Friday, May 22, 2015

The Muddy Waters of 'Freedom of Speech'

Charlie Hebdo

Freedom of Speech is being discussed a lot these days...

...because people keep killing, or trying to kill others for offending the sensibilities of a *certain* faith.

Cartoonists, illustrators, writers are particularly under threat.

You know someone's fighting a losing battle when they have to defend their ignorant beliefs by using a gun to respond to a pen.

Most of the ways I hear 'freedom of speech' being talked about are maddeningly twisted. There is confusion amongst those who desperately try to find things that 'appear valid' to curb said freedom. There is also confusion amongst those who try to use it to violate human rights and dehumanize entire groups of people. Unfortunately, it seems too many are unable to distinguish one from the other.

Among those who had difficulty telling the difference between instances when human rights were violated and instances where ideas were simply being challenged... were some very influential writers unfortunately: Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, and Taiye Selasi all withdrew from attending the PEN literary Gala, that took place on May 5th. They withdrew for the distasteful reason of protesting an honour being given to the dead. Because they saw it unfit that Charlie Hebdo was given the PEN Freedom of Expression Courage Award. All citing some combination of the "they are forcing secularism on people", "they are racist", "they taunt the marginalized", "they are Islamophobes"...

What astounds me is that these writers of high esteem didn't stop to do a 5 minute google search. They could have easily found context on the drawings in question. They'd have learned that much of the outrage has been an ignorant misunderstanding, that CH is indeed an anti-establishment, anti-racism magazine, an equal opportunity offender of all faiths...

There was incredible anger over a depiction of French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira as a monkey, and at first glance - it's completely understandable to be upset by this image, especially if you don't know French Politics. I was taken aback by it too initially...but a quick search on the internet led me to reading what this picture means. You too can read context here. It is in fact mocking prior right wing, racist references to her. 

Sure, I can understand initial anger...but those who are presented with facts about CH's intent, their politics... deliberately choose to ignore them, and continue on with their faux-rage. For example, if this picture was a malicious racist depiction, I doubt the justice minister herself would have attended the funerals of the slain....and I doubt she would have given a eulogy at one of the funerals.

You can see the video of her eulogy and read a translation here.

In a similar manner, I have done mock anti-masturbation ads. If looked at without context of who I am, what my views may indeed seem like I promote the idea that self-pleasure causes natural disasters. But my intent was to put it in the form of what an anti-masturbation person might say. It is so ludicrous on its own, that I'd hope I wouldn't have to explain that I was mocking the viewpoint I created the poster from. However, if this was circulated in certain religious schools, amongst those who think natural disasters are indeed because god is angry....they might take it at face value. If it was viewed in places where people had no idea what I write about, they too might think I was a god-fearing anti-masturbation person.

The information is out there, it is readily available. It is for *you* to verify your claims before you go around spreading lies about the brutally murdered. Especially if you are in the public eye. Wilful blindness is such a shame.

Some people deliberately misrepresent and omit facts to try and validate their claims about CH. Do they not stop and think for a second... about how awful it is to misrepresent those recently murdered, those who are no longer here to speak for themselves? People have been sharing images from other publications, that are *not* Charlie Hebdo at all, to back their claims of "racism". Some fail to see context, but some also deliberately misrepresent. Sigh.


Katie Hopkins, Jihadist Joe & Vive Charlie

On the other side, there's the issue of those who don't wish to challenge ideas...but instead deem entire groups of people inferior. People like Katie Hopkins for example, who recently wrote an article for the (UK) Sun, where she claimed migrants were like cockroaches and viruses. Here are some quotes from Katie:

"No, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care."

“Because in the next minute you’ll show me pictures of aggressive young men at Calais, spreading like norovirus on a cruise ship … These two populations are the same. The migrants harassing Brit truckers at the port are the same as the vagrants making the perilous trip across the Med.”

“What we need are gunships sending these boats back to their own country. You want to make a better life for yourself? Then you had better get creative in Northern Africa.”

“Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit ‘Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984’, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors.”

I know, I know, she sounds like a *delightful* dinner party guest....and someone you'd absolutely want to work with, someone you'd want to represent the credibility of your publication, right? Imagine my non-surprise when Vive Charlie (a magazine set up by Jihadist Joe, a popular 'satire' Twitter account that 'critiques Islam', but ends up being more anti-Muslim than anti-Islam) decided to team up with cuddly Katie. YAY 2 bigots are better than 1, if efficient bigotry is what you're going for.

Don't get me wrong, I am an ardent critic of the ideology myself. I am not even remotely a fan of Islam. Growing up Muslim *and* having a vagina in Saudi Arabia doesn't exactly leave you a fan if you manage to de-indocrinate. However, I attempt to keep my critique focused on the ideas contained within Islam, and not on the *people* who practice (the people who claim scripture is infallible sure, but that isn't what all Muslims think). Muslims are diverse, and some of them want change just like any critic of Islam, some of them find the scriptures problematic too - to group them all in as nazis or fundamentalists is incredibly ignorant and misrepresentative.

I know Jihadist Joe and his magazine Vive Charlie are popular in the atheist 'scene' - because shielded, problematic Islam needs to be criticized and scrutinized. Rational people will support when it is, except sometimes the subtleties of 'criticizing ideas *not* people' are lost on those outside of the community. Critique of *Islam* is not always what's going on with Jihadist Joe or Vive Charlie....when critique of ideas bleeds into generalizing, or mocking entire groups you are crossing the line into bigotry. Anti-Muslim bigotry is real, mosque burning is real, the shouts of "go back home you terrorist" are real, and they hurt... As an ex-Muslim, I face both anti-muslim bigotry because of my name, my pigmentation, etc ....I also face Muslim bigotry because of my dissent, my non-belief.

(Click to enlarge) We are often abandoned by 'liberals' in the west, who are happy to mock Christianity and its dated ideas. There is only recognition for the blue circle of 'the oppressed'...but little to no recognition for those who are oppressed by those already within the blue circle. 

There is no win for people in my position...we are alienated, we are called Islamophobes or self-hating racists by our communities (and often times the liberal West too), and we are called Islam apologists even, by those who think its ok to say all Muslims are fundamentalists, extremists, or that all Muslims are like Nazis...

Screenshot from Homoeconomicus Weblog
I personally know plenty of moderate Muslims that call for the end of extremism, and actively work towards it. Sure they endorse the same ideology (even if they interpret differently), and also often claim their scripture is inerrant - that's an issue. But to lump them in with alien-sightings..... sigh.

It's one thing to say *more* Muslims need to call this stuff out, but another to say it's non-existent.

Nice to see my educated, freedom loving, secular supporting family also being referred to as "savages"
...because 'Muslim' = savage. :/

As secularists, we need our critique to be razor-sharp if we want it to be credible, if we want it to be taken seriously. Sloppy fallacious claims like the screenshots posted here are only harmful to the point we want emphasized - which is that Islam has a real problem, and it continues to be shielded.

We don't want to be written off as 'anti-Muslim bigots', most of us secular critics of Islam are not...some of us even have Muslim families that we love and want the best for.

Dawkins too, occasionally crosses this line into generalization unfortunately (and I bet I'll have some 'freethinkers' very upset with me for saying this).... but Dawkins' endorsement for Joe's account speaks for itself really. I am a fan of Dawkins, and the work he does...don't get me wrong, but I don't always agree with his tweets.

Here is a bit from Tom Owolade's excellent blogpost on the topic:

"I should say he [Joe] doesn’t do just that, because although his account certainly traduces ideas within Islam, it also denigrates Muslims indiscriminately and assumes innate maleficence in their character. This is blanket bigotry. Assuming, a priori, that being Muslim entails you engage in rape or you’re equivalent to Nazis is not a legitimate critique of Islamic ideas, it is blanket bigotry. And saying so doesn’t make me an apologist for Islam, or islamophilic , it simply suggests I find bigoted views contemptible and sufficient for obloquy.

The attitude of Dawkins’ defenders has highlighted very starkly that cognitive dissonance isn’t peculiar to religious people. "

Some excellent points have been made by John Sargeant of the Homoeconomicus blog too, regarding Jihadist Joe, Dawkins and Dawkins' support for Joe...who quite clearly is:

"A global conspiracy believer who uses it to justify his use of bigotry against Muslims has been promoted by Richard Dawkins. That saddens me as a fan of his work and as someone that writes about secular issues."

"Superbly witty" is not the description of Joe I'd expect from someone I respect very much. But no one is right all the time I suppose :/

Of course, Joe's free to say whatever he wants, and endorse whatever narrative he likes. I will always defend his right to be a part of the conversation (I don't think his or accounts like his should be banned at all), but I certainly don't have to approve of his thoughts. Many over at Vive Charlie seem to think that the concept of free speech means that one cannot voice opinions or disapproval even. Free speech doesn't mean a lack of opinion...

Your right to exist will be defended, as will my right to criticize your shitty ideas. :)


A few weeks ago I was contacted by Vive Charlie to write for them. And this was after I had already been open in my criticism regarding their alliance with someone as inexcusable as Katie Hopkins. An interesting situation to be in as an ex-muslim, immigrant, person of be asked to write in the same publication as Katie. But I'm all for free speech, however loathsome - so I said, if they wanted me to write for them, I'd do it only if I could address my issue with the magazine teaming up with a bigot. Because really...Joe's views are problematic on their own, but Katie's views are even more problematic...this magazine is set up in honour of Charlie Hebdo who is too often falsely accused of being racist. I feel like Vive Charlie does CH no favours by 'honouring it' and hosting people who think migrants are cockroaches. There is enough mess around CH as it is...

Their response [paraphrased] was that I'm being petty, and am anti free speech. Katie is just another writer after all, why would I want to stifle her views? Why would I want to take out my personal grudge with her in the publication, didn't I want to write about 'more important' things? -----I'm sorry, but anti-migrant racism and bigotry is incredibly important to me. Even more so when it's being muddled with things like Charlie Hebdo, or valid secular critique of the ideas within Islam. Publications like VC only serve to discredit our critique further if we are conflated with them or their often ignorant ideas. We as secularists need to speak up on this to distinguish ourselves from unfair critique of people.

Hmm...kind of like your grudge against *all* muslims?

They told me they wanted me to write about recently murdered Pakistani activist Sabeen Mahmud, whom I was in touch with. "How inappropriate," I thought to myself...."Sabeen gave her life speaking up for the oppressed....for people that were also Muslim...for people that could very well have been the migrants Katie Hopkins refers to as cockroaches. Honouring her in such a publication would not be honouring her at all."

But Joe, while speaking to me, did mention that *I* was the racist here....for assuming all migrants are people of colour. Yes, I'm a racist...but Katie is worth defending as not racist. Nice to see how twisted some people's logic can get.

He then mentioned that I was not what they were looking for, because I didn't support free speech fully (Yeah, ok Joe...)

And I can add that her perspective was defended several times during our being 'anti-policy, not anti-migrant'. 

Just before I wished him well and left the conversation, he said oh, well Sam Harris has just (convenient timing) agreed to write about Sabeen for we'll go with that!

I'm still waiting to see Sam's piece for Vive Charlie... :) (and wondering how much truth there was to this claim...or if it was just meant as a 'fuck you we've got someone better anyway' kind of bluff...if it is indeed untrue, to drag Sam Harris' name into this is a rather strange decision...especially when it can be verified that he hasn't written about Sabeen for them).

Update: Sam has just confirmed that this was indeed a BS claim...

Incredibly amusing to see them attempt to backpedal and squirm out of this...


And to further Vive Charlie's defence of Katie Hopkins...a very strange ultimatum has appeared in their latest issue:

(Screenshot via Vive Charlie) Not supporting a bigot like Katie is 'the dark side' apparently. Hosting bigots who demonize weak and helpless people is what freedom of speech is about - got it. $ doesn't have to be involved for this to be a project someone won't support, FYI.

 Freedom of speech still allows people to have opinions, you know? 

(Screenshot via Vive Charlie)
Oh dear.... :/ 



I've often tried to put myself in the shoes of the Charlie Hebdo would i feel about their murder if I really believed Charlie Hebdo was bigoted? - the answer is, their content is fucking irrelevant because people don't deserve to die for drawing. Disapprove of their content, but if that's the issue that takes centre-stage for you over *murder* are deeply troubled.

Sadly, the Garland shooting happened - and unsurprisingly it was a 'draw Mohammed contest' ....sigh... (luckily no one was seriously hurt except for those attempting murder, but it could have gone differently)

why does this act always beget violence? or attempted violence... I hope the defenders of Mo realize one day that they are not doing him any favours by killing people for drawing him. I don't think the act of drawing someone that no one knew personally or someone we can't even prove the existence of is bigoted in any way shape or form. It is most certainly not comparable to anti semitism....which involves degrading and dehumanizing actual people who were killed, persecuted for who they are.

And some of us don't think Mo was such a nice guy... why shouldn't we be free to express that? There is some scriptural stuff he is supposed to have said and done..that I just can't approve of, I'm sorry.

However this contest was organized by a known bigot (Pam Geller). My response however, remains the same... it doesn't fucking matter who's doing it, because all they are doing is drawing, the ones raising weapons are the worse humans in this.

Was her intent hateful? Sure... doesn't change the fact that she organized a 'drawing contest' to express her hate, and the other party attempted to kill.

according to Pamela, everyone that doesn't support Israel is a savage jihadist, ok then.

Here's her ad claiming that moderates basically eventually become terrorists.
image from pamgellerDOTcom

By far the most terrible thing about this is that Pam Geller's conspiracy theorist worldview gains credibility through such attacks, or through defence of such liberal apologists, by people saying 'she should have respected their beliefs'. Stop making Pam Geller more credible ffs. She's someone who needs to be ignored, not made a hero out of...and her critique of Islam doesn't come from an intellectual place, it comes from a xenophobic one. So no, she owes it to no one to respect their ideas...just as we don't owe it to her to respect hers. But use your words to fight back, not weapons. Write articles, draw pictures...whatever.

The fact that she is the better person in all this is a bizarre reality we have to face...a reality Muslims created.

Let me finish off with some choice tweets I encountered that day:

 As you can see, it was a busy day for me...I was firstly busy with my sworn white supremacist duties..and secondly, it's a lot of work for me to single handedly contribute to invasions and bombings of entire regions. You guys really underestimate all the things I'm capable of. :/ My dear Islam apologists see my true potential and power.

ps- christians are way worse than any muslim shooter because they *wish* an eternity of hellfire upon non-christians (and muslims don't do that obvs :P )



Thank you for surviving this extremely long post! If you enjoyed this, you might also like my previous one: A Former Apologist on Free Speech & Tribalism


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  1. Great post.

    I supported VC from the beginning because free speech but I’ve baulked at the direction it is taking in later issues. If they weren’t happy with the topic you wished to write about, that’s denying free speech, isn’t it? I’m wrong to be supporting you both equally and I’ll fix that. :)

    Re: Yesterday’s moderate is today’s headline
    I’d like to think what she means is that it’s impossible to tell which moderates will become radicalized. Eg, the Tsarnaev brothers’ background prior to radicalization suggested excellent integration, from what I’ve read. This is a reasonable concern. Will my friendly Muslim neighbour change tomorrow?
    Unfortunately, with the type of followers Geller attracts, I fear many will read it literally as you’ve described, and it will create antipathy toward all Muslim people.

    Finally, black on white is so much easier on my middle-aged eyes. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for the kind words and support as always. <3 Of course I agree, that Geller's ad can be read in that way too. But if you look into her work, her general perspective becomes clear.

      So sorry about the font colour lol!! I had been meaning to change that forever... finally got around to doing it.

  2. When talking about the source of some statements I have been trying this as an analogy to clarify the importance of who is saying something and context.
    Especially when it comes to soundbites and short discussions as to what is meant.

    Take for instance the statement: "Intelligent Design has nothing to do with Christianity." On the face of it a false statement.

    Now have a Unitarian minister say it to their group. With that statement he probably means: That while u can take an extremely literal interpretation of the bible and come to Intelligent Design (ID). That this is an extremely bad way of approaching your faith and in the face of evidence and facts it is ridiculous to take this tact.

    I know, no true Christian, but still acknowledging the link about what is in the bible and ID and combating ID within Christianity.

    Now have someone from the Discovery institute say the same thing to a group of people. With that statement he probably means: ID is a legitimate science and in no way promotes a religious narrative at all so does not fall under the first amendment.

    Basically being a total liar to advance a harmful agenda. I know that this is indeed limited in reality as one never has perfect information on background and intent and it really matters what the actual wider context is. I would love your feedback on that analogy.

    Second there is the 1 is correct, 2 is correct, 3 is shady, 4 whoaaa nelly problem, guilt by association problem and the way you say things problem. For instance like Louella pointed out that moderate becomes headline thing falls directly in the shady category, then u look at other Geller statements in the whoaaa nelly category and it becomes a lot less shady.

    Guilt by association problem where people say 1,2 and sometimes maybe 3 but get lumped in with people who also say 4. And similar to that holding views in a respectful way that u disagree with means u get put in category 4. Some people have legitimate concerns about immigration in general, not coming from a xenophobic place but more genuine misunderstanding or disagreement, but don't see all immigrants as cockroaches.

    Finally the way u say things and that is probably the most tricky one as it also applies to what u are talking about. Say for instance; "I dislike the fact that these bad ideas that are found in Islam are prevalent to a certain extent in some Muslim communities/ in the Muslim world." Yes you are mentioning Muslims but focusing on the ideas so no not bigoted. Now for instance:" I dislike Muslims to the extent they hold these bad ideas." Yes mentioning the ideas but focusing on the person more then the idea. ( I know analogy needs work but get what I am saying.) So its not always clear cut.

    Same goes for the other way around, its hard to sometimes discern when a so called Muslim representative is talking on t.v. if this is one of those soft Islamist's, someone genuinely concerned about anti Muslim bigotry, a moderate,a reformer or just a poser. Especially as someone who isn't as familiar with the debate as others and all the other, what I call hidden assumptions, that are made. A hidden assumption is for instance that religion is a causal factor/ force multiplier in behavior.

  3. Spot on article once again, Eiynah!

    Several thoughts:

    1) Indeed, I've been super-disappointed with some members of the Euro-American "intellectual" class for their rush to judgement and almost deliberate ignoring of context when it comes to Charlie Hebdo. A few minutes of Googling could explain the context of the images rather than just working from knee-jerk first impressions about what the images meant. If they still want to take issue with the idea of being an "equal opportunity offender" or satire that comes a little too close to the racism it's satirizing, fine - I might not agree with that criticism, but at least that would be a valid argument. But arguments based on a straw man? That speaks pretty badly of those making such arguments.

    2) There is undeniably a problem with anti-Muslim bigotry, and it's really important for critics of Islam to call it out and not provide cover for it. (Much the same way it's important for critics of Israel not to provide cover for Jew-hating.) At the same time, there's a clear distinction between framing it as anti-Muslim bigotry vs framing it as 'Islamophobia'. The later places an ideology in the role of victim, the former focus on people. A recent interview with Maajid Nawaz made me aware of how pernicious 'Islamophobia' framing is - he's stated that one of the tactics that was used in his recruitment into al-Qaeda was the idea that Islam was a uniquely persecuted faith, and hence could never exist on an equal basis with other religions. It could only dominate, or be persecuted.

    3) I've often thought there's relationship between the silencing tactics toward moderate critics of Islamism like Irshad Manji and Maajid Nawaz, and the fact that the most visible critics of Islamism today are outright bigots like Pam Gellar and Katie Hopkins. That silencing has come not just from politically-savvy Western Islamists, but even from some of the "progressive Muslim" crowd and the "don't rock the boat" liberal accomidationists (the types who like to spout off on how atheists are really the same as fundamentalists).

    4) "Dawkins too, occasionally crosses this line into generalization unfortunately (and I bet I'll have some 'freethinkers' very upset with me for saying this)" No upset here! I was very disappointed when I saw Dawkins endorsing that stuff. He's unfortunately taking after the wholly un-nuanced approach to atheism popularized by Thunderf00t and Pat Condell. In part, this is from long-standing ideological blind spots, and partly, I think, because he's started to define his positions in opposition to the "social justice" wing of the atheist movement. Totally understandable in light of the ration of shit that these people have unfairly dished out on Dawkins, and the often extremist views the SJers take, but ultimately, defining one's politics as simply in opposition to those types is a reactive and reactionary stance.

    1. Excellent points and observations. I agree, the victimhood 'islamophobia' narrative is exhausting and detrimental to any intellectual conversation about Islam. It is too often used to pit Muslims against the rest of the world... the perception that islam is uniquely persecuted. Maajid is such an important voice.

      As for the anti Sjw-ness, I completely understand the frustration that that comes from... but as you said....if one's politics is solely defined in relation to that it does tend to be a reactionary stance.

      "but even from some of the "progressive Muslim" crowd and the "don't rock the boat" liberal accomidationists (the types who like to spout off on how atheists are really the same as fundamentalists)." - Could not agree more!! incredibly frustrating , those types are.

    2. Oh and thank you very much for the kind words, and for surviving such a long post! :)

  4. Great article but you forgot to mention how bigoted Robert Spencer is and the how the biggest problem by far in the world today is islamophobia :/

    1. I don't think I'm obliged to mention every bigot that ever existed, come on now. The article is long enough as is. "the biggest problem by far in the world is Islamophobia" - is this sarcasm? It's like you didn't read the piece at all.... islamophobia is worse than islamISM, which seeks to impose Islam on the rest of the world? Which seeks to wipe out anyone who opposes? All the beheadings, the suicide bombings..... and Islamophobia is the biggest problem you can see in the world? I suggest you rethink the comment.