Monday, April 27, 2015

Still Not Charlie Hebdo

The Intercept has some letters between writer Deborah Eisenberg and PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel regarding the decision to give the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo. Nossel's response occasionally comes close to the all too common tactic of equating criticism of speech with support for suppression of free expression, but for the most part these letters provide a more nuanced version of the arguments on both sides of the Charlie Hebdo than a lot of the think pieces that have tried to squeeze the discussion into a binary narrative.

Although Nossel makes many valid points, many of them are defending against arguments that Eisenberg never makes. Even in light of the pro-Hebdo points that do hit home, I still find equating Charlie Hebdo's victimhood with heroism problematic. No matter how layered some of their satire may be, they still rely on unnecessarily racist depictions and have frequently printed cartoons (particularly those of Muhammad) that are gratuitously offensive to most Muslims no matter what secondary satirical purpose they may serve. Eisenberg sums it up well in her second letter:
But ridicule of Islam and Muslims cannot in itself be considered courageous at this moment, because ridicule of Islam and Muslims is now increasingly considered acceptable in the West. However its staff and friends see it, Charlie Hebdo could well be providing many, many people with an opportunity to comfortably assume a position that they were formerly ashamed to admit. This is not a voice of dissent, this is the voice of a mob.
Give it a read. It's a little long, but well worth the time.

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