Pulling Charlie Together

Amidst the flurry of social media debate around the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I created this set of three more carefully considered posts:

  • #1 There Is No “Right To Offend” http://dlvr.it/835pwf
    Freedoms of expression are protected in law, but the nature of expressed content is not objectively defined as “rights” in law.
  • #2 The Court Jester http://dlvr.it/84rSXv
    Defence of such freedom covers offensive satirical humour, but social rules demand the target is an establishment in power and that anyone other than our court-jesters applies self-restraint in all but exceptional circumstances.
  • #3 Islam, We Have A Problem http://dlvr.it/84vbbY
    Where our topics are Islam and extreme islamist terrorism, we need to be careful who our targets are and not forget that Muslims – the ones that are listening – already see the problem too. The ones that aren’t listening are not hearing the subtle points of the satirical messages beyond the offense.

As I push these out through social media channels, I’m also pulling together contributions from others. (So this post will continue to be edited as I gather material and comments.)

Stephen Law @CFI_UK – What’s The Point of Lampooning Religion?

Stephen adds the Emperor’s Suit of Clothes to the “lampooning” story. Actually that’s an extension to my Court Jester point, sometimes referred to classically as The Fool. In shattering the Emperor’s delusion, it is a child amongst the authoritative establishment of the court that raises the embarrassing observation – an innocent with no voice or responsibility in the normal process and etiquette of running the court. (I often elaborate – in earlier posts – with The Fool and The Emperor’s New Clothes metaphors – just confined myself to The Court Jester in the shorter posts above.)

Here’s another useful quote from Stephen:

Perhaps it’s sometimes done for no other reason than to upset the religious. Let me be clear that I don’t approve of that (though I do defend the right of others to do it)

I don’t approve of it either, and in the posts above I make it clear I defend the freedom (there is no “right”) of individuals other than The Court Jester do it on tactical, emphatic, anger-expressing and attention-grabbing temporary grounds. I don’t defend anyone’s carte-blanche freedom to do it as a sustained assault without content also addressing some evident higher objective.

Another key paragraph from Stephen:

However, more often than not, the lampooning is done with the intention of shattering, if only for a moment, the protective façade of reverence and deference that has been erected around some iconic figure or belief, so that we can all catch a glimpse of how things really are. At such times, lampooning can become great art.

In the Emperor’s Suit of Clothes example, sure – most of the audience and the target are either oblivious to, or in denial of the point being shattered. In the religion vs alternatives “debate” we’re well past that, with established positions and differences of opinion, before we even get the extreme nut-job positions, where “reverence” is the last thing on their agenda. The people being offended already get there’s a point we’re attempting to make – there is no “shattering”. The metaphor is not really about lampooning or satire. But clearly lampooning is an artform when done well – like art, anything can be art, but it doesn’t mean anything is. (See essay #2 above.)

Robert Fisk in The Independent – Charlie Hebdo attack can be traced back to Algeria.

Robert drew a fair amount of flak along the lines of using the history to justify the atrocity – which of course he didn’t. His concluding point is pretty much the same as mine. With deep and complex history no single paragraph – let alone 140 characters – is going to convey the true depth and complexity. We need informed and attentive dialogue.

Charlie Brooker in The New Humanist

Charlie Brooker is a savagely funny satirist who targets modern irrationality. In person, he’s a more gentle soul.

Exactly. Satire is a public art form, a public service – not about individual humans being abusive or offensive to other human individuals, and Charlie (Brooker) is a professional. (See #2 The Court Jester.)

Moroccan-born Muslim, Ahmed Aboutaleb – The Mayor of Rotterdam

Moslems who don’t appreciate western freedom, pack your bags & fuck off.

As clear a statement as any, in The Mail, endorsed by (opportunist) Boris Johnson.

Frankie Boyle is of course the current archetype in the UK – my own, preferred, official court-jester.


Post Note : Kenan Malik talking in Oslo on “Freedom of speech, but …” I’m a fan of Kenan’s writing, but I disagree with his line here. Sure, there should be no “censorship” by authority. No liberal is using that kind of “but”. It’s a straw man. The “but” is simply a matter of self-responsibility. It is some people’s job and responsibility to offend and lampoon mercilessly – the court-jesters in my thesis. But for most of us, we have that right to challenge, provoke and offend, but not a right or obligation to do it gratuitously, to do it when it gets in the way of consensual progress. That’s a responsibility we all have. He says that’s just a truism – all our rights and actions come with responsibilities. Again his argument being we can’t let “authority” define that responsibility. But again that’s a straw-man to a liberal. We’re still talking self-responsibility. The “but” is simply to remind ourselves of that. Asking oneself, why should risk giving, why am I knowingly and deliberately giving, offence right now? As I’ve written in this series, circumstances vary enormously from the Spartacus moment, where to give offense is simply to assert and claim the freedom on all our behalfs when it is under threat, to more considered moments where it interferes with immediate and valued social progress. Then freedom and the but are in different places – outward defense of the right, inward reminder of the but. (In my wider agenda, this is simply the problem of “definition” – no rights and responsibilities, no “things”, should be “defined” anyway – outside an abstract modelling context. They should be “valued” in the real world.)

One thought on “Pulling Charlie Together”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.