Charlie Hebdo, Religious Rules, and Racism

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I will assume you are paying some attention to the discussion of racism vis-a-vis Charlie Hebdo, Muslim bashing, obnoxious religious (in this case Islamic) rules of behavior, freedom of speech and expression, etc. If you were thinking that this situation is simple you better check your thought process, or your privilege, or something. Get an oil change. Take a class on race and racism. Something. Because it is not simple.

The following thought experiment is still an oversimplification but perhaps worthy of consideration, as a means of parsing out the very first level of complexity and nuance. I’d love comments on it.

A religion includes a prohibition against drawing its prophet. Otherwise, nothing interesting happens. Practitioners of that religion are barely noticed by the rest of society. They are easily confused with Unitarians, perhaps, except this one rule they have. However, a very large percentage of people in this religion are not of the dominant ethnicity/race. Indeed, when a run of the mill working or middle class white person is found to be of that religion, almost invariably, people are at least a little surprised. So they are like brownish Unitarians. Indeed, for this thought experiment we shall call them the Brown Unitarians.

Somebody draws their prophet simply because there is a rule against it. Since these people are slightly brown, there is a certain amount of racism already baked in. This was a racist act. It might have been an intentionally racist act, or it might have been a blunder, but that would have the same effect, and failing to recognize the similarity is itself a racist act (intentional or otherwise). At the very least, the act is not polite, is harassment, and mild racism, but it could be worse depending on the nature of the drawing, the context in which it is distributed, and other factors. (It was possible that someone drew the Brown Unitarian Prophet entirely by accident, unknowingly, and the test of that is that if they are informed of the wishes of the Brown Unitarians, they make some effort to undraw the prophet and apologize, because, after all, offending people’s religion is a dick move, and why do that without a reason?)

Now imagine the same scenario as above, but previous instances in which the Brown Unitarian Prophet has been displayed have resulted in peaceful but strong protests.

In response, somebody draws the prophet again. This might be a racist act but it might also simply be a counter protest by someone concerned about free expression.

Now imagine the same scenario, but advanced one level. Some of the protests over drawing the Brown Unitarian Prophet are violent, and there is an attempt to codify the prohibition over creating this image into law.

In response, somebody draws the prophet again. This might be a racist act, or it might be a simple counter protest about free expression, but it could also be an important, not really optional, statement against the spread of bone-headed rules (like “you can’t draw a picture of my imaginary friend”) in otherwise secular society.

Now imagine the same scenario, but amid the various sorts of protests, we now have acts of deadly and bloody terrorism involving guns, bombs, etc. People linked with the drawing of the Brown Unitarian Prophet are now being gunned down now and then, occasionally in large numbers.

In response, somebody draws the prophet again. This might be a racist act … nothing that has happened has obviates that possibility. It might be a routine protest in favor of freedom of expression. But it might also be a brave and necessary, forceful and meaningful, slap in the face against those who want to repress others with their unreasonable, extremist, and very annoying rules based on dumb-ass rules about their imaginary friends.

Did you notice that this starts with the people drawing the prophet being dicks? Did you notice that the racism (actual or potential) never goes away? Did you notice all along there may be a large grey area in which racist acts can be achieved, but disguised as noble acts?

I think this is a partial analogy to the circumstances surrounding the Charlie Hebdo situation, except the beginning, the first scenario.

Thoughts?


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39 thoughts on “Charlie Hebdo, Religious Rules, and Racism

  1. I think it is too simplistic.

    It misses that the cartoons were made because those who violate the rule of the Brown Unitarianism, regardless of whether by accident or on purpose, could with certainty expect to be met by harassment and threats of violence. Not just by the Brown Unitarianists in that country, but by Brown Unitarianists from all over the world. And that for fear of that violence, certain people self-censored a method of expression that is considered completely normal in that country.

    Only then do we get to the people depicting the prophet of Brown Unitarianism because there is a rule against it.

  2. Marco, to the extent that this is simplistic, that is the intent. That is often the point of the thought experiment.

    Note that the level of response, or the reason for response, you specify is in fact one of the levels I provide in the example. Note also that this isn’t really the point. The point is that what most of us would agree is an appropriate, and necessary (as I state) reaction is also cover for racism. I’m not suggesting that nobody draws the cartoons.

  3. “Since these people are slightly brown, there is a certain amount of racism already baked in. This was a racist act.”

    I don’t see the logic of that. If the “somebody” acted “simply because there is a rule against it” they might very well have acted similarly against other religions, some of which had a different predominant skin colour. What then? Are they being racist towards everybody?

  4. “Since these people are slightly brown, there is a certain amount of racism already baked in. This was a racist act.”

    Drivel.

  5. “Note that the level of response, or the reason for response, you specify is in fact one of the levels I provide in the example”

    As I understand your scenarios, you always start with a situation where someone purposely draws the prophet because there is a rule against it. I offered you a scenario where someone drew that prophet, just because it is unknown that drawing that prophet is such a major issue for those people. In the case the person does know it is not done by the Brwon Unitarians themselves, there may be a cultural issue in understanding how much of an affront it is. That is, the person may think that *they* are not allowed to do it, but why would that rule apply to them? (compare e.g. to Japanese bowing culture, which they expect from another Japanese, but not from a non-Japanese). This failure to understand may also be related to the fact there already depictions all around, even in some Brown Unitarian countries themselves.

  6. I think that you don’t make sufficient allowance for the objective situation of Muslims in France (not to speak of elsewhere). The banning of Muslim headwear is one sign of this. The considerable ghettoisation is another: to quote a useful Wikipedia article-

    “A large number of them are located in housing projects in the suburbs. Unlike in the United States and elsewhere, the French working classes often reside outside large cities, sometimes in villes nouvelles (such as Sarcelles, from which the term sarcellite was derived), for which limited infrastructure other than sleeping dormitories has been planned, partially explaining a general boredom which some have noted contributed to the 2005 Paris suburb riots”

    “In 2010, a study entitled Are French Muslims Discriminated Against in Their Own Country? found that ‘Muslims sending out resumes in hopes of a job interview had 2.5 times less chance than Christians’ with similar credentials ‘of a positive response to their applications.’ ”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_France

    I think too that your comments while valuable in themselves perhaps beg the question (in the old sense) as to the actual relevance of cartoons in the Hebdo murders

    http://www.juancole.com/2015/01/sharpening-contradictions-satirists.html

  7. John, I’ve excluded the situation in France because I know just enough about it to know that I now virtually nothing about it. I did mention somewhere, though (this conversation is rather hot over on my facebook page) that I think there are huge differences between the US and various European countries both in the situation Muslims are in and in the basic nature of racism and related things.

    Interesting point about the actual role of the actual cartoons.

  8. It should be axiomatic that murdering people because they drew cartoons you dislike – or are even gravely offended by – is ridiculously unethical, OTT and totally wrong. That this is not the case is a condemnation of human nature generally and the particular pieces of very badly fouled diapers who committed this atrocity specifically.

    There are a number of thoughtful, defiant and generally just excellently spot on things I’ve read about this since the attack on Charlie Hebdo for instance this one :

    http://www.onbeing.org/blog/9-points-to-ponder-on-the-paris-shooting-and-charlie-hebdo/7193

    by an intelligent, good human being who happens to be also a Muslim.

    “Let us hope that the French response will look a lot like the response of Norway, whose prime minister Jens Stoltenberg said the following words just two days after the shooting during the memorial ceremony: “We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values. Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity… We will answer hatred with love.” Yes! More democracy, more openness, more humanity.
    – Omid Safi piece linked above.

    Plus there’s this :

    http://www.vox.com/2015/1/9/7521151/charlie-hebdo-jesuisahmed

    I am not Charlie. I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so.”
    – Dyah Abou Jahjah

    In addition to :

    http://imgur.com/a/zd5rl/

    Some Cartoonists and co-incidentally again I think mostly Muslims responses in the most apt form for this.

  9. Yemisi has made many good points but she also tossed nuance and thus misses a few additional good points.

    My main point is really very simple. Beware the racist who hides behind the honorable. There are times when such a hiding place is very difficult to find. There are other times when such a hiding place is capacious and welcoming. The latter applies here.

  10. There are lots of minorities in every society. In ours, there are minorities that flourish, and there are minorities that seem to suffer an interminable cycle of offence-taking and lawlessness.

    I would suggest the dominant cultural group is uniformly racist against all minorities, and the different status those minorities achieve is down to the cultures they choose to embrace, in which case some inward reflection on the meanings of the cartoon statements should be encouraged.

    ENcouraging the offence-taking is definitely not a positive step to be taking.

  11. Craig, you’ve managed to put words in my mouth I never said. (regarding cartoonists never having signed up for the rules). Not even a tiny bit close.

    “I would suggest the dominant cultural group is uniformly racist against all minorities, and the different status those minorities achieve is down to the cultures they choose to embrace, in which case some inward reflection on the meanings of the cartoon statements should be encouraged.”

    Somewhat flabbergasted by this statement. .. It is not true at all that the status of the minorities in the view of the dominant culture is up to or because of the minorities. That’s pretty blatant victim blaming and demonstrably wrong. Different minorities get different status, eventually, because of factors such as how black they are, how recently they have immigrated (if they immigrated) and how close/distant their own culture is already precieved in relation to the dominant one. Also, recent historical factors can matter. Anti-Italian feelings for a while stemmed in part from WWII in the US.

  12. What if the first drawer used to be a member of the religion? What iff the religion of the marginalised group is used to marginalise certain members of that group (for example in lot’s of religion’s women and people that have sex before marriage are frowned upon)? What if the drawer has a higher social status in society, but knows that the marginalised group would made life difficult for him if they where in charge. (for example: a rich gay man in a liberal society). What if the religion is marganilised and innocent in one country, but dominant and violent in another?

    Racism can always be a component. But raciscm does not have to be a component.

    [Yes, all good questions, and yes, always can be but does not have to be. Thing is, generally, racism is often present in a situation but not noticed, which is why it is always good to examine. -gtl]

  13. “Thoughts?”

    Sure:

    “A religion includes a prohibition against drawing its prophet.”

    That’s at most a claim and a claim of only some Muslims, who, by the way have no single central authority which alone determines such issues once and for all. So, assumption # 1 is factually incorrect.

    “Otherwise, nothing interesting happens. Practitioners of that religion are barely noticed by the rest of society.”

    Uh, no. Again, people “notice” them–even the mildest and best-assimilated. In Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle and Near East and in much of North Africa–in short, everywhere Sharia is actually applied–most notoriously, where ad-Dawlah al-Isl?m?yah f? al-‘Ir?q wash-Sh?m (hence, the Arabic acronym Da‘ish or DAESH) rule, you’d “notice” people missing one or both hands, or going around missing one or both eyes while elsewhere, others have been flogged or beheaded for “crimes” which are not punishable in a modern more humane and civilized society. But, even in “the West,” you’d notice that these people dress, speak, act and, most of all, think and believe very differently from most of the rest of the society–unless, of course, you’re simply not observant or paying attention.

    “They are easily confused with Unitarians, perhaps, except this one rule they have.”

    Nothing of the sort is the case. I have never mistaken a Muslim man or woman for a Unitarian or the converse.

    “However, a very large percentage of people in this religion are not of the dominant ethnicity/race. Indeed, when a run of the mill working or middle class white person is found to be of that religion, almost invariably, people are at least a little surprised. So they are like brownish Unitarians. Indeed, for this thought experiment we shall call them the Brown Unitarians. ”

    Finally we can agree that this is a generally accurate statement of the situation which can actually be found from time to time and place to place–esp., of course, in Europe.

    “Somebody draws their prophet simply because there is a rule against it.”

    Again, that’s just not a fair statement of the facts. It’s not just “somebody”, almost always they are professional satirists, political satirical cartoonists whose work is done in order to satirize, to make a point–almost always social and political–through such satirical drawings.

    “Since these (objecting) people are slightly brown, there is a certain amount of racism already baked in.”

    Here you impute a motive to the satirist that, really, you almost certainly don’t and cannot–in most instances–know as more than sheer conjecture. What if the satirist is himself “brown”-skinned?

    “This was a racist act. It might have been an intentionally racist act, or it might have been a blunder, but that would have the same effect, and failing to recognize the similarity is itself a racist act (intentional or otherwise). At the very least, the act is not polite, is harassment, and mild racism, but it could be worse depending on the nature of the drawing, the context in which it is distributed, and other factors. (It was possible that someone drew the Brown Unitarian Prophet entirely by accident, unknowingly, and the test of that is that if they are informed of the wishes of the Brown Unitarians, they make some effort to undraw the prophet and apologize, because, after all, offending people’s religion is a dick move, and why do that without a reason?)”

    Usually–I’d say almost without exception, that is a lot of hooey. The acts don’t qualify as what we’d ordinarily regard as “racism”. However, it is true that parody, satire, are very often viewed–especially by those satirized or others close to them–as impolite. That’s about the worst we can charge against it. How’s that, versus, say, hot-blooded murder?

    “Now imagine the same scenario as above, but previous instances in which the Brown Unitarian Prophet has been displayed have resulted in peaceful but strong protests.”

    That’s a cinch.

    “In response, somebody draws the prophet again. This might be a racist act but it might also simply be a counter protest by someone concerned about free expression.”

    Quite.

    “Now imagine the same scenario, but advanced one level. Some of the protests over drawing the Brown Unitarian Prophet are violent, and there is an attempt to codify the prohibition over creating this image into law.”

    Imagine it if you like but in few if any places–and certainly nowhere in Europe is there any such “codification”. Once upon a time in Europe there were laws against blasphemy–and maybe in some places these remain unrepealed as dead-letters in the law codes, but nowhere in the more humane and civilized world are such laws still applied.

    “In response, somebody draws the prophet again. This might be a racist act, or it might be a simple counter protest about free expression, but it could also be an important, not really optional, statement against the spread of bone-headed rules (like “you can’t draw a picture of my imaginary friend”) in otherwise secular society.”

    “Did you notice that this starts with the people drawing the prophet being dicks?”

    Not necessarily, no.

    “Did you notice that the racism (actual or potential) never goes away?”

    As far as I’m concerned, it was assumed without necessary or good cause in the first place.

    “Did you notice all along there may be a large grey area in which racist acts can be achieved, but disguised as noble acts?”

    I do notice that but, in a free and tolerant society, we should deal with these piece-meal and case by case, not by granting blanket exceptional protections against any and all potentials for “giving offence.”

    My observations have well over a decade of direct personal experience living in the very neighborhoods where the Charlie Hebdo massacre occurred. A good ten or fifiteen-minute walk north of the place where C.H. had its office–along, say, Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi or Rue Jean-Pierre-Timbaud and you are in the midst of one of the most characteristically Muslem of neighborhoods outside of the sururban towns which ring the Parisian city limits.

  14. Pretend you’re a scientist–or even just a student of social studies. You’re offered the following news brief:

    “Naveed Ahmed, 41, pleads guilty to murder of Tahira Ahmed, 38, at their home in Northolt, west London, last year” — … Naveed Ahmed, 41, initially denied the murder of Tahira Ahmed, 38, at their home in Merton Avenue in Northolt, west London, on 27 May last year.”

    Quiz :

    Q1: How would you reason? Solely upon this excerpt from a report, indicate which of the following you suspect as the most likely to be true about Mr. Ahmed:

    a) He’s a Unitarian church member
    b) He’s a member of a Muslim sect– i.e. Sunni or Shi’a
    c) He’s an atheist.
    d) His religious beliefs, if any, had strictly nothing to do with any of the antecedents of the act of beheading his wife.
    Q2: To consider Q1, above, is prima facie evidence that one …

    a) is a racist
    b) is not a racist
    c) neither a) nor b) above
    d) is not prima facie evidence at all
    e) both c) and d) above

  15. @12 : Astrostevo, speaking for yourself–rather than for any of those now dead and departed who’d been concerned– and leaving aside the offense of murder per se and in isolation, did the Kouachi brothers, by their massacre of the Charlie Hebdo staff, offend any of your beliefs, which you hold on principle, concerning free-speech rights, free press rights?

    Unless it’s supposed that some rights “cancel out” “other” rights, where’s the ground for feeling conflicted?

    The offense taken by Muslims at the publication of cartoons (supposedly) depicting the prophet Mohammed and their right to peacefully demomstrate their objections as well as the right of the political satirists at Charlie Hebdo to take offense at various religious beliefs and practices and, in objecting to them, make them targets of their satire–both of these are founded on the same right, the right to think and to speak or publish otherwise express one’s beliefs non-violently.

    Of the two–C.H. satirists versus the Kouachi brothers–-only the latter’s acts actually denied anyone the free exercise of his rights, correct?

  16. Charie Hebdo is not about free speech

    The terrorist attack in Paris was done by individuals that seem to have felt they were marginalized by society. These are the people who join cults, gangs and apparently ISIS, ISIL. I have read the Quran and I know about the history of the Muslim religion as well as the life of the Prophet Mohammed and the millions of “peace loving Muslims” that follow his words. It hurts me that people of any decent religion can find a way to radicalize it to the point of killing people, blowing up 10 year old babies, indiscriminately kill those who are not of like mind despite also being Muslims and feeling justified and righteous believing a loving God, their God, our God would bless such barbarism. I do not believe that most Muslims agree with the behavior of these extremists and like many of us, are praying to God for it to stop.
    In Medina, when Mohammed was living there with his first followers, Mohammed lived amongst Christians and Jews. At that time, no one was forced to become a Muslim but instead they were respected as “people of the book,” although thought to be severely misguided. How many Christian sects think the same of other Christian sects. This is 2015, not the dark ages where “the Christians” went to Constantinople and slaughtered Muslims and then the Muslims returned the deed.
    Ordinary Muslims by nature are peaceful, it is the leaders that become corrupted by the power they have, which is no different than so many other religions. We have not forgotten about the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland for so many years. What happened to the peaceful legacies of people like Mother Teresa and Ghandi?
    May God comfort the family’s of the people who were killed. Terrorism needs to end. Whether under the guise of humor or anything else, I disagree wholeheartedly that any religion should make fun of another person’s religion. When humor is done to instigate and agitate unstable people who like to kill along with hurting and angering people who are not terrorists, I think that kind of humor is unnecessary and in poor taste. Did those people not remember Rushdi?
    We must learn to respect each other and our social and religious differences. We are all human beings, we are all Children of God and for those of us who may be wrong about our beliefs, please remember, God is the Judge and He will Righteously judge us all in the end, it is not our job to judge each other.
    Our only job is to love God, serve Him and treat others as we want to be treated. I am sure if a magazine or newspaper print Jesus in a disgraceful way, we would be up in arms and would not find it funny at all. Who knows how some radical Christian would react.
    Please, pray for each other and pray for peace. Pray that people who are kidnapped come home and pray that we somehow one day soon, remember that we are ALL children of God. We probably have so much rain right now because He is crying at what we do to each other.
    God bless.

  17. Is it a thought experiment in needs for staying within the initial framing?

    If not, then what about adding some more context?

    – Some people in the “drawing team” are culturally originating from the “brownish” Unitarians but are not Unitarians themselves. (i.e. they are culturally affiliated but not cultly affiliated).

    – Some people in the drawing team have been happily living in romance relationships with “brownish” moderate Unitarians.

    – the “drawing team” has been the most vocal team with regard to international conflict somewhere at another place, involving two different Unitarian sects, and consistantly showing support to the local “brownish” Unitarians right to live at peace there.

    – the drawing team has consistantly been involved in the right for “brownish” not-only-unitarians to migrate locally and get the same rights as not-“brownish” Not-Unitarians-or-not.

    – the “drawing team” has never been only expressing their views from drawings but also been writing texts accompanying the drawings where it has always been cristal-clear that their critic was against the specific Unitarian rule, nothing else.

    So what do these additions change with regard to the hypothesis that racism may have been involved since the start?

    ========================================

    I’ve also been considering making a point on the issue of CH cartoons, but I’d better start here where I feel that people are sensible enough to think first, make connections or parallels, and are not dismissive-ready but willing to engage in discussion without belittling:

    Political satirical cartoons most frequently depicts bankers, bosses or “capitalists” as _fat_ cigar-smoking smoking-wearing stereotypes. Is that commitment to fat-people bullying?

    My point is about political satirical cartoons codes. For some reasons, it is not always as simple as might seem at first. An exemple is stereotype of “a jew”: in pre-second world war times, stereotype depiction was based on ridiculous morphological mischaracterisation relative to the nose. Today, this is still found, though only in far right cartoons, while it’s been replaced by people with a kippa. This evolution was welcome (and btw it does not preclude antisemitism in the cartoons). I think given the relatively recent nature of radical islamism, cartoonists have not found a way to create a figure that is ostencibly picturing the religious bigot but not the more moderate believer yet. It is thus still in cartooning infancy and certainly would reflect inner cultural biases as a side effect.

    Last, I am definitely not saying all of this is fine or not-repulsive (I’ve never really been into cartoons mode or moods), just that grey areas for misinterpretations are easy.

  18. Oh, and I forgot highlighting a rather minor point:

    The extant to which CH was alledgely in a dominant position induces weird feelings. CH per se has always been an outcast outlier, a very weird data point, and they never reached anytime any safety level for their position.

    That’s why, even if it’s true that its members were overall from dominant situations people rightly like to call for their privilege, it’s really bizarre to suddenly have that many people crying to the wolf about people that just kept calling everybody for unsuspected privileges decades before this became a popular sport.

    It’s very difficult to express the feeling, but it’s very similar to what would happen if suddenly everybody was calling Greg Laden or mr Myers racist and sexist after they’ve been murdered by religious fanatics. The difficulty is mostly that you don’t know whether you should just laugh or cry.

  19. Proximity1, you calling the prohibition a claim does not make it go away. It is really true. Many subsets, at some times a majority of, both Islam and Judaism have prohibited drawing various things, including just “the prophet,” or humans, or all humans and animals, or in some case, simply anything at all. This is just something you did not know, and your argument that it is wrong is an argument from incredulity. So now you know. Haven’t had a chance to read the rest of your comments, but I may later.

  20. Laurent, those are all good additions but they make the thought experiment too much like real life so it becomes a description. My intention was to separate the thinking about some of these issues from the actual case, to examine it differently. But the point you make is important. I’m talking entirely about how racism hides in the reactions to events, not at CH itself. That is an important distinction. You should write more about it.

  21. Just curious – did you select the Charlie Hebdo cover image that accompanies this article on the basis that you think it expresses racism?
    Americans have a real problem with the word “black”. No doubt it stems from what they think themselves of the word “black”. Projecting your own racism onto a morbid satirical joke.

  22. And on the minorities in society thing – Asians.

    Asians do not go around trying to impose the rules of their religions on others. In fact, most of us have no idea what their religions’ (Buddhist, Shinto, Confucian) rules even are.
    Islam, though is different, we all seem to be very aware what Islam’s rules are.

    Is the difference the fault of Western civilisation, or of the minority culture that imagines its rules are relevant to non-adherents?

  23. I selected that cover because it was the first one I came across in a google search that was not about Islam. Found that, stopped looking. You’ll notice the ambiguous statement I made about it. I don’t know what to think about that cover. But that is how I selected it.

    I’m not sure what you mean by projecting racism onto a morbid satirical joke, could you be more specific?

    That comparison between “Asians” and “Islam” is clumsy and inaccurate. The vast, vast majority of Muslims are Asians, and I’m talking about the middle east as well as Indonesia, etc. You will have to refine your comment to reflect geographic and ethnic reality before I can deal with it.

  24. Greg, it seems to me that you are telling some commentators here that they are wrong or not getting the point of your article. The fact that I think it is you who is mistaken is irrelevant because you wrote “The following thought experiment is still an oversimplification but perhaps worthy of consideration, as a means of parsing out the very first level of complexity and nuance. I’d love comments on it.”

    Perhaps your thought experiment is not worthy of consideration or perhaps it is flawed.

  25. I don’t get why this seems to be a problem for people but maybe I am missing something.

    The murders of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo was a horrible act.

    Sometimes the “satire” at Charlie Hebdo could degenerate into racist caricature. Whether the guy who drew it was a Muslim or a Moroccan or whatever doesn’t really matter at that point.

    I don’t see how these things are mutually exclusive.

    I want to add something about satire and all that: there’s an old comedian’s saying about punching up and punching down. In the Case of Charlie Hebdo which they were doing wasn’t always clear. I don’t think it was always clear to the cartoonists either, being humans.

    (Tyler Perry may be black but he is still making movies all about retrograde depictions of women. Being a member of an oppressed group doesn’t prevent someone from falling into those traps).

    You know, I remember when South Park did the “Super Best Friends” episode (it was originally aired in July 2001). There’s a depiction of Mohammed in it. And you know what? Nobody cared. Comedy Central withdrew it after the flap with the cartoons in Denmark, but what’s interesting is at the time nobody cared.

    Somehow Muslims all over the place were able to deal with South Park. (I assume that in 2001 someone, somewhere in North Africa, Central Asia, India, Pakistan, or any of several million people of the Islamic faith in the west had some access to Comedy Central).

    I do think that too often westerners of a more “freethinking” bent tend to place a lot of value on transgressive acts for their own sake. That tends to color one’s perceptions a bit. It’s why some people like “un PC” humor. Just because something is transgressive to someone doesn’t make it funny or even particularly incisive. Being an outsider to “respectable” culture doesn’t seamlessly translate into the ability to always write (or draw) satire that’s any good.

    And again saying this (I don’t think) is the same as saying that it was OK for people at Charlie Hebdo to be murdered. If they had run a Neo-Nazi publication and been shot by radical Orthodox Jews it would still be terrible.

    But if you want stuff like this to not happen again it’s important to think through why anyone would do it in the first place. I mean, if I wrote about the rise of right wing extremism int he US and chose to ignore the economic dislocations and marginalization that affect white working class people in rural areas, you’d all say that was pretty stupid. And you’d be right.

    So the rise of right-wing radicals in the Islamic world (and that is what they are) can’t be understood as some innate problem of Islam any more than Tim McVeigh can be understood as some innate problem with Christianity.

    But apply this kind of analysis and all of a sudden I see “OMG you support the murderers.” Ya know, when Tim McVeigh or Anders Brevik killed a bunch of children nobody said that Christianity was a problem.

    And I don’t recall anyone getting into the free speech implications when the NAACP was bombed here in the US recently. I don’t see anyone calling for burning white churches or increased scrutiny of white people from the Southern Baptist Convention.

    Racism isn’t something you are. It’s about stuff you do. While we often use the shorthand “he’s a racist” a lot of the time that isn’t helpful, because it gets into issues of intent rather than result.

    And I will post this link, to a cartoon that I think brings out the very issues Greg is articulating here:

    http://www.sadlyno.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/joesaccoonsatire1200.jpg

  26. Those who think that racism has anything to do with critiquing and/or satirizing Islam are so hopelessly ill-informed that further discussion is pointless. This debate was settled ages ago — in public arenas with learned scholars.

    It is as ignorant as suggesting that satirizing creationism has racist undertones.

    Jesse wrote: “Somehow Muslims all over the place were able to deal with South Park”. Really? Perhaps the threats of Jihad against South Park are only malicious rumours. Here’s just one example:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zachary_Adam_Chesser

  27. Pete, how about if you tell me what you think my thought experiment is saying, and I’ll tell you if I think you’ve got it right?

  28. @Pete A — my point was that at the time it aired, nobody had a problem with it. Your guy linked to above graduated high school long after the show — and the other South Park episodes — were aired, long after the Danish Cartoons controversy. (It was 2008, BTW). So again I note: when that episode went out nobody cared.

    And you really, rally don’t understand what people are saying about this, do you? What :earned scholars” said that racism has nothing to do with critiquing Islam?

    Saying “Islam has some problems and religiously run governments are wrong for X” is NOT the same as “We shouldn’t allow Muslims in to the country” or “All Muslims support terrorism unless they explicitly say otherwise”. Do you see the difference?

    And no, critiquing creationism doesn’t always have racist undertones, but if you said “Wow, those black churches sure are full of silly fools with all their singing and dancing and praying” now you skate rather closer to that. Again, do you see the difference?

  29. RE:@ 27 Proximity1, you calling the prohibition a claim does not make it go away. It is really true. Many subsets, at some times a majority of, both Islam and Judaism have prohibited drawing various things, including just “the prophet,” or humans, or all humans and animals, or in some case, simply anything at all.”
    ————————–

    Please clarify for us: Are you seriously defending as morally just and defensible a positive right, as asserted by some people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, to proscribe any and all depictions of Mohammed? Or, do you contend only that this proscription ought to be respected out a deference for the feelings of Muslims and a polite duty not to risk offending any of them?

    My point was certainly never to try to deny that, indeed, people do assert that depictions of Mohammed are proscribed “under,” “by,” “Islam.” Instead, my point was to contend that there is neither any clear and unambiguous scriptural authority (i.e. in the text of the Quran) for that claim nor, for that matter, any human authority which rises above the level of mere scholarly opinion–which is divided on this issue.

    Second, you’ve not produced any such citation to contradict that. Instead, you’ve lamely pointed out that, my “calling the prohibition a claim does not make it go away. It is really true.”

    What’s “true”? That people claim that the proscription is founded in scriptural doctrine?–because, no, that is not true and, again, you’ve presented nothing here to indicate that it isn’t false–or that, since “people claim it” it thus ” is “true” that people claim it and that, therefore, pointing out that it is not an authoritative part of the Quran’s prescriptions and proscriptions “doesn’t make it [that people say otherwise] go away” ? To that being a fact, I say, “So what?” Many people claim lots of erroneous things. Should we respect Creationists’ beliefs because, if we do not, they demonstrably take offence at being corrected or mocked for their opinions? Is that a candidate for another such thought experiment in racism or intolerance?

    ————————–
    “The Quran, the Islamic holy book, does not explicitly prohibit the depiction of human figures; it merely condemns idolatry.[1][2] Interdictions of figurative representation are present in the hadith, among a dozen of the hadith recorded during the latter part of the period when they were being written down. Because these hadith are tied to particular events in the life of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, they need to be interpreted in order to be applied in any general manner.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aniconism_in_Islam#Theological_views
    See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depictions_of_Muhammad

  30. I guess the reason I may have (but not necessarily have) misunderstood this article and some of the comments is because:
    1. My life experiences and thought processes are not filtered/biased by life in the USA.
    2. I spent many years studying various religions and their impact on society.

    After reading the article I thought “WTF?” and felt like banging my head on the keyboard.

    Jesse wrote “… but if you said ‘Wow, those black churches sure are full of silly fools…'”. Are you serious or was this some sort of bad joke? I’ve never heard anything remotely like that said in the multi-cultural UK or in any country/nation that I’ve visited during my travels — nobody I’ve ever met in my entire life would make such an ignorant remark.

    Using logic alone, if one starts with the premise that racism may perhaps play a part in situation X or event X then then the rest of the premises (even if they are just a thought experiment) will be geared towards supporting a conclusion that racism plays a part in X. A type of argument that is unworthy of consideration because it is not even wrong.

  31. “Since these people are slightly brown, there is a certain amount of racism already baked in. This was a racist act”. So any criticism, satire or mockery of a group that is a little browner than average is racist? That is preposterous. If the criticism has nothing to do with race, it is just a criticism. Participating in the trend of calling every negative interaction between people of different color, racist is almost as destructive as racism is.

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