Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 11 January 2015

No, You're Not Charlie

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings there has been a spasm of support from the world of journalism and the faux-journalistic blogosphere.  We have been encouraged to post graphics from the magazine to show our defiance of the terrorists.  We are all up in arms about freedom of speech.  There must be the right to mock religions freely without fear that some religious nutjob will want to shoot us!  The outrage is palpable.
It's also completely hypocritical.
First, let's look at Charlie Hebdo.  This is a magazine that makes a living by mocking, and it doesn't mock with any subtlety.  It plays to sterotypes, it stoops to low levels, it plays to any negative stereotype it can find.  Such a publication is now the vanguard of Western civilization?  It's like claiming Jennifer Lopez's semi-stripper performances are the pinnacle of Western dance.  Oy lanu ki chatanu.
After all, anyone who knows comedy knows that it's easy to get a laugh from mocking.  What separates the excellent comedy and satire from the good versions is the desire to avoid insults and denigrations.  Any stand-up comedian can get a laugh by making fun of the Catholic Church or insulting trailer trash.  It's too easy and should be seen for the cop-out that it is.
Then there's the journalistic reponse.  As the eloquent Rex Murphy notes, here the hypocrisy goes through the roof:
Where was this “we” when a video critical of Islam was mendaciously identified as the “cause” of the terror attack on Benghazi? Where was “we” when Hillary Clinton went on Pakistani television to declaim against this “reprehensible” video and revile its maker, and at the Benghazi victims’ funerals said: “We’ve seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with.” Where was “we” when the filmmaker was arrested, while to this day the butchers of Benghazi roam the Earth unmolested?

Where is this We of the Hash-tags when whole swathes of the press, and some political leaders, refuse to call acts that are plainly terroristic by their proper name? Can those who refuse to say the word “terrorism” after a terrorist act now claim they are Charlie Hebdo?
And where was We of the Hash-tags when President Obama made the inexplicable declaration at the United Nations that “the future does not belong to those who slander the Prophet?” More than anything else, that sounds like a fulsome statement of accord with those who denounce cartoons and videos and editorials about the “Prophet,” who riot after he is “traduced” by someone in the West. There is no “We are Charlie Hebdo” in that statement. There is surrender instead.
And what about our prophets, of the Enlightentment and democracy, who made free speech the core of our lives and politics? We are notoriously timid in defending them, and almost tumid with the desire to speak up for those who despise them. Why do we wallow in some shallow hollow of factitious guilt, moaning over our failings to “understand” after 9/11, after Mumbai, after London, after Ottawa, after Paris this week, rather than laying the guilt on the real perpetrators and the ideology that fires them?
Our universities bleat about inquiry and free speech, but they are feeble and craven, caving in to protestors and special interests, pleading “sensitivity” and the “wish not to offend” any time some topic or speaker threatens to “hurt” the professionally agitated on campus. Where was “we” when a band of fatuous progressives protested former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice giving a convocation address at Rutgers University? She worked for Bush, so free speech be dammed.
Where was We of the Hash-tags when Ann Coulter was pre-emptively cautioned about what she could or should say by officials at the University of Ottawa? Where was “we” when Ayaan Hirsi Ali was humiliated and an honourary degree invitation revoked after campus activists at Brandeis University — faculty and students — protested? Brandeis mounted a defence of free speech that would have Patrick Henry drooling with envy: “[Ali] is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights. … That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.” A Presidential Medal of Freedom for that wonderful “that said.”
You want to show defiance on your blog?  Find a copy of one of the famous Danish cartoons and post it on your blog.  Note that the biggest defender of Muslim demands for supression of freedom of speech is the President of the United States and call him on it.  Ask why a poster of an actor playing Moshe Rebeinu, a"h, clad only in a bathrobe and getting out of a taxi with his genitals visible and an art exhibit offensive to Chrisians are expressions of freedom of speech but it's okay to quietly avoid anything similar when it comes to ol' Moe the supposed prophet?
But more than that, demand civility.  Yes, we should have the same right to mock Islam as we do other religions but beyond that we have to remember to rise above mockery in general.  Saying you're Charlie Hebdo is fine but can't we do better than that?


Micha Berger said...

It is quite telling that the battlefront for the western mind is not at the Opéra Bastille or the Museum of Modern Art, but over The Interview and Charlie Hebdo.

This is actually related to the numerical decline of Modern Othodoxy, if you think about it. The assumption behind MO is that being normal westerners (minus what a halakhah or two proibites) allows us to gain from the knowledge of Yefes and use it in our avodas Hashem. "Yaft E-lokim leYefes, veyishkon be'ohalei Sheim!"

But what happens when the west's higher culture is so cut off from general culture that there really is little advantage to normalcy? Or in the reverse, that one can't find much value in the cultural appointments normalcy exposes one to?

RAM said...

R' Micha made excellent points above. We're in an absurd situation where the "best" of Western culture is preserved not by the West but by its cultural and religious dissenters. In contrast, the "worst" of the West is heard and seen 24/7 by all who stay in its proximity. When its M is like today's M, MO has a very basic conflict.

Anonymous said...

more NYRB and less MTV. What's so hard?

It's not fair to say the culture is all sick or whatever. Most people of good stock and education ignore 95% of what the culture (or pop culture) produces.

Young people are becoming accountants, nurses, and graphic designers -- that's a cool person, no? Not a disgusting imbiber of crap, right? Some like to go to church, or a shul once in a while, or get married by a unitarian universalist minister.

It's not all Hooters.


Micha Berger said...

I think you missed my point. I didn't' say the culture was all bad, I said the keepers of the good were marginalized. And therefore, there is no connection between participating in the western street and access to "mada", "derekh eretz", "Yaft E-lokim leYefes", or however you view the role in avodas Hashem of being a modern. The west relegated its valuables to the ivory towers; isolationism is in.