5 thoughts and must reads connected to the Charlie Hebdo attack

1. Twelve human beings were murdered. This is the obvious part of the story, but it also needs to be stated, and then re-stated. The discourse -as discourse does- often plunges straight into analyses, take-aways, interpretations, corollaries and more, giving just the necessary amount of lip-service to the actual event “Of course nothing justifies murder, but…” No but. Not at first. We need to allow ourselves to just sit with the horror of these lives being taken.

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Ok. Now, the analyses, take-aways, et cetera.

2. To respond to this attack by attacking Muslims is to lend your support to ISIS and Al Qaeda. Juan Cole has a smart analysis of how this act was far from being an irrational raging rampage: It was a strategic attack, designed to polarize France and Europe, and to create and exacerbate conflict and tension between non-Muslims and Muslims. He writes: ”Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.” The takeaway here, which I think is exactly right, is that those who have taken it upon themselves to attack Muslims throughout France as “revenge” are lending their hand to ISIS and Al Qaeda’s sick mission.

3. ”Nobody should have been killed over those cartoons. Fuck those cartoons.” These cartoons were ugly, racist, offensive, and awful. That shouldn’t be swept over by the discourse of support Free Speech. We should support Free Speech. There is nothing in the world someone can say, write or draw that warrants their execution or murder. But do we actually want to go out and buy Charlie Hebdo copies right now? This sharp blog (from which I extracted the above quote) lays out the case for why we should think twice before doing so. ”When faced with a terrorist attack against a satirical newspaper, the appropriate response seems obvious. Don’t let the victims be silenced. Spread their work as far as it can possibly go. Laugh in the face of those savage murderers who don’t understand satire. In this case, it is the wrong response. Here’s what’s difficult to parse in the face of tragedy: yes, Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical newspaper. Its staff is white. Its cartoons often represent a certain, virulently racist brand of French xenophobia.”

4. The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere. There have been some hideous conspiracy theories flying around the twitter-sphere (and making their way into more serious news outlets (now removed)) about the “Mossad being behind the Charlie Hebdo attack.” This isn’t just anti-Semitism. It’s by-the-book anti-Semitism. I imagine that at least some of the people encountering (or spreading) this version of bigotry do not know what they are doing, and may even see themselves as edgy and progressive. I have found myself turning to – and sending out – April Rosenblum’s brilliant zine, The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere, on combatting anti-Semitism in Left movements (the reason this piece is so good is that April is actually cares about Left movements and Left values, unlike the goons over at the ADL, whose accusations of anti-Semitism are so overused that it’s hard to take them seriously, even when they are right). If anyone on the Left, Jewish or not Jewish, is serious about combatting internal bigotry, in all forms, hasn’t read this, read it. Seriously.

5. Clash-of-Civilizationists aren’t the exclusive purview of radical Islamism. They are also members of the US armed forces. As my friend Jacob pointed out to me, an article I reposted on Facebook this morning is also super relevant to this conversation. “It’s not just radical Islamists who believe in and act out a Clash of Civilizations worldview.” The piece is called: “The real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer. Why are simplistic patriots treating him as a hero?” It includes a beautiful meditation on violence, violent systems, that, while not directly connected to the subject at hand, I will include here, as a coda.

“…There is no room for the idea that Kyle might have been a good soldier but a bad guy; or a mediocre guy doing a difficult job badly; or a complex guy in a bad war who convinced himself he loved killing to cope with an impossible situation; or a straight-up serial killer exploiting an oppressive system that, yes, also employs lots of well-meaning, often impoverished, non-serial-killer people to do oppressive things over which they have no control. Or that Iraqis might be fully realised human beings with complex inner lives who find joy in food and sunshine and family, and anguish in the murders of their children. Or that you can support your country while thinking critically about its actions and its citizenry.”

UPDATE [January 10th] 6. Teju Cole’s “Unmournable Bodies” in the New Yorker basically set all of the above, but more gracefully, forcefully and expansively. If you choose just one to read, read this one.

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