Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Blind bats and parrots: in which the author insists he doesn't hate Muslims

            A little more on Charlie Hebdo, before it gets too old (though I will argue that this issue will never get old, because no sooner will the dust settle on this atrocity than there will be another one, mark my word).

            The apologia continues from the usual suspects: writers, academics and generally well meaning people who cannot bring themselves to condemn a mass killing without attempting to shift the blame to some wider social issue which would ultimately relieve the perpetrators of any real responsibility. As if the gunmen were helpless puppets of fate, pushed unwillingly into their situations by circumstance.

            I’m going to turn things around a little bit: when I condemn an atrocity, why is it my job to reassure everyone I don’t hate Muslims?

             I do not. I do hold all Muslims responsible, I will not vote for some war-monger politician calling for the bombing of Muslim countries, I will not call for the banning of religious headgear, I will not be joining in any of those despicable neo-nazi pogroms against people who had nothing to do with the crime.

            Now that we've gotten this out of the way, I have to ask, why does this even need to be said? When did speaking out against murder become culturally insensitive? Even prejudicial?

            The last few generations of liberals have worked hard to develop a healthy allergy to anything that might contribute to xenophobia, scapegoating or oppression. This is for the most part, a good thing. But over the years, tolerance has turned into a refusal to make any sort of value judgment ever, a moral equivalency which excuses any practice at all if it can be linked to culture or religion.
Thus has Islamophobia become the climate change issue of the left - where opinion is determined by one's place on the ideological spectrum. No ground can be given, lest it give comfort and succor to the enemy - in this case, the warmongers of the Bush II camp.

            But the system collapses when incompatible values do come into conflict, and judgments must be made. Every now and then, there comes a case where the standard analysis doesn't work; where it's not the west's fault, where capitalism an/or imperialism might, just might, actually be the lesser evil. This can be painful, but when the bullets fly, sometimes it's alright to blame the shooter.

            It is undeniable that Muslims have legitimate grievances. The Charlie Hebo massacre was immediately followed by hate crimes all over France against Muslims who had nothing to do with it. Right wing parties are on the rise all over Europe. Western countries bomb Muslim countries with impunity, and the occupation of Palestine goes on and on and on. . . Let us not forget either when we look at ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the playboys of Saud, that most of their victims are also Muslims (which makes me wonder how condemning them became an act of Islamophobia). All very true, all very serious. But why should sensitivity to all this necessitate surrendering the right to think and speak freely? To criticize? That is what we do when we quibble.  

            The question here is very simple: either Charlie Hebdo had the right to draw those pictures, or they didn’t. Nevermind the wisdom, or even the morality of printing them: either they had the right, or they didn’t.

            A “yes, but. . .” answer is really a “no”.   To invoke the whole “hate speech” argument, as if drawing a picture were comparable to pulling a trigger, is to declare that some ideas are indeed out of reach, and beyond scrutiny. In this case, it is to suggest we are all subject to certain religious prohibitions whether we follow that religion or not (and its most backward, reactionary interpretation at that).

            So in short, I don’t hate anyone. But their God is not mine, and their rules don’t apply to me. And I’ll not take kindly to any attempt to make me follow them. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Charlie's Angels: concerning the heroes, villains, apologists and enablers. . .

Well, there can be no denying: Charlie Hebdo is an obnoxious publication. Its illustrations are ugly, amateurish, juvenile, and just plain mean.

And that is utterly irrelevant.

When there are eleven people dead, the issue is not how offensive the cartoons were. It is so completely, utterly damned unimportant, it is barely worth mentioning. And yet, there are some people who not only think it worth mentioning, but think that that is the major issue.

In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo slaughter, leaping at the heals of free-speech solidarity were the usual lapdogs of the “but brigade” – “killing is bad but. . .”
But what? Why is it so difficult to condemn a religiously based killing without all these conditionals?

My favourite was this little doozey from the Toronto Star.


How can this be read as anything but a rationalization for the cold-blooded execution of eleven cartoonists? I’m sure they would balk at the suggestion, but why else would they insist that killings are about anything else? You will notice that not once, anywhere, do they suggest the killers were responsible for their own actions.  

It’s not even that alienation and integration et al are unimportant – they’re just incredibly irrelevant to this case. Vast swaths of people all over the western world find themselves alienated from greater society and yet don’t resort to picking up assault rifles and killing people. The article doesn’t do Muslims any favours either: inherent in its argument is a kind of infantalization of the Muslim community, suggesting they can’t control their actions, and will turn into rabid dogs when offended.

By way of refutation, might I point to the case of Mr. Ahmed Merabet, the Paris police officer executed by the gunmen (unmentioned, so far, in any of these articles). Merabet was a Muslim.  It didn’t do him any good: first they shot him in the leg. Then, as he raised his hands in surrender, they shot him in the head. These defenders of the faith hadn't a shred of mercy to spare for one of their own.
Officer Ahmed Merabet

Tell me: who is the enemy of the Muslim community?

I'm sure Mr. Merabet faced prejudice and intolerance. I am sure there were times he felt alienated from broader French society, and I'll bet he was offended by those cartoons. Nevertheless, he gave his life DEFENDING unarmed people.
He made a choice. His killers made a choice

Or, how about Mr. Lassana Bathily, the Muslim deli worker who hid Jewish customers while the gunmen went wild. I’m sure he faced prejudice and intolerance. I’m sure there were times he felt alienated from broader French society. I’m sure he was offended by those cartoons. But when the time came, he made his choice and chose his side: he decided to help people rather than kill them.
Lassana Bathily
We have a choice people. We decide how to interact with the world, how to respond to adversity, and how to interact with fellow human beings. We decide whether to pull the trigger or not.

We are also facing a choice right now about what sort of world we will live in. Who’s going to make the rules? Who’s laws will we be subject to? Are we going to face summary execution for drawing things? Will the religious edicts of the least enlightened among us apply to all?

Probably. At least, I’m not convinced anyone will try too hard to stop it. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

If I were murdered one day. . .a tale of cartoons and useful idiots.

Do you know something?  If I were to be murdered one day, I honestly think I’d be less offended by the murder itself than by someone who tried to excuse it.

            Someone standing by my beside, trying to put my murder in a wider social context as I slowly bleed to death, explaining as I fade away, that it really wasn’t about me at all. I think I’d have very little to say to that person at that moment.

            I thought about this several days after I heard of the Charlie Hebdo. massacre. What I thought on the day of the massacre itself was I no longer lived in the world I thought I did. I was living in a world where I could be killed for drawing a picture on a piece of paper. It was not a world I recognized; I didn’t like it. I wanted my old world back, the one where you were allowed to draw things.
            What happened in Paris was that four people decided to slaughter eleven other people for drawing some pictures. They felt that human life was less important than some pencil lines on paper, and decided that snuffing out these lives would be the best way to prevent said pencil from reaching said paper. They decided that everyone was going to abide by their superstitions, under pain of death.

            They shot eleven real people for drawing hypothetical people.

            What planet are we living on?

            As I said, it was not the world I recognized, and not the world I wanted, and I would probably have to fight to get the old one back. Not by bombing other countries with F-16s, but simply by not letting some barbarian dictate how to live life. So I was thrilled the next day when the Toronto Star, that most pc of papers, printed one of the offensive cartoons in its editorial. Clearly, they were not going to be intimidated. I thought that maybe the Canadian media and inteligencia had abandoned its policy of appeasement and was going to stand up to these buggers.

            Sadly I was mistaken. The very next day, this article appeared:

            So apparently the whole thing wasn't about the dead cartoonists after all, but "the ever-shifting religious dynamics and political reality of the global Muslim community". 

            Did they mean the political reality in which people could shot for drawing pictures?

            Heather Malick condemned the cartoons as “racist”, Haroon Siddiqui felt compelled to remind us all of the limits on freespeech, John Cruickshank spoke of “exploiting [free speech] to commit a moral wrong (by which he meant the cartoons, not the killings), and the useful idiots at Rabble.ca insisted that one remember "that France is at war with many Islamic countries".

          (I suppose a magazine office is now a legitimate military target. . .)

           Equivocations, rationalizations, and praise by faint damnation from the horde of appologists whom Salman Rushdie christened the “but brigade”. “The shootings were awful, BUT. . .” “We have the right to free speech BUT. . .” “There’s no excuse for violence, BUT. . .” BUT BUT BUT!

            But what? If they don’t condone the killings, why are they wasting so much ink telling us that the real evils lie elsewhere? Why go on as if assholery and murder were equivelant wrongs? Why is it so hard to just say it’s wrong to shoot people for religious reasons?
            Could it be because on some level, they don’t actually believe that? Perhaps, deep down, they think there are some things you shouldn’t say, things you shouldn’t draw, things you shouldn’t think?

            Why else would they quibble when eleven people are dead? For drawing pictures?
            I’m sick it. I’m sick of the prevarication, the wilful blindness, the insinuation that I am subject to someone else’s religious edicts. I’ll draw, say, write, and think what I damn well please.

            Je suis Charlie.