The last three days of terrorism in Paris have certainly offered a wide range of debate on the topic of free speech and freedom of press. I write this blog post in English, since most of the material I have read and refer to is in English. Or, d'ailleurs, French. Since neither English nor French are my native languages one can expect to see some bad grammar, especially first and second persons plural with -s's on the verb. And I do mix what and which... (The two most common grammar problems for those with Swedish as first language, I suppose.)
This is a blog post about reasons and reason. But first I have to dwell upon the difference between explaining and condoning, a difference many people seem to have great difficulties understanding. (Understand in the meaning comprehend in the meaning of grasping the nature, significance, or meaning but also in the meaning to accept.) I will not go into any depth about which political groups or people that have the biggest problems with this distinction but I do have a personal view on this, mostly derived from my experience debating this distinction for years on the Internet.
I start at the Merriam-Webster's Dictionary:
Full Definition of CONDONE
Full Definition of EXPLAINLet me make a comparison. A detective looking for a motive may try to find explanations for why someone has committed a crime. That does not mean that the detective condones the crime. There is a difference between understading in the meaning why did it happen and understanding in the meaning being sympathetic with what happened. And it is up to the court to decide whether the motive makes the crime more forgivable. In the discussions I have had the last days it is as if the police or the court (or the society if you like) should not look for motives, just look at the crime itself, as if crimes in general and terrorism in particular happens in a void space, uninfluenced by the world around the perpetrators.
a : to make known
b : to make plain or understandable
: to give the reason for or cause of
: to show the logical development or relationships of
This said, I will share two articles that shed some light on the world the last 15 years or so. First we have Asghar Bukhari's contribution with "Charlie Hebdo: This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech — It Was About War". Bukhari starts off with the British law proposal that would have teachers spyinging on toddlers. (Children between 1-3 years old.) Toddlers may, mind you, be terrorists in the making. This in a country that not very far from now abandoned the Section 28, forbidding teachers to "promote" homosexuality by telling pupils that it is, indeed, OK to be gay. Now it is those of us toddling around, mostly occupied by learning to walk that should be monitored and hindered from taking to arms against their fellow friends. If they are Muslim, that is. Even the Swedish professor Magnus Ranstorp, who sees terrorists everywhere and who was the first to point out Muslims for Anders Behring Breivik's atrocities in Norway in 2011, is somewhat sceptic.
Bukhari continues with the impact that satire depicting people as lazy, criminal, terrorists, stupid, ugly, a burden of society (all those are my interpretations of Charlie Hebdo's drawings) has. He compares with how black people where depicted in cartoons in the US during the beginning of the 20th Century. (And still are in Charlie Hebdo, mind you, showing one of the French women ministers as a black monkey in a tree.)
"White people don’t like to admit it, but those cartoons upheld their prejudice, their racism, their political supremacy, and cut it how you will — images like that upheld a political order built on discrimination."Uphold.
"Cue some right wing media white dude (or some Zionist) to now accuse me of justifying the murder —After all, if you are Muslim, explaining things is justifying them right!?"Right. Explaining becomes condoning. How easy it is to live our lives never taking another person's position. But try and take a look at the photos and films in Bukhari's blog post and then just, for once, try and think yourself into the situation. Carrying your dead toddler in your arms after her being killed by drones, would that make you more or less keen on believing in peaceful solutions? Could it be that people seeing their fellow religious people being killed and then ridiculed by some Western men in a journal in Paris get pissed off?
And, this being an explanation, it is not a justification. It is a way to comprehend why violence happen and do something about the situation. Because terrorism will not be fought by passing laws on toddlers.
Yvonne Ridley writes that "Freedom of speech had nothing to do with the Paris massacre". A bit hash I admit, it is very much about freedom of speech when journalists are murdered at work excercising that very freedom. The questions is, though, were they gunned down only because they were journalists? Did the perpetrators want to kill the freedom of speech or did they want to make a statement against the West in the name of their interpretation of Islam? Or both? Maybe we will never know. However, no matter what motive these two had, the effect was an immense blow against freedom of speech. There will be a new issue of Charlie Hebdo next week but there is no way of measuring how this effects other writers and cartoonists in their work.
Ridley remembers the words of English journalist and writer Robert Fisk when he entered the Palestinian Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut where up to 3 500 civilians where massacred in 1982, while Ariel Sharon, then Israeli defence minister, was found personally responsible "for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge", forcing him to resign. For then.
Ridley compares the Charlie Hebdo satire of dead muslims in Cairo last year with how we would perceive a satire over the dead in Paris.
"How would people react, though, if I attempted to satirise the deaths of the Paris 12 with a cartoon? I ask because back in July 2013, when nearly 50 Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo were massacred as they held a peaceful sit-in demanding the reinstatement of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo set about mocking the dead with a particularly savage front page."The page showing a Muslim being gunned down with bullets penetrating his Qur'an and the caption "The Qur'an is sh*t, it doesn't stop bullets." She continues with making a statement that everyone who dares to ask for reasons have to make, trying to avoid strawmen.
"However, as distasteful, hurtful and questionable the editorial judgment of Charlie Hebdo is, I would defend its right to free speech. That, though, comes with a degree of responsibility, something that the more pompous, intellectual elite in the West forget."Although, it doesn't always help making disclaimers. Only today I had a discussion with a person around this article. Hir* saw this statement as an excuse dressed as an explanation. To say that free speech comes with a degree of responsibility is, you see, making "a classic excuse" for terrorism like that in Paris.
And then people wonders how the world got this polarized. The strawman industry is, indeed, blooming.
The reason why Ridley makes such a harsh stance on the freedom of speech not being involved in Paris is, as I interpret her text, that there is not very much of such a freedom in the Western world, either. As long as it is not wielded against outsiders or peope seen as outsiders. (This could be discussed but I do not want to resort to making strawmen myself.
"Instead of blathering about freedom of speech, which is being eroded daily by our own governments in Washington, London and Paris, what we need to do is analyse why 12 families are grieving today in France over the needless loss of their loved ones. What happened on 9/11 is a clue but it was not the start of something new; it was the continuation of American and European injustices that have roots in Palestine and neighbouring countries in the region where literally millions have been killed, injured and displaced in the name of the West's much-vaunted freedom and liberty. Very few of the alleged beneficiaries of the West's neo-crusades are better off in any way whatsoever."I see that this is difficult to understand, in any meaning of the word, if you see the world as put together by single elements floating around like individual units, uninfluenced by the world around them, unable to feel empathy with their peers. (Yes, this is aggregated generalisation, maybe I am making strawmen after all.) Unable to be angry about someone elses misery. One of the terrorist brothers in Paris is said to have put his radicalisation together with seeing the news about how the USA treated the prisoners of the Abu Ghraib prison i Iraq.
Ridley ends by stating that the only way forward is dialogue.
"The only way forward now is through dialogue, otherwise it is clear that things are going to get much, much worse for all of us, wherever we live and however, or even if, we pray. It is time for less, not more extremism. This should be borne in mind by politicians and media editors as they prepare their response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre."And to be able to discuss with each other and create a better world together it takes that you are able to take the position of the other side. Elementary for any negotiator, but obviously a sign of weakness i the current world. We must understand that to discuss the reasons behind atrocities may be a way of seeking reason.
* Yes, it says hir.