∞ “Why I am not Charlie” by Scott Long.
“I can support your right to publish something, and still condemn what you publish. I can defend what you say, and still say it’s wrong — isn’t that the point of the quote (that wasn’t) from Voltaire? I can hold that governments shouldn’t imprison Holocaust deniers, but that doesn’t oblige me to deny the Holocaust myself.
It’s true, as Salman Rushdie says, that “Nobody has the right to not be offended.” You should not get to invoke the law to censor or shut down speech just because it insults you or strikes at your pet convictions. You certainly don’t get to kill because you heard something you don’t like. Yet, manhandled by these moments of mass outrage, this truism also morphs into a different kind of claim: That nobody has the right to be offended at all.
I am offended when those already oppressed in a society are deliberately insulted. I don’t want to participate. This crime in Paris does not suspend my political or ethical judgment, or persuade me that scatologically smearing a marginal minority’s identity and beliefs is a reasonable thing to do. Yet this means rejecting the only authorized reaction to the atrocity.”
∞ “The Problem With Je Suis Charlie” by Sarah Wanenchak.
“I’m the last person to argue against the ideal of free speech. But here’s the thing: Especially as Americans, in the course of placing huge amounts of value on the right to free speech we (using we because I am and most of the people I know are as well, so it’s most of my social circle) tend to massively oversimplify what that right means and the context within which it exists. Some of us tend to use it as an excuse for utterly terrible behavior and to cry censorship when people call them on it.
And others – many others – throw the ideal of it around without regard for the complications it creates. This is especially true at this moment in history, with a great deal of our discourse bound up in the vaguely libertarian ideals we see – a lot of the time – in chaotic and loosely affiliated groups like Reddit, 4chan, and Anonymous (yes, I know those are not all the same things).
I may not like what you have to say but I will defend to the death your right to say it works fabulously well when it’s put to practice in the context of a society organized around a level playing field, where groups of people aren’t marginalized, oppressed, silenced, and murdered through systems and structures bolstered by culture and discourse, where for many what’s at stake is not I may not like what you have to say but rather What you have to say is part of what is killing me. In other words, it works fabulously well in the context of a society that does not and probably never will exist.”
∞ “The King of Free Speech” by Gavin Robinson.
“That bit was nice and simple, but I can already imagine the whataboutists lining up. ‘Does the harm principle justify telling racist or sexist jokes that don’t threaten a specific individual with harm?’ No it doesn’t. ‘But isn’t it illiberal to take away a comedian’s freedom of speech? Aren’t liberals being woolly-minded and hypocritical when they complain about right-wing jokes?’ Again, no.
I insist that any apparent contradictions or failures of liberal principles are really caused by illiberal social structures that are not as natural or inevitable as they might seem. Racial and gender inequality are not natural. They are arbitrary social structures that privilege some people over others. Women and racial minorities are denied opportunities and access to resources, threatened with violence, and actually subjected to violence. People are really harmed by inequality. This is not liberal, and it has to stop before we can call Britain a liberal country. Racist and sexist language feeds into existing inequality, making it seem normal or inconsequential to privileged people, and threatening disadvantaged people with further harm. It’s really the inequality that is already built into society that makes racist and sexist words harmful, not the words themselves or the intentions or emotions of the people using them. If you want the freedom to tell racist or sexist jokes, you must realise that it’s racial and gender inequality that are taking away your freedom of speech, not liberals or feminists. Anyone who wants complete freedom of speech must first work to get rid of all inequality.”
∞ “Charlie Hebdo: We Must Grieve the Dead Without Misconstruing Racism as Democratic Ideal” by Christen A. Smith.
“Political cartoons are clearly one of our democratic rights. They are, however, also one of the primary media of racism often employed in tense political times. Take for example a cartoon that circulated on a Democratic Party flyer during the 1866 Pennsylvania congressional and gubernatorial campaign in the United States. The 19th century cartoon was used as propaganda against The Freedman’s Bureau, a policy aspect of Reconstruction designed to integrate African Americans into mainstream society after legal abolition.
As social media took up the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, a smaller voice of grief and dissent also emerged: #JeNeSuisPasCharlie – a hashtag that acknowledged the senselessness of the violence involved with the case but also refused to dismiss the history of the magazine’s racism.
Many of Charlie Hebdo’s most controversial cartoons have not only been directed against Muslims. They have also been directed against black people, particularly women, like the Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haram. We can condemn the violence against Charlie Hebdo without condoning the racism they often reproduce.
Cultural studies scholar Stuart Hall reminds us that images and caricature have a long, intertwined relationship with colonialism, slavery and prejudice across the Atlantic world. All caricature is not created equal. Some of it, when mobilized alongside legacies of race, gender, sexuality, class and yes, even religious discrimination, can reproduce uneven power dynamics that have a negative effects on marginalized people. The racist cartoons of African Americans that circulated widely in the United States in the 19th century were by many accounts a precursor for lynching. See, for example, Marlon Rigg’s documentary Ethnic Notions.”
∞ “Unpopular Opinion: Satire Should Punch Up. Charlie Hebdo Did Not.” by Kitty Stryker.
“Reminder, folks- there is no such thing as “just a joke”. Humour impacts how people treat others, especially marginalized people. From that humour study I feel I quote all the time:
“By making light of the expression of prejudice, disparagement humor communicates a message of tacit approval or tolerance of discrimination against members of the targeted group. Our theory proposes that the recipient must accept the disparagement humor for a shared norm of tolerance of discrimination to actually emerge. Furthermore, our research suggests that people high in prejudice are more likely to accept disparagement humor and thus perceive a norm of tolerance of discrimination in the immediate context. Finally, people high in prejudice are likely to use the activated normative standard as a source of self-regulation, or a guide for interpreting discriminatory events encountered in that context.”
Additionally I’m really struggling with this expectation of freedom of speech not being related to “freedom from the government prosecuting you”. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences, after all. And supporting a massively racist magazine’s freedom to incite hatred seems pretty fucked up. You can’t look at the shit Charlie Hebdo printed, making fun of raped girls as welfare check grabbers, or depicting black women as monkeys, and tell me that it’s “just a joke” and they were fucking martyrs of free speech, here. I hate how many people are saying “terrorists can’t kill an idea“- an idea like sexism, racism, rape culture, and xenophobia. Thank goodness those ideas can live on! Phew! Otherwise what’s a journalist to do?!?!?!”
∞ “On Charlie Hebdo: A letter to my British friends” by Olivier Tonneau.
“As a Frenchman and a radical left militant at home and here in UK, I was puzzled and even shocked by these comments and would like, therefore, to give you a clear exposition of what my left-wing French position is on these matters.
Firstly, a few words on Charlie Hebdo, which was often “analyzed” in the British press on the sole basis, apparently, of a few selected cartoons. It might be worth knowing that the main target of Charlie Hebdo was the Front National and the Le Pen family. Next came crooks of all sorts, including bosses and politicians (incidentally, one of the victims of the shooting was an economist who ran a weekly column on the disasters caused by austerity policies in Greece). Finally, Charlie Hebdo was an opponent of all forms of organized religions, in the old-school anarchist sense: Ni Dieu, ni maître! They ridiculed the pope, orthodox Jews and Muslims in equal measure and with the same biting tone. They took ferocious stances against the bombings of Gaza. Even if their sense of humour was apparently inacceptable to English minds, please take my word for it: it fell well within the French tradition of satire – and after all was only intended for a French audience. It is only by reading or seeing it out of context that some cartoons appear as racist or islamophobic. Charlie Hebdo also continuously denounced the pledge of minorities and campaigned relentlessly for all illegal immigrants to be given permanent right of stay. I hope this helps you understand that if you belong to the radical left, you have lost precious friends and allies.”
∞ “Unmournable Bodies” by Teju Cole.
“Western societies are not, even now, the paradise of skepticism and rationalism that they believe themselves to be. The West is a variegated space, in which both freedom of thought and tightly regulated speech exist, and in which disavowals of deadly violence happen at the same time as clandestine torture. But, at moments when Western societies consider themselves under attack, the discourse is quickly dominated by an ahistorical fantasy of long-suffering serenity and fortitude in the face of provocation. Yet European and American history are so strongly marked by efforts to control speech that the persecution of rebellious thought must be considered among the foundational buttresses of these societies. Witch burnings, heresy trials, and the untiring work of the Inquisition shaped Europe, and these ideas extended into American history as well and took on American modes, from the breaking of slaves to the censuring of critics of Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
∞ “Charlie Hebdo: This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech — It Was About War” by Asghar Bukhari.
“Hypocritically even Charlie Hebdo, the magazine at the centre of the controversy, those ‘champions of free speech’, sacked a journalist in 2009 for making anti-Semitic comments but interestingly never took similar action for anti-Islamic comments, articles or cartoons.
The hypocrisy of French commentators took this absurd lie to new heights. The rapper Monsieur R was put on trial for ‘insulting the French state’. Do you remember the Western world’s outrage over that? — me neither. Attack the Prophet of the Muslims, OK — but the French state — NO!
But its not just the French State you cannot criticize, its their Allies! France that bastion of freedom, became the first country in the world to ban marching in support of those being ethnically cleansed in Palestine.”
∞ “Free Speech and the Means of Communication” by Jonas Kyratzes.
“So, in a situation where public discourse takes place in privately-owned spaces, how are the handful of people who ultimately own most of the media any different from a government? Apart from the lack of any kind of system of democratic control or a pretense of accountability, that is.
An old example of this is the Hollywood blacklist, in which people who were suspected of being leftists (or “communist sympathizers”) were prevented from working or receiving credit for their work. This is a classical example of censorship, and yet, according to the XKCD comic, it’s actually not a free speech issue at all, since it was a private initiative and not something forced onto Hollywood by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Yes, all that happened was that some powerful people in Hollywood thought that leftists were assholes, and showed them the door.
A newer example would be anything to do with Wikileaks or the War on Terror. When Twitter “disappears” trending topics about Chelsea Manning or Julian Assange or proof of various government-committed crimes against humanity, is that censorship? Not according to XKCD, because the government isn’t forcing them to do it. It just so happens that the political interests of capital are the same as those of a capitalist government, and so they act to protect each other. Twitter just thinks that dissenters are assholes, and is showing them the door.
But where are the public alternatives to Twitter or Facebook? Sure, you can kick somebody who’s annoying you out of your garden, but what happens when your garden is also the agora? What happens when the location of public discourse is not public?”
∞ “A Rock and a Hard Place” by Delilah Campbell at Trouble and Strife.
“Of course that doesn’t mean that my imaginary Islamist cartoonists, or feminist anti-porn crusaders, are entitled to take up arms and kill people. But it might help to explain where the rage comes from. Nothing is more conducive to rage than being constantly told that you live in an equal, tolerant society, a society in which you suffer no structural oppression, no systematic social disadvantage, no unreasonable constraints on your freedom or irrational prejudice from others, when your entire life experience screams otherwise. And when you know that however reasonably you present your grievances, you will not be listened to by anyone who counts.
Being told we’re not oppressed as women, and being ignored or pilloried when we try to draw attention to injustice, is a common experience for feminists too. It is fortunate for the world that we do generally reject violence as a political strategy, and that we do not belong to the sex which is socialized to see it as a solution to both political and personal problems.
So, although I condemn the actions (and the motives) of the men who killed the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, I refuse to glorify the symbolic violence that may be committed in the name of free expression, or under the illusion that it actually exists.”
∞ “William Shatner, Reddit, And The Complications Of “Free Speech” On The Internet” by Whitney Phillips and Kate Miltner.
“The other thing is that having this stuff out in the open might not entirely be a bad thing, as upsetting as it might be (just stick with me for a second). There are a growing number of people out there who think that we’re in a post-racial, post-gender, post-whatever world, and that racism and sexism aren’t as problematic as they used to be (AHAHAHA, HA HA HA HA). The more that blatantly prejudicial/bigoted/hateful expression is pushed to the margins, the easier it will be for certain people to be like, “What do you mean, racism and sexism are problems? Oh, THOSE crackpots on weird site no one has heard of? Whatever, they’re just a minority. CHECK MAH SOCIAL PROGRESS.” I’d like to point out that you and I wouldn’t be talking about this right now if these comments were being published on I’mARacist.com– we are only talking about it because it’s on Reddit.
As you’ve noted previously, shaming (or in this context, moderating) ignorant people isn’t going to change their fundamental beliefs. They’ll just end up taking their isht elsewhere—and that may clean up the tone/content on Reddit/create a filter bubble for offensive content on major platforms, but it won’t eliminate the underlying problem. It is absolutely essential that we (as a society, as individuals, as academics, as people who publish their opinions on websites) keep talking about this, frequently and publicly. Otherwise, these beliefs (which are not going away anytime soon) will become (further) silently institutionalized, which is arguably more difficult to combat.
Whitney: Yes, if you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll want you to ban the word Christmas from all public-school functions (it’s actually not a bad idea). The problem I’ve always had with that argument—if we start censoring some of the things, what will stop us from censoring ALL of the things??—is that it essentially plays on a person’s fear of being silenced, not their sense of basic human decency. In short: this person is being censored for their beliefs. You don’t want to be censored for YOUR beliefs, do you?? Then you better defend with your life other Redditors’ right (which isn’t actually their right, as they’re posting to a privately owned website) to post incendiary, unnecessary, completely unproductive bile all day, because “free speech.”
In other words, the argument that selective censorship can only lead us down a path to fascism often does little more than to lull everyone else into complicity, and therefore functions as preemptive self-censorship. You are encouraged to hold your tongue when you see something upsetting, because maybe next time you’ll be the one whose speech is under the microscope. This is a problem, because some people need to be told to SHUT UP, particularly when their speech interferes with their audience’s basic human right—what should be a basic human right—not to be constantly inundated with violently racist, sexist, homophobic, pedophilic or otherwise ignorant bullshit every time they go online. On Reddit, there are ways of shutting the most egregious content down; but in order for that to happen, some people (ahem, white dudes) have to be willing to acknowledge that the “free speech” to which they so desperately cling actually costs quite a bit, a point with which Reddit’s managers and investors would also have to make peace. Because banning bigots would mean less traffic, and less traffic would mean less money. And wouldn’t that be a shame. Which is not—I repeat, is not—an argument against offensiveness generally. Nor is it an argument against all forms of dissent or discomfort, both of which can be quite generative. This is an argument against what is already dead cultural weight. Nobody benefits from keeping it around, except maybe the websites themselves. But even then, it’s not so much “benefit” as “profit.””
∞ “‘We vomit’ on Charlie’s sudden friends: staff cartoonist”.
“A prominent Dutch cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo heaped scorn on the French satirical weekly’s “new friends” since the massacre at its Paris offices on Wednesday.
“We have a lot of new friends, like the pope, Queen Elizabeth and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. It really makes me laugh,” Bernard Holtrop, whose pen name is Willem, told the Dutch centre-left daily Volkskrant in an interview published Saturday.
France’s far-right National Front leader “Marine Le Pen is delighted when the Islamists start shooting all over the place,” said Willem, 73, a longtime Paris resident who also draws for the French leftist daily Liberation.
He added: “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends.”
Commenting on the global outpouring of support for the weekly, Willem scoffed: “They’ve never seen Charlie Hebdo.”
“A few years ago, thousands of people took to the streets in Pakistan to demonstrate against Charlie Hebdo. They didn’t know what it was. Now it’s the opposite, but if people are protesting to defend freedom of speech, naturally that’s a good thing.””
∞ “Ceci N’est Pas Un Blog Post” by Andrew Hickey.
“But you know who’s worst of all? Those fucking holier-than-thou bastards who think they’re so much better than everyone else, pontificating away about everyone else’s reactions from a position of smug assumed moral superiority, being all judgemental and sarcastic about other people, and turning a time of real human grief into an excuse to assert the moral bankruptcy of both their political enemies and their allies in a vain (in both senses of the word) attempt to appear above the fray and to turn a human tragedy into something that can be neatly categorised and doesn’t require a messy emotional reaction. I hate those bastards worst of all…”