Wednesday, January 14, 2015

800 Words: Charlie Hebdo: When Facebook Posts Become Blogging Part 2...

“So, as a white western left winger who passionately speaks out about torture of Middle Eastern detainees, about racist policing in America and numerous other human rights problems in the West, I don’t appreciate those who try to appeal to the seriousness of those issues to try to minimize the utter and complete seriousness of the violent massacre. You are not allies to free speech. You are attempting to silence the kind of free speech you don’t like. You are apparently so ideologically partisan to whoever you simplistically see as marginalized and against whoever you simplistically judged as privileged that when innocent people are massacred your knee jerk reflex is to minimize the importance of the injustice done to them however you can. That’s more offensive and insulting to humanity than anything I’ve seen from Charlie Hebdo.”

The reason I’ve posted so many articles on facebook and flooded everybody’s newsfeeds is that what we saw last week is a once-in-a-generation moment, like the Fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989 - a 9/11 for intellectual engagement. It's also a sanity test, and one of the world’s rare moments of true moral clarity. There is no turning the clock back from this moment. What is at stake now is nothing less than the direction which freedom of speech takes in our generation. Freedom of speech may be violated all the time on issues of national security, but at least those violators generally think they’re saving lives by doing so, even if they’re often wrong. But in this case, freedom of speech is being violated in literally the most lethal of all ways, simply because a long dead person’s honor was insulted. This is one of the very rare moments when there is no equivocation worth making, no complexity worth examining, no criticism of the victims worth offering, because the totalitarian mindset which perpetrated this act does not allow for complexity. We’re either on the side of free speech, or of repression, and anyone who equivocates now is what Stalin used to call ‘useful idiots,' no better than that professor who in the days after 9/11 referred to the workers in the World Trade Center as 'Little Eichmanns.'

The flip side to this is the side that would use this as a moment to make greater incursions into free speech because of national security. Contrary to popular belief, France’s hate speech laws do not prosecute anti-semitism exclusively or even a majority of the time (as though there's not more than a hundred years of reasons France might decide to do that...) and the state prosecuted anti-Islamic speech quite often - including against the movie star Brigitte Bardot for her anti-Muslim comments, which is akin to America prosecuting a star with Marilyn Monroe’s charisma and Elizabeth Taylor’s longevity. Even so, France’s laws against hate speech are utterly misguided and give crazy bigots of all types a chance to pose as martyrs for their supporters. It essentially gives nutjobs a recruiting tool.

And no one lately, not even the Tea Party, recruits better than the European far-right. Whether it’s France’s Front National, or Greece’s Golden Dawn, or Finland’s Finn Party, or Holland’s Party for Freedom, or Hungary’s Jobbik, or the Austrian Freedom party, or especially Russia's Putinism, they are Europe's ascendant wave. Imagine a continent populated by little Putins (liliputins...) for leaders, that is a potential future which every European now has to at least entertain. Marine Le Pen, second-generation leader of the Front National and daughter of an unreformed Vichy brownshirt agitator, was already leading French polls for the next presidential election. Her lead will only grow now. In no small part, this all is made possible because of a European left that, like the American left only moreso, is so unyielding that it refuses to make the necessary political compromises to fight the spread of fascism. Around many countries in southern Europe, the unemployment rate has consistently threatened to break 30%, and youth unemployment often threatens to break the 50% barrier (!). Their giant, lumbering social programs have no real industry to support them financially, so when the Great Recession hit, they had no steady source of income on which to fall back. The European Union was supposed to be an ideal society, and created the highest standard of living the world has ever seen. But its hubris seems to be destroying it. European governments have promised to keep social services running that they can’t possibly afford, and many Europeans are furious that they were lied to. Some of them are gullible enough to fall for scapegoats like Muslims (and Roma, and Jews, and Eastern European immigrants…, and let's not even get started about the effects of anti-Americanism...).

In Northern Europe, country after country elected a generation of American-influenced politicians who took control and mildly reduced social programs that were only made possible in the first place by America's still unmatched largesse in the Marshall Plan. Even among the moderate cuts, some were undoubtedly excessive and discriminatory, but nowhere near as excessive and discriminatory as those a truly far right politician would make. As a result, Northern Europe is mostly immune from the worst of the recessions and the resulting political chaos and extremism. Southern Europe mostly refused to deregulate at all. To them, dreams were more important than facts, principle was more important than compromise, and no solution is better than a solution that won't work 100% of the time. A whole generation of progressives, European and American, abandoned practical solutions for pie-in-the-sky dreams, and refused even a seat at the table in the negotiations to determine the fate of social progress. Do not let it become two generations...

Meanwhile, rather than attack the causes of discrimination, the Left, at least in our country, has taken to using petty censorship as a way to intimidate heretics who don't follow their dogmas to the letter. History repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce. The same scared, prudish, delusional urge to censor which makes fundamentalist Islam so apoplectic to any depiction of their Prophet is exactly what causes so many leftists in the 'first world', particularly on the internet, to become in thrall to the dogmas of political correctness. The Left spent fifty years trying to wage a culture war against the Right's prohibitions on sex, only to mount its own prohibitions at the very moment they seemed to win this particular war against the Right. If the reaction to the Charlie Hebdo murders showed anything, it's that tropes about religion, about gender, about race, which some people find offensive can increasingly not even be used in defense of the disadvantaged without a massive, mob-like disapproval being voiced. Once again, today's Left's answer to an enemy is to pretend the enemy can be beaten simply by acting like saints. The more massively you censor simply because what people say might give offense, the more likely the counter-reaction is to be still more massive, and far more lethal. By trying to defend minority communities from any criticism at all, we've probably made life far more dangerous for them. And as always, what happens in Europe can easily happen in America...

Compromise is life itself, and the only way we can create peace within it. It applies to politics as to life, and whether the compromise is in regard to providing better healthcare for Americans, or peace in the Middle East, the alternative to compromise is fanaticism, and where there is fanaticism, there is only death.

...Back to my usual six facebook posts a day….

1 comment:

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