the author is shaky at best.Report

anonymous17
anonymous17
6 years ago

As many Europeans are reminded every day, the American political context is often universally applied, but perhaps it shouldn’t be.

Signing off now. Good luck with the struggle SN, and see you on the barricades!Report

Nick
Nick
6 years ago

Catarina Dutilh Novaes at New APPS:
http://www.newappsblog.com/2015/01/charlie-hebdo-and-the-intolerant-enlightenment.html
(including a link to a piece by Eric Schliesser — in Dutch)Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago
Christian Marks
Christian Marks
6 years ago

The New Yorker piece is temperate. One could also criticize the cartoons on aesthetic grounds. Notably, the piece does not make the unwarranted leap that skepticism that racism underlies most power relations indicates denial of systemic racism, power relations or privilege tout court. They exist, but apparently agreeing that they do is incompatible with asking on a philosophy blog to what extent specific assertions of power relations rely on sociologically substantive and falsifiable hypothesis.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

Your first comment seems to dismiss such power relations and, if you’ll look, I already address the power structure argument.Report

Christian Marks
Christian Marks
6 years ago

That was a misreading. If you’ll look, I disagreed with your premiss that “racism lies at the heart of most power relations.” The response that followed assumed, incorrectly, that I had presupposed that racism did not play a role in power relations. The control of material resources plays a significant role.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

Alright, I apologize for misreading you but I must disagree since the control of material resources is not unrelated to racism and colonialism, especially in recent history. This is of course historically contingent but so is racism and global white supremacy. I would say that the spread of global white supremacy and the instituting of systemic racism is only possible because of the control of resources, so if that’s what you mean then I agree.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

The editorial in the Observer (the Sunday version of the Guardian, one of the UK’s most respected newspapers, is at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/11/observer-editorial-paris-attacks-terror-we-must-unite-against-division. I mention it not for any particularly insightful content but for this quote:

“The response to the Charlie Hebdo killings, in the longer term, should also include wider acceptance of the proper limits to individual and social freedoms, including free speech. It is not acceptable, for example, to use racist terms to describe a different ethnic group. It is not acceptable to resort to stereotypes to vilify minorities or, say, members of the opposite sex. And it is sometimes not appropriate, nor particularly funny, to deliberately provoke Muslims by publishing cartoons of the prophet that they view as blasphemous, offensive and insulting.”

That’s in case anyone still doubts that there are genuine issues about, and threats to, free speech in play here. (& yes, I agree that it’s possible to read the Observer as firmly committed to the right to say anything you like and to understand “acceptable” and “proper limits” in terms only of condemnation of speech through other speech. But it’s at best not obvious that this is what’s intended.)Report

anonymous17
anonymous17
6 years ago

See also http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/01/10/when-satire-cuts-both-ways/to-fear-offense-or-reprisals-is-to-surrender-our-values

To some of us, an irrational worldview that rests on the very doubtful idea of an all powerful deity , and that almost always involves social and political agendas which are extremely harmful to women, homosexuals, and other politically marginalised and oppressed people, is not something to respect. It is something to resist.

Those who want to limit the satire and ridicule of religions may want to consider who you are supporting at the end of the day. Or where is the outrage in the philosophical community over this:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/09/saudi-blogger-first-lashes-raif-badawiReport

Bob Kirkman
6 years ago

This appeared in the NYT online, this morning: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2012/07/08/opinion/sunday/the-strip.html?smid=pl-share

Note that at least some of sin nombre’s response is encapsulated in the first panel on the second line.Report

anonymous17
anonymous17
6 years ago

Yes, that is a good example of the American point of view.Report

Hugh
6 years ago

Check out The True Islam at rational razor.comReport

Nick
Nick
6 years ago
ben
ben
6 years ago
anonymous17
anonymous17
6 years ago

Wow thanks ben, very interesting interview with Crumb.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

http://www.vox.com/2015/1/12/7518349/charlie-hebdo-racist
This is a very temperate and thoughtful piece. It covers much of the same ground and charitably and fairly considers the same arguments on both sides that we’ve seen in this thread. But it does so without the overconfident, dismissive, and self-righteous tone apparent in some of these posts.Report

anonymous17
anonymous17
6 years ago

Thanks 119 for the link. The “punching down” argument is complicated. I just don’t believe that, as the article says,

“France’s white majority, whether Catholic or secular, tends to be highly skeptical of the idea that the immigrants can ever truly assimilate or be French. This is often expressed as hostility to Muslims or to Islam itself. ”

That’s quite a generalisation. France has as many racists as anywhere else, nobody can deny that. And the marginalisation of the Islamic community in France is a problem. But I for one take heart from what I see of French behaviour, both domestically and internationally. Last Sunday’s march, for example, was a solemn and dignified plea on the part of millions of French people for ethnic tolerance and justice. It wasn’t just about Charlie Hebdo.

The almost gleeful coverage of France’s racism and hypocrisy in the American press overlooks some very salient facts. What about the global oppression of Muslims, not to mention the actual body count? Shouldn’t that matter? The United States is responsible for the deaths of Muslim civilians on the order of tens of thousands, by some estimates hundreds of thousands. There is the so-called war on terror. There is also the drone campaign in Pakistan. There is also the death toll in the occupied territories last summer. This last was not committed by the US government directly, but the responsible party, the right wing government in power in Israel right now, has solid American backing.

France on the other hand did not join the coalition who invaded Iraq in 2003. France also voted for Palestinian statehood at the vote last month in the Security Council of the UN, when the US voted against.

Go ahead and point the finger at French racists. But we Americans need to put our own house in order.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

I don’t understand your comment. An uncharitable reading makes it a tu quoque about the US, but no one denies grievous wrongs against Muslims by the US. I do not see how you substantiate your claim that this isn’t punching down, and perhaps to further help the claim that this is punching down a map of all the mosques that have been attacked since the massacre: http://www.vox.com/2015/1/10/7524731/french-muslims-attacks-charlie-hebdoReport

anonymous17
anonymous17
6 years ago

It is contradictory for Americans to accuse France of racism and punching down without acknowledging the global context. Globally, American behaviour is anything but tolerant towards Muslims.

Also on punching down: this is complicated by the fact that while French Muslims may not be that well off on the whole, there are centres of power in the Muslim world whose regressive world view causes a lot of harm to their own people and to others.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
6 years ago

I am afraid your claim doesn’t avoid the ad hominem tu quoque claim. You are saying that Americans shouldn’t criticize French racism and punching down without acknowledging their own. But this has at least two obvious problems: (1) what is the relevance of American racism and punching down in the context of a critique of French cartoonists? I don’t see it, perhaps there is some relevance though; (2) who is refusing to acknowledge American Islamophobia? Certainly not Max Fisher (the author of the piece) since many of his writings are about Islamophobia in the media (especially in the US). So I don’t understand this claim because at worst it looks like you are trying to get us to ignore French Islamophobia by using a fallacy of distraction, but at best I’m not sure what you are doing.

As to punching down, I think it is fair to say that a French newspaper that has a print run that usually doesn’t make the millions is addressing a French audience where Muslims are decidedly the minority and often treated as foreigners. The Washington Post published some great articles about just this phenomenon in October if you need evidence that within France this is punching down. Of course, we live in the digital age where everything is online so I think you are saying that there are countries in the world were Muslims are the majority and are in charge. Granted, though I would point out that this does not have an important context in terms of political power and wealth. Of course there are wealthy and stable countries in the Middle East, but most aren’t one, the other, or both and that has something to do with a history of colonialism (French and English especially) and the ways in which the western countries take advantage of unequal power relations over poorer non-Western countries. Within Yemen, for example, certainly Muslims are the majority and enjoy power, but within the context of the world, Yemen is not a powerful country (nor a stable one) and, in fact, owes its borders (among other things) to French and English colonialism and the way those two countries betrayed their promise to free Arab countries after World War I. Now, with respect to Charlie Hebdo, I still think it is best to think about it within the context of France in which case I think the case can be made (and has been) for them to be punching down.Report

JK
JK
6 years ago

I am an American living in Finland for 16 years. The situation here might be relevant to the discussion on this thread. (And it might not!) Anyway this is what’s going on here: The standard of living of Muslims is not particularly low. There is no public ridicule of Muslims, though they are probably exposed to some racism, as are other ethnic minorities here — Finnish people are not saints — but there is certainly nothing approaching Charlie Hebdo. In fact I would guess that a magazine like CH would be frowned upon by Finns. Anyway, Finland is a very small country, 5.5 million people. But so far 40 Finnish Muslims have gone to Syria to join ISIS. They are recruited by people coming into the country preaching against the West, NATO etc. I guess Jihadist websites also play a role in recruiting these people.

This might be relevant to the cause and effect situation being discussed here.Report

L
L
6 years ago

not by philosopher but maybe of interest: “If Charlie is racist, then so am I” by Zineb el-Rhazoui http://thecharnelhouse.org/2015/01/15/if-charlie-hebdo-is-racist-then-so-am-i-zineb-el-rhazoui-responds-to-olivier-cyran/Report

F Lengyel
F Lengyel
6 years ago

Philosophers punching down artists: https://instagram.com/p/zbZ4AtM8Nn/Report