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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Charlie Hebdo -- Why Should I be Charlie?

There's a headline in the Washington Post today reporting that the French Muslim community doesn't want to "be Charlie Hebdo."  In solidarity with the Muslims, and for my own reasons, neither do I.

The Daily Show had a good segment on this the other day:

One day I'll learn how to actually "embed" video clips.

The segment features a lot of clips blaming moderate Muslims for "encouraging" or being silent about the attacks.  And then on to the senior condemnologists -- the white guy denounces the terrorists acts.  The black woman denounces terrorist acts.  And then the Muslim denounces them too.  But nobody is satisfied with the Muslim guy's denouncement -- it was "condemny enough" and it could have been "denouncier."

Tables are turned when the white guy is asked to take responsibility for the acts of random crazy white guys, and the black woman is held responsible for black on black violence in Chicago, where she's never been.  Soon enough, the condemnologists figure out that the interviewer is Jewish, and is dodging responsibility for the financial crisis that a radical sect of his people caused.

After the Muslim guy does a double-denounce of both an Indian insider trader AND the Muslim terrorists, the white guy proclaims "society solved."

That's pretty funny, although it might not be exactly my point.  My point is just that it's one thing to expect people to denounce terrorism, but it's another to essentially canonize the victims, just because they were exercising their free speech rights.

In other words, if you're going to say "je suis Charlie" that's more than just a statement that you are against terrorism and for free speech.  It's a statement that you agree with Charlie's message.  And as far as I can tell, that message is that the Muslim faith is not worthy of respect.

If you disagree with what I just said -- i.e. you think that saying "je suis Charlie" doesn't have to mean you agree with their message -- then consider this:

If a gang of Nazis held a parade featuring antisemitic banners denying the holocaust, and two irate Jews -- even demented Jews -- mowed the Nazis down with machine guns, what would be your reaction?  I suppose you might "condemn" the action of the demented Jew; after all, the Nazis were people too, and hateful though they were, perhaps they didn't deserve to die.  But would you go around blaming other Jews for not condemning the Nazi killers enough?

Unless you really agreed with their message, you wouldn't find it necessary to condemn the killers' actions by walking around saying "I'm a Nazi," would you?

No matter how strongly you believe in the right to free speech -- which the Nazis were certainly exercising -- you are going to make up your own mind as to whether or not you endorse their message, and that will color your decision on just how to go about denouncing the killers.

I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that for many members of the Muslim faith, mocking images of the Prophet are just as offensive as antisemitic slogans are to Jews.  So why the H*** does anyone expect Muslims to say "Je suis Charlie"?

The bottom line is that we don't have to agree with the message to believe in free speech.  And if we don't agree with the message, then we shouldn't feel pressured to defend it, just because we believe in the speaker's right to say it.  In fact, our belief in the principle of free speech should be completely independent of the message.  So if I felt like joining the march in Paris, I'd probably wear a T-Shirt saying "Dumb message, sorry about your loss."

That's point number one.

Point number two is that if you are walking around saying "Je suis" Charlie, either you haven't thought about what you are saying, or you truly agree with the basic message that the Muslim faith should be ridiculed.  That puts you in a select group of privileged atheists that believe that they have become so evolved that (1) they can ridicule any religion at will, because all religions are wrong and stupid (as I think Bill Maher recently said), and (2) they can criticize the rest of us for not joining them, since only by eradicating religion will we solve all the world's problems.

I'm not religious myself, and I "get" what they are saying.  I've said it before -- religions have caused a lot of problems in the world, and they are continuing to cause a lot of problems.  But the world is a scary place, and I have to think that religion also does a lot of good, in some corners of the world.  Some of the world's greatest humanitarian projects have been motivated by religion.  Religion gives comfort to the comfortless.  It also gives people a sense of community, and a sense that there is a "greater good" somewhere.  And who knows, maybe there is more to life than the atheists would think; if so, it doesn't hurt to think that perhaps one's soul is "eternal", despite all the "scientific evidence" to the contrary.  It might make for better, more responsible people, regardless of what the scientific truth is.

So until somebody does the empirical work necessary to truly declare that the world would be a better place without religion, then I would simply ask the atheists to shut up about it. And, although I'm sorry for their tragic loss, that goes for Charlie Hebdo too.

And now for one more point on point one.  It's odd that people in the United States, which, if Fox News and others can be believed, is a religious nation founded in the Judeo-Christian ethic, would have sympathy with Charlie Hebdo's anti-religious message.  I'm sure it's been done before, and I don't feel like googling it, but suppose an artist were to create images of Jesus farting, cursing, yawning, misunderstanding something, having a cold, having diarrhea, lying, having sex, lying about having sex, not being picked first for a sports team, having an unrequited crush on a girl, lusting after a woman, losing a popularity contest, giving somebody incorrect directions, not getting a joke, having a bad hair day, having excessively long nose hair, having bits of food stuck between his teeth, chewing with his mouth open, masturbating, having an embarrassing erection, crying, picking his nose, scratching his balls, kissing, oversleeping, daydreaming, having body odor, having pimples, having bad breath, not getting an A on every test in school, throwing like a girl, saying his first word "dadadada" while looking at Joseph, after several months of saying nothing at all and not having object permanence, not learning to walk until he was at least 8 months old, not realizing that the earth revolves around the sun, not knowing a particular advanced vocabulary word in Hebrew, and not understanding foreign languages, These are all things that the historical Jesus almost certainly did (or didn't), and they are all a bit inconsistent with the tradition that Jesus is a supernatural being and the son of God.  And not just any God (lots of sons of gods were killed in the Trojan war), the God.

Hey - maybe there's a book in that -- not What Would Jesus Do?, but What Did Jesus Do?

If those images (or that book) were published here in the United States, I have a feeling that different members of the Christian community would react in different ways, but overall, there would probably be a strong sense that those images are offensive and hurtful to religious people.  If somebody killed the artist (or author), I'm fairly sure at least some Christians would say he or she (it's not me, really) got what he deserved, even if they would never have pulled the trigger themselves.  Very few Christians would stand up and protest on behalf of the artist's right to convey his or her particular messages.  And we shouldn't expect them to, just like we shouldn't expect Muslims to say "I am Charlie Hebdo."

I've saved the boring part for last.  Under any definition, what Charlie Hebdo was doing was "hate speech."  Here's the first definition of "hate speech" that comes up on-line:
Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.
While our Supreme Court has made it clear that the government cannot punish people merely for engaging in hate speech (see Snyder v. Phelps (U.S. 2011), that doesn't make it right.

Most countries (but not the United States) have some variant of a "hate speech" law.  Let's see what Wikipedia says about France's hate speech laws:

France prohibits by its penal code and by its press laws public and private communication which is defamatory or insulting, or which incites discrimination, hatred, or violence against a person or a group of persons on account of place of origin, ethnicity or lack thereof, nationality, race, specific religion, sex, sexual orientation, or handicap. The law prohibits declarations that justify or deny crimes against humanity, for example, the Holocaust.
So that's not quite the same -- in other words, to be actionable in France, Charlie Hebdo's cartoons actually had to incite discrimination, hatred, or violence against Muslims.  It's not clear that they did that. So it's still hate speech, just not hate speech that is illegal in France.

So I guess what I've proved is that every one wearing an "I am Charlie T-shirt" is essentially engaging in hate speech.  It's their right to do it, sure, but it's woefully misguided.  

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