Are we all really Charlie?

Larry_Flynt_2009More on the guy to the left in a second.

I did not read Charlie Hebdo, had never even heard of the French publication until shooters went in earlier this week and killed 12 people, including 10 staff members and two police officers.

Since then, Facebook and Twitter have been alive with “Je Suis Charlie” — I Am Charlie — posts. A New York paper added “Charlie” to their reporters’ bylines. Next week’s The New Yorker’s cover will pay homage. In a fit of journalistic solidarity, I posted this photo on Facebook:

B6wH_aEIYAA0DY3I’d previously posted a different photo, one that showed a cartoon of a raised middle finger covered in blood. I thought better of it, because, well, I don’t know why. I took it down to be replaced with the photo above. Even after I posted that one, I second-guessed myself. My initial reaction comes from feeling a kinship with any one who puts words (or drawings) on a page. “Charlie” most emphatically wasn’t my kind of publication. And yet the murders were just so over the top vile.

When Paris residents held a moment of silence today, they did so holding aloft pens. As for what flowed from Hebdo’s pens, Tom Breen posted this on Facebook, an interesting analysis of precisely what kind of publication was “Charlie,” and Gawker published this piece about previous attacks of the satirical publication. (As I write this, two suspects are still at large. One has surrendered to the police.)

(And no where can you make the argument that their publication made them eligible for a bullet. No where. I think the weirdness is summed up very here here, by First Dog On the Moon.)

In this country, satire is protected by law, and, uh, thanks, Larry Flynt and Hustler Magazine, for that. Pornographer Flynt (he’s the guy at the top of this post) would not have been my choice as a guardian of First Amendment rights, but there you are. (Go here to see the fake ad that poked fun at the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who didn’t see the humor and fought it all the way to the Supreme Court.) I found Flynt’s publication vile. I found his championing the First Amendment heroic, though strictly speaking, the Court ruled that the ad could not have damaged the Rev. Falwell’s reputation because everyone — except the Rev. Falwell, evidently — could see it was satire.

From all indications, Flynt relishes his role of “pornographer with a heart/champion of free speech.” So if we are Charlie, then we are Charlie with all the messiness, the raunchiness, and the sometimes hateful speech of that publication. Which sounds about right.


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  1. Oboy!!!
    Another chance to promote the Stanley Fish classic, There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech…and It’s a Good Thing, Too” [PDF] which begins, “Nowadays the First Amendment is the First Refuge of Scoundrels” and ends with “There is no safe place.” (Hey! It could just as easily have been Marcuse and Repressive Tolerance, ya know.)

    Satire or hate speech?
    Ridicule or fighting words?
    Who to judge?
    When to judge?
    How to judge?

    Sticky wickets. Indeed.
    More Stanley, at the NYT, paraphrasing Jeremy Waldron:

    But harms to dignity, he contends, involve more than the giving of offense. They involve undermining a public good, which he identifies as the “implicit assurance” extended to every citizen that while his beliefs and allegiance may be criticized and rejected by some of his fellow citizens, he will nevertheless be viewed, even by his polemical opponents, as someone who has an equal right to membership in the society. It is the assurance — not given explicitly at the beginning of each day but built into the community’s mode of self-presentation — that he belongs, that he is the undoubted bearer of a dignity he doesn’t have to struggle for.

Waldron’s thesis is that hate speech assaults that dignity by taking away that assurance. The very point of hate speech, he says, “is to negate the implicit assurance that a society offers to the members of vulnerable groups — that they are accepted … as a matter of course, along with everyone else.” Purveyors of hate “aim to undermine this assurance, call it in question, and taint it with visible expressions of hatred, exclusion and contempt.”

    “Visible” is the key word. It is the visibility of leaflets, signs and pamphlets asserting that the group you belong to is un-American, unworthy of respect, and should go back where it came from that does the damage, even if you, as an individual, are not a specific target.

    I thought of that quote immediately after checking out the Hooded Utilitarian post. Nobody should have to die over cartoons. But I am not Charlie.

  2. I posted “Je suis Charlie”. I meant it as a moment of solidarity with freedom of speech, but hateful words are hopefully in my lexicon. The way I think of censorship goes way back. I remember the ACLU defending the KKK in its bid to march in Skokie, IL. I was outraged! How could they represent this hateful antiisemetic, racist bunch of a@@holes? But I came to understand that as despicable as it was, if the KKK can’t march, someone can stop MLK. So I can find Charlie Habdo crass and tasteless and even harmful to society I have to stand in their stead even if only for a second on the interwebs.

    Thank for your thoughtful posts, Susan and Leftover, good food for my mind!

  3. I skimmed the article that Tom Green linked to. I don’t read French, so I’m probably missing some subtleties, but the caricatures strike me as racist, reminiscent of caricatures of Jews in other times and places. A letter-writing campaign, dropping sales and subscriptions, and public shaming probably would have been more effective weapons. As it is, the gunmen only reinforced the stereotypes.

    1. Odd that the shooters would attack something like this. From what I can tell — and I’m only judging from what I’ve read about the publication, not the publication itself as I am also afflicted with an ignorance of French — this was an amped-up National Lampoon.

      1. It’s sad an attack like this plays right into the hands of potent Islamaphobes…legitimizing even more hate and discontent…while conveniently ignoring the voices of moderate Muslims who condemn the attack. (Richard Dawkins comes to mind this morning.)

        When Christian extremism inspires violence we tend to shrug it off saying, “They’re not really Christian.” (We do the same thing with Christian intolerance in general…like Hagee.) When Muslim extremism inspires violence, however, it’s rare Westerners afford Islam the same consideration. But…not as rare as it used to be. Maybe we’re making progress?

        1. It’s good to see press coverage like this:

          And quotes like this: “As a Muslim, killing innocent people in the name of Islam is much, much more offensive to me than any cartoon can ever be.” – from the article above

          The way I see it, hateful speech or writing needs a response…in writing or by way of speech. And, hateful speech or writing does not have the right to any stage it desires.

          1. I have been impressed with coverage of statements by moderate Muslim clerics and organizations. More so, actually, than with the statements themselves.

            Right before the Paris massacre, demonstrators and institutions…like the Opera House is Dresden, The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, churches in Cologne…successfully joined together in opposition to the growing effect of an emerging right-wing anti-Muslim movement…PEGIDA, (“Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident”). Thousands upon thousands joined together to demonstrate for tolerance. After Wednesday, the solidarity forged to push back against intolerance is tenuous…at best. In France, the government has engaged in discussions with right-wing nationalists…including Marie Le Pen’s neofascist National Front…to reinstate the death penalty, which has been off the books in France since 1981. The National Front in France has been considered a pariah for decades, even by the right-wing UMP. It’s troubling to think the Hollande government might accept extremists like the National Front into the “rally for national unity” being considered.

            Here in America, after right-wing extremists stop blaming Obama for the attack, I’m sure they’ll turn their full attention to Muslims and the fact we just need more guns to protect ourselves. Until then, Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher will pick up the slack, I’m sure.

  4. Imagine all the people, if we encouraged more of this?

    I do wonder how things might be different if media across the world reported from the perspective of pointing out the good and encouraged people to do good things for the betterment of all (no countries, religion, race, gender, sexual orientation – we are one), instead of primarily focusing on what’s wrong and the evil acts. How can compassion win? There is power given to an evil act, just by broadcasting it across the world, if attention is a desired outcome by the criminals/terrorists. And yet, we need accountability. It is a sticky wicket indeed.

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