Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tout le monde est Charlie, ça finira par ne plus être chic!

On March 8, Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury strip paid an eloquent tribute to the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists murdered on January 7, making a loving use of some of their own best images (Christ I love that Benedict XVI) and showing, incidentally, one way of taunting the murderers without strictly violating the Salafist rules against the visual depiction of the Prophet:

On April 10, in a ceremony at Long Island University, Trudeau became the first cartoonist to receive a George Polk Career Award for his services to journalism, and made some remarks in his acceptance speech about satire, in which he questioned the editorial conduct of Charlie Hebdo since the killings:
By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.
So the right wing went nuts, calling the words "a bitter swipe" (New York Post) and "obscene" (ditto), accusing him of violating his own principles by "punching 12 of his dead colleagues" (Dead Breitbart, find it yourself), and analogizing it to slut-shaming a rape victim:
Charlie Hebdo's nationally beloved cartoonists were massacred and yet, Trudeau thinks its helpful to contextualize their deaths by characterizing them as hate-spewing fanatics. This is the free speech equivalent of suggesting they had it coming because they were wearing short skirts. (Mark Hemingway, Weekly Standard)
And David Frum at the Atlantic doubles down, dropping the analogical veil and directly charging Trudeau with blaming the victims for their own deaths (apropos, his name is not a preposition, but Yiddish for "pious"). He does it with a very Douthatian dishonesty, too; since Trudeau doesn't in fact do that, Frum tells us what Trudeau says about the events in Denmark in September 2005 and what he says about the events in France after the murders in February 2015 as evidence and then just sort of slips into misremembering it as a kind of personal matter between the September 2012 cartoons in Charlie by Cabu and Wolinksi and Charb and the killers:
To fix the blame for the killing on the murdered journalists, rather than the gunmen, Trudeau invoked the underdog status of the latter:
Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.
Had the gunmen been “privileged,” then presumably the cartoons would have been commendable satire. The cartoonists would then have been martyrs to free speech. But since the gunmen were “non-privileged,” the responsibility for their actions shifts to the people they targeted, robbing them of agency. It’s almost as if he thinks of underdogs as literal dogs. If a dog bites a person who touches its dinner, we don’t blame the dog. The dog can’t help itself. The person should have known better.
On first reading, then, Trudeau is presenting us with a clear and executable moral theory:
1. Identify the bearer of privilege.
2. Hold the privilege-bearer responsible.
It's funny how Frum seems to think the cartoons of 2012 were mockeries of the gunmen. Or maybe not so funny: it's equating the entire French Muslim community—the people the cartoons were meant to provoke—with the three shooters of 2015, in the way Luther and Torquemada conflated the entire Jewish community of Roman Palestine with the Jerusalem crowd that chose Barabbas over Jesus for an Imperial pardon, in other words a blood libel; approximately 99.99999% of French Muslims have never harmed a cartoonist, or shoppers at a Kosher grocery either. While Trudeau himself did explicitly mock the gunmen in January, in the strip reproduced above, along with many other fine cartoonists (but Frum doesn't presumably read Doonesbury, so how could he know?).

At the same time, come to think of it, right after the killings, as Frum was premonitorily blaming European Muslims, for the fascist violence that "they" (again, the whole community, not the three shooters) might soon be bringing on themselves:
Yet European Muslim communities do have something to fear. Squeezed by high unemployment, frightened by violence and disorder, European electorates are turning to xenophobic and nationalist parties: anti-immigrant, anti-European Union....
the attack will harden attitudes inside and outside European Muslim communities, strengthening the National Front and other xenophobic parties and alienating more European Muslims from their adopted societies.
We were there too, of course, with the assistance of Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who had the good taste to be personal friends with Cabu and Wolinski and to criticize the cartoonists in September 2012, well before they were murdered. What I wanted to express then was only how sad I was, that the cartoonists should not have died and above all should not have died for those particular drawings, unfunny, misdirected, and not their best work. This, not blame for the murders, is what Trudeau (who obviously loves the dead artists) was discussing in his remarks at LIU.

And the most insulting of all was the parade of hypocrites and cons, the people regarded by Charlie Hebdo as the worst of the worst, in the funeral procession. To which pious David Frum and friends now append themselves.

[This started out as a post on Ross Douthat's column that seemed to be getting ridiculously long; I'll be posting the Douthat part later.]

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