A murderous blame game

MercatorNet has published my recent thoughts on the blaming of Charlie Hebdo:

Are we so accustomed to ‘random acts of terror’ that we jump at the chance to identify the non-random nature of this massacre? Are we so deeply impressed by the long-standing notion that ‘they hate us for who we are’, that we get excited when, for once, they clearly hate us for what we do? Better still, that they hate someone for something that I don’t particularly like either?

http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/a_murderous_blame_game

“We cannot all be Charlie Hebdo”

Never one to let an opportunity for economically-minded insight drift by, dtcwee has posted an instructive albeit strangely depressing reflection on the Charlie Hebdo massacre, or perhaps more appropriately, the responses to the responses to the Charlie Hebdo massacre:

We say that we are Charlie Hebdo because we want to be Charlie Hebdo; white, affluent, critical, irreverent, conflicted, and persecuted. Perhaps this helps us maintain our special snowflake self-image when random violent death threatens to bring us level with peasants a continent away.

http://dtcwee.blogspot.jp/2015/01/baga-ne-est-pas-charlie.html

Blaming Charlie Hebdo

It surprised me how keen some people have been to point out that the staff of Charlie Hebdo contributed to their own deaths. Not that they are responsible, mind you. No, of course the murderers are responsible for their actions. Nor would we say they quite ‘brought it upon themselves’, I suppose, just that…well if they hadn’t published such gratuitously offensive cartoons they might be alive today.

The more I think about it, the more this observation seems so utterly trivial. Yes, the victims of the crime acted in a way that provided motive to their killers. It would have been astounding if they hadn’t.

What is going on here? Are we so accustomed to ‘random acts of terror’ that we jump at the chance to identify the non-random nature of this massacre? Are we so deeply impressed by the long-standing notion that ‘they hate us for who we are’, we cannot help but get excited when it seems, for once, that they might hate us for what we do? Better still, that they hate someone else for something they did that I don’t particularly like or agree with either?

This is called having sympathy for the perpetrators, and as shocking as that may sound, it is not entirely unnatural or unwarranted. The killers didn’t like their religion being mocked; well I don’t like my religion being mocked. The killers weren’t impressed by crude and offensive satire; well who is impressed by crude and offensive satire? Of course we do not share the terrorists’ murderous intent and we must decry their despicable actions; this is not a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, so the best I can do is just sit back and helpfully point out that perhaps if they hadn’t been so gratuitious and offensive and blasphemous, well perhaps they would still be alive today?

The commentary I’ve read seems to be divided into two camps: “I am Charlie Hebdo”, and “I most certainly am not”. The reality is that most of us are not Charlie Hebdo. Charlie Hebdo is an ideologically driven publication with extreme anti-religious and anti-establishment political views. Its staff were not merely satirists with a crude sense of humour, like an off-colour version of ‘The Onion’. They were left-wing radicals, of an ideological stripe once viewed with trepidation across Europe.

But to stand in solidarity with the victims of the massacre is to nonetheless recognise that some expressions of extreme ideology are more tolerable than others. We can tolerate nasty cartoons. We can’t tolerate massacres.

The distinction between tolerance and support may be lost on many who take up the “I am Charlie” theme and view recent events as a more generic conflict between terrorists and cartoonists. But the distinction is equally lost on those who feel compelled to point out instead that the massacre would never have happened if the magazine had not engaged in such puerile and offensive satire in the first place.

This is, I think, an instance of allowing disdain for Charlie Hebdo to override and distort the broader context. After all, though disdain for crude anti-religious satire brings us into sympathy with the perpetrators, this sympathy is incidental to their deeper ideological perspective. Some have charged that Charlie Hebdo were performing a role akin to agents provocateur, yet such a charge implies that provocation is the driving force behind these terrorist acts. It might be more accurate, given the nature of Salafi Jihadism, to view Charlie Hebdo as canaries in the coal mine – the first, most obvious target in a broader campaign to impose a Salafist ideology by force.

It has become something of a cliche in conservative circles to say to the more outrageous and offensive critics of Christianity “you would not dare to thus offend Islam”. Charlie Hebdo did not discriminate in its offensive anti-religious propaganda, yet now the response is “they brought it upon themselves”. One might be forgiven for thinking that some Christian critics of Charlie Hebdo perceive natural justice at work in the massacre.

Aside from pointing out cowardice and double-standards among certain critics of Christianity, there is something unworthy of Christian Charity in the subtext “You’re lucky we’re not the type to go around killing blasphemers!” Likewise, if our disdain for offensive satire causes us to turn a blind eye to the moral agency of the Salafi Jihadists, then we are letting our sympathies rule not only our reason but our better nature.

Like it or not, offensive satire is part of the French political and journalistic landscape, while terror and massacres have not been for quite some time. There are excellent ethical bases for not intentionally offending the religious beliefs of others; an appeal to consequences is perhaps the lowest of these. Taking the massacres first and foremost as an opportunity to vindicate a consequentialist position against blasphemy is a pretty dismal offering from conservative Christian quarters.

Provocation is no defence for the Jihadi murderers

My latest article on MercatorNet looks at the issue of provocation and appeasement in relation to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Inspired by Throwcase’s post:

Common sense, like bush-fire preparedness or avoiding dangerous wild animals, implies a kind of natural law or cause-and-effect sequence over which we are the master. To put Jihadists in the same category as dangerous animals and natural disasters is understandable, yet hardly an inspiring or reassuring response to such violence. These commentators are not quite saying, “Don’t like being murdered for insulting Mohammed? Don’t insult Mohammed!” but the logic plays dangerously close to such a conclusion; a conclusion for which the murderers themselves are striving.

http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/provocation_is_no_defence_for_the_jihadi_murderers

Blame and provocation

Embed from Getty Images

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.