SHAFAQNA – The following opinion piece was written on the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. While it was written with Paris, and France in mind, its relevance today remains the same since we continue to be plagued by the same narrative of terror, exclusion, and ethnocentrism.
Shafaqna would like to extend its thanks to Lars Jorgensen for sharing his work, and offering a most welcomed perspective on radicalism, xenophobia, and latent fascism.
“For nothing is more democratic than logic; it is no respecter of persons and makes no distinction between crooked and straight noses.” Friedrich Nietzsche
Sociological analysis indicates that the debate and the public reaction following the Charlie Hebdo attack work on the premises of the extreme right. Today everybody both right wings and left wings support and enable the agenda and rhetoric of the right wing extremism. We must admit to this fact and free ourselves from the false premises, which escalate conflict and undermine our democracy. We must abandon our Western style freedom of speech fundamentalism and make way for a much more sensible and peaceful way of thinking.
Since the massacre in on Charlie Hebdo in Paris most people reacted as if the attack on Charlie Hebdo somewhat justifies the publication of Islam-mocking cartoons. Suddenly we all think that we in the West should mock and ridicule all Muslims. Is that a sensible reaction? Is that not exactly the reaction, which the wrongdoers (Muslims or not) wish in order to increase the tension between the West and the Muslim world? All this solidarity and unison may look like the best of worlds, but we tend to forget that we now more than ever march in step with our own extremists when we collectively mock and marginalize all the Muslims of the world. We believe that we are thus protesting the extremism but we are actually supporting it. We must realize that both our debate and our reaction share the premises of the right wing extremism.
We betray our democratic values and ourselves
If we are to avoid a continued mocking of Muslims in our society, if we are to be citizens with a consistence in mind and deed and if we are to create a true democratic integration we must realize that the agenda and rhetoric of right wing extremism are destroying us. Basically we will have to identify and separate two entirely different positions or cognitive ‘frames’, which show up in the debate about democracy, freedom of speech and Muslims:
- We have to cling on to a fundamentalist freedom of speech by mocking the Muslims who do not take easy on mocking and ridiculing of their religion.
- We should recognize the social and democratic logic in respecting the religion of others including Muslims and suppress our urge to criticize and mock.
Even our children can easily see that we are illogical if not hypocritical, when we insist, that they should not mock other people, while our political agenda for ages has made a virtue of mocking the Muslim religion. We mock our own ideals of breeding, while we undermine the possibility of a fair democratic integration of Muslims in society. It is a paradox that while most people usually interact at all places and levels showing tolerance and respect, the public debate continue to focus, decade after decade, on the rational necessity of an extreme kind of ‘freedom of speech’ toward Muslims. It is a right wing crusade. Our western style freedom of speech fundamentalists and their ideological fanaticism continue to repress our true values and the possibilities of a fair democracy including respect for the Muslim religion.
We must let go of this nonsense ideology, which is now more dangerous than ever. We should all know that if you defend integration and democracy in the name of freedom of freedom of speech fanaticism, you talk nonsense and contradict yourself. If our children shall have the opportunity to grow up in a better society and a more peaceful world, we must change the rules and behave more logically. We must abandon the extremist agenda and rhetoric and stick to our values when raising our kids and in our daily life and demand a change in the public rhetoric.
The unintended victory of right wing extremism and the assassins
You might say that the reaction towards the Charlie Hebdo massacre gave the assassins a victory in the rhetoric conflict machine, which the Western right extremism has been building up for years. While both Muslim extremists and Western extremists benefit enormously from the continuing massive media, political and public support for Charlie Hebdo all over Europe. The extraordinary ordinary reaction supports the agenda of all extreme Islamists and political right wing parties in Europe. We are climbing the ladder of conflict – as my daughter would express it.
If we continue using the mocking cartoons of Charlie Hebdo both forms of extremism win a far larger victory than they could have hoped. Then the act of the assassins as well as our reaction have caused an immense enforcement of the tension to the benefit of the extremists in both the Western and the Muslim world. If we keep on being prisoners of our emotions and the extremist rhetoric, we might all end up talking like Søren Espersen (Danish right wing politician) and Le Penn in France. While all rational argument for also respecting the religion and sentiments of the Muslims might end being seen as naïve and dangerous, thus making it impossible to argue for a rational democracy.
Now we see right wing extremists in many countries gain strength by the attack and European governments pressing for more law enforcement. This is no surprise given that our almost categorical European response plays directly into the extremist’s simplistic worldview. Indeed, seduced by a simplistic frame of ‘them’ and ‘us’ a lot of people probably intended to make a strong stand against the Muslim world. Our reactions might very well provide strong cause and motivation for all kinds of terroristic attacks everywhere in Europe. Our politicians consider this but their reaction reinforce the extremists’ rules of the game! It is madness; we will enter a spiral of violence, if our politicians and we do not think and act much differently. We may convince ourselves that we are into freedom, democracy and seeking peace and security; we do exactly the opposite and consequently move on to a situation with more conflict and violence.
‘I am Charlie Hebdo’ – Really?
‘This little magazine for schools has become a national and an international symbol. But I like to say: It is humans who were killed here – not the freedom of expression.’
– Luz, cartoonist, Charlie Hebdo
The many people who have written ‘Je suis Charlie’ on the social media and shared Muslim mocking cartoons are no doubt not aware that their spontaneous solidarity have taken on a much more problematic meaning, actually supporting extremism – both the extreme right and the extremist Muslims. The broad and deep willingness to join the ‘Western category’ in a form of collective solidary symbolic defense against the terrorists have been a tremendous support for the extremists and their worldview. This symbolism is dangerous. We tend not to see how we also become supporters of Charlie Hebdo’s disrespect towards the Muslim religion. We also overlook, that we buy into the stupidity that (Muslim) terrorists work on behalf of all Muslims. The consequence is almost a compliment to the fanatic killers, a support to extremists on all sides, and a massive public mocking of all innocent Muslims of the world. While the whole logic totally suppress the sensible agenda of the big majority of moderate peaceful citizens.
Both extremist groups share the same rhetoric when they for instance talk about a special Muslim religious culture and a special Western secular culture, based on the false idea of an invincible difference in culture. We tend to support this ridiculous idea, while supporting the extreme rights mocking of the Muslims when we adhere to ‘Je Suis Charlie’. Whatever good intents every time we promote the Charlie Hebdo cartoons we also tend to emphasize that we find mocking of Muslims just and fair. That also goes for media and politicians from most parties who share the collective conjuration ‘Je Suis Charlie Hebdo’. Our reaction helps extremism in Europe and elsewhere. We now seem to admit the truth of Islam’s ‘general’ disposition for terrorism, which our right wing parties have forfeited for years. We seem to show our ‘true western colors’ to Muslim fanatics as we collectively mock the Muslim religion. In addition, we provide an historical support for extremist conflict behavior, as we all seem to accept the simplistic ‘us and them’ worldview, join the right wing agenda and mock Muslims publicly. Muslim fanatics, more legitimately than ever in their confused minds, may find just cause to strike back at ‘us’ anywhere in Europe.
The extremist rhetoric is in power – How can we regain democracy?
We do several things without realizing it. First, we play all our democratic power into the extremists’ hands; then we make it impossible to stand up for true democratic values; and finally we marginalize and mock all Muslim citizens. We have played our cards into the right wing extremist agenda and rhetoric, because two crazy people killed twelve people in Paris. It is madness, if we continue to do so.
If we are to gain a more rational democracy, we need to take a critical look at ourselves. We must confront the false premises of our right wing agenda and rhetoric. Then we can begin anew with logical premises debating immigration, democracy and freedom of speech. Let me emphasize the categorical difference between a newspaper publishing insulting cartoons and entire nations stepping into character based on the very same message. This is not about the freedom of speech. That is a matter of law. This is about how we as a society support the forces we wish to fight, because the right extremist premises and rhetoric have misled us into a false attitude and reaction towards the attack and the Muslims in general.
Drop the simplistic abstractions, speak concretely
We must reject the simple explanations and the even simpler abstractions used for years by the right wing from the Front National in France to the Dansk Folkeparti (People’s Party in Denmark). The exact same abstractions, which a maniac in Norway used explicitly, when he killed more than seventy people a couple of years ago. We must reject this form of extremist talk about ‘them’ and ‘us’: Us, the modern, sensible from the Western world against the dangerous, primitive Muslim religion. When we accept simplistic talk about Muslims as a stereotype, we support the idea that people from the Western and the Muslim world are different and that conflict is unavoidable. This is the game of self-fulfilling prophecy.
We must reject the absurd idea that extreme Muslims represent Islam and all other Muslims. We must reject the childish simplistic language and maintain that it is not the Muslims or Islam that is behind the attacks such as the one on Charlie Hebdo. We must use a clear language. Two fanatic killers cannot attack and threaten ‘our democracy’. In fact, they did not. They attacked a French newspaper. Otherwise, we support every extremists’ wet dreams of potency. We must drop the false simplifications and withhold that we are living in a democracy based on the rule of law, in which you are innocent until proven guilty.
Of two evils – We chose none!
We have to use logic to maintain a consequent democratic position in our farfetched but almost classic debate about democracy, freedom of speech and the right to insult Muslims. We may find inspiration in the Danish editor, Tøger Seidenfaden who ended up apologizing for publishing Mohammed drawings. In addition, in a similar time of crisis in the Vienna of Habsburg during which Karl Kraus announced, that if he had to choose between two evils he would chose none of them.
We need demonstrate solidarity with the Hebdo employees without repeating their insulting cartoons. We must reserve the right to feel the deepest compassion with the victims and their families, at the same time dissociate us from the cruel attack – without sharing the cartoons, and so uncritically support Charlie Hebdo’s editorial line. Most people would not have supported Charlie Hebdo’s mockery of the Muslims wholeheartedly before the attack. It is not wise, that two fanatic killers shall dictate a completely different state of mind. You may consider yourself a prisoner of emotions or extremist thought, if you think a continuing republishing of Muslim mocking cartoons is a question of freedom of speech.
Get rid of the freedom of speech fanatics!
The idea is that we normally accept an unlimited freedom of speech everywhere in our democracy. In reality, we have censorship everywhere in our democracy and for good reasons too! Power legitimately or not limit our freedom of speech everywhere. We all censor ourselves constantly and we have strong traditions for treading carefully for so many sound reasons in all kinds of different parts of our democracy. It is a simple matter of logic that people in a democracy have to make way, be tolerant in so many ways in order to provide all citizens the freedom to do and say different things, and at the same time facilitate a peaceful co-existence. Why should we not tread carefully, when it comes to mocking the Muslim religion, when they feel so strongly about it? That is not logical. It is unjust, unfair and hypocritical. It is only embarrassing how we have allowed fanatics to use the freedom mockingly to repress the Muslims, so we did not hear their voice.
People, who argue, that it is a key democratic matter to mock the Muslim religion, promote a dangerous ideological right wing agenda. They will say fear is behind my argument. This is true, and important. Peaceful co-existence is a most vital democratic value. Only a fool think it problematic to take the risk of war and terror into consideration when weighing costs and benefits of insulting a whole religion. Our media too often have fools with ties in the studio to talk about freedom of speech at any price. Well-dressed people who do not seem to fear war and conflict but argue that we always should defend the freedom of speech even if we risk war and terror. We are dealing with freedom of speech fanatics resembling the opinion leaders and generals from World War 1, who, without a blink of the eye, sent several hundreds of thousands of soldiers to their death.
Let us be democratic Europeans and apologize
The meaning of the freedom of speech is to ensure the powerless the right to stand up against power – not to mock the Muslim religion. The most embarrassing paradox of it all is of course, that we have allowed our right wing extremists to use this freedom in such an unjust way to repress and mock the Muslim people, that they have not really been able to voice their point of view. Ideological newspapers may continue to pursue this agenda, but it should never be national policy. It was clearly a mistake when the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen elevated the mock of the Jyllands-Posten to national policy. It was clearly a mistake when European and other state leaders in the past week participated in the demonstrations for Charlie Hebdo and elevated a massive social solidarity with the victims to an official support hereby making it national policy to mock the Muslim world.
The European style of right wing extremism has for far too long turned our world upside down. It is time that we release ourselves from the false freedom of speech fanatics and the right extremism in our society. We should no longer let right wing extremists (Muslims or not) dictate our political agenda, rhetoric and strategy. The extremists will insist we are giving in to terrorism and Muslim extremism. Clearly, the opposite is true; we are distancing us from all kinds of extremism to take care of all our citizens. We may find optimism in the fact that people do have similarities all over the world. There must be millions and millions of sensible people in the Muslim world, who pay no regard to the solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. Because they understand that, that it is a matter of spontaneous emotional reaction to a horrible attack. However, we need to stop doing it. Until we do, we should not expect our children to understand logic, democracy and moral behavior.
It is human to err. It takes a big man to be wiser. We need to apologize to the Muslim world for our illogical debate regarding the Muslim religion and our massive spontaneous support of the mocking of Muslims carried out by Charlie Hebdo. We need rational responsible editors and politicians who will listen. Let us not wait tensely but push media and politicians to address a logical democratic agenda. It is the only decent democratic thing to do – and it will reduce conflict and save lives. Who will lead the way, Merkel, Hollande or…?
By Lars Jorgensen