Spectator: ‘Je ne suis plus Charlie’

Tolerance
Photo courtesy of Alpha Stock Images – http://alphastockimages.com/ | Nick Youngson – http://www.nyphotographic.com/ (Creative Commons Licence 3)

It’s five years this month since the shooting-up by Islamic terrorists of the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris which left twelve people dead and eleven people injured. Following the attack on 7 January 2015, a million people marched through Paris in solidarity with the magazine and those killed in the attack, many bearing banners proclaiming the now-famous slogan, ‘Je suis Charlie.’ But, asked the Spectator last week, have the lessons of that attack on freedom of expression really been learned?

“Anne Hidalgo, socialist mayor of Paris, urged people ‘never to forget’ the price paid by the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, while at the same time demanding that a small publicity series of ads on the Paris transport network be retirées immédiatement.”

The article in the Spectator highlights various recent instances of prominent politicians, who were quick to condemn the attacks at the time and to stand up for freedom of expression, attempting to suppress messages in the public space with which they disagreed. Amongst these was the example of Anne Hidalgo, socialist mayor of Paris, who urged people, on this fifth anniversary, “never to forget” the price paid by the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, while at the same time taking to Twitter to condemn a small publicity campaign on the Paris transport network opposing assisted medical procreation for lesbian couples and single women, and demanding that the campaign ads be retirées immédiatement. We should not miss the deep irony here. Is freedom of expression for everyone, or is it only for the progressive, ‘liberal’ élites?

The irony has not been lost on Riss, a survivor of the Charlie Hebdo attack. Writing an article in a fifth-anniversary special edition of Charlie Hebdo entitled, “The New Faces of Censorship,” he wrote:

“We believed that only religions had the desire to impose their dogmas on us. We were mistaken.”

He continues:

“We believed that only religions had the desire to impose their dogmas on us. We were mistaken.”

Riss, Charlie Hebdo

“But in reality, this [‘exalted’ age we live in] was never so exalted. All the little m*f*’s and all the little b*****s who set forth at length their daft petitions, their sententious proclamations, and who believe themselves the kings of the world behind the keypad of their smartphone, give us an excellent reason to caricature them, to ridicule them, to fight them. Because the morality that they feel the need to defend is, in reality, nothing but another moralism. The old taboos have been replaced by new ones. The fathers of the prudishness of the past have been hunted down by the bloggers of the prudishness of today. The flames of hell of a different age have given way to the tweeting informants of the now.”

Besides the million people joining the solidarity march in Paris five years ago, millions more showed solidarity by proclaiming on Facebook or other platforms, “Je suis Charlie.” As much as I deplored (and still deplore) the attacks, I personally didn’t feel comfortable identifying myself with a publication which stabs and lampoons Christianity every bit as vehemently as Islam.

“However much old forms of religious bigotry have been cleared away in recent decades, there is no shortage of secular bigotry to take its place.”

Although I would happily criticize Islam where such criticism is deserved — indeed, would happily criticize Christianity where that also is deserved (as it often is) — I have never felt the need to lampoon somebody else’s religion. What Charlie Hebdo does is freedom of expression taken to its logical conclusion: The right to offend others and to pull down their sacred cows means I must offend and pull down.

But confident freedom of expression is also the right not to offend and pull down that which I could offend and pull down. We don’t always have to take every right we possess to its logical conclusion to prove that right still exists.

Nonetheless, on this point Charlie Hebdo is quite right: “We were mistaken.” However much old forms of religious bigotry have been cleared away in recent decades, there is no shortage of secular bigotry to take its place.

 

 

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