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No, we are NOT all Charlie: your view

Cas Mudde's article on the Charlie Hebdo attacks went viral. Here's what some of you had to say in the comments.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, one simple message seemed to rise above all of the confusion and distress: #jesuischarlie has become an epochal phrase symbolising the defense of free speech against fundamentalism, and in the aftermath of the tragedy, many articles sprung up referencing this declamation as a rallying cry for us against them.

In Memoriam Charlie Hebdo, Emmeline Broussard/Flickr. Some rights reserved

In the midst of this, Cas Mudde offered a considered yet iconoclastic take on the #jesuischarlie craze. His article, No, we are NOT all Charlie (and that's a problem), seemed destined to invite rage, and yet in the midst of the 444 comments (and counting), there was a lot of intelligent discussion about the nature of offense, free speech and the disingenuous simplicity that often defines "Us vs. Them" ideologies.

One claim that Mudde made, which stirred up a lot of debate, was his claim that, "it is an uncomfortable but undeniable fact that most acts and threats of political violence in contemporary Europe come from extremist Muslims."

As cantloginas_Momo writes,

Not according to Europol, so what source does your fact come from?

The Europol document in question, the European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2014, states that "European Union member states reported no terrorist attacks specifically classified as religiously inspired terrorism for 2013 period." It also states that, "The largest proportion of terrorist attacks in the EU was related to separatist groups, although the number significantly decreased in 2013 compared to previous years."

Based on this, it seems that the commenters which challenged this statement were right to do so. Of the many who pointed it out, I felt that Austerus had the most perspicacious post:

"Still, it is an uncomfortable but undeniable fact that most acts and threats of political violence in contemporary Europe come from extremist Muslims. " - would be nice to have a source.

 

Judging by how news are reported, this might be true. But then again most dead in the Muslim world is caused by Western countries and Western-aligned countries. So everyone seems to think that the best way to deal with extremism is to go in the other people's country and kill them on the spot (thus creating more extremism).

 

Islamic extremists killing people in Western countries creates Western (Christian?) extremism while Western countries killing Muslims in Muslim countries creates more Islamic extremism. So great job everyone!

I reached out to Cas Mudde to ask him to clarify his statement, to which he replied:

Yes, I have received this critique from the beginning, often quite strong, and think I should have been less strong in my use of "undeniable fact". Let me be clear, I do not have hard empirical data to substantiate this claim, and therefore I should probably have been a bit more careful in my choice of words.

 

My argument is based on the logical extrapolation of incomplete data. Reading media reports on (Western) Europe, I have come across many and regular threats by extremist Muslims -- to both non-Muslims (such as Geert Wllders), former Muslims (e.g. Ayaan Hirshi Ali), and (fellow) Muslims (such as snackbar owners in Antwerp who serve alcohol). There are of course different political and religious extremists who have made threats too, from British animal rights extremists to German neo-Nazis and from Greek anarchists to Basque separatists.  

 

However, in all those other cases the threats are limited to only a few countries or regions -- in other words, these other groups are threatening in only small parts of Europe. Extremists Muslims have made threats from Spain to Norway and from Austria to the UK. Hence, I argue that they have made the most threats. As there are many more threats than acts, it doesn't matter that some datasets show that other groups have been responsible for more terrorist "acts", as they don't include the much more numerous "threats".

 

Unfortunately, there is no comparative dataset on "acts and threats" by political extremists. Hence, the only convincing argument that I am wrong has to be a logical rather than a mere empirical point. Critics have mostly pointed to Europol and FBI datasets, which incidentally both are far from unproblematic, and seem to assume or assert that the proportion of "threats" of violence by a certain group will be similar to the proportion of "acts" of violence by that same group. This is, however, a highly problematic assumption. Many people make threats they never carry out. And groups like animal rights and environmentalist extremists make many more threats than carry out acts than, for example, neo-Nazis do.


Again, I should probably not have used the strong term "undeniable fact", but I do believe that my assertion, rather than fact, holds up. To put it differently, I have not seen a empirical or logical convincing argument to the contrary.

Of the many debates that ran through the comments, I found this exchange about the limits and purpose of free speech to be particularly thoughtful:

cantloginas_Momo

I don't know which purpose is served by mocking Islam or any other religion. Tell me, and I will tell you if your purpose is legitimate or not. I don't tolerate injuring persons as scapegoats. I don't tolerate compulsory atheism either. And if you don't have a purpose with your speech, it doesn't need protection.

People don't owe you or me an explanation about the purpose of their speech. Nobody appointed you or me an absolute ruler. I am puzzled that you don't get that.

    •  

cantloginas_Momo

Ah. No legitimate purpose for your mocking Islam. No solidarity from me then. You can dream of absolutely free speech (you are free to do that, and even to argue that), but it doesn't exist. Fortunately. I am puzzled that you don't get that.

 

Man Among the Ruins 

Do you then condemn satirizing Christianity, for example? Do the graphic images of Christ irk you as much as those of Mohammed?

How can I answer so general a question? What would you want to satirise Christianity for? In order to proselyte? In order to hurt my feelings (I am a Christian)? In order to abolish the right to religion? Too right, I would condemn such stuff. Or to attack power structures, the power of the Churches, their influence on the state, positions of their institutions and hierarchies, behaviour of their officials? Satirise away, we need more of that stuff. Or do you want to make fun of the persecution of Christian minorities? Show how heart-warming a burning Coptic church is to an atheist heart? You would have all my contempt.

 

Man Among the Ruins

I think it's impossible to regulate or find the right balance that you describe above.

In the contrary, it's dead easy. You can see what Satire attacks, after all. And if you can't see that, it's not satire, only worthless garbage.

So what kind of satire about Islam would be acceptable?

    •  

cantloginas_Momo

Same thing: don't hurt people because you don't like religion or a particular religion. Don't side with the powerful who oppress the vulnerable. Everything that attacks the powerful and defends the weak is fine. Uncover oppressive power structures. Make the world a better place.

Many people see Islam as an oppressive power structure. In France, most see the secular state as a protector of the weak.

 

So freedom of expression is only acceptable if it denounces the strong. I cannot accept that. The weak are not virtuous simply because they are weak.

 

I don't think any western government today oppresses any minority groups. I know you will disagree with that but we must avoid falling into the trap of legitimizing dangerous groups and ideas simply you share a common stance against the state.

A Guest wrote this comment about the progressive history of satire in the western world:

AS recently as 1967, people were being imprisoned in the UK for writing poetry that portrayed Christ as homosexual. As for gay rights, these had to be fought for with extreme aggression and determination. Muslim countries are still in the phase that the UK was prior to the 1970s.

 

Monty Python was one of the modernising phenomena of Europe in the late 60s and 70s, and the establishment would have liked to stop them in their tracks, close them down. Happily for us, the guys in the team were smarter than the morons in government, education, business and the mass media, and made their big contribution to our culture.

 

And yes, they thought that the Life of Brian was racist. It is still banned in israel, btw.

For the record, I couldn't find any evidence that Life of Brian was or is banned in Israel. It was however banned in Norway, Ireland and the Welsh town of Aberystwyth.

Finally, a couple of illuminating comments on the apparent double standards on free speech that many #jesuischarlie commentators seem to conveniently ignore. First from Akos Horvath:

Polish newspapers also bravely reprinted the Mohamed cartoons, for they support freedom of speech. Too bad that criticizing the Pope, at least when he is Polish, is a punishable offense in Poland. Jerzy Urban, the editor of the Polish satirical magazine Nie, was dragged to court and fined for insulting John Paul II.

 

I guess after the German Benedict was elected Pope, not criticizing the Pope became the act to punish in Poland. There is lots of hypocrisy in Europe.

and from a Guest:

The whole issue is one of hypocrisy by the mainstream, especially with this nonsense about defending free speech, and a context of an anarchic journalist outfit that makes fun of everything and everyone -- regardless of the consequences.

 

Of course Poland does not mock the Pope! Of course, Pakistan does not make fun of the Prophet Mohammed! This is all about cultural difference, and intolerance of others. It is one thing to mock your own religion or culture; it is a very different thing to mock others, that you hardly know or understand. Yet the dominant pattern is to mock others, and kowtow to the local cultural paradigm. Otherwise known as conformist and conservative.

It is always good to know that there is still a debate to be had despite the hegemonic groupthink of #jesuischarlie. Let us know your thoughts in the comments too.

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About the author

Alex Sakalis is associate editor of openDemocracy. He edits the Can Europe Make It? debate and tweets @alexsakalis.


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