Sunday, January 11, 2015


Feeling more aggrieved than usual, your unbending author interrupts regularly scheduled programing to clear his throat in defense of civilization. 

Yes, I tweeted #JeSuisCharlie. Yes, I put the hashtag on Facebook. Yes, I even put it on the wipe board on my office door, which isn’t really my office door, hence the “even.”  #JeSuisCharlie is a small thing, but not meaningless, a gesture of solidarity with victims of religious fascism. As someone who makes his living in the world of thought and ideas and written expression, I found the murders at Charlie Hebdo particularly poignant even though far worse acts of violence against innocents were committed elsewhere in the world that week.  Boko Haram murdered several hundred people in the town of Baga around the same time as the Paris shootings, and despite what some people seem to think, I am not ignorant of the one if I care about the other. 

The very minute I saw the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag, I knew that the backlash against it would begin with a couple of days or so. Sniping of the kind I just described was inevitable. Even before the Ice Bucket Challenge (remember that?) reached its zenith last summer people started saying, “Why all the attention about ALS? Don’t people know that heart disease kills more people?” And so on.  If you’re ever giving a eulogy, try that line of reasoning out. “Well, sure, this guy is dead. But, come on. A lot more people than him died this week. Don’t you people care about them? What kind of monsters are you?”  See how that goes over. 

So the backlash against #JeSuisCharlie has taken on a perfectly predictable form and has come from perfectly predictable people, including a number of journalists who make a living writing Op-Eds that wouldn’t make the cut for emergency backup columns on Measure of Doubt.  To those people, I say: just how stupid do you think I am?  Did I anywhere claim that posting #JeSuisCharlie is an act of bravery? That it constitutes a serious blow against religious fascism? That it mitigates the need for vigilance about freedom of expression in my own country? Does it mean that I am unaware or uncaring about other acts of violence, including some committed by the government of France in the past? Does it mean I am not aware of the complexities and nuances of the political, economic, and cultural conflicts that underpin the attacks? Does it mean any of those things about anyone who posted it?  To listen to and read many cranks you’d think so.

There’s another distressing side to this, too, even though it was equally predictable. You wouldn’t think you’d have to defend the idea that people ought not to be murdered for hurting the feelings of the kinds of people who murder people for hurting their feelings, but you do. There are hordes of people saying right now, “Well you poke the bear…” or “I’m against murder, but…” and so forth. We've been listening to that noise since The Satanic Verses pissed off people who never read it. So, here’s the thing. Am I committed to freedom of expression? Yes. Do I understand the nuances and complexities of the statement I just made? Yup, some of them. You can explain the rest to me if you feel the need. But will I post any of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons here? No. Why not? I already told you, and it’s not because I’m afraid of terrorists. 

1 comment:

Graham Broad said...

The photo is of Juno Beach.