Cartoon madness in this cowardly new world
Charlie Hebdo, the French Satirical Newspaper, had their offices brutally attacked with 12 innocent people killed in cold blood. Firstly, I must say there is no justification for those murders, in any way. In some ways, this happened because it was a soft target with some historical connection having published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. It could have been a crowded restaurant, a children’s play park, anything that would cause maximum terror. The fact that it is Charlie Hebdo recontextualises the killings and their effects on what this means for free speech. The feelings are still raw, blood is still stained into the pavements, bullet holes riddle glass everywhere. It is too soon to talk about the future of free speech, but it will be massively affected and in some ways it will be restrained. The Newspaper published some of the most offensive images ever; God molesting baby Jesus, Jewish Nazis, Tutsi candy crush – making fun of the Genocide as a video game, and so many more. Time Magazine in 2011 called them “victims of their own Obnoxious Islamophobia” when the offices were attacked. It underlines the weaknesses in the concept of Western Liberalism, freedom of speech vs offence. http://world.time.com/2011/11/02/firebombed-french-paper-a-victim-of-islamistsor-its-own-obnoxious-islamophobia/
Tolerance – the central tenet of Liberalism was the Total acceptance of people, but now it is the ability to endure, we should call it endurance not tolerance. Freedom must let tyranny into its bed or it will be also accused of being a tyrant. So free speech is a spoilt little child that goes around spitting and throwing tantrums. Westerners want us to have the same Oedipal relationship with our mother-state, to spit in her face, her ability to endure scorn is seen as Freedom. The Child then goes and spits in other people’s faces, the mother says “he spits in my face all the time, get used to it.” Is tolerance acceptance or endurance? Are our rights defined by the extremes? Are there bookmarks that line the limits of our free speech? The same right to free speech allows racists to freely express their views, but also allows anti-racists to campaign. There is a perfect scene in the Tarantino movie “Pulp Fiction” where two hitmen discuss a disagreement over a foot massage, where a man gave another man’s wife a foot massage and he reacted by throwing him over the balcony. Overreaction? I substitute “foot massage” with “Cartoon” for effect.
Jules: Remember Hebdo the satirical magazine? They were attacked, 12 died, word on the street is it was all for a cartoon of the Prophet.
Vince: Well, if you play with matches, you get burned.
Jules: It just a cartoon, if someone did that to me, they better paralyse us all coz I’d kill them
Vince: For every action there’s a reaction
Jules: Just coz they drew a cartoon doesn’t make it okay to kill 12 people
Vince: I’m not saying they were right, but you’re saying a cartoon doesn’t mean anything, and I’m saying it does. I’ve seen a million cartoons in a million newspapers and they all meant something. We act like they don’t but they do, that’s what’s so cool about them. There’s this ideological thing going on that nobody’s talking about, but you know it and they know it. Terrorists knew this and Hebdo shoulda known better, that’s their religion, they have no sense of humour about that.”
Empire State of Mind
The modern state is in crisis, they say “our way of life is under attack.” Exactly mimicking Bush in 2001. Will Hollande be the French Dubya? Our states were nice hermetically sealed microcosms of; Freedom, Justice, Equality, with high walls to keep the Mongols from the gate. We had constitutions to guarantee our rights, armies to protect us, borders to keep the baddies out and we were free, free home free. Then we wanted tropical fruits every morning, exotic delicacies from yonder lands, cheap labour to clean mess, a global village was born. In this global village, you have roaming psychos who have nothing to live for. The state cannot protect you. It says “say what you want and offend as many people as possible, I will protect you.” But they can’t protect even protect themselves anymore, they cannot protect all people at all times. I have described Ebola and Boko Haram as the same opportunistic infection that take advantage of weaknesses in the state. Advances in transport and communication has brought distant problems nearer to our doors, the Western state has not evolved to meet this threat so it is dying and being exposed; drowning in deficits, militarily extended, socially fractious, and with demographic time-bombs ticking. Where does this leave our rights? Are they still absolute? If the state disintegrates then our rights are worthless.
Caution or care?
Je Suis Charlie is the common refrain, the bravado leaves the media saying they are undeterred but they will be forced to exercise caution. It is one thing to inadvertently cause offence, it is another to deliberately provoke to cause offence and create headlines that drive your marketing strategy. The Mohammed cartoons revived Hebdo’s sales, it was on its last feet when the global outrage in 2011 lifted it from the shadows. It worked as a marketing strategy, it had nothing to do with free speech. They took a calculated gamble that one or two amateurs would try to attack them and they’d get more publicity, they expected some sort of violent reaction but not this bad. Again, I say, it was unjustified but not entirely surprising because many knew this day could come. We cannot let Salafists define decency but we cannot give them direct cause to attack us. Offending other religions is not a right, we don’t have a global constitution guaranteeing your right to offend people. Our rights cannot be defined by extremes of thought, the more extreme we allow then the freer we are? I don’t believe that at all.