Blame and provocation

Throwcase in fully-serious mode has published a thoughtful and important reflection on the Charlie Hebdo massacre:

http://throwcase.com/2015/01/08/the-extremist-tail-wagging-the-whole-pig/

In some sense it is thoughtful where it shouldn’t have to be; ideally we wouldn’t have to think through exactly what is wrong with a situation where people are being murdered for drawing offensive cartoons – or more to the point, where murdered cartoonists are being blamed for bringing it on themselves.

The ‘blame the victim’ attitudes are indeed shameful. At the same time I can’t help but feel we’re missing the greater significance of this event. Or maybe I’m the only one who’s missing it?

From what I’ve seen of Charlie Hebdo satire, it was pretty crude and intentionally provocative. Islam aside, I think many Catholics would find the cartoon of Pope Benedict holding aloft a condom and uttering the words of consecration deeply offensive or simply puerile and contemptible.

Whether the publishers were trying to make a greater point about Islam through their satire, or simply carving out a niche and hoping to sell more issues (though this may be unlikely given the nature of the threat), the greater point is significant: when there exists a subset of Muslims who will respond to crude satire with murder, it is not enough to say “don’t provoke them”.

‘Provoke’ comes from the Latin provocare meaning ‘to challenge, to call forth’. In that sense it is true, their satire did call forth the violence; but more importantly I think their work was a challenge to the state and their compatriots to recognise that the existence of such a murderous ideology in the heart of a liberal nation is ultimately untenable.

In that sense “don’t provoke them” is a response that shamefully sees some measure of justice or natural law in these attacks, as though violent Islamic sects are just a part of life, like wild animals or bushfires.

Our focus should not be on the actions of the victims, but on the disturbing fact that the members of certain Islamic sects are willing to kill (and often to be killed) for the sake of offences that the vast majority of people would deem at most upsetting, and at least completely trivial.

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