Sunday, 11 January 2015

Caricatures of freedom

The number of printed and online articles debating the contents of Charlie Hebdo issues has skyrocketed in the last few days - not only in Romania, but also in the more "Western" media.

A number of points one finds remarkable...:

  • First of all, the debate on the level of "good taste" and "decency" in the Charlie Hebdo cartoons is forgetting the fundamental fact that any definition of good taste and decency is strictly connected to social, historic and cultural context. As soon as anyone, as many so-called journalists did, debates whether the content of Charlie Hebdo was violating some limit of decency or taste inevitably ends up in logical self-contradictions. A major Romanian media figure, Ion Plesu even suggested that self-censorship would have been the answer to avoiding the massacre...
  • This then leads us to the frankly outrageous journalism that insinuates that the content in Charlie Hebdo was directly responsible for what happened. The, again fundamental, failure in this is that anybody insulted in any way by any publication has numerous proportional means to respond... and none of those means include machine guns.
  • Such articles have avoided two minor details consistently (if, for a brief moment, we do look at the content-related twisted logic followed by these journalists and bloggers): firstly, Charlie Hebdo attacked myriad other faiths, communities, minorities... not just Islam. Secondly, as not just the Koran, but also major muslim personalities have underlined in last few days, the terrorists placed themselves in direct contradiction with the Koran and Islam.
  • The discussion about Charlie Hebdo content vs. the massacre seen as a response to that content (one article in Romanian press even stated that this was "to be expected"!) is tantamount to misinformation of the worst kind. It is beyond irrelevant noise... People lacking the knowledge on the current, very difficult, French context, on the ISIS vs. Al-Qaeda PR campaign rivalry, on the fundamentals of Islam, are dragged into a debate that is completely avoiding the central issues. Judging from the myriad online comments, such articles have indeed successfully diverted attention from the real problems.
So then... the real issues... One does not always easily resort to quotes of Sam Harris, but so many luminaries (from Karl Popper to Levy-Strauss) have essentially led to the point one is about to quote: the only problems with islamic fundamentalism are... the fundamentals of Islam.

Sure, it needs to be revisited and taught in a way that it doesn't radicalise... the same way that Christianity and Judaism has gone through revisiting, toning down, and even reformation. This is not about whatever Charlie Hebdo published and whether that in some deranged minds triggered something. Latter has nothing to do with Islam, as many more lucid articles have stated repeatedly - not just now, but also in the aftermath of many other atrocities.

Many articles stating that what happened had nothing to do with Islam are partly correct in their polemic. However, if one deludes oneself by ignoring the glaring fact that only a specific radicalised element is committing these atrocities, then that is a truly harmful delusion.

If one does accept that there is an issue with this specific radicalisation, then one hits one key problem: that there is no central, hierarchic authority in Islam... Apart from numerous isolated voices again stating their outrage and muslim apologetics endlessly repeating again that Islam is a peaceful religion, there is no practical possibility of conveying that message. 

Also, one has to agree in face of facts with certain philosophers who have pointed out that mechanical apologetics are actually causing a huge amount of harm... by not facing the facts of the very text they are talking about and not proposing an honest admission that there is a problem  that needs to be addressed.

Until there is no possibility of revisiting and toning down the most dangerous sections of the scripture that have always been the key means for radicalisation (by literal, or even more tendentiously re-interpreted use of those passages), one will endlessly debate what "triggered" certain radicalised elements of Islam... and will forever fill internet bandwidth with empty discussions on limits of "decency" in published content that has to avoid "triggering" such elements' reactions...

Debates on certain publications' decency in the context of freedom of expression, and how this freedom needs to be self-regulated (or, as some even proposed from a society that should know better after decades of stalinist suppression of such freedoms, even to be regulated by the state), remain therefore very sorry caricatures of freedom.

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