Charlie Hebdo’s freedom of speech was never violated, it simply had consequences

posted by Harry J. Bentham

Ce que l’on conçoit bien, s’énonce clairement, Et les mots pour le dire arrivent aisément.

What is well designed, is expressed clearly, and the words to say it come easily.

Nicolas Boileau

The concept of freedom of speech seems to have been abused and misrepresented in recent days, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. This came to my attention based on something Joshua Sperber wrote in Counterpunch (itallics mine):

The issue couldn’t be clearer to the heralds of liberal idealism, as the Islamists are guilty of having inadequate reverence for the core Western value of free speech (although liberals tend to forget that freedom of speech concerns freedom from governmental, versus private, interference).

In the hysteria following this violence, I believe (classical) liberal and libertarian commentators fell into a trap of abandoning their most important principle: that of criticizing and opposing the power of government. In reality, liberals and libertarians are not supposed to oppose reprisals by private individuals against media entities, which is what happened at Charlie Hebdo. By siding with Charlie Hebdo against its attackers, liberals and libertarians are no longer attacking the state but taking aim at private individuals, insisting that the government must protect certain privileged media outlets from the outrage of the public and to ensure these media outlets’ freedom and security. This aspiration is opposed to the libertarian commitment to limited government or liberal models of freedom, and is actually a call for heightened power of government.

Freedom of speech bears no relationship to the idea of protecting people from lynch mobs or other repercussions from exercising that freedom. The moment the government begins to take sides in a dispute between private individuals or media entities, sanctioning those whom it disagrees with, it is then and only then that freedom of speech actually begins to be infringed upon. This has occurred just now, with government arrests of people who condoned or voiced support for the attacks against Charlie Hebdo. It is not Charlie Hebdo’s freedoms that have been infringed, but these people who have been arrested by the paranoid government.

The principle of free speech, as it has been written into the liberal constitution of state throughout the world, doesn’t contain any stipulations that people should be exempt from ridicule or even assassination as a consequence of their speech. Therefore, while the murderers against Charlie Hebdo are indeed guilty of monstrous depravity, murder and extremism, what they have done in no way infringes upon anyone’s freedom of speech. People are still free to make cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH): they simply bear a greater risk of being killed for doing that. Until the law actually contains provisions against depicting the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), no-one’s freedom of speech can yet be said to have been violated for that sake. However, we already have laws prohibiting other forms of offense, so even a law against depictions of revered religious figures would not actually undermine the liberal state order in any way, nor would I object if such a law went into effect.

People were always at risk of being killed for offending the wrong people’s sensibilities, even in the freest and most liberal societies. This natural situation has never been faulted or described as a threat to freedom of speech, until now.

What we are witnessing now is that the government is abusing the events of the Charlie Hebdo attack and the narrative surrounding it to alter the definition of freedom of speech away from private individuals or media outlets and towards protecting the state’s speech and the speech of the media outlets and “martyrs” the state supports. Charlie Hebdo’s “freedom of speech” is protected not because it is staffed by human beings or because it is a legitimate outlet, but because the government agrees with it and supports its activities. If you criticize the government, on the other hand, your freedom of speech is of comparatively little importance to the government. Charlie Hebdo’s freedom is safeguarded only because they are puppets and cheerleaders of the regime. They are the stooges, sychophants and poster-boys glorifying the scam of our decadent and flawed democracies.

If we quote “freedom of speech” principles to protect some journalists and political elites from reprisals from private individuals springing from the general public, we have lost the plot.

I can’t make this any clearer than to explain how the law really works: freedom of speech doesn’t protect anyone from having a rotten tomato or even a grenade thrown in their face. Freedom of speech only protects us journalists from being subjected to detention or other punishment by the authorities for what we have said. In the case of Charlie Hebdo, this did not happen. Therefore, the killing at Charlie Hebdo wasn’t a violation of freedom of speech in any way. It simply qualified as a public backlash against Charlie Hebdo’s publishing, which has seriously offended elements of the public.

To lazily surmise the attacks on Charlie Hebdo were attacks on free speech is to conflate free speech with the state-sanctioned propaganda splashed on our television screens, and conflate so-called “terrorists” with an imaginary state or totalitarian caliphate cracking down on its own citizens.

We must not be brainwashed by government propaganda, or we will be no better than the most rotten fascists and architects of state “security”.

By Harry J. Bentham

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Recommendations from the Order: Robert Wei’s politics and culture blog

posted by Harry J. Bentham

L’hypocrisie est un hommage que le vice rend à la vertu.

Hypocrisy is an homage that vice pays to virtue.

François de La Rochefoucauld

I have a new viewpoint article due to appear at Press TV soon, but in the meantime, I would like to congratulate Robert Wei on being added to our club of writers and pressure groups called the Mont Order. Robert made a post accepting membership in the association, and I would like to take this opportunity to strongly recommend his blog to my readers. The blog is The Flutter of my Sleeve, and includes excellent political and social criticism.

From the blog:

It is my honour to announce that I have been invited and accepted into the Mont Order which is a varied and eclectic mix of writers and thinkers who have banded together in the interests of addressing the issues present in our lives and that are present in the world currently in the interest of the best of all possible futures.

We are happy to welcome Robert’s blog into the online family and network of the Mont Order alongside such collaborators as the WAVE movement and social critics such as J. M. Porup, and I look forward to reinforcing Robert’s work and drawing attention to his posts in future.

On the subject of the Mont Order, I will be publishing J. M. Porup’s criticisms of anarchism at ClubOfINFO soon, and I will come back to that exchange of ideas. Until then, I continue to recommend his work as required reading for critics of the NSA and the surveillance state.

By Harry J. Bentham

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To be or not to be Charlie Hebdo: when being a politically correct coward is brave

posted by Harry J. Bentham

Au bout d’un ou deux siècles d’exploitation se produit une véritable émaciation du panaroma culturel

With one or two centuries of exploitation comes a thorough emaciation of the cultural landscape.

Frantz Fanon

All of us regret the tragic loss of life in the shooting of staff and police officers at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The social and political consequences are more problematic and dangerous to predict than our compassionate reactions to this immediate tragedy from all levels of society.

I deplore the portrayal of the resulting political controversy as something where Islamophobic so-called free speech is being suppressed, with the buzzwords in the debate typically being: censorship, self-censorship and the idea of politically correct “cowards” who are afraid to criticize Islam. These were the terms in which the controversy has been portrayed by many libertarians and rightists, who have been given 3 out of 4 platforms in the mainstream media to promote their hate to us all. That’s right: those of us who say the community should not have its sensibilities offended and be torn apart by religious libel and violence are to be smeared as “cowards” by these “brave” militant rightists and so-called free speech enthusiasts, obsessed with listening to their own vitriolic criticism of Islam.

I would argue that the real ones suppressing our freedom of speech are not the Muslims, but militant rightists and nationalists who capitalize on this violence to vilify, caricature, blame, and attack sections of their own society. These rightists, who are goose-stepping us against members of our own community, are trying to drive French society and the rest of European society into no less than a sectarian bloodbath. It is not “cowardly” to want to stop this disaster. Rather, is is sound and – politically (i.e., concerned with social cohesion and the public interest) – correct. It is also brave, especially at a time when there is such blatant demagoguery and libelous claims against people holding that sound position.

This attack indicates nothing about race, or even religion. However, if we must address those subjects, let me state the following in response to the bulk of the reactionary arguments in circulation right now. It may well be true, much as the Front National and its British equivalents, the BNP and UKIP (take your pick) have always claimed as their core thesis, that Europe’s decision since the 1950s to open the doors to the peoples of Africa, the Middle East, and all other regions it brutally colonized was a wrong decision. However, the decision has already been made, and now all our politics take place against the backdrop of that road to diversity already being a fact on the ground.

That influx of migrants has already profoundly transformed society and eradicated the so-called “nation”, leaving no political viability for a restoration of monoculture or European nationalist politics to the outdated so-called “nation”. What the racists and Islamophobes advocate as a solution isn’t the rebirth of the Western civilization as they portray it, but a bloodbath like nothing seen in Europe since the 30 Years’ War. We already know that conflict ended with reconciliation through the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, so why repeat it? There is simply no reason to march through these same bloody steps again simply to arrive at the same conclusion. We already have that peace. Why not simply maintain it?

We have to stop portraying this controversy surrounding the shooting at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo as something revolving around courage and freedom of speech versus religious dogma. It is rather about community cohesion. When it comes to community cohesion, being a “coward” is morally the right thing, and I would welcome this insult in a context such as this. I’m a big coward about the possibility of provoking the community into a sectarian civil war in Europe, and I’m “brave” enough to admit it. On the other hand, the individuals who claim to be “brave” by insulting and hurting the sensibilities of the Muslim community repeatedly are clearly (as we can see in the aftermath of this attack in France) not willing to die for what they are doing, but they are willing for everyone else to die for them. They are willing for a country like France to commit national, political suicide over this controversy and gnaw at its very own flesh.

Europe might not accept diversity, but it must. This is the only lesson that can actually be learned from events like the recent killings in France. The alternative could be an endless cycle of violence and internecine conflict. That isn’t my cup of tea, and I would be even less willing to invite society to drink of it. What sin could it really be, to advocate cowardice in the face of that threat? As a response to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, I encourage the law in France and Britain to implement harsher measures against Islamophobia in all its forms, in the interests of the community. I fully endorse so-called “cowardice” and “political correctness” as the solution to prevent all future terrorist attacks, just as I encourage our defeat and the capitulation of our overseas “allies” as our best defense against global terrorism.

None of this so-called war on terror (or war on Islam?) perpetrated by our government and media is in the public interest. The defeat of the government in this conflict will be victory for us all.

For more materials belonging to this school of thought, get my collections at Amazon. This helps make an impact by donating towards further publications authored by me.

I hope to soon have a new op-ed out at the recently redesigned and enhanced website of Press TV, wherein I criticize the hypocrisy of US foreign policy and point out US parallels with the similarly named IS (so-called Islamic State), for both seem equally prepared to kill us all and offer our bodies as human sacrifices to their bizarre ideologies, and both of them self-righteously pronounce that the whole world must submit to their concept of the State. I see both of these crazy extremist groups as hideous, arrogant terrorist entities that should be defeated and overcome by humanity.

By Harry J. Bentham

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Political cinema and the fine line between depicting and inciting violence

posted by Harry J. Bentham

Il se fit un abondant silence à l’entour, et la majeure partie du reste du monde se mit à compter pour du beurre.

There was an abundant silence around, and most of the rest of the world began to count for nothing.

Boris Vian

Movies are considered a part of the arts in modern liberal democracies, and are not officially subjected to state censorship. In reality, I would argue they are subject to state and corporate censorship, although it consists of selectively hyping and showing the forms of political cinema that are most beneficial to the establishment and cutting out parts of movies that are uncomfortable to the present regime and its corporate backers.

Possibly the greatest figure currently alive in political cinema today, I believe, is Oliver Stone, although I regret not studying political cinema and Stone’s contributions in greater depth. Specifically, Stone’s approaching movie adaptation of The Snowden Files is almost certain to enrage the US political establishment by accurately capturing the noble character of Edward Snowden’s actions in rebelling against the excesses of the surveillance state. I mention this, because of a subject I addressed in recent posts: that of The Interview movie which attempts to ridicule and provoke the North Korean government, as well as encourage and glamorize specific actions like assassination to overthrow the North Korean regime. The movie did cross the line from entertaining violence to actually inciting it, and this was the intention, as is clear in leaked emails exposing the intent of the movie’s producers.

The US government better be prepared for exactly the same bombardment with political cinema against its own institutions via Oliver Stone’s movie about Snowden, and not take the hypocritical step of resorting to censorship right after defying North Korean censorship. I believe that bombardment should be even more intense than simply saying the whistleblower was in the right. How much fun would be a movie or video-game about spraying bullets at the fat faces of the heads of the NSA and CIA? Surely that incitement is just entertainment too, if we’re allowed to make and watch movies about killing another country’s leader?

I believe that Snowden’s actions have been among very few good things that ever took place in the halls of power of the US Intelligence Community, and are an example for all Americans to follow as they recognize the cruelties and excesses of a dwindling, isolated political elite directed fearfully against the American public. I see in Oliver Stone’s movie a fantastic opportunity to help influence and raise the millennials who are going to hold the reins of America’s technological future. In particular, I hope that the movie is seen by teenagers in the United States and has a strong impact on their formative politics.

Oliver Stone’s cinema has been consistently anti-establishment. For instance, I have noted that Stone’s controversial Natural Born Killers (1994) has engendered reactions of censorship in liberal democratic countries, and is accused by many of encouraging violence, including against the authorities. When we consider, however, the excesses of violence exerted by the US police against the public and most of the entertainment media’s servile defence of such murder, it seems hard to believe that encouraging the murder of police officers in entertainment media including the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) videogames and movies like Natural Born Killers could be less harmful than encouraging the assassination of a foreign head of state like The Interview movie does.

A challenge to those who would oppose North Korean style censorship in the liberal democratic countries: I submit to you that if a movie such as The Interview deserves to be allowed to encourage the assassination of heads of state like Kim Jong-un in popular entertainment and make a joke of it, similar forms of political cinema should be allowed to glamorize the killing of actual American police and other security officials, the mass lynching of specific police officers in response to their murderous tendencies. In fact, I believe a revenge movie specifically and blatantly encouraging the assassination of Officer Darren Wilson over the murder of Michael Brown would be a great success at the box office, more so than The Interview. Why is the now retired Darren Wilson so much better than Kim Jong-un, that he should not be made to pay and subjected to entertainment media encouraging his death? I simply call for consistency. Let’s not say death to a specific state like North Korea via political cinema, but death to the state everywhere. Why should one regime be shielded from assassination threats and mockeries while another is subjected to these? If they’re so superior to Kim Jong-un, why are the American government and its officials special and so fragile that the people can’t fantasize about shooting or blowing up them too?

Once again, I don’t argue here either for total information freedom or for censorship, but for erasing all respect and special status afforded to regimes without legitimate reason.

By Harry J. Bentham HJB Signature and stamp

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