Thursday 8 January 2015

Provocation and stupidity.

On days like today, I expect hordes of bien-pensants bastards to be eagerly queuing up to blame the victims for their own murders. Give it a day, maybe two. But The Financial Times are apparently trying to set some sort of appeasement speed record, so jumped the queue and published a quite despicable piece by Tony Barber while the bodies were still warm. Publish and be damned — and they are.

This is their current version of the article, with the rather disingenuous disclaimer

This article is an expanded and updated version of an earlier blog posted on January 7

Expanded and updated? Redacted in the face of over a thousand hostile comments, more like. The particularly nasty bits of the original are preserved here:

In other words, Charlie Hebdo has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling French Muslims. If the magazine stops just short of outright insults, it is nevertheless not the most convincing champion of the principle of freedom of speech. France is the land of Voltaire, but too often editorial foolishness has prevailed at Charlie Hebdo.

This is not in the slightest to condone the murderers, who must be caught and punished, or to suggest that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion. It is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo, and Denmark's Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims, but are actually just being stupid.

Perhaps Tony Barber thinks that he, a man who invokes Voltaire only to undermine him, is a convincing champion of the principle of freedom of speech. The freedom to say whatever you want, so long as you agree only to say what the men with guns tell you to. No thanks.

Here's what the "stupid" Charb said in 2012:

"We are provocative today. We will be provocative tomorrow. I do this because it's our job to draw about actuality," he said.

He said his job was not to defend freedom of speech. "But without freedom of speech we are dead. We can't live in a country without freedom of speech. I prefer to die than live like a rat."

Barber is apparently too fucking thick to appreciate that the staff of Charlie-Hebdo were bravely fighting for exactly what makes his own job possible. They weren't stupid; their latest publication wasn't a fuck-up. They knew the risks, and took them anyway — including publishing the Danish cartoons back when every newspaper in the UK bravely declined to do so. I appreciate why an editor might choose not to publish such things, but I wish they'd be honest about it: just admit they're frightened. A lot of us are, and that's understandable — and worth talking about. Instead, time and time again, we have to put up with this mealy-mouthed smug bollocks about how "We're not frightened, oh no, and we're still staunch supporters of the freedom of the press, but the thing is, we're just far more intelligent and sensitive than those crass cartoonists. Sensitive to the people who are threatening to kill us if we don't do what they want. But we're not frightened. Honestly, what a preposterous notion."

Even redacted, Barber's piece is still awful. He wants to talk about the real threat facing France: the possibility that Le Front National might get more votes.

Surveys show that a majority of French people rejects racism and dislikes extremism

he helpfully informs us, referring not to the extremism of the Al Qaeda cell who gunned down twelve innocent people in cold blood today but to the extremism of people who might restrict immigration.

Look, I have no particular love for France's (or any country's) National Front, but, whatever we might think of their manifesto, can we at least agree that they don't commit mass murder? And that, therefore, while the bodybags are still being wheeled out of the building, the Real Problem That Needs To Be Addressed is not that someone somewhere might consider voting for them? The real problem is the mass murder. The real problem is the assault on freedom of speech. If you're a journalist and that assault has worked on you, that is understandable and I sympathise, I really do. But what you need to do is shut up. Ignore the subject. Go write a piece about trout fishing. Don't try to pretend you're supporting the cause you have so readily abandoned by pissing on the graves of those who died for it.

As an antidote to Barber's despicable swill, I recommend reading Claire Berlinski's visceral reaction. She was there. And she has something more accurate and more distressing to say about freedom of speech:

President François Hollande said the trivial: “No barbaric act will ever extinguish the freedom of the press.” That the statement is self-falsifying seemed to bother him little: That barbaric act literally extinguished the press. Literally. They are dead. Their freedom is thus of little relevance.

Charb, Cabu, Tignous, Honoré, Wolinski, Bernard Maris, Elsa Cayat, Frédéric Boisseau, Michel Renaud, Moustapha Ourad, Merabet Ahmed, Franck Brinsolaro: Rest in peace.

Philippe Lancon, Fabrice Nicolino, Laurent Sourisseau, and the unnamed police officers: Get well soon.

Tony Barber: Go to hell.


  1. Any chance of organising a sweepstake on the first weaselly article in the Guardian excusing this barbarity?
    Like you, I give it two days, probably in Saturday's edition. Or maybe in the Obscurer on Sunday?

  2. They're edging towards it already:

  3. Anonymous1:53 pm

    The terrorists have not been defeated by photos of crowds gathering in a public place, or by satirical cartoons of pencil towers.
    Not that these images aren't significant (and moving), but they fall short of the one likeness that would signify a complete response.

    We all know what that image is - it's the one they're not showing.

    Proper analysis and debate is being stifled by the refusal of the press to accept that their self-censorship is borne out of fear-and-fear-alone.
    Respect has no place in this debate. Freedom of speech doesn't just include the freedom to insult other people's strongly held beliefs, that's the only thing it means.

    The cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were not targeted because they showed Muhammad, but because nobody else dared to.


Publish and be damned.