FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Why Free Speech Supporters Should Still Criticise Charlie Hebdo

Durham, England.

I was first made aware of the horrific attack on Charlie Hebdo employees by my mother. She was watching the rolling news coverage, phone in hand, trying to contact my father who was travelling on the Eurostar at the time. A wave of panic rushed through me; the sense of being far removed from such events evaporated.

My dad was absolutely fine. The same cannot be said for the poor souls who lost their lives that day. As ever, social media’s armchair commentators were on hand to give their take on the events. “Je suis Charlie” quickly became a sign of solidarity for free speech advocates, but as “revenge” attacks against the French Muslim community intensified, an oft-ignored darker side to support for free speech manifested.

Admittedly, the necessary groundwork for a market anarchist conception of free speech must not involve government censorship of controversial or offensive statements (credible threats of violence notwithstanding). However, a worrying number of libertarians and liberals conflate their support for this conception of free speech with the condoning of Charlie Hebdo‘s arguably racist “satire.” Some utterly refuse to accept this charge of racism, but even those who do often attempt to justify themselves with an argument symptomatic of uncritical liberalism and libertarianism. An inflammatory cartoon depicting racial stereotypes — and indeed any behaviour specifically targeted to cause offence — is supposedly necessary to push the boundaries of free speech. It’s symptomatic of a wider phenomenon: ‘trolling’ being portrayed as liberal or libertarian.

Whilst Scott Sayre at The Atlantic has highlighted that Hebdo often targets France’s far-right racists, Slate’s Jordan Weissmann draws attention to the fact that it also uses racist imagery “in a country where Muslims are a poor and harassed minority, maligned by a growing nationalist movement that has used liberal values like secularism and free speech to cloak garden-variety xenophobia.” The French state exacerbates this hostile environment, having enacted measures such as the face covering ban and the ban on wearing conspicuous religious symbols in government schools.

The self-sabotaging, warped nature of this argument cannot be overstated. Aside from the hunch that many of its proponents may simply be backwards-rationalising their desire to piss people off, it represents free speech shooting itself in the foot. “Can say” does not entail “ought to say.” Scott Alexander explains the harm that such shock tactics do to any movement, referencing PETA’s drive to promote veganism: “PETA creates publicity, but at a cost. Everybody’s talking about PETA, which is sort of like everybody talking about ethical treatment of animals, which is sort of a victory. But most of the talk is, ‘I hate them and they make me really angry.’ Some of the talk is even, ‘I am going to eat a lot more animals just to make PETA mad.’”

Supporters of free speech and of Charlie Hebdo‘s content get noticed, but reasonable peoples’ reactions are similar to those against PETA — “I hate them and they make me really angry.” This is exacerbated by the various strawmen that such uncritical free speech advocates accuse their critics of. Criticise them and you are “against free speech” or “making excuses for the Hebdo murderers.” These obvious falsehoods are juvenile and lazy. This kind of support for free speech is damaging perceptions of free speech itself. It also fuels the fire of extremely prevalent Islamophobic attitudes in France. It’s not the state’s job to forcibly censor Charlie Hebdo, but we as individuals ought to condemn it nonetheless.

Je ne suis pas Charlie.

Daniel Pryor is an intern at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org). Also holding a position on the executive board of UK Liberty League, he has previously worked for the Adam Smith Institute and held the role of Deputy Editor for The Backbencher. Pryor is a market anarchist, taking a particular interest in drug policy and immigration reform. Originally from Essex, he now studies Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Durham University in the UK.

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
February 26, 2020
Matthew Hoh
Heaven Protect Us From Men Who Live the Illusion of Danger: Pete Buttigieg and the US Military
Jefferson Morley
How the US Intelligence Community is Interfering in the 2020 Elections
Patrick Cockburn
With Wikileaks, Julian Assange Did What All Journalists Should Do
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change and Voting 2020
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Russiagate: The Toxic Gift That Keeps on Giving
Andrew Bacevich
Going Off-Script in the Age of Trump
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Anti-Russian Xenophobia Reaches Ridiculous Levels
Ted Rall
Don’t Worry, Centrists. Bernie Isn’t Radical.
George Wuerthner
Whatever Happened to the Greater Yellowstone Coalition?
Scott Tucker
Democratic Socialism in the Twenty-First Century
Jonah Raskin
The Call of the Wild (2020): A Cinematic Fairy Tale for the Age of Environmental Disaster
George Ochenski
Why We Shouldn’t Run Government Like a Business
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange and the Imperium’s Face: Day One of the Extradition Hearings
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s Extradition Hearing Reveals Trump’s War on Free Press Is Targeting WikiLeaks Publisher
Peter Harrison
Is It as Impossible to Build Jerusalem as It is to Escape Babylon? (Part Two)
Max Moran
Meet Brad Karp, the Top Lawyer Bankrolling the Democrats
David Swanson
Nonviolent Action for Peace
Ed Sanders
The Ex-Terr GooGoo Eyes “The Russkies Did it!” Plot
February 25, 2020
Michael Hudson
The Democrats’ Quandary: In a Struggle Between Oligarchy and Democracy, Something Must Give
Paul Street
The “Liberal” Media’s Propaganda War on Bernie Sanders
Sheldon Richman
The Non-Intervention Principle
Nicholas Levis
The Real Meaning of Red Scare 3.0
John Feffer
Cleaning Up Trump’s Global Mess
David Swanson
How Are We Going to Pay for Saving Trillions of Dollars?
Ralph Nader
Three Major News Stories That Need To Be Exposed
John Eskow
What Will You Do If the Democrats Steal It from Sanders?
Dean Baker
What If Buttigieg Said That He Doesn’t Accept the “Fashionable” View That Climate Change is a Problem?
Jack Rasmus
The Nevada Caucus and the Desperation of Democrat Elites
Howard Lisnoff
The Powerful Are Going After Jane Fonda Again
Binoy Kampmark
Viral Losses: Australian Universities, Coronavirus and Greed
John W. Whitehead
Gun-Toting Cops Endanger Students and Turn Schools into Prisons
Marshall Sahlins
David Brooks, Public Intellectual
February 24, 2020
Stephen Corry
New Deal for Nature: Paying the Emperor to Fence the Wind
M. K. Bhadrakumar
How India’s Modi is Playing on Trump’s Ego to His Advantage
Jennifer Matsui
Tycoon Battle-Bots Battle Bernie
Robert Fisk
There’s Little Chance for Change in Lebanon, Except for More Suffering
Rob Wallace
Connecting the Coronavirus to Agriculture
Bill Spence
Burning the Future: the Growing Anger of Young Australians
Eleanor Eagan
As the Primary Race Heats Up, Candidates Forget Principled Campaign Finance Stands
Binoy Kampmark
The Priorities of General Motors: Ditching Holden
George Wuerthner
Trojan Horse Timber Sales on the Bitterroot
Rick Meis
Public Lands “Collaboration” is Lousy Management
David Swanson
Bloomberg Has Spent Enough to Give a Nickel to Every Person Whose Life He’s Ever Damaged
Peter Cohen
What Tomorrow May Bring: Politics of the People
Peter Harrison
Is It as Impossible to Build Jerusalem as It is to Escape Babylon?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail