Wednesday, May 06, 2015

"A religion is a form of utopia: when it disappears, alternative utopias appear" Emmanuel Todd

"Charlie’s approach to politics contributed to a confusion of the mundane world of political discourse with the sphere of ultimate values." Arthur Goldhammer

Goldhammer The first paragraphs and last.
There is, of course, no justification for the murder of political cartoonists. Nothing I say should be construed as in any way mitigating the horror of the Jan. 7 attack on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine by two gunmen affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Yemen. In no way do I excuse the crime or accuse the victims of somehow bringing it on themselves. This should go without saying, but as I have learned from the reactions to what I previously published on this matter, it bears repeating, and even then there are some for whom it will not be enough. I should stipulate at the outset that I believe the editors and cartoonists at the satirical magazine exemplified all the courage with which they are credited by PEN America, whose decision to honor the magazine with its Freedom of Expression Courage Award has sparked controversy and led 145 writers to support a boycott of its annual gala. Charlie’s staffers knew that, by taking the course they did, they might be subject to physical harm.

I do not in any way contest the magazine’s right to blaspheme, offend or denounce. I regard some restrictions on free speech under French law (e.g., lese majesty — a protester was arrested a few years ago for wearing a “Fuck Sarkozy” T-shirt — and prohibiting Holocaust denial and apology for terrorism) as undue limitations on political expression. In this respect, I am more of a free-speech absolutist than many in France today.

The possession of a right does not, however, make it imperative to exercise that right. The confrontation between cartoonists and jihadists began when a Danish editor raised the question whether editorial cartoonists might be exercising self-censorship with respect to Islam. He regarded such self-censorship, if it existed, as a potential threat to free speech rights. I do not deny that such a potential threat might exist, but I question whether it was or is a clear and present danger to free speech rights in the West today. Calling self-restraint self-censorship seems to me to foreclose thoughtful response by applying a pejorative label. When communities with very different sensibilities regarding religion must live together, there is potential virtue to self-restraint, which may connote many things, including respect for the other, a desire to avoid conflict on matters where rational discourse will be difficult to achieve and a commitment to avoid inflaming tensions. Discretion is a social virtue, and frankly speaking one’s mind on all occasions can be a form of misanthropy or aggression, as Molière reminds us. ...

Charlie’s approach to politics contributed to a confusion of the mundane world of political discourse with the sphere of ultimate values. However laudable the magazine’s intentions, I believe that such confusion has proved politically unavailing. I would therefore advocate a change of tactics. Honor the dead, by all means, and defend what is defensible. But there is nothing dishonorable about asking whether other forms of engagement might not offer a greater likelihood of success. 

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