In what has come to be called the “PC wars” in popular culture, most arguments are, at heart, about the questions of “is this thing offensive” or “does this thing deserve to be criticized?” Some aren’t comfortable with even that, but those perimeters are generally where the argument lies.
Do you know where the argument shouldn’t ever be? “Do the creators of the thing deserve to be murdered?”
That’s how I felt following the news that Islamist gunmen had broken into the offices of the satirical French publication Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people, including the top editor, cartoonists and police officers. Murder is wrong. Murdering journalists and cartoonists in reaction to their work is downright evil. There’s no defense for those murders whatsoever, and it appears that virtually everyone across the political spectrum in the U.S. agrees.
And I think that says something. In America, anyway, people argue that movies, TV shows and songs are offensive, that they’re terrible or racist or sexist or “problematic” or even, in some cases, that they be banned. You don’t ever hear anyone claim, in any seriousness, that the creator of that thing should be killed.
Which isn’t to say that there haven’t been dumb, indefensible arguments in reaction to the news. Word of advice: If you ever, ever type the phrase “the murder is appalling, but…”- as the lefty journal Jacobin did Wednesday- just stop, step away from the computer and never, under any circumstances, hit publish.
William Donahue of the Catholic League- which is not a league at all but just one man, a malignant clown who’s built a career on channeling all the worst, censorious impulses of the identity politics left into conservative Catholicism, as well as gay-bashing – published a dumb letter of his own. In it, he argued that the editor of Charlie Hebdo– who had been murdered only hours before- “didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death.” Donahue also got a “Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated. But…” in there as well.
Then there’s that pathetic strawman fake Islamist “cleric,” Anjam Choudary, was brought on to Fox News for another pretend “debate” with Sean Hannity- and the increasingly odious USA Today even ran an op-ed by him. Guys- Choudary isn’t really a jihadist! He’s just some schmuck who makes up shocking stuff so he’ll get invited on TV!
Then there are the loathsome bigots of the mostly blog-based “anti-jihad” movement, who are trying really, really hard, through the outrage, to contain their unabashed glee.
I yield to no one in my disgust for radical Islam, especially the violent variety. It’s also hard not to look with scorn on those who hate Muslims and look at a tragic massacre as great news for their agenda and worldview. Moreover, it’s beyond ridiculous for these people to tie radical Islamists and/or murders to Barack Obama or “The Left,” as though there’s anything liberal about gunning down journalists and cartoonists.
When it comes to the work of the “anti-jihad movement,” I like to apply a simple four-part litmus test: 1. Read the thing the person wrote or said. 2. Go through and change every instance of “Muslim” to “Jew” and “Islam” to “Judaism.” 3. Read it again. 4. Ask whether or not the new article sounds suspiciously like Nazi propaganda. This is a test Pamela Geller has never passed in her entire career.
Last week, a handful of friends and relatives of mine, most of them Jewish, were approvingly passing around an article about huge anti-Muslim rallies held in Germany, in which demonstrators called for crackdowns on Muslim immigration. Massive rallies, united against one particular religion, in Germany? That strikes me as something that should maybe give Jewish people pause.
There are debates to be had about freedom of speech and religion, and what to do when they come into conflict. There will be further arguments about the cartoons and whether they were offensive, and about how to prevent tragedies like this in the future. I just wish that next time there’s an “is it offensive” debate, with the authors of the cartoons were alive to participate in it.