Nick Cohen on Charlie Hebdo

This blistering piece on Charlie Hebdo by Nick Cohen in the Spectator pulls no punches when it comes to those parts of the Anglo-American left who seem all too willing to make excuses for terrorism.

Not one mentioned that the gang went on to slaughter Parisian Jews in a supermarket for no other reason than that they were Jewish. But they cannot oppose religious prejudice – and in their failure they live a lie far greater and more grotesque than their lies about the dead of Charlie Hebdo.

Prose, Carey, the London Review of Books and so many others agree with Islamists first demand that the world should have a de facto blasphemy law enforced at gunpoint. Break it and you have only yourself to blame if the assassins you provoked kill you

They not only go along with the terrorists from the religious ultra-right but of every state that uses Islam to maintain its power. They can show no solidarity with gays in Iran, bloggers in Saudi Arabia and persecuted women and religious minorities across the Middle East, who must fight theocracy. They have no understanding that enemies of Charlie Hebdo are also the enemies of liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims in the West. In the battle between the two, they have in their stupidity and malice allied with the wrong side.

Most glaringly they have failed to understand power. It is not fixed but fluid. It depends on where you stand. The unemployed terrorist with the gun is more powerful than the Parisian cartoonist cowering underneath his desk. The marginal cleric may well face racism and hatred – as my most liberal British Muslim friends do – but when he sits in a Sharia court imposing misogynist rules on Muslim women in the West, he is no longer a victim or potential victim but a man to be feared.

What he said, basically.

If you follow any discussions in left-liberal or social justice circles, you hear the word “privilege” a lot. Privilege is a very useful concept when it makes you consider the crap that other people have to deal with and you don’t, especially when it makes you mindful in not contributing towards that crap.

But privilege is not an infallible moral calculus that can decides who’s right and who’s wrong in any situation based purely on what demographic or sub-demographic group they belong to. And it breaks down completely if you start to believe in one-dimensional hierarchies of oppression than take no account of contexts or individual agency. Sooner or later you’re going to end up defending out-and-out evil. And once people start getting killed, society pays a high price for such moral self-indulgence.

If there are really significant numbers of people in the Anglo-American middle-class left who believe that cold-blooded mass murder is a lesser evil than publishing sacrilegious cartoons because White Privilege, then it demonstrates the utter intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the left. They will deny it if challenged, of course, but their use of weaseling language of the “I’m not racist but” variety and the way they spend more time explaining why Charlie Hebdo are bad than condemning the murderers shows whose side they’re really on.

Not that the right deserve to get off the hook either. The right’s continual blurring the distinction between criticism of fundamentalism and old-fashioned racism, and Bush and Blair’s criminally ill-conceived and disastrously-executed military adventures in the Middle East that have killed vast numbers of innocent people have done much to poison the well. And it’s all compounded by the idiotic Red Tribe versus Blue Tribe nature of American politics which poisons everything it touches, so if one tribe supports a thing the other will oppose it as a knee-jerk reaction regardless of the merits of the actual issue.

You are perfectly free to believe that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons are gross, purile, insulting or offensive. But that is not the point.

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3 Responses to Nick Cohen on Charlie Hebdo

  1. You are perfectly free to believe that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons are gross, purile, insulting or offensive. But that is not the point.

    It was for me, though. I don’t think what happened to the staff of CH was in any way justifiable, but I did think that translating them automatically into heroic martyrs (as seemed to be the mode at the time) was a mistake.

    Sometimes, both sides of a conflict can be wrong.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    When the head of SOS Racisme calls Charlie Hebdo “France’s greatest anti-racism weekly“, then I’m going to give those saying that the messages in the cartoons get lost in translation the benefit of the doubt.

  3. I still reserve the right to think of “CH”‘s work as gross and not funny, but I would rather not end up casting my sympathies with their murderers by default.

    I’m preparing a longer essay about my thoughts on this matter. Short version: free speech needs vigorous defenses and not halfway-housing, and while I may not have liked “CH”, I would much rather live with them than have bullets in their heads. Or mine, for that matter.

    (Side note: Another essay invoked Noam Chomsky’s defense of Faurisson’s right to free speech. Not the wisest reference, if you ask me.)