Defending freedom of speech and expressing solidarity with speech

Glenn Greenwald has a long article on the reactions to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo culiminating in the huge march in Paris expressing support for the satirical journal.

Greenwald is a famous American journalist and author, perhaps best known for articles based on documents he received from Edward Snowden. He is a staunch defender of free speech and is opposed to "hate speech" laws that are common in Europe including France but also Canada. He discusses Canada's criminalization of hate speech in this March 2010 article in Salon. Greenwald notes that activists are usually concerned with defending the right to disseminate one's opinions, however distasteful to certain groups or the establishment. Quite often these same activists may be vehemently opposed to the content of what is expressed.

 The ACLU defended the right of Nazis to march in the Chicago suburb of Skokie: ACLU attorney David Goldberger, caught in the ironic position of being a Jew defending the rights of Nazis against fellow Jews. While the ACLU did win the case, it was a costly victory--30,000 of its members left the organization. And in the end, ironically, the Nazis never did march in Skokie. Of course, Goldberger did not agree with the viewpoint of the Nazis or express any agreement with their ideas in defending them. Yet in the case of the attack on Charlie Hebdo the marchers express solidarity with Charlie Hebdo using the slogan "Je Suis Charlie " (I am Charlie).

As Greenwald put it. But this week’s defense of free speech rights was so spirited that it gave rise to a brand new principle: to defend free speech, one not only defends the right to disseminate the speech, but embraces the content of the speech itself. Numerous writers thus demanded: to show “solidarity” with the murdered cartoonists, one should not merely condemn the attacks and defend the right of the cartoonists to publish, but should publish and even celebrate those cartoons. “The best response to Charlie Hebdo attack,” announced Slate’s editor Jacob Weisberg, “is to escalate blasphemous satire.”

 There are many hypocrites among the marchers. Saudi Arabia condemned the attacks but some of Hebdo's cartoons are blasphemous in that they insult the Prophet. In Saudi Arabia this would result in the death sentence: The kingdom's laws treat blasphemy as an instance of apostasy....Sharia says apostasy is a hadd (line-crossing) offence. Sharia prescribes the death penalty for hadd offences.[1] This hardly shows much respect for free speech.

French president Hollande, who was in the march, presides over a country that has hate speech laws that restrict free speech. Indeed, Hebdo's editor-in-chief Philippe Val was charged with insulting a group of people because of their religion when the weekly published satirical cartoons in a 2006 issue. The charge was not successful with the court ruling that Muslims as a whole were not insulted but just terrorists or fundamentalists. In some cases however the charges have stuck with convictions for anti-Semitic and also anti-Muslim speech. Perhaps the most famous convictions are those of the popular French actress Brigit Bardot, who in 2008 was convicted for the fifth time under the hate laws for parts of a letter sent to the government complaining about the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Kibir.

Many of the officials represented in the march of solidarity come from countries that have hate speech laws and in which political correctness is the polite norm of discourse. Yet here they all are supporting not just the right of Charlie Hebdo to print the cartoons but suggesting there should be more to show those opposed that we support this sort of thing. But Hebdo's cartoons are often bigoted and sometimes even revolting.

 This cartoon represents Boko Haram sex slaves as welfare queens. The caption says that they are angry and the bubble: "Don't touch our child benefits". Many make fun of Muslims in general. Greenwald himself pulls off a bit of satire by publishing a number of anti-Jewish cartoons or cartoons that show the divergence between cartoons that have Muslims as their target and those with Israel as their target as this one.

Another article quite critical of the magazine and of the reaction to the attack can be found here. The author is Oliver Cryan who worked at Charlie Hebdo from 1992 to 2001. He walked out because of the dictatorial actions and corrupt promotion practices as he saw them of his boss, Philippe Val, the former editor. Historically, the Hebdo cartoons had many different targets often with a strong leftist slant. However, after 9/11 Cryan claims many in the magazine concentrated on Muslim fundamentalism and making fun of Arabs and Islam. He gives graphic examples of cartoons. Here is one cartoon. Cryan remarks caustically: From what psychological depths did you drag up the nerve to “laugh” at a cartoon representing veiled women baring their buttocks as they bow in prayer towards “Mecca-relle” [a pun onmaquerelle, the madam of a brothel - trans.]? This pathetic stream of crap isn’t even shameful; its stupidity embarrasses you, even before it reveals your state of mind, your vision of the world.

 Here is another cartoon. The captions read: “You’re sure that Mohammed had sex with a pig’s head?” “I can’t afford to pay a nine-year-old prostitute, dude!” This cartoon of course is also poking fun at the film-maker no doubt a take off on the film The Innocence of Muslims I expect.

 To demonstrate the depth of their hypocrisy, many of the European officials left the march to go back home and press not for more free speech but for internet censorship and more power for spies.


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