Are You Charlie Hebdo?

I’m getting organized to take Ian to his drum lessons, so here’s a quickie post. A diversity of pundits are talking about hate speech and when humor steps over the line.

David Brooks

In most societies, there’s the adults’ table and there’s the kids’ table. The people who read Le Monde or the establishment organs are at the adults’ table. The jesters, the holy fools and people like Ann Coulter and Bill Maher are at the kids’ table. They’re not granted complete respectability, but they are heard because in their unguided missile manner, they sometimes say necessary things that no one else is saying.

Healthy societies, in other words, don’t suppress speech, but they do grant different standing to different sorts of people. Wise and considerate scholars are heard with high respect. Satirists are heard with bemused semirespect. Racists and anti-Semites are heard through a filter of opprobrium and disrespect. People who want to be heard attentively have to earn it through their conduct.

John Podhoretz

Once the fight for free speech was conducted on the lofty terrain of high art. Now, perforce, it must be conducted on less exalted terrain — tasteless and sophomoric would-be humor.

And yet the fight is no less important, because the enemies of free expression today are adopting terrorist tactics to do battle with Western freedoms in an entirely novel and uniquely terrifying way.

Anthoy Lane

To claim, as Tony Barber, the Europe editor of the Financial Times, did in an opinion pieceyesterday, that “some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo,” is to grasp the wrong end of the stick. One of the joys—more often than not, a joyful embarrassment—of a democracy is that it allows time and room for people who find the whole lark of maturing, whether in politics or in personal conduct, to be overrated.

(ack. out of time. more later.)

15 thoughts on “Are You Charlie Hebdo?

  1. Does David Brooks have a category for op-ed writers? I have worlds more respect for Jonathan Swift, Thomas Nashe and Evelyn Waugh than I have for him. Granted, Americans have not mastered satire as the Europeans have. Probably because we have unwise fools willing to postulate fictional orders of respect in print.


  2. NPR described Charlie Hedbo as “a cross between Mad magazine, the cartoons in Playboy, and the Daily Show.” I found myself wondering, was this an attack on the Larry Flynt of France? If I recall correctly, Flynt was rendered paralyzed by someone enraged by his publication – a native-born white Supremacist. So maybe we’re not so different as we’d like to think.


  3. “Once the fight for free speech was conducted on the lofty terrain of high art”

    Only in Podhoretz’s fantasies. The fight for free speech has always been conducted at the edges of the unacceptable.


  4. The irony of this is that David Brooks thinks he’s earned a spot at the adult table. By, I dunno, being “serious” or something. Give me Charlie Hebdo over him any day of the week.


    1. I learn things when I see my parents because they still watch currently produced television. Brooks is now either MacNeil or Lehrer. Unfortunately, that’s probably the official definition of grown-up.


  5. Am I the only one who finds this whole “I am_____” notion a strange way to express support for anything? I’m not Charlie Hebdo. I’m not Ahmed Merabet either. Saying I stand with him, or I support him, or whatever makes sense to me, but “I am”? It just seems like an odd way of expressing the opinion.


    1. eh, it makes for cute facebook profile photos, hastags, . . . . especially in french.

      And the sentiment is exactly the opposite of what Brooks is doing in the article — haggling about differences. “Je suis” is a counterreaction to natural human reaction, on hearing of something terrible that has happened to someone else, to find differences between yourself and the person to whom the terrible thing has happened, in effort to comfort ourselves that it won’t happen to us. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, while still remembering that in fact, we are not all actually the same person.

      (A reaction to the reaction to the reaction might be the articles talking about circles of grief, and a reminder that when someone else gets cancer, or their parent dies, it is not actually about you, that you are a bit player in their tragedy).


    2. In French, they are saying “Nous sommes tous Charlie” (We are all Charlie.) This has a particular meaning in France, going back to the May 1968 protests. One of the student leaders was Daniel Cohn Bendiit, who was of German Jewish origin. Someone (would have to look up exactly who) criticized him by calling him a German Jew. The student protesters immediately took up the slogan, “Nous sommes tous des juifs allemands” (We are all German Jews) in solidarity. The French Ambassador also said “We are all Franck, we are all Ahmed” about the police who were killed.


  6. I have no problem with showing solidarity with Je Suis Charlie or Je Suis Ahmet.

    Plus, it gives pundits on all parts of the political spectrum a great soapbox on which to lecture us that no, we are not, we are ostriches ignoring the problem of Islam in Europe all the way to no, we’re cowards who don’t take the kinds of important risks for free speech.

    I don’t think I’ve read a pundit on this yet that didn’t make me roll my eyes.


  7. Charlie Pierce is pretty good, too:

    “…this was unquestionably an assault on the right of free expression, probably committed in the name of religious fanaticism. It was an act of medieval, anti-Enlightenment barbarism, and the fact that a lot of people who aren’t usually so tender toward France and its leftists — or towards the Enlightenment itself, for that matter — have attached themselves to the horror in order to proclaim their righteousness atop a pile of corpses ought not to obscure the truth of it. There are genuine values — honored only in the breach by some, but no less genuine for that — under armed assault here. Charlie Hebdo’s staff was murdered to stifle the publication’s voice, no less than Elijah Lovejoy was murdered to stifle his. This is the mass, unbridled, brainless Id of the barbarian at war with modernity in all its expressions. This is where anti-science leads, where a contempt for education leads, where the suppression of women leads, where marrying political fanaticism to religious fervor almost always leads. This is where theocracy brings us, over and over again.”


  8. The phrasing also has another goal — which is to disperse the value of individual targets — the equivalent of the false story of King of Denmark and the Star of David. Of course, most people are saying it without the danger or the diffusion, but the sentiment is there.

    (and, for the real story of Denmark and Danish Jews, there’s the Countrymen to read).


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