Saturday, 17 January 2015

Weekly Round Up of Charlie Hedbo

It has made me realise that secularism and detachment from religious passion and identity can't be enforced. Muslim immigrants will not become post religious over night. Neither France nor Europe shed religion in the public space in a day nor a generation. It took hundreds of years. Similarly, immigrants or Muslims living in Muslim countries cannot be expected to find humor in poking fun at holy figures. If Muslims themselves are not ready to indulge in that kind of humour, how can the French post-Charlie-Hedbo-attacks public think it is defending the truth? If the French are trying to teach secularism or atheist humour to the world, the Muslim world, they are really barking up the wrong tree. 

It's been forever since I updated my Weekly Round Up post. 

I'm going to start with rounding up the Je Suis Charlie Week and backlog the rest of it in another post. 



Needless to say the attacks horrified all of us, as is the nature of terrorist attacks. Gunmen, suicide bombers and hijackers appear out of nowhere and enact the terror of a well-planned drama. Victims ranging from school children (such as the children of the school in Peshawar, Pakistan) to religious sects (direct targets of Shiias and Ahamdis in Pakistan for example); from shoppers at a shopping mall (Westgate Shopping Mall, Nairobi, 2013) to entire communities (Boko Haram's massacre of 2000 people in Baga). Gruesome details of merciless killings fill the airwaves and the tragedy is dissected in minute detail by the media. Body counts are made. Security experts are interviewed. Survivors recount the terror. 





And the inevitable analysis, commentary and introspection commences. All kind of theories are made. Ideological sides are pitched. 

In countries like Pakistan, reasonably rational public debate remains quite limited. Being an Islamic Republic, we are still embroiled in who is the right Muslim.  Mullahs openly preachatred and celebrate killings of minorities and certain Muslim sects. TV anchors encourage murders of Ahamdis. By July 2014, almost 15_ Ahamdis were murdered including an American Ahamdi doctor who had come back to Pakistan to serve his community. The burning of Ahamdi homes in Gujranwala in July last year  was celebrated by dancing. A Christian couple was beaten, dragged from their home to a brick kiln where both worked and plunged into the fire for reportedly having blasphemed. Every year at least 1,000 Hindu girls are forcibly converted and/or kidnapped. Last year in October, the Shiia Hazara, already being massacred in what can only be described as genocide, were targeted on a bus in Quetta. 

These are just some of the headlines I remember from last year off the top of my head. Pakistan is in a moral chaos. Our very laws have criminalised an entire Islamic sect and declared them heretics. Our blasphemy laws enshrine religious fascism. 

The concept of justice holds no meaning in Pakistan and, very rarely are perpetrators punished. Murder of innocent people who belong to minorities and sectarian killings are not rationally debated on public media. 

I understand that Irfan Hussain's regular column was not printed by Dawn, one of the major English dailies. It was about one of the TV anchors I mentioned above: the infamous Amir Liaquat. 

hope you can appreciate the ambiguous moral universe I am trying to describe where tragedy, injustice and suffering are part of the daily life of the majority of Pakistanis

Folks like me deplore the marriage of church and state in our country. We are painfully aware of not only the enormous divide between the have and have not's but also abhorrent acts of violence against groups of people who are either the wrong kind of Muslims or hail from poor Hindu and Christian communities. 

The fact that Pakistan was created to protect Muslims who would have otherwise become second class citizens in an independent India after the British left is one of history's most ironic farces. 

Freedom of speech is a distant dream.

So, what does a Pakistani make of the Paris killings, the Je Suis Charlie response and the resulting backlash against Je Suis Charlie? 

My first reaction to the killings are horrified shock. 12 journalists killed in one go? It was a massacre.  


Those of us Muslims who have rejected Islam personally and religion in general feel angry that some terrorists have once again decided to defend Prophet Mohammad's honour by murder and mayhem. We are already fed up by the tyranny of the mullahs and Islam-is-under-attack mentality : protests from Cairo to Lahore to Jakarta. Men and women will take to the streets to protest the insult of Islam. Mobs might even burn down some McDonald restaurants.


In our own immediate experiences, we all know too well the danger of allowing religion to become an untouchable ideology and in one way or another battle with religious authority in the personal as well as the public sphere. We battle with the idea of a Muslim state, too. 

haven't not scanned all the Internet or Pakistani papers for a view point on the killings in France but judging from my Facebook newsfeed, Pakistanis are either very blindly angry at how Charlie Hedbo used free speech to insult their religion or very happy that millions of people showed up in Paris to protest against terrorism. 

But is there a middle and more accurate ground where a Pakistani can be allowed to stand on and talk freely and intelligently?  Can one be a Pakistani and Muslim (practicing or not) and be given a space to criticise the seemingly idiotic direction that everyone is running off to? Can I be JeNeSuisPasRacist because that is exactly what this paper was all about? And I would love it if my fellow Pakistanis would understand this fine point - that they need to feel angry not only about their religion being insulted but also how this paper went around printing racist-pig cartoons of Africans, too. Yes, Pakistanis, try to think about issues beyond your identity in the Muslim Ummah and maybe try to place yourself as humans in a global village. 






I've enjoyed discussing Charlie Hedbo on Facebook. 

It has made me realise that secularism and detachment from religious passion and identity can't be enforced. Muslim immigrants will not become post religious over night. Neither France nor Europe shed religion in the public space in a day nor a generation. It took hundreds of years. Similarly, immigrants or Muslims living in Muslim countries cannot be expected to find humor in poking fun at holy figures. If Muslims themselves are not ready to indulge in that kind of humour, how can the French post-Charlie-Hedbo-attacks public think it is defending the truth? If the French are trying to teach secularism or atheist humour to the world, the Muslim world, they are really barking up the wrong tree. 

These are some of the articles I've read:

1) In the Wake of Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech Does Not Mean Freedom From Criticism by Jacob Canfield 

"Here’s what’s difficult to parse in the face of tragedy: yes,  Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical newspaper. Its staff is white. (Update: Charlie Hebdo’s staff it not all white. See note below.) Its cartoons often represent a certain,  virulently racist brand of French xenophobia. While they generously claim to ‘attack everyone equally, ’ the cartoons they publish are intentionally anti-Islam,  and frequently sexist and homophobic." 

"Nobody should have been killed over those cartoons., Fuck those cartoons"

2) Unmournable Bodies BY TEJU COLE


"Blacks have hardly had it easier in Charlie Hebdo: one of the magazine’s cartoons depicts the Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, who is of Guianese origin, as a monkey (naturally, the defense is that a violently racist image was being used to satirize racism); another portrays Obama with the black-Sambo imagery familiar from Jim Crow-era illustrations."

3) Charlie Hebdo Is Heroic and Racist by Jordan Weissmann 


"But often, the cartoonists simply rendered Islam’s founder as a hook-nosed wretch straight out of Edward Said’s nightmares, seemingly for no purpose beyond antagonizing Muslims who, rightly or wrongly, believe that depicting Mohammed at all is blasphemous.
This, in a country where Muslims are a poor and harassed minority, maligned by a growing nationalist movement that has used liberal values like secularism and free speech to cloak garden-variety xenophobia. France is the place, remember, where the concept of free expression has failed to stop politicians from banning headscarves and burqas. Charlie Hebdo may claim to be a satirical, equal-opportunity offender. But there’s good reason critics have compared it to “a white power mag.” As Jacob Canfield wrote in an eloquent post at the Hooded Utilitarian, “White men punching down is not a recipe for good satire.”

But it’s wrong to approach this issue as an either-or question, to blaspheme or not blaspheme. Free speech allows us to say hateful, idiotic things without being punished by the government. But embracing that right means that we need to acknowledge when work is hateful or idiotic, and can’t be defended on its own terms."

"Charlie Hebdo is also a crap publication and people need to stop celebrating it and making martyrs out of its staff.
The editors, writers, and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were human beings with families, friends, and loved ones. Their deaths should be mourned for that reason. But no more so than the Sodexo building maintenance man or the two cops who were also killed in the crossfire.
I join with those who call for grief at the deaths of twelve human beings—but I’m not down with mourning the work that Charlie Hebdo was doing or standing up and saying “Je Suis Charlie,” like what they did was a holy mission. If anything the work the two cops and the maintenance guy were doing deserves more respect and probably helped a lot more people.
Let’s be real about what Charlie Hebdo is. Calling it “journalism” isn’t quite right. Even the term “satirical newspaper” puts it on the same level as The Onion, which isn’t very fair to The Onion, which strives for at least some degree of cleverness and subtlety, most of the time.
The whole reason the concept of responsible satire has been summed up as “punch up, don’t punch down” is to acknowledge that not all your targets of satire start out on an equal footing. Francois Hollande is not on the same level as girls who have been kidnapped into sexual slavery, and having the same “no-holds-barred” attitude toward them both is not the same as treating them fairly.
I mean, Muslims in France right now aren’t doing so great. The scars of the riots nine years ago are still fresh for many people, Muslims make up 60 to 70 percent of the prison population despite being less than 20 percent of the population overall, and France’s law against “religious symbols in public spaces” is specifically enforced to target Muslim women who choose to wear hijab—ironic considering we’re now touting Charlie Hebdo as a symbol of France’s staunch commitment to civil liberties.
Muslims in France are clearly worse off overall than, say, Jean Sarkozy (the son of former president Nicholas Sarkozy) and his wife Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, but Charlie Hebdo saw fit to apologize for an anti-Semitic caricature of Ms. Sebaoun-Darty and fire longtime cartoonist Siné over the incident while staunchly standing fast on their right to troll Muslims by showing Muhammad naked and bending over—which tells you something about the brand of satire they practice and, when push comes to shove, that they’d rather be aiming downward than upward."


But Rowling wasn’t alone in her disgust for Murdoch — God knows that’s a sizeable club. When Murdoch, perhaps feeling a bit more generous in his assessment of at least one of the millions of Muslims in the world, tweeted Sunday, “Extraordinary scenes in Paris today, but do not forget the heroic sacrifice of Ahmed Merabet, Muslim police officer whose funeral was today,” Aziz Ansari shot back, “Quit back peddling you racist piece of sh_t.” And in response to Murdoch’s previous claim that Muslims “be held responsible,” he asked, “Rups can we get a step by step guide? How can my 60 year old parents in NC help destroy terrorist groups? Plz advise.” Then going into full fury mode, he continued, “Are you responsible for the evil shit all Christians do or just the insane amount of evil you yourself contribute to?… @rupertmurdoch is responsible for all pedophilia committed by anyone Catholic. @rupertmurdoch why are you pro-pedophile frown emoticon … @rupertmurdoch is Christian just like Mark David Chapman who shot John Lennon. Why didn’t Rupert stop it? ‪#‎RupertsFault‬ … .@rupertmurdoch Are you responsible for the evil shit all Christians do or just the insane amount of evil you yourself contribute to? To be clear, I am not religious and have nothing against Christians or Muslims, just ignorance like what @rupertmurdoch is spreading.” And with that, the brilliant hashtag #RupertsFault bloomed, laying at the mogul’s feet responsibility for everything terrible from Uber surge pricing to Panda Express to the popularity of “The Big Bang Theory.” Well done, Twitter, well done.

6) Equal in Paris? by THOMAS CHATTERTON WILLIAMS

THE SATIRICAL WEEKLY CHARLIE HEBDO is one such thoroughly French institution. That is what you hear again and again if you criticize the content this paper trafficked in. “But you cannot understand Charlie Hebdo if you are are not French”; “Charlie Hebdo has been a pillar of the French popular culture that shaped us; It is our tradition!” dozens of friends have insisted, as if somehow all traditions are noble and worthy of upholding. One of my oldest and kindest friends from Paris, a man with a beautifully aristocratic last name, made a point the other day that seems to have become one of the default rationales: “But Charlie Hebdo offended everyone the same. My grandmother, who is a practicing Catholic, will tell you they are harsher with the Pope than with anyone else.” While this may even be true, Anatole France had the right of it when he said, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

In this era of facile hashtag activism, it is no wonder that a music journalist at a free weekly magazine was able to launch the now globally ubiquitous ‪#‎jesuischarlie‬ campaign. What is surprising is that no one seems quite able to define what these three words are supposed to mean. On the most anodyne level, they express a justified sense of grief over the senseless loss of life we all share. Beyond that, some people maintain that the slogan is itself a defense of free speech and a defiant stance against any tyrannical power that would silence it. This seems to be what the French government wishes to convey by projecting the phrase Paris est CHARLIE across the top of the Arc de Triomphe and on the face of the Hotel de Ville. But this same government, which only recently silenced the popular anti-Semitic comic Dieudonné by preemptively banning some of his shows (and is currently seeking to silence him again) is hardly intellectually consistent on the issue. Nor, for that matter, is Charlie Hebdo itself—the publication notably forced the departure of the cartoonist Siné for a column that was deemed offensively anti-Semitic in 2009.


You and I didn't like George W Bush. Remember his puerile declaration after 9/11 that "either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists"? Yet now, in the wake of another horrific terrorist attack, you appear to have updated Dubya's slogan: either you are with free speech... or you are against it. Either vous êtes Charlie Hebdo... or you're a freedom-hating fanatic.
When you say "Je suis Charlie", is that an endorsement of Charlie Hebdo's depiction of the French justice minister, Christiane Taubira, who is black, drawn as a monkey? Of crude caricatures of bulbous-nosed Arabs that must make Edward Said turn in his grave?
Lampooning racism by reproducing brazenly racist imagery is a pretty dubious satirical tactic. Also, as the former Charlie Hebdo journalist Olivier Cyran argued in 2013, an "Islamophobic neurosis gradually took over" the magazine after 9/11, which then effectively endorsed attacks on "members of a minority religion with no influence in the corridors of power".







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