Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Je ne suis pas Charlie

I have little doubt that Islam in the West is an unfortunate anachronism. Mainstream Islam treats women, homosexuals and apostates, for example, unacceptably by the lights of the secular West. These aspects of the religion are judiciously played down by “moderate” Muslims in the West. For me the best outcome is, therefore, that, generation by generation, Muslim communities secularise as young Muslims move gradually away from their outdated religion. This would be a gentle and inexorable process denuded of excessive righteousness on the part of westerners whose forefathers and their imperial pretensions are responsible for the presence of these communities in our midst. They are not here by accident.

All of the above being the case, I have to say that, while it can never be asserted that the murderers of the Charlie Hebdo staff were justified in their actions, the Charlie Hebdo journalists share responsibility for the aggressive dynamic which was acted out in the attack. One has the right to think anything one chooses about the religious. My thoughts are related above. However, having such thoughts my next task is to decide how I will address the presence of Muslims in my community, living in streets near to me, worshipping in Mosques just down the road and sitting, in the case of their children, in front of me in my French classroom. Do I voice my naked thoughts to them in what I could, thus, call “free speech”, or do I behave with some subtlety and nuance bearing the whole context of the situation in mind and, not least, the fact that I’m dealing with real people who have, through no fault of their own, been born into their tradition. Like me, do they not also deserve the milk of human kindness? Charlie Hebdo, in the Voltairean, anti-clerical tradition spawned in the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, chose not to act with such nuance and sensitivity. They sought, indeed, went out of their way, to be as obnoxious and offensive as possible to Muslims and to insist that such behaviour is a virtue. This is sheer provocation of the most uncharitable kind and I can see no way in which it can be construed not to be so. A simple glance on the internet at their front pages will confirm this irrevocably. For me Charlie Hebdo sharpened a stick and then poked it into a sleeping dog repeatedly until the dog bit them. It’s a pity that some died who are not involved in the dynamic of their quarrel with religion.Let's hope that more don't die if the conflict generated by Charlie Hebdo and the jihadists broadens.


  1. I suppose it depends what you mean by responsibility. If you mean moral responsibility, then I would disagree; for, as Charbonnier himself said:

    "It is like saying a woman who has been raped is to blame because she wore a miniskirt. We are 'provocateurs' we are wearing a miniskirt but who is guilty? The person in the miniskirt or the rapist?"

  2. Your, or Charbonnier's question betrays an assumption that both parties cannot be guilty of wrong at the same time. It implies moral failing is mutually exclusive and cannot coexist. This is a clear mistake. Let's say Charlie Hebdo's error was 20% wrong and the Jihadis' actions were 95% wrong on a scale of wrongness. Both wrongs can clearly co-exist. One sees such situations all the time at school. A kid swears at another and the latter knocks his teeth out. The first kid was wrong. The second was wronger. As for the rape situation: a woman who gets blind drunk and lies around with her skirt round her waist is behaving wrongly - let's say 10%. The man who takes advantage of the situation and rapes her is 85% wrong. Both are wrong.

  3. This would most certainly piss off many feminists who do not advocate any sort of victim blaming for rape.

    It's about moral responsibility. If I walked about town with swanky jewelery and obvious money on me, it is still the moral actions of the thief that does the stealing.

    Of course, analogies are always limited.

    In fact, I must look into the morality of entrapment and temptation in this manner.

    1. Yes, analogies are limited as they don't compare like with like. I am under no illusion that such a view would be castigated by a certain kind of feminist. My answer to them is that the act of rape by a male is grave offence deserving of severe punishment. I would also say to them that all humans have a responsibility for all of their behaviour in all spheres, including the sexual. A man has to be mindful of how he conducts himself given that he is a sexual being and that his mere presence has sexual significance. The same is true of women. As men can fail in such conduct (by being too familiar and frightening women for instance) so can women although women fail in different ways from men. In the same way men and women have to conduct themselves responsibly in a financial context when handling cash for example. Everything we are deserves awareness and consideration.

      A rape involves two people by definition. In such situations one can assess the conduct of each party separately. The man's conduct, if it is true rape, will always be deplorable. The woman can be entirely innocent or can be guilty of bad conduct quite separately. The fact that she conducts herself badly does not have to be linked causally to the man's act of rape i.e. to excuse the rape in any way. That is what the feminists you mention do (to link the two actions causally)and that is what they would accuse me of doing. I make no causal connection. I just say that it is quite possible that a rape victim may have behaved badly quite independently of the rapist. The two are not mutually exclusive.

      Parents will continue to counsel their teenage daughters about how they conduct themselves as sexual beings and that counsel is important because there is a right and wrong conduct in this sphere.

      Similarly, the actions of the jihadi were deplorable and outrageous. This fact does not obviate the fact that Charlie Hebdo behaved badly. Even if the Jihadi had never arrived and carried out the massacre, I would have criticised the behaviour of Charlie Hebdo. If a girl behaves as I described in the first post I made and she didn't get raped her behaviour would still be subject to criticism. The way in which the feminists try to make a causal link is the mistake. It's a logical error which misrepresents reality. It also gives carte blanche to women to behave in any way they want and never be subject to the censure that we are all subject to at times. It conveniently shifts all blame for everything at all times onto men. That is a ridiculous feminism as women are moral creatures just as men are.

      The jihadi were wrong. Charlie Hebdo were wrong. The jihadis' wrong was more grave than the journalists'.

    2. I broadly get what you are saying, however I very much disagree in your claims that they acted deplorably.

      What this means is one set of people can safeguard an idea as to be immune from attack, or claim what is or is not right or wrong based on their own belief structure.

      We have
      1) the idea that the prophet cannot have an image made of him - it is morally wrong
      2) these images were worthy of death to the creators

      This opens up a can of worms. I could get together with you and call ourselves a religion, and state that ANY art is unlawful / an insult to our religion and it should be acted upon vengefully by death.

      So we get this my right vs your right need for hierarchy. On nominalism, rights are merely conceptual constructions, which to me is obviously true.

      My right to freedom of speech buts against someone else's right for not freedom fo speech. And one set gets to kill people on account of it.

      SO I do not think it is deplorable. Perhaps dicing with death, and problematic from a consequence point of view, but not deplorable.

      In other words, they were not intrinsically, morally wrong to produce those pictures. Why do the jihadis get to dictate here what is wrong. Wrong just becomes a subjective term for an act which pisses off the person with the perceived wrong one to them.

  4. I suppose the difference with entrapment is the intention:

    "Okay, so there may be a legal distinction, but I’m not so sure it’s a distinction with a real difference, morally speaking. Because if a given bait car were not parked at a specific location, or a bait wallet left on a specific park bench, there wouldn’t be a potential crime to be committed, and arguably, parking a car in a vulnerable location, and leaving it unlocked, or leaving a wallet on a park bench, is enticing someone towards committing a particular evil that they wouldn’t have otherwise committed, had not the police dangled the carrot in front of them, even if not actually goading them into taking it. It’s like punishing an evil thought or impulse, by providing an easy target for that particular impulse. When it nabs a first-time offender, how can anyone reasonably conclude otherwise? Is such enticement fundamentally that different from entrapment?"

    So they intend for people to commit that crime, whereas this is not necessarily the case for rape etc.

  5. The supernatural or the extra-physical to the rescue

    A young woman allows herself to become blind drunk. She collapses with her skirt around her waist, her underwear on display. A young man takes advantage of this situation and rapes her.

    Let’s be very provocative and draw up a charge sheet for each participant in this dismal scenario.

    The young woman

    In spite of her mother and father’s warning about how she could conduct herself, this young woman has carelessly exposed herself to the following:

    1) The risk of sexual violation
    2) The risk of physical violence
    3) The risk of unwanted pregnancy

    In this sense she has failed to look after herself. This is a duty she owes herself. Every parent tells their teenage daughter as much.

    The situation that resulted has led to a huge amount of bad feeling between two families. In addition her behaviour has led to the expense of a large amount of both police and judicial time and money.

    If she had not been raped the way she conducted herself could still have been criticized as it exposed her to an unacceptable risk that such things might happen. It involved a large degree of irresponsibility and naivety.

    The male rapist

    The rapist is guilty of taking advantage of a woman. In this case, rather than using superior physical strength or threat of violence he exploited her debilitated state to gratify himself. This is selfish. He invaded the woman in a most intimate way without permission. He endangered her with disease and unwelcome pregnancy.

    Ina addition he caused a situation likely to lead to extremely bad feeling between two families. Furthermore his behaviour has led to the expense of a large amount of both police, judicial and penal time and money.

    If his victim had not behaved irresponsibly and had been totally sensible he would still have been culpable of heinous behaviour.

    The dichotomy

    A certain kind of feminist would attack me for making a causal link between the woman’s behaviour and the rape. They would say that I am trying to exonerate the rapist by passing all of the blame to the woman. They would say I am saying the woman was an agent provocateur and “asked for it”.

    Another person might say that the young woman can behave however she likes and, if she is raped, all of the blame lies for the situation with the rapist.

    These are two extreme views at opposite ends of the spectrum. How are we to reconcile or resolve them?

    Continued in next comment box

    1. (continued from previous box)

      The Supernatural to the rescue!

      Let’s look at what actually happens in this kind of situation. The woman shows her knickers in an abandoned pose. The young man becomes sexually aroused. Allowing yourself to give off such a strong sexual signal in a state of abandonment is irresponsible precisely because it may cause such unwelcome attention. At this early stage this is an entirely physical or natural situation in which behaviour at an animal level is exhibited. The woman gives an animal signal, willingly or not. The man experiences animal physical arousal in the form of an erection perhaps. The woman has contributed to this regrettable situation, which is why she bears some culpability. She has given out a signal whose consequences she would not normally want to deal with. At this point the man is not culpable. His physical body has behaved as physical bodies are wont to behave. Culpability on his part kicks in at the next stage for him. Observing how his body is responding to the physical signal the woman has given to him, a part of him which is not purely physical but which is observing the physical has a decision to make. That part of him is extra-physical, or, to use a similar term, super-natural. It is this part of him which is put on trial if and when it/he makes a bad decision. This part of him is not present in animals. It only seems to occur in humans. He chooses to let his physical desires have free rein and rapes the woman. He is put on trial because of his dreadful decision which took no account of the woman’s inability to consent or refuse. In the same court the woman could be impugned for her failure to use the super-natural element of herself because she allowed it to be compromised and eliminated by alcohol, thus rendering herself a danger to herself and to society.

      (continued in next box)

  6. (continued from box above)

    So the man is on trial, not for having sex but for allowing himself to have sex at the wrong time. It is the part of him that gave the permission to go ahead in these unpropitious circumstances that is on trial.

    The woman can be criticized (only - as she has done nothing illegal) for driving the powerful car of female sexuality irresponsibly.

    Thus, although there is a causal link between the woman’s physical behaviour and the state of sexual arousal that the man enters into, there is no causal link between the decision made by the super-natural part of the man and the woman’s behaviour. This disentangles the separate behaviour of the two parties and removes the dichotomy described above and the accusations of my or others’ placing all of the blame unjustifiably on one or the other party. In this way their separate behaviours can be assessed separately and found wanting to different degrees separately without any unfortunate causal link.

    How does this relate to Charlie Hebdo? The crimes here were not caused by the kind of physical mechanism of arousal present in the sexuality we share with the animals. In this sense the situation involves crimes of the super-natural judgment on both sides.

    Charlie Hebdo went out their way to detect the most sensitive area of their opponents’ skin and then stuck a needle in it repeatedly. If they had not been massacred this would still have been regrettable behaviour in human terms. It is unkind and anti-social. They may have wished to change their opponents’ in their primitive beliefs. This was not the way to go about that end.

    The Jihadis chose to murder the journalists. This is completely unacceptable in a society where it is agreed that the pen, or the word, is the way in which we conduct debate and express dissent and try to change things. Their behaviour was, thus childish, uncivilized and entrained grief in the friends and relatives of the journalists and enormous expense on the part of society in the form of policing etc. If they had murdered the journalists without their provocation it would have been similarly impugnable.

    So, it is easier to disentangle the two sets of behaviour than in the more complex case of the rape as the crimes on both sides were wrong judgment calls made by the super-natural faculty of judgment on each side, which are not causally connected to each other in any way.

    Both situations demonstrate how our human society works on suppositions based on the actions of faculties, which are not present in animals. It is this faculty wherein dwells all that is human. I cannot fully describe it but it is the vessel which contains our ability to choose (our free-will), our moral sense, and the separate consciousness which observes and controls the behaviour of our physical body.

    If you subtract this quantity (whatever it is) the human edifice collapses.

  7. "Charlie Hebdo went out their way to detect the most sensitive area of their opponents’ skin and then stuck a needle in it repeatedly. "

    What if the claim that the needle causes pain from the 'victim'is iteself morally wrong.

    ie to claim that pictures of Mo shouldn't happen and are insulting and deserve vengeance are themselves morally bankrupt.

    After all, it was not Qu'ranic, but from the later Hadith anyway.

    Or, to put it another way, complete and utter bullshit.

    1. I'll rephrase your voicing of what I said in your

      "pictures of Mo shouldn't happen and are insulting and deserve vengeance "

      I'd rather say that the pictures were unwise, unkind, ill-advised - not the best way touring about change in Islam. I'd stop there. I don't think at any point I said they deserved vengeance and to suggest that I did without any evidence seems uncharacteristically sloppy and intemperate of you JP.

      One has to address the current adherents of Islam. Although the tradition of not showing pictures is more recent it certainly extends to beyond the lifetimes of those currently alive.

  8. Or if, I'm a bit confused, you are saying that all Muslims, rather than me, "claim that pictures of Mo shouldn't happen and are insulting and deserve vengeance"

    then Charlie Hebdo's modus operandi might seem justified. However, the reality is a bit more nuanced than that. There are plenty of Muslims- probably the majority in this country, who certainly would not support the last part of your voicing ("deserve vengeance" -presumably of the sort shown in the massacre). I know plenty such real people (parents at my school for example) who deserve much more consideration and kindness than the Charlie Hebdo method. I say this even though I believe that Islam is an outdated religion past its sell by date. Its a question of how you conduct yourself towards any human being regardless of the religious tradition into which they were born. For me Charlie Hebdo failed in this respect and behaved in way which disrespected their simple humanity (this has nothing to do with their religion).

    1. Sorry - ideas keep occurring to me. Here's an interesting oxymoron.
      While being partially right in thinking that the current form of Islam is past its sell-by date and unsuitable for the modern world the journalists of Charlie Hebdo were not necessarily better people than many Muslims. Goodness is not congruent with intellectual rightness. One can be right and still conduct oneself in an arrogant manner i.e. in the casual assumption of moral superiority in one's person because one has perceived an intellectual shortcoming. For me the Charlie cartoons were redolent of such arrogance in their putting aside of normal proprieties in the case of a certain set of fellow humans.

    2. Just to clarify - Subbuteo above is also me!

      Finally, which does one prefer - to set up a warlike opposition with the WHOLE of Islam or to persuade gently on one's attempt to bring Islam into the modern world. Which is most likely to succeed? Charlie Hebdo made their choice and reaped war. To say this is not to advocate cowardice but sagacity.

    3. I keep coming back to the idea that the Jihadis are getting to define what is good or not and that definition is based on something that everyone else outside the Muslim world deems as nonsense.

      What do you say to you and I creating a religion and defining what OTHER people can and can't do? Even if we thought that our religion was true.

      This is the confrontation of ideas.

    4. "Finally, which does one prefer - to set up a warlike opposition with the WHOLE of Islam or to persuade gently on one's attempt to bring Islam into the modern world. Which is most likely to succeed? Charlie Hebdo made their choice and reaped war. To say this is not to advocate cowardice but sagacity."

      I am in agreement with this.

      It comes back to this point again, though: Satirical cartoons of anyone else in the world are fair game, but Jihadis have set their own agenda and rules that no one else agrees with, and then threaten opposition on death. I cannot abide this. In that way, I support what CH did.

      Where this approach gets into difficulty is with hate crime stuff. ie pictures of racist bigotry etc - how does that fit with freedom of expression? Do these pictures fit into that category?

      This is why complete freeddom of speech is entirely problematic anyway.

    5. Seems like we agree on a lot then. Charlie Hebdo's cartoons would not have been allowed in UK as they might have fitted into the category of inciting hatred. They are essentially adolescent, unsubtle and unfunny, but happen to coincide with French Revolution ideology when churches were made into prisons and tennis courts and Temples of Reason were set up by murderous bastards like Robespierre. It wasn't a nice time so why hark back to it's ethos?

      I also agree that Jihadis have no right to impose sharia on us as they seem to have attempted to do in Paris. If they do in this way we fill the buggers full of lead. This is certainly the confrontation of ideas. It only needs to be weaponised, though, when someone else chooses to weaponise it as the jihadis did.

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  10. See latest Private Eye. Full of comment on Charlie Hebdo. Best cartoon shows a little girl at her school desk with her hand up - Please Miss, do I still have the right not to offend? -