Views on Paris in brief

January 15, 2015

Between satire and racism

IN RESPONSE to "Don't let this horror be used to stoke bigotry": This bothers me:

There is no justification for this murderous assault on journalists and cartoonists, even if some of the content of their publication was highly offensive and provocative. In our newspaper Socialist Worker, we have specifically criticized Charlie Hebdo's cartoons that mock Islam using vile racist stereotypes of the right, while claiming to be affirming democratic values by doing so.

But Charlie Hebdo also mocks Christianity and other religions, along with other beliefs and political ideologies across the spectrum. We must challenge what we see as politically backward in such publications--but they should be able to publish what they believe to be satire without fear for their lives and safety.

It bothers me because it appears to say, "Yes, they published 'vile, racist' cartoons, but that is balanced out by the fact that they targeted other religions."

It isn't. As another writer pointed out recently, there is no even playing field here. Depictions ridiculing the oppressor and the oppressed do not have the same weight (and let's be honest, they don't occur with the same frequency). White, wealthy, privileged, male "victims" of such caricatures can brush them off, publish rebuttals or sue for defamation. Oppressed victims rarely have such luxuries, and what is worse, such depictions achieve a material life of their own, so to speak, feeding the social oppressive relationships. Here in the U.S., "broken windows" policing and police murders of young Black men, not to mention the "New Jim Crow" all feed on such stereotypical depictions.

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Which is why such depictions are so often met with outrage from oppressed communities, sometimes forcing retractions of the most egregious offending material. It becomes an issue of civil rights, of defense of one's humanity, of a people's right to contest how it is represented by the oppressor. Recall the recent incident in which the Indianapolis Star was forced by mass outrage by Latinos to retract a cartoon depicting an undocumented Latino crashing a Thanksgiving dinner. Nevertheless, in the grand scheme of things, the media, politicians and other ruling institutions usually get away with perpetuating stereotypes (such as the selfsame Manhattan Institute and its broken-windows policing).

Agreed, this in no way justifies the murder of journalists, even racist ones. But one can strongly condemn both, without blinking.
Mike Friedman, from the Internet

Yes to diversity in France

IN RESPONSE to "Is solidarity without identity possible?": The events last week do not mean that those of us on the left can be pushed in a corner and end up talking about the "clash of civilizations." There is an alternative.

What else to read readers are debating the response of the left to the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. The discussion began with an International Socialist Organization statement titled "Don't let this horror be used to stoke bigotry."

Further contributions include:

Aaron Hess
Real and vicious Islamophobia

Sofia Arias and Wael Elasady
No tolerance for Islamophobia

Alan Maass and Todd Chretien
Resisting the tide of racism and repression

Keith Rosenthal
How far does free speech go?

Mike Friedman, Mike Healy and Daniel Factor
Views on Paris in brief

Don Lash
Who do we trust with our rights?

Joe Allen
Free speech and the state

Joel Reinstein
Is free speech the issue?

Where we live in France, we have been helping to build a local organization called Oui à la Diversité around the slogans of: Don't persecute immigrants, fight racism, oppose Islamophobia, oppose anti-Semitism and oppose all discrimination. We have been doing this for over a year to build towards the UN day against racism on March 21. Because of this, we have been able to engage in debates about the veil, and some of us were able not to fall into the trap of "unity" called by Holland.

The arguments continue, of course, and so will the racism and conflicts. But our experience leads to me conclude that what we do now, in practical terms, will make us better placed when the next wave hits. Now is the time not to be frozen in the headlights. There are many of us; we just need to be better organized.
Mike Healy, France

Islamophobia and censorship

IN RESPONSE "No tolerance for Islamophobia": Sofia Arias and Wael Elasady misguidedly argue in favor of a ban on racist publications like Charlie Hedbo as part of a fightback against Islamophobia and to protect Muslims from hate speech for several reasons.

Firstly, in agitating for state bans on racist speech, they are under the misguided belief that racism can be quashed by censorship. It cannot and can only be eradicated by challenging and exposing the racism in mainstream society that is propagated by the media and politicians. Can we bring down racist politicians by banning them from speaking? No, we can only defeat them by organizing against their racist views, encouraging others to see them as the racists they are, and then voting against them.

Secondly, we have to ask whether we can trust our rulers to use censorship to only censor those who we deem worthy of censoring, such as racists and Islamophobes. Under capitalism, censorship is routinely used not to silence racists and bigots, but to silence political dissent and crush lawful protest.

We cannot be calling on the state and our ruling classes to ban racism because they cannot be trusted to not use anti-hate speech laws to silence political dissent. Hate speech laws are being used to silence opposition to war and Islamophobia by branding those who speak out as apologists for terrorism or inciting violence.

We cannot be under the illusion that state bans will ever be used to shut up those who deserve to be silenced. Instead of going to the state to ban racism, we should do more to organize against it and speak out against the bigots.
Daniel Factor, from the Internet

Further Reading

From the archives