All democracies have one thing in common – a need for legitimacy, which is ultimately derived from the free and informed consent of the people. Some argue journalism only matters when practiced in the public interest by those who care for and seek the truth. Others see the media merely as a tool for exercising influence and believe criticism amounts to treason.
In this session, we heard from from Salman Rushdie, award-winning novelist, essayist, and former President of PEN America; Bard President, conductor and scholar, Leon Botstein; Lachlan Markay, White House reporter for The Daily Beast; American journalist, political commentator and senior editor at the online magazine The Federalist, M.Z. Hemingway; and Washington Free Beacon editor in chief, Matthew Continetti, as they explore whether the ‘truth’ is overrated and ask to what extent the right to free speech should be tempered by ethical restraint? Most importantly, they’ll discuss whether some subjects should simply be “undiscussable?”
SHADES OF RED & BLUE: Uniting Our Divided Nation is presented by Australia’s Ethics Centre, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, and the Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program. Reflecting the relationship between the US and Australia, this event was full of passion, difference and a whole lot of R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
‘Being Shocked is Part of Democratic Debate. Being Shot is Not’: Charlie Hebdo Receives Award, Standing Ovation at PEN GalaPosted: May 6, 2015
Josh Feldman writes: The staff of Charlie Hebdo was honored tonight at the PEN American Center gala, following much controversy, and they received a standing ovation as they affirmed their commitment to free speech and free expression.
“I perfectly understand that a believer can be shocked by a satirical cartoon about Mohammed, Jesus, Moses or even the Pope. But growing up to be a citizen, is to learn that some ideas, some words, some images, can be shocking.”
There was a recent controversy when a group of authors refused to participate in the gala because of their opposition to what they perceive as the French publication’s “intolerance.”
Salman Rushdie and a whole host of other writers stood up for Charlie Hebdo, defending them from that charge of intolerance and insisting the free speech principle is of paramount importance. Read the rest of this entry »
Sorry, Charlie Hebdo
Je suis Charlie. French for “I am Charlie,” the phrase became a global expression of solidarity and resolve after Islamist gunmen murdered 12 people at the Paris offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
“The terrorists who attacked cartoonists in Paris and in Texas hoped that murder would intimidate them—and others—into silence. As such theirs was not merely an attack on a publication; it was an attack on the foundations of liberal democracy.”
In a terrifying copycat attack Sunday in Garland, Texas, two men with assault rifles attempted to gun down people attending an event satirizing Muhammad with cartoons. A single police officer managed to shoot and kill both gunmen before they got inside the event. With some 200 people in the building, the potential for another politicized mass murder was great.
“Trumpeting the list of petition signers was no less than Glenn Greenwald, last seen lionizing Edward Snowden’s right to go public with information stolen from the National Security Agency’s efforts to track the people who committed the Paris murders and tried to do it again in Texas this week.”
On Monday authorities said one of the gunman, Elton Simpson of Phoenix, had been under surveillance for years because of interest he’d shown in joining jihadist groups overseas. He was found guilty of making false statements to the FBI, but a federal judge ruled there wasn’t enough evidence that Mr. Simpson’s activities were “sufficiently ‘related’ to international terrorism.”
Against this backdrop we have the extraordinary—almost comical—irony of some of America’s bien pensant intellectuals boycotting a ceremony Tuesday by the PEN American Center to confer its annual courage award for freedom of expression on Charlie Hebdo. PEN is an association of writers, and six prominent novelists—Peter Carey,Michael Ondaatje,Francine Prose,Teju Cole,Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi—have been trying to repeal the award for Charlie Hebdo.
Against this backdrop we have the extraordinary—almost comical—irony of some of America’s bien pensant intellectuals boycotting a ceremony Tuesday by the PEN American Center to confer its annual courage award for freedom of expression on Charlie Hebdo.
Ms. Kusher said she was uncomfortable with the “forced secular view” and “cultural intolerance” represented by Charlie Hebdo, whose signature attacks were on organized religion. Read the rest of this entry »
Yet the award has become controversial, attacked by a group of writers who presume to lecture murder victims on not provoking their murderers.
“If the publication’s equal-opportunity offenders had been assaulted by right-wing extremists for their savage mockery of anti-immigrant politicians, or opponents of gay marriage or Catholicism, surely the dissenting writers would be all for recognizing Charlie Hebdo.”
These dissenters are an unabashed fifth column undermining PEN America’s devotion to free expression so as to carve out a safe space for Islam from the barbed speech inherent to a free society.
They oppose the killing of the Charlie Hebdo journalists — thanks, guys — but otherwise agree with the jihadis that the publication was out-of-bounds.
“This is a version of Garry Trudeau’s argument that Charlie Hebdo was ‘punching downward’ against the defenseless, when satire should punch up against the powerful. This is a bizarre notion of power. The weapon of choice of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists was the pen; the weapon of choice of their assailants was the firearm.”
Novelists Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have withdrawn from the gala
Jennifer Schuessler writes: The decision by PEN American Center to give its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has prompted six writers to withdraw as literary hosts at the group’s annual gala on May 5, adding a new twist to the continuing debate over the publication’s status as a martyr for free speech.
“In an email to PEN’s leadership on Friday, Ms. Kushner said she was withdrawing out of discomfort with what she called the magazine’s ‘cultural intolerance’ and promotion of ‘a kind of forced secular view’…”
The novelists Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have withdrawn from the gala, at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Gerard Biard, Charlie Hebdo’s editor in chief, and Jean-Baptiste Thoret, a Charlie Hebdo staff member who arrived late for work on Jan. 7 and missed the attack by Islamic extremists that killed 12 people, are scheduled to accept the award.
“By attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech.”
— Disgraced, formerly relevant, pro-censorship cartoonist Garry Trudeau
In an email to PEN’s leadership on Friday, Ms. Kushner said she was withdrawing out of discomfort with what she called the magazine’s “cultural intolerance” and promotion of “a kind of forced secular view,” opinions echoed by other writers who pulled out.
“A hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about? All this is complicated by PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”
— Pro-censorship Francophone author Peter Carey
Mr. Carey, in an email interview yesterday, said the award stepped beyond the group’s traditional role of protecting freedom of expression against government oppression.
“A hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?” he wrote.
“We all knew this was in some ways a controversial choice. But I didn’t feel this issue was certain to generate these particular concerns from these particular authors.”
— Andrew Solomon, the president of PEN
He added, “All this is complicated by PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”
Andrew Solomon, the president of PEN, said on Sunday that the six writers were the only ones that he knew of among the dinner’s several dozen literary hosts who had reconsidered their participation in the gala, which occurs during the group’s annual World Voices Festival, a weeklong event that brings dozens of writers from around the globe to New York City.
Mr. Solomon said he knew the award to Charlie Hebdo might be controversial, but added he was surprised less by the criticism itself than by the vehemence of some of it, as well by the timing — less than two weeks before the gala, a major fund-raiser that draws a star-studded crowd of more than 800 writers, publishers and supporters.
“There is courage in refusing the very idea of forbidden statements, an urgent brilliance in saying what you have been told not to say in order to make it sayable.”
— Andrew Solomon and Suzanne Nossel, in a letter sent to the PEN board
“We all knew this was in some ways a controversial choice,” he said. “But I didn’t feel this issue was certain to generate these particular concerns from these particular authors.”
“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name. What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”
— Salman Rushdie, former PEN president who lived in hiding for years after a fatwa in response to his novel The Satanic Verses
The withdrawals reflect the debate over Charlie Hebdo that erupted immediately after the attack, with some questioning whether casting the victims as free-speech heroes ignored what some saw as the magazine’s particular glee in beating up on France’s vulnerable Muslim minority. Read the rest of this entry »
The Inevitable Chilling Effect: Despite Its Stand Against the ‘Terrorist’s Veto’, France Treats Offensive Words and Images as CrimesPosted: January 19, 2015
Jacob Sullum writes: On Sunday, as more than a million people marched through the streets of Paris in support of the right to draw cartoons without being murdered, the French Ministry of Culture and Communication declared that “artistic freedom and freedom of expression stand firm and unflinching at the heart of our common European values.” It added that “France and her allies in the EU safeguard these values and promote them in the world.”
“In a free society, that is simply not the government’s job. When courts are asked to draw this line, artists and commentators must try to anticipate whether their work will pass muster, which promotes self-censorship.”
In the wake of last week’s massacre at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, perpetrated by men who saw death as a fitting punishment for the crime of insulting Islam, these were stirring words. If only they were true. Sadly, France and other European countries continue to legitimize the grievances underlying the barbaric attack on Charlie Hebdo by endorsing the illiberal idea that people have a right not to be offended.
“Sacrilege may upset people, but it does not violate their rights. By abandoning that distinction, avowed defenders of Enlightenment values capitulate to the forces of darkness.”
It is true that France does not prescribe the death penalty for publishing cartoons that offend Muslims. But under French law, insulting people based on their religion is a crime punishable by a fine of €22,500 and six months in jail.
In addition to religion, that law covers insults based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or disability. Defamation (as opposed to mere insult) based on any of those factors is punishable by up to a year in prison, and so is incitement to discrimination, hatred, or violence. Read the rest of this entry »
Manuel Valls argues that the accusation of Islamophobia is often used as a weapon by Islamism’s apologists
Jeffrey Goldberg writes: The prime minister of France, Manuel Valls, has emerged over the past tumultuous week as one of the West’s most vocal foes of Islamism, though he’s actually been talking about the threat it poses for a long while.
“Anti-Muslim feeling appears to be more widespread than anti-Jewish feeling across much of France, but anti-Jewish feeling has been expressed recently (and not-so-recently) with far more lethality, and mainly by Muslims.”
During the course of an interview conducted before the Charlie Hebdo attacks, he told me—he went out of his way to tell me, in fact—that he refuses to use the term ‘Islamophobia’ to describe the phenomenon of anti-Muslim prejudice, because, he says, the accusation of Islamophobia is often used as a weapon by Islamism’s apologists to silence their critics.
Most of my conversation with Valls was focused on the fragile state of French Jewry—here is my post on his comments, which included the now-widely circulated statement that, “if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France”—and I didn’t realize the importance of his comment about Islamophobia until I re-read the transcript of our interview.
“It is very important to make clear to people that Islam has nothing to do with ISIS,” Valls told me. “There is a prejudice in society about this, but on the other hand, I refuse to use this term ‘Islamophobia,’ because those who use this word are trying to invalidate any criticism at all of Islamist ideology. The charge of ‘Islamophobia’ is used to silence people.”
“It is very important to make clear to people that Islam has nothing to do with ISIS. There is a prejudice in society about this, but on the other hand, I refuse to use this term ‘Islamophobia,’ because those who use this word are trying to invalidate any criticism at all of Islamist ideology.”
Valls was not denying the existence of anti-Muslim sentiment, which is strong across much of France. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdoattack, miscreants have shot at Muslim community buildings, and various repulsive threats against individual Muslims have been cataloged. President Francois Hollande, who said Thursday that Muslims are the “first victims of fanaticism, fundamentalism, intolerance,” might be overstating the primacy of anti-Muslim prejudice in the current hierarchy of French bigotries—after all, Hollande just found it necessary to deploy his army to defend Jewish schools from Muslim terrorists, not Muslim schools from Jewish terrorists—but anti-Muslim bigotry is a salient and seemingly permanent feature of life in France. Or to contextualize it differently: Anti-Muslim feeling appears to be more widespread than anti-Jewish feeling across much of France, but anti-Jewish feeling has been expressed recently (and not-so-recently) with far more lethality, and mainly by Muslims.
“Can hostility to the various related ideologies of Islamism—ideologies rooted in a particular reading of Muslim texts, theology, and history—be properly defined as Islamophobic?”
It appears as if Valls came to his view on the illegitimacy of ‘Islamophobia’ after being influenced by a number of people, including and especially the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner and the writer (and fatwa target) Salman Rushdie. Rushdie, along with a group of mainly Muslim writers, attacked the use of the term ‘Islamophobia’ several years ago in an open letter: “We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of ‘Islamophobia’, a wretched concept that confuses criticism of Islam as a religion and stigmatization of those who believe in it.”
“We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of ‘Islamophobia’, a wretched concept that confuses criticism of Islam as a religion and stigmatization of those who believe in it.”
Bruckner argued that use of the word ‘Islamophobia’ was designed to deflect attention away from the goals of Islamists: “[I]t denies the reality of an Islamic offensive in Europe all the better to justify it; it attacks secularism by equating it with fundamentalism. Above all, however, it wants to silence all those Muslims who question the Koran, who demand equality of the sexes, who claim the right to renounce religion, and who want to practice their faith freely and without submitting to the dictates of the bearded and doctrinaire.”
It is difficult to construct a single term that captures the variegated expressions of a broad prejudice. ‘Anti-Semitism,’ of course, is a terribly flawed term to describe anti-Jewish thought or behavior, and not only because it was invented by an actual hater of Jews, Wilhelm Marr, to prettify the base hatred to which he subscribed. Read the rest of this entry »
The University of Vermont in Burlington invited Salman Rushdie to speak on campus Wednesday night, giving The Satanic Verses author a chance to deliver his most comprehensive response yet to the terrorist attack that targeting French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Rushdie used the opportunity to defend free speech as an absolute right that cannot be diminished just because you happen to disagree with what someone is trying to say.
“The moment somebody says, ‘Yes I believe in free speech, but’ — I stop listening.”
Rushdie said Charlie Hebdo and its cartoonists were “beloved” in France for the willingness to make fun of anyone and everyone. “The thing that I really resent is the way in which these, our dead comrades… who died using the same implement that I use, which is a pen or pencil, have been almost immediately vilified and called racists and I don’t know what else,” he said. Read the rest of this entry »
Nina Shea writes: What lesson will Europe draw from the Charlie Hebdo massacre? Will it get serious about ending Muslim extremism within its borders, or will it try even harder to curb offensive political cartoons and speech about Islam? Up to this point, Europe has responded to Islamist violence in retaliation against ridicule, and even against sober critique of Islam, by taking the latter course.
In 2008, the EU mandated religious hate-speech laws, with European officials indignantly declaring that there is “no right to religious insult.” More revealingly, one official European commission delicately explained that this measure was taken to “preserve social peace and public order” in light of the “increasing sensitivities” of “certain individuals” who “have reacted violently to criticism of their religion.”
“Today, the Charlie Hebdo staff is being mourned as ‘courageous chroniclers’ by President Hollande. But yesterday, it was the French state, not extremists, who sought to ‘avenge the prophet,’ through hate-speech charges against the magazine and its editor for other irreverent Mohammad cartoons.”
Europe was frightened and wanted to cool down its angry Muslim populations and appease the censorship lobby that claims to represent them in the 56-member-state Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Since 2004, it had seen the assassination of Theo van Gogh in an Amsterdam street for his and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s film on abuses against Muslim women; worldwide Muslim riots and economic boycotts over an obscure Danish newspaper’s caricatures of the Islamic prophet Mohammed; and yet more rioting and murders after Pope Benedict presented a paper to an academic audience at Regensburg University that questioned Islam’s position on reason. Read the rest of this entry »
The Charlie Hebdo massacre represents a direct attack on perhaps the most crucial Western ideal.
Jeffrey Goldberg writes: The European Parliament complex in Brussels, where I happen to be sitting at the moment, is meant to be a monument to post-World War II continental ideals of peaceable integration, tolerance, free speech, and openness. All of these notions seem to be under attack at once, and what is striking to me, as a relatively frequent visitor to Europe over the past year, is that not many people—until a few hours ago, at least—seem to believe that their union, and their basic freedoms, are under threat.
The massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo falls into the category of events that are shocking in their intensity and brutality, but not at all surprising. This attack, which killed at least 12 people, including journalists and two police officers, was utterly, completely predictable.
The brittle, peevish, and often-violent campaign to defend the honor of Allah and his prophet (both of whom, one might think, are capable of defending themselves with lightning bolts and cataclysmic floods and such, should they choose to be offended by cartoons) has been pursued in earnest since the 1989 Iranian-led crusade (I use the word advisedly) to have Salman Rushdie murdered for writing a book. In 2011, of course, the offices of Charlie Hebdo were firebombed—the equivalent of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, an attack that should have told us more about long-term jihadist intentions than it unfortunately did.
And Europe has had specific, sometimes fatal, warnings about the capabilities and desires of jihadists in recent months—the car attacks in France, conducted by men shouting “Allahu Akbar,” and, most obviously, the assault on the Jewish Museum in Brussels last May, in which four people were murdered, allegedly by Mehdi Nemmouche, a French citizen of Algerian origin who apparently spent time in the Middle East in the employ of ISIS. Read the rest of this entry »
Heavily armed gunmen on Wednesday infiltrated the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper in Paris, murdering at least 12 people, including its editor, before fleeing. The deadliest terror attack on French soil in more than a decade is a fresh reminder that the war on Islamist terror is far from won, and that jihadists are bent on eradicating the heritage of Western freedom.
Charlie Hebdo was founded in 1970, and the left-wing weekly has always been an equal-opportunity offender. Its politics and taste aren’t ours, but from Jesus to Michael Jackson and from 9/11 to the Pope, nothing has been off-limits.
“Wednesday’s attack also demonstrates again that violent Islam isn’t a reaction to poverty or Western policies in the Middle East. It is an ideological challenge to Western civilization and principles, including a free press and religious pluralism.”
That mocking spirit extended to Islam, and the paper drew the ire of Muslim fanatics for poking fun at the Prophet Muhammad. The newspaper in 2006 reprinted the Muhammad cartoons first published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. In response, the grand mosque of Paris and other French Muslim organizations unsuccessfully sued Charlie Hebdo for “racism.”
“The murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists is merely the latest evil expression of a modern arc of Islamist violence against Western free speech that stretches back to Ayatollah Khomeini ’s 1989 fatwa calling for the killing of novelist Salman Rushdie.”
In 2011 terrorists firebombed Charlie’s offices after the announcement of a “Shariah Hebdo.” (See the cover nearby: “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing.”) A subsequent cover depicted a cartoonist passionately kissing a Muslim man with the headline: “Love Is Stronger Than Hate.” Charlie Hebdo moved to a new office, but police protection failed to stop the terrorists who on Wednesday were heard shouting “we have avenged the prophet!”