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“Conservative Politicians Insult All Of France”: Another Case Where Both Sides Don’t Do It

American conservatives wasted no time last night in using the recent terrorist atrocities as a vehicle for their own political agendas. In today’s partisan climate that was sadly to be expected.

But several prominent conservatives went so far in their posturing on guns that they managed to insult France and its people in such a way that it engendered an immediate and forceful backlash.

First came Newt Gingrich, who curiously for a conservative Republican suggested that some random number of death metal enthusiasts rock concert attendees be armed and packing:

This led to France 24’s Marc Owen public calling out Newt Gingrich on air with the following:

“So he’s using this atrocity to make his point that people should be able to carry guns basically,” Owen said. “It’s funny how people will very distastefully use this kind of situation to express their own particular political [inaudible]. Newt Gingrich, shame on you.”

Also interestingly, an older Donald Trump tweet from this January made after Charlie Hebdo attack to insult France and its gun laws resurfaced tonight after the French ambassador to the United States apparently mistook it for a reaction to tonight’s news:

The French ambassador has since deleted his own outraged tweet, but the fact remains that Trump did tweet this after Charlie Hebdo and has not apologized for it.

Mother Jones has compiled a list of other outrageous and insensitive statements by prominent conservative figures about the attack, from Judith Miller to Congressman Jeff Duncan to former Congressman Joe Walsh.

The Gingrich and Trump comments are reminiscent of former Texas governor Rick Perry’s statement that America needs more guns in dark, crowded movie theaters. Not only is insinuating that gun control policy is responsible for the deaths in Paris outrageously insensitive, it’s also beyond stupid. The notion that in an environment of darkness and chaos at a death metal concert, an assemblage of random citizens with pistols would have created a less deadly environment when faced with trained terrorists with Kalashnikovs and explosive vests is simply ludicrous. Above and beyond that, of course, is the fact that America’s permissive gun policies lead to a staggering gun death toll that is exponentially bigger than even dozens of terrorist attacks like the one we just saw in Paris.

But none of this fazes the Republican frontrunner for the Presidency and the former GOP Speaker of the House. While earlier this year or last night, they evidently believe it’s not only advisable to promote their destructive views on guns, but to do so in direct response to a terrorist tragedy overseas with significant diplomatic consequences.

You just won’t find anything parallel to this on the American left. The worst example from the left might be by Wikileaks, but even then that’s 1) not an American organization, and 2) was roundly called for being asinine by people of all political stripes, including even the Anonymous twitter account.

In this as in so much else, both sides do not in fact do it. The American Right has truly unilaterally gone off the rails, and last night’s response to the massacre in France is just another example of that.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, November 13, 2015

November 15, 2015 Posted by | Charlie Hebdo, Conservatives, Donald Trump, France Terrorist Attacks | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Useful Idiots”: Why The Violent Extremists Welcome Attacks On Islam

Whenever an act of horrific terror enrages the West, a predictable second act ensues. Furious commentators and activists on the right erupt with blanket denunciations of Islam, Muslims, and their supposed plots to enslave us all under Shari’a law, urging that we ban the religion, stigmatize its faithful, and restore the Judeo-Christian exclusivity of America. Sometimes a few even seek retribution in attacks on mosques, individual Muslims, and anyone unfortunate enough to “look Muslim.”

Violent or merely loud , these are the “useful idiots,” whose divisive blundering underscores the propaganda of al Qaeda, ISIS, and imitators around the world. They represent precisely the opposite of what we must do and say if we are to defeat Islamist extremism in all its manifestations.

Look behind the delusional murderers who actually carry out such crimes as the massacres at Charlie Hebdo and the Paris kosher market: What is the strategic objective of those who deploy them? Not a military victory over the French army, nor even an atmosphere of fear in Paris. They seek to provoke a harsh crackdown on innocent Muslims, especially the young and unemployed, along with expressions of bigotry and discrimination – to highlight the simmering communal conflicts they hope to inflame into a “war of civilizations.”

So the extremists can only be grateful when anti-Muslim propaganda, repeated constantly in right-wing publications and broadcasts, casts them as the defenders of Islam, rather than its defilers. Every time Islam is publicly defined as a religion of violence, the jihadis gain prestige. Their appeals become more persuasive to oppressed young Muslims – especially if no alternative is apparent.

Yet the narrative of endless conflict and implacable distrust is not only untrue – as we saw last week when Parisians of all faiths and none rallied together – but deeply destructive to traditional democratic values and strategically stupid.

Yes, we must protect the right to commit free speech, including speech that is offensive to religions and even to ethnic groups, without fear of violent responses. We must also protect the rights of religious and ethnic minorities — including the right to protest peacefully against offensive speech. That requires swift action against those who will conspire to maim, murder, and terrorize – and the capacity whenever possible to neutralize those criminals before they act.

But Americans will need to do much more than surround ourselves with police, armies, and intelligence services if we ever hope to overcome our extremist enemies. Effective counterterrorism demands a contrasting narrative of coexistence, respect, fairness, and opportunity.

The elements of that political arsenal exist already — in the stories of Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim policeman who died heroically in Paris, and Lassana Bathily, the young Muslim employee who led Jews in the kosher market to safety; in the undeniable fact that the extremists murder hundreds of innocent civilians, overwhelmingly Muslim, every week; and in the secure, prosperous existence that millions of ordinary Muslim families have enjoyed in this country for decades, despite outbursts of prejudice and harassment.

We ought to note with pride that Muslims serve in the U.S. military and every branch of government, including two members of Congress, because the Constitution specifically bans any religious test for public office. (Certain figures on the religious right may need to be reminded too.) Muslims should know that their holy days are routinely celebrated in the White House by presidents of both parties — even as all religions are subject to disbelief, criticism, and even jeering satire in a free society.

The consensus among ordinary Muslims is well known to public opinion pollsters: By large majorities, here and abroad, they fear and disdain the violent extremists who have defamed their religion. Let’s at least stop trying to change their minds.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, January 15, 2015

January 16, 2015 Posted by | Charlie Hebdo, Paris Shootings, Terrorism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sometimes, It’s Not Entirely About Us”: A Note On Criticism Of Obama For Not Attending Paris March

The march in Paris yesterday expressing solidarity in the wake of the terrorist attack on the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was an inspiring sight, with somewhere between one and two million people, joined by world leaders, proclaiming their defiance of terrorism and their support for freedom of expression. But don’t think for a second that politics was absent, there or here at home. For instance, there was apparently a great deal of behind-the-scenes wrangling between the French, Israeli and Palestinian governments over whether Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas would attend. Back here in the United States, the Obama administration has been roundly condemned for not sending sufficiently high-ranking officials to participate in the march.

Many argued that President Obama should have attended, since other heads of state like Angela Merkel and David Cameron were there. “Our president should have been there,” wrote Sen. Ted Cruz. Others said that if not the President, then at least the Vice President or Secretary of State should have gone (the U.S. was represented at the march by the American ambassador to France). The criticisms have been somewhere between vehement and vicious, and not just from conservatives, but from mainstream reporters and news organizations. CNN ran a headline reading, “Where was Obama?” The New York Daily News cover read: “You let the world down.” Jake Tapper, writing about the absence of American officials, opined: “I say this as an American — not as a journalist, not as a representative of CNN — but as an American: I was ashamed.”

Let’s dispense with this specific question with no more than the attention it deserves: It would have been all but insane for President Obama to participate in a march, in public, in a foreign country, with a couple million people around him. The security requirements necessary to protect him make it impossible. The Secret Service has to do an extraordinary amount of work and planning for him to drop by Ben’s Chili Bowl a mile from the White House; the idea that with a couple of days notice he could walk through the streets of Paris in an enormous throng of people is absurd.

But let’s be honest: practical considerations aside, the world wasn’t waiting to see whether Barack Obama would participate in this particular march. As shocking as this idea may seem from our perspective, sometimes it’s not entirely about us.

And it isn’t as though the whole American political leadership, from the President on down, haven’t spoken out on this subject. Should the administration have sent Vice President Biden to the march? Yes, they should have. That would have been a fine gesture (and I’m guessing he could have fit it into his schedule). But what’s interesting to me is the way that people and organizations that hesitate to express personal opinions on other topics feel free to issue thunderous condemnations of the White House for its less than active participation in what is, after all, a symbolic act.

Maybe my memory’s faulty, but I don’t recall any other journalist committed to the ideal of “objectivity” saying he was “ashamed” about the fact that millions of Americans have no health coverage, or about the 30,000 Americans killed by guns every year, or about our ample contributions to global warming. It’s precisely because those things are about real people’s lives that it would be considered deeply inappropriate for a mainstream journalist to express such an opinion. But you can say you’re ashamed about something entirely symbolic — and in the long run essentially meaningless — like the fact that the American ambassador attended a march when it would have a bigger deal had the Secretary of State or the Vice President been there.

That isn’t to say that symbolism is unimportant. Much of politics is about the creation and dissemination of symbols. But what exactly is the damage that has been done by the fact that a (supposedly) insufficiently high-ranking American official represented our government at this event? Will the peoples of the world no longer believe that America is an advocate for freedom of speech, or that Americans abhor terrorism? I doubt it.

And before anyone gets too self-congratulatory about his or her own courage and ideals in expressing solidarity with those murdered in France, consider another event that occurred last week, when Boko Haram killed as many as 2,000 men, women, and children in the city of Baga, Nigeria. There are mundane reasons why that news got so much less attention than the events in France — perhaps most important, those killings occurred in an isolated place, while Paris was already full of reporters, and more could get there quickly and easily to report on the story. But it’s undeniable that a terrorist attack in Europe — and one targeting journalists — is going to be of infinitely more concern to the media in Europe and America than an attack in Africa.

When someone in France or Germany or the United States says “Je suis Charlie,” in many ways they’re right. The victims of the Paris attacks were people like them, which makes the horror of their murders feel more real and immediate. And of course, there’s a critical democratic value at issue, that of free expression, which allows us to expend plenty of words considering what these events “mean.” Boko Haram’s victims, on the other hand, weren’t advocates for a cause, and their deaths weren’t imbued with symbolism. They were just human beings.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 12, 2015

January 13, 2015 Posted by | Charlie Hebdo, Paris Shootings, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why We Fight”: The Right And Wrong Reasons For Outrage

That was an incredibly moving scene in Paris yesterday, the largest civilian mobilization in French history, which is quite a history. We must hope that the humanist (an important word to which we’ll return) solidarity on display there can be sustained. To see so many people from so many religions and non-religions and so many different countries all saying the same thing is an all-too-rare sight in this petulant world.

But a little part of me wondered from time to time if we all really are saying the same thing. Let us suppose that Charlie Hebdo had published a cover showing Jesus and Mary Magdalene and a couple of the disciples besides absorbed in a sexually adventuresome tangle, and a couple of deranged militant Christians had gone in there and mowed the staff down. Or let’s imagine it was Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob similarly depicted, or Moses, and a couple of Jewish religious fundamentalists had committed the slaughter. How would, and should, our reactions be the same, and how would and should they be different?

This is where certain lines and distinctions can be drawn. Everyone left to right would criticize mass murder. We’re all against that. The Christian and Jewish identity organizations would all denounce them. Abe Foxman would put out a reassuring statement. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League…well, actually, based on his dubious response to this tragedy, it would be a little harder to predict how much sleep Donohue might lose over the murder of Christian blasphemers.

But by and large, that’s the easy part. Now come the harder parts. Would we be chanting Je Suis Charlie in ideological unison the way we are now? I think we most certainly would not be. Would conservative Catholics, even those not out there on Donohue’s unique wavelength, link arms with liberals and secularists to defend the right of a blasphemer of Jesus? Would Benjamin Netanyahu, in my Jewish hypothetical, have made a special pilgrimage to Paris to express his solidarity with the dead who had so defamed his faith? I think never in a million years (and by the way, remember that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas did do precisely this by attending Sunday’s March).

I think it’s pretty obvious they would not be nearly so enthusiastic about the sanctity of Charlie Hebdo’s rights to make satire in these cases. I, for my own part, would be, as would (I think) most of my friends. Then there’s a contingent to my left (yes, conservative readers, there is a contingent to my left, and they’d be delighted to fill you in on my numerous apostasies and on mainstream liberalism’s pusillanimity more generally) that would respond to the inevitable “they got what was coming to them” nudge-and-wink rhetoric from conservatives by opposing all that even more vociferously.

Each of these three tendencies is distinct, and each is protesting in this case against, or in behalf of, somewhat different things. All oppose murder and support free speech in vague terms, but after that they diverge. The theological-conservative tendency says Je Suis Charlie chiefly out of its revulsion at Islam and fear about its power—fear that it can strike us anywhere anytime. For them, a slaughter by an extremist Christian or Jew would not be qualitatively even the same kind of crime, because this crime to them is absolutely emblematic of a religion whose inherent qualities provoke this fanaticism, and which terrifies them.

On the…I’m grasping for an adjective here; multicultural is too tread-worn. So let’s just say on the left, there is condemnation of the killings, of course, and defense of Hebdo’s rights. But the greater preoccupation on the left is to preempt and counter the theo-conservatives and to search high and low for evidence of racism on the part of others—including Charlie Hebdo itself, for some of the cartoons that we know about, the one about the Nigerian girls most notably, but even some of the anti-Islam ones. Fear of power comes into play on the left also, but in a very different way than on the right. People on the left, who will tend to see Muslims as victims of Western power objectives and think Christians and Jews have plenty enough power to fend for themselves, will be more likely to see Muslims in general (though not mass murderers) as victims.

Both of these positions are relativist in almost exactly the same way. They’re mirror images of each other of course, but for both, how to respond to this atrocity is chiefly about which set of actors threatens their world view—Muslims (for the right) or the mostly Christian and somewhat Jewish capitalist power structure (for the left).

But the response should be about humanist values and nothing else. This isn’t about power relationships or who’s offended and who’s not. It’s certainly not about racism, either Charlie Hebdo’s or the right’s, and it isn’t even about free speech per se. It’s about the specific right to commit blasphemy, especially through satire, an activity that, as Jeffrey Goldberg noted a few days ago, is “directly responsible for modernity.” Obviously it’s not the only precondition of modernity, but it’s up there.

The Christian and Judaic systems do have more modernity than Islam has right now, there’s no doubt about that. This is the smidgen of a point the right has, although 1) I hate to cede that point to “the right,” because it is a fundamentally liberal point that liberals should be willing to make, i.e. that the Muslim world needs more liberalism, and 2) the right embeds it in so much paranoid and bilious upholstery that it gets buried and alienates many who might otherwise agree. But I do wonder what would happen to an American publication that published a blasphemous drawing of Jesus and friends of the sort I described above.

The editors probably wouldn’t end up dead. But note that I feel comfortable only saying “probably,” not “definitely.” Without question they’d get death threats, hundreds or thousands of them, and they’d need police protection, and they’d lose advertisers and sponsors and maybe be forced out of business and not be able to find decent new jobs. None of those things is painful death, so that’s a difference and an important one. But it’s not as clean a distinction as merely defending the right to commit religious offense, period. That’s what modernity is, and we could use a little more of it ourselves.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 12, 2015

January 13, 2015 Posted by | Charlie Hebdo, Paris Shootings, Religion | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Paris Terror: What ‘Je Suis Charlie’ Should Mean To Us”: Restoring And Preserving Everything Decent That Distinguishes Us From Our Enemies

Not long after 9/11, leading figures in France’s champagne industry decided that they would hold their 2002 annual awards gala in New York City rather than Paris. At no little expense, they displayed solidarity with New Yorkers, and America, at a time of sorrow and fury – like so many of their compatriots. The first toast of the evening included the words, “We are all New Yorkers.” It was one more instance, symbolic but significant, when the French renewed the bond that has existed since this country’s founding.

And not too long after that, disagreement between the French government and the Bush administration over the invasion of Iraq led to a breach between us and our oldest allies. They tried in vain to save us from a tragic mistake or worse, and were rewarded with vilification from Fox News to the floor of Congress.

By now, of course, we know that the French never disagreed with us about the danger posed by Islamist jihad, only about the means and priorities in combating that adversary. Today the French military is supporting the U.S. and other allies by conducting airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq. That continuing alliance requires us all to repeat “Je Suis Charlie” in the aftermath of the atrocious terror attack on the Parisian satire magazine Charlie Hebdo.  Yet while we owe that gesture to our old friends, we still owe them, ourselves, and the world much more.

As an assault on liberty and security, the barbaric shootings that killed the editor of Charlie Hebdo, four cartoonists, a police officer and six more innocents cannot be excused or explained. The victims had every right to do what they were doing and what they had done, regardless of the violent anger they stirred among the perpetrators and their sponsors. It is criminal warfare by an implacable enemy that will not desist until it is destroyed.

To understand what is at stake in this struggle, it is important to look closely what we are defending. There is no equivalent to Charlie Hebdo in the United States, nor is there a tradition of the kind of anti-religious satire that has been among its specialties. Those killed had the kind of cultural stature of Doctor Seuss, Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau, the editors of Mad magazine or the producers of The Daily Show – except that their style is far more offensive and challenging than most Americans can imagine, not only in insulting Islam but Christianity, Judaism, and every other congregation of believers in France.

Rightists who regard the defense of Charlie Hebdo as merely another opportunity to bash Muslims ought to glance back at the magazine’s equally savage assaults on institutions they hold dear, since its anarchic sense of humor has spared no one. Nobody needs to approve of anything that the editors published, including the mocking cartoons of Muhammad, to reject the use of violence to suppress them.

Indeed, it is possible to reject the content of those drawings and still stand firmly with the Charlie Hebdo staff. In free societies, there will always be writers and artists who use their freedom in ways that the rest of us find obnoxious, ugly, even dangerous. The French imam who denounced the killings clearly and called the victims “martyrs” surely doesn’t care for those cartoons. But he knows the price of living under constitutional freedom that protects his right to worship – and to protest, without violence, words and pictures that offend.

If only the would-be persecutors of Islam in the West adequately comprehended that same principle. And if only they realized that such persecution is exactly what the jihadists desire.

Effective opposition to violent Islamism means neither denying that this grave challenge exists nor demonizing Muslims. It means seeking to make ordinary Muslims, by far the most common victims of Islamist terror, our allies as well. And in the aftermath of the Iraq war, the Senate torture report, and every other mistake and crime since 9/11, supposedly committed to defend liberty, it means restoring and preserving everything decent that distinguishes us from our enemies.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, January 9, 2014

January 10, 2015 Posted by | Charlie Hebdo, France, Freedom | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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