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Charlie Hebdo and ‘you should do what he says’

Bruce Gorton | 2015-01-12 11:24:35.0
People march as they carry a surfboard reading, "I am Charlie" during a protest against terrorism and in solidarity with the victims of the shootings by gunmen at the Paris offices of the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, near Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro.
Image by: SERGIO MORAES / REUTERS

Back when Gamergate was the issue of the month, there was a webcomic which I think illustrates a very important point now.

Chainsawsuit’s comic involved three characters, one who wanted $20, one with a gun and the third playing the part of the victim.

The one with the gun demanded the victim give the one who wanted the $20, the $20.

The punchline for the comic, titled The Perfect Crime, was the guy who wanted $20 saying “Please understand I do not condone this behaviour, he does not speak for me, but you should probably do what he says.”

That to me is a 100% accurate summation to too much of the response to the Charlie Hebdo attack – a whole lot of people claiming not to support the killings, but then going on about how provocative the magazine was.

And this isn’t a criticism of Muslims. This is a criticism of a large chunk of the liberal population.

If you condemn the attacks but applaud its aims (because those comics were in poor taste, or racist, or blasphemy) then I’m sorry but I don’t believe you any more than I believe Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of the attacks.

Just to be clear here, Saudi Arabia’s condemnation was underlined fifty times on Raif Badawi’s back. You cannot claim to condemn a group and then behave in the same manner as that group.

You may not be the one with the gun, but you are the one saying “but you should probably do what he says.”

And it isn’t like this hasn’t happened before – the exact same line was taken with Salman Rushdie who had a fatwa placed on his head. Nowadays the response there is seen with shame by a lot of liberals – and they haven’t learned because here they are doing exactly the same thing all over again.

The Muslim response has been as varied as anybody else’s. While there have been so-called moderates (so called because their main claim to moderation is that they aren’t killing anybody presently) who have expressed opinions in favour of censorship in light of the attacks, there has also been unqualified condemnation.

The best response from a Muslim group I think was the French Muslim Council – because it straight up called it an attack on free speech with no words about how objectionable they found the cartoons.

The truth is that not every Muslim supports the goals of the terrorists in this – many are in fact secularists who believe their religion is their own business and whose main response to magazines they don’t like is to not buy them.

To me the most important group to listen to in this isn’t voices like mine, voices speaking from outside the whole issue. The most important voices are the Islamic apostates – the people who have had to live with the taboo against blasphemy that led to these killings.

To my mind that taboo is a problem even aside from the Charlie Hebdo attacks, because when you have to ban criticism from ever happening anywhere, the praise loses its lustre.

When you have the death penalty for criticising the prophets, it shows that there isn’t much you can say to defend those prophets in the light of criticism.

The fact that the offices of Charlie Hebdo were attacked, with 12 people being killed, illustrates that pointing to the praise scholars had for the prophet has all the sincerity of praise for Kim Jong Un from the North Korean media.

That is a far worse insult than any stupid cartoon, because it means every good thing said is rendered that little bit more dubious and the bad things are lent that extra weight.

If people are risking their lives to say the bad stuff – they believe it. If simply making fun of the prophet can be deadly, then what of voicing serious issues with the religion?

The issue isn’t Muslims, but it is an issue within Islam that needs reform.

No group deals with this issue on a more routine basis than the apostates, and they aren’t immunised from racism by their apostasy.

Their voices are the ones that should be heard – and yet normally aren’t.

Kenan Malik’s essay on the subject, saying it is a bit late to say je suis Charlie, is to my mind a must-read for its strong criticism of the left’s response.

Kaveh Mousavi’s blog post on why he won’t let Muslims off the hook is similarly something that should be read.

And Maryam Namazie’s call to defend not just the likes of Charlie Hebdo but all blasphemers and apostates is one I think should be heeded.

And there are many more voices like theirs out there – all of whom have much more important things to say about this issue than me.

You cannot have a discussion on this issue without the voices that would be silenced were blasphemy to be outlawed.

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