The Grown-Ups At The Charlie Hebdo Table

One of the choices that had to be made in writing about the massacre of Charlie Hebdo was whether to publish the cartoons that gave particular rise to the offense.  I decided to do so.  In retrospect, I would not have made a different choice.

It has nothing to do with the content of the cartoon, and I feel no compulsion to offer the standard caveat about religion or offense.  I made my decision based on the fact that I support the right of free speech, regardless of content or offensiveness, and by publishing the cartoon, use my soapbox to support the fact that Charlie Hebdo would not be intimidated into silence at the end of a gun.

David Brooks, at the New York Times, might call this an immature message.  Perhaps even a puerile message.

In most societies, there’s the adults’ table and there’s the kids’ table. The people who read Le Monde or the establishment organs are at the adults’ table. The jesters, the holy fools and people like Ann Coulter and Bill Maher are at the kids’ table. They’re not granted complete respectability, but they are heard because in their unguided missile manner, they sometimes say necessary things that no one else is saying.

Healthy societies, in other words, don’t suppress speech, but they do grant different standing to different sorts of people. Wise and considerate scholars are heard with high respect. Satirists are heard with bemused semirespect. Racists and anti-Semites are heard through a filter of opprobrium and disrespect. People who want to be heard attentively have to earn it through their conduct.

Brooks’ message is one that has been made regularly. It’s a lie.  While there is no question that healthy societies don’t suppress speech, that message cannot co-exist with the creation of a hierarchy of valued speech.  Brooks’ “respect” quotient reflects his comfort level, his sensibilities, as well as the sensibilities of many others who shudder at the decline in civility of expression.  He respects that which makes him most comfortable.

The problem is that the speech that makes people most uncomfortable is the speech most in need of protection.  I didn’t post the Charlie Hebdo cartoon because I love it or share its sentiment.  Hell, I don’t speak French, and don’t know what it says. I don’t care. I did it to make a different point, that a healthy society demands that all of us take a risk to support free speech in the face of guns.

No, I am not at risk of the fanatics attacking SJ World Headquarters.  But I will take as much of that risk as I possibly can. I will not be intimidated. I support the fact that Charlie Hebdo would not either, and honor their choice.  Accordingly to Brooks, I do not deserve to sit at the grown-up table.  That’s fine with me, as I choose not to sit with Brooks or his self-righteous grown-ups.

When Rick Horowitz used a Charlie Hebdo cartoon as his avatar on twitter to show solidarity, however, the shrews of self-righteousness challenged him.

The image I chose was – deliberately – one of the mildest I could find of the covers from Charlie Hebdo.

One Twitterer called me on it.

Iago Cheney Twit

Now, I still don’t fucking know exactly how to respond to that. Obviously, I can support free speech without passing along offensive cartoons. But that was not the initial point, as you will recall from what I said above. (Hint: It was about not allowing oneself to be intimidated by murderous asshats who are willing to kill when they are offended by people “speaking” – especially through cartoons – things of which they, the murderous asshats, do not approve.)

But this was followed up by others who felt the need to police his choice.

Then came this, from a Twitter friend:

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 3.41.09 PM

And, later, this:

Mirriam Seddiq Retweets


It gave Rick pause to consider his decision. He did some soul searching. He spoke with a Muslim friend.  He reached his epiphany.

And so, finally, this too, I know: I do not need to offend my friends, to fight our enemies.

Fighting our common enemies doesn’t require Being Charlie Hebdo.

No, standing up for free speech does not demand that one publish things that they find offensive just because.  But that’s a strawman argument, as that was not why people are republishing the cartoons deemed so offensive as to be worthy of murder.  This was not a cheer for free speech, but a condemnation of murder or the exercise of it.

But the self-proclaimed grown-ups muster rationalizations that allow them to remain in their comfort zone, where they can support what grown-ups support, take no risk of being called puerile and maintain their respectability.  They are unwilling to take the chance of looking foolish or offensive by putting their respectability on the line and standing for something.

There are times when a discussion of rights such as free speech demands great nuance.  There are times when it demands the guts to tell murderers that we will not be intimidated into silence.  Grown ups should be capable of distinguishing between the two.  Cowards make excuses. There is always an excuse for not taking a risk.

52 thoughts on “The Grown-Ups At The Charlie Hebdo Table

  1. John Thacker

    Publishing something does not indicate endorsement, a principle that nearly everyone concerned recognizes when the offensive imagery is different. Indeed, the same newspapers that refused to publish the covers published on their front page the French (Muslim) policeman being killed, and no one would think that it was an endorsement, and of course in the past have published other highly offensive images for the purpose of news and commentary. Certainly some people objected, but on the whole not the sort of people who respond with murder. The difference here is not at all whether or not the imagery is offensive, but purely the chance of retaliation.

    The last point shows why the whole affair is backwards. It’s *especially* important to publish the news precisely when it is threatened by violence, not the reverse. Publish it with warnings or excuses that the content is offensive and publishing is not an endorsement, but show the news. Ross Douthat easily had the better of this argument compared to his colleague Brooks.

    1. Clarence

      I also read the Douthat op-ed. He quotes Christopher Hitchens, stating in essence, that there is nothing to debate until the other side puts down its guns.

      And that is the crux. When a zealot aims a gun at a cartoonist (or journalist, or writer, or philosopher, or me) and demands compliance or else . . . we must take the dare.

      We must persist until they put away the guns.

      Brooks misapplies the grown-up table analogy. Continuing to use a pen to make your point – while an opponent aims a gun at you – gives you a place at the grown-up table.

      If and when the zealots put down their guns, they can join us at the grown-up table, and THEN MAYBE, we could consider a debate about free speech.

        1. Clarence

          I’ve read the Hitchens’ quote many times and places, but the Douthat op-ed stuck with me because of the title – The Blasphemy We Need. I cannot shake that title or idea from my thoughts.

          So that’s my lame excuse for not remembering you had quoted Hitchens yesterday, sorry.

          Charlie Hebdo – The Blasphemy We Need.

          1. SHG Post author

            It was painful to come in sloppy seconds to Douhat. As I’m told today, there are serious people like Brooks and Douhat, and then nobodies like me. Thanks for driving that point home. Of course, Douhat’s column disagrees with Brooks too.

            1. Clarence

              Let me drive my corrected point home:

              Those who draw &/or publish cartoons to fight zealots – Charlie Hebdo, Scott H. Greenfield, et al – are seated at the grown-up table.

            2. SHG Post author

              Do I have to sit at the grown up table? It’s a monumental bore there. Asking for a friend.

              Okay, now I’m done screwing with you. Thanks.

  2. nidefatt

    So.. you agree that you don’t have to publish offensive material to support free speech but you think people should “take a risk” by publishing offensive material that you accept probably doesn’t run you any risk. Further, you disagree that there is a hierarchy of speech, while at the same time clearly believing your “risky” speech is far better than anyone else’s.

    I can’t tell if you consciously troll when you write this crap or if you’re really just an idiot.

    1. SHG Post author

      What I say is what I wrote. Your need to recharacterize it and consequential inability to comprehend it is beyond my control. If nothing else, you bring a singularly unique perspective to your comments. As for whether I’m a troll or idiot, that’s up to the reader. You’re free to pick whichever one suits you.

    2. Patrick Maupin

      SHG published your offensive speech when he didn’t have to.

      He didn’t ask or tell you to take a risk. He’s doing that himself, and for good reason. You can “support” freedom of speech all you want, but proving you have freedom of speech is essentially proving a negative. The only way to show that we truly have it, in general, is to use it to offend.

      > Further, you disagree that there is a hierarchy of speech,

      So who is the arbiter of this shared hierarchy, morons like you? No, thank you.

    3. Myles

      If you put half the effort into understanding what SHG is saying that you put into trying to twist it to suit your politics, maybe you would learn something rather than come off as such an angry, ignorant little dick?

  3. Ed

    I think the pretty obvious choice is “troll”, at least in that regard. It is NOT a lie that different speech has different social and intellectual value; it’s pretty self-evidently true. What he means when he says “healthy societies don’t suppress speech” he’s referring to the force of law being used to do so. He is not referring to the suppression that happens when some speech gets taken more seriously, gets more attention, or earns more money with it. “Free speech” as a principle of law does not obligate us as a society to take all speech seriously.
    His “respectability quotient” has nothing to do with HIS comfort level, but rather with the degree of seriousness that different sources have. The reason satirists are taken less seriously and sit at the “children’s table” is that while they may be really good at pointing out potential problems, they don’t do much in terms of thoughtful analysis or offering viable solutions. In that regard, they ARE very much like children complaining about some injustice. They may be right about the injustice, or not, but almost invariably they oversimplify the issue and offer nothing remotely realistic as a solution nor even any serious analysis that might help the rest of us deal with it. In other cases they’re simply inflammatory for the sake of being inflammatory like a jock blowing a fart just to watch the cheerleaders howl about it.

    1. SHG Post author

      When all the serious people who offered thoughtful analysis shied from the dangerous terrain of racism, Lenny Bruce confronted it head on. But it wasn’t to be taken seriously, as he was just a comedian.

      Are you sure that only the serious grown-ups provide “thoughtful analysis” and “offer[] viable solutions,” while satirists are just jocks blowing farts? I think your facile characterizations emit an remarkably unpleasant odor.

    2. Sgt. Schultz

      It is NOT a lie that different speech has different social and intellectual value; it’s pretty self-evidently true.

      Well, since you put “not” into all caps, you must be right. Except it’s NOT “self-evidently true,” and it’s a lie that too many pretentious but stupid people believe. “Oh, a professor/district attorney/cop said so, it must be true.”

      That plays well with stupid people, but not with anyone with half a brain. Credibility doesn’t come from being pompous, but from content, no matter what format is used to present it. Was that what you were trying to say?

  4. Rkw

    As one of my daughter’s t-shirt says “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.”

  5. DanQ

    The motivations (misguided guilt or sympathy, fear, etc.) matter little when the results of such a policy/ideology is an implicit acceptance of deferential status in the minds of those who see our core liberties as impediments to power.

  6. John Barleycorn

    You have been taking, and have took, more than a few steps outside of the “comfort zone” to change the jubilee for some time now Mr. Greenfield within the context of this post and far beyond.

    I apologize if any of my efforts have ever, and most likely lacked thereof, in the back pages comments to distract you from your endeavors. You are upon a worthy course while inspiring others in ways that were only imaginable just a few short years ago.

    Man up and go there! It is not going to come through aggregation or patience. Your writing and thoughts are helpful and regardless of your occasional posturing most likely touch your soul. Write more, aggregate less. Just saying and not judging, but you have a fire that few do. (not a request even if you could and should modify your tastes in wrist watches and sports cars)

    Your efforts and diligence are reflected in the unquestionably reach your front pages and archives will hopefully keep bringing for some time to come. “We”-“I” love you here in the back pages. You would be a fool if you thought we here, if it were not for your front pages that continue to challenge the “comfort zone” of all us.

    You are a true orchestrator and a closeted writer awaiting no more excuses until it just happens. That’s the unnecessary stubborn cunt in you. Enjoy every monument of it.

    P.S. What’s for breakfast today? I gott’a pretty decent Eggs Benedict recipe, Hollandaise will never die. Your copper pot is beyond reproach. Fuck the editing until the editor pays you. Go there until there is no more. Your children will figure it out in a few decades.

    There is probably a better tune but this one came to mind:

  7. David

    It’s one thing to “normally” not publish “offensive” images gratuitously. But when people are murdered specifically because of those allegedly offensive images, I think context and the story require publishing the images as being central to the story – even aside from supporting speech (which I do ahead of inoffensiveness!), and even if a publication wouldn’t normally do so, because of the newsworthiness of the images themselves in this specific situation.

    USA Today published an op-ed I strongly disagree with, but at least they also (at least online) included covers, so that their readers could decide for themselves if they agreed with the op-ed based on what they saw.

    1. SHG Post author

      But which am I, a troll or an idiot? Serious people only do serious things because they’re serious, and that means they don’t offend anyone because only unserious people are offensive.

      1. David

        I don’t fully understand your point, but I think you’re neither!

        If a blog, or news website, or news or analysis show, never offends me and I never disagree, it’s not informing me nor helping me to think critically. Which is part of why during the lead-up to elections at least, I make a special effort to spend at least some of my time reading websites and commentators with whom I disagree or who support candidates I’m opposed to, but who write and argue well, to try to challenge my preconceptions even though I find some of what they say offensive.

      2. John Barleycorn

        the proof beyond folly is night and day right there you remit to puns that would dull a’Fubar’s sword unnecessarily.

        Pretty good though. I am impressed.

        1. Fubar

          Proposed federal trigger warning regulation for certain rhetorical effigies, to prevent wasting time reading David Brooks:

          This strawman’s a cheap ersatz grown-up,
          Made by one lacking gumption to own up
          That repeating some speech
          Endorses not breach
          Of decorum, but not being blown up.

          1. John Barleycorn

            Chances are my cock will never be in your ass Fubar or vice versa and I know the distillation of barley doesn’t suite you anymore.

            Doesn’t mean Oakland will not become the capitol of word porn and all other porn some day.

            Action figures.

            The world simultaneously should have nothing and everything to do with them.


  8. Noxx

    To use Mr Brooks’ analogy for society at large, no one at the grown up table is terribly concerned about offending the children at the children’s table, which is where the not terribly rational folks with imaginary friends sit.

    The children also tend to not blow themselves up when you mock their imaginary friend, and from there the whole thing sort of falls apart.

    There is a misguided feeling among the “grown up” media that tolerance for religion equates to respect for religious beliefs. This is foolish. Satire is an invaluable social tool for exposing the absurd and inane. Inasmuch as we are fairly obligated to mock Kirby Delauter (Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter), we are obligated to roll our eyes, mock, smirk, and generally deride deists of all stripes, lest their foolishness dictate our social order.

    No one is trying to stop Kirby Delauter from making his absurd demands, this is tolerance. However no one is going to abide by them, that would be stupid. Almost as stupid as submitting to the unreasonable demands of your nephews imaginary friend.

  9. Joe Dunman

    My comment on Twitter was mostly geared toward those arguing that there is some kind of moral imperative to republish the images from Charlie Hebdo to “show those damn Muslims we’re not afraid,” rather than support the freedom of expression. It seemed to me that the people embracing Charlie Hebdo as their own – nay, as themselves – would not act similarly had another organization, such as Stormfront, been targeted by murderers.

    The imagery in many of the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo appears racist and puerile to me, but I can’t read French and nobody has done much to explain the context of them. So I am disinclined to republish them as a show of solidarity when I don’t really know what they’re trying to say. I reserve my endorsements for arguments and art that I know more about.

    And that’s the hitch for me – republishing the Hebdo cartoons seems fine to me if you’re doing it to add context to the killings. “They were killed for their cartoons, here are the cartoons.” But much of the republication appeared to have been done as a “screw you, you dirty Muslims” statement that I do not support and didn’t want to associate myself with.

    Clearly that was not your purpose, Mr. Horowitz’s purpose, or the purpose of many others.

    Ultimately, republish or not, it’s a personal call and one I can understand for those who choose to do so. I do not presume to be the speech police. I can only decide what to do for myself. I had not read Mr. Horowitz’s blog until today and had no intention of telling him or anyone else what they can and can’t say. That would be slightly hypocritical of me.

    1. SHG Post author

      Context, particularly on twitter, is critical to understanding the point of a twit. I included yours as part of the quote from Rick’s post, as one of the twits that he considered. Of course, that has nothing to do with your purpose in writing it.

      Just so I’m clear, I abhor Nazi skinheads and their message. But if Jewish fanatics murdered some because of their publication of racist garbage, I would do the same as I did here. To the extent I understand what Charlie Rebdo’s cartoons say, I don’t like them at all. But I publish them anyway, because no one, whether Charlie Rebdo nor skinheads, should be killed to silence them. Now, if someone wanted to scream down skinheads, that’s a different matter entirely.

    2. Turk

      …but I can’t read French and nobody has done much to explain the context of them. So I am disinclined to republish them as a show of solidarity when I don’t really know what they’re trying to say.

      It’s pretty darn easy to research.

    3. Rick Horowitz

      The twit from Mr. Dunman that I used was actually a retweet from Mirriam Seddiq, as was the other. (That’s why her name shows up above them.)

      I didn’t take it that anyone was telling someone else what to do. It did add to the cause of me stopping to think, rather than – as I admit I’d initially done – simply reflexively changing my Twitter avatar. As I said in my post (and I believe you (Scott), and Mr. Dunman, recognize), the point of doing so was to say just what I think most of the rest (Turk, Randazza, etc.) were saying, “We will not be intimidated.”

      Since I do think I’m going to write another post about this for anyone still confused over my position, including the “irrelevant” commenter on my blog, I’ll leave this at that for now.

      Oh, and one other thing, just in case it wasn’t clear to anyone: my decision was a personal decision based on my friendships, as I stated in my post. I did not, and do not, intend any negative comment on anyone else who decides differently. (If I did, that would be pretty hypocritical, don’t you think? Since I initially changed my avatar on hearing the news.)

      Okay, two other things: I didn’t change my avatar to something else (the baby, since I don’t know where my original image is right now), because of the initial criticism from Twitter. In fact, I argued back, and got myself blocked. My decision came, as I explained in my post, after a great deal of thought, and talking to Muslim friends (two of them, actually, although I only mentioned one in the post).

      1. SHG Post author

        I don’t think your choice reflected cowardice on your part, as I’ve broadly suggested for those who refused to show the image or blurred the image out of fear that they would fall into the amorphous group of Brooks’ grown ups. Your initial reaction, changing your avatar on twitter, reflected your refusal to be intimidated. Your subsequent decision to not show the image was based on personal choice.

        While I would not have asked anyone for approval of my decision, and the fact that this might be offensive to Muslims changes nothing for me, as I would have been just as willing to offend anyone who did this (this was not a swipe at Muslims, but at fanatics who kill to silence), that’s my choice.

        Then again, I find myself often in a position of offending someone as a matter of principle, so I decided long ago that I will not be a hypocrite when it touches someone or some group that I prefer, but that I will treat everyone equally. There is nothing people find more offensive than to be treated equally. While equality may be fine for others, it never seems to apply them. They want to be special.

  10. unregardless

    To me it depends on what you want your story to be. If you want to say, asshole fanatics killed 12 people over racist cartoons, that’s fine. You can say that and condemn the assholes without printing the cartoons or offending someone with their message. If on the other hand you want to say, terrorist fanatics kill 12 people in an attempt to silence dissent. We will not be silenced through fear. Then you publish them. In doing so you do not have to lionize, endorse, or even condone the message they contain. You may offend some people, maybe even yourself. It is worth it.

      1. Patrick Maupin

        Never mind that. I want to know why you didn’t publish the pictures taken by the asshole fanatics. Sure, some will be offended, but it’s worth it, I say.

  11. John Barleycorn

    The grandchildren suggested TAUK “the spot”. I discarded it but the more I think about it perhaps them too.


    I guess some of us get lucky with the children’s “minds via music”.

    Frank lives even if the musicians cant explain it.

    I love it,

    Some of them are in for many interesting “rides to come”.

    I think we should help them!

    1. John Barleycorn

      ~~Frank lives even if the musicians cant explain it~~

      should read “even if the current musicians cant explain a few things to their audience”

      Rumor has it Fubar is wicked on the drums and stand up base and ECLS plays a decent rhythm guitar. I got the keyboard and “tambourine”!

  12. rjh

    A side note on motivation. I really doubt that the cartoons were the motivation for the attack. They are part of the structure of the attack. In war, terrorism, sports, etc., I’ve learned the important lesson: “The motivation for the action is the desired reaction.” The attack and its description exist to cause a desired reaction in observers. This is like a feint in a sporting event. There are many possibilities:

    1) To boost morale at home, e.g., “Look how powerful we are. We can reach Paris.”

    2) To interfere with some other actor, e.g., Al Quaida reminding ISIS “Don’t think you can ignore us.” Or perhaps to force problems in negotations between Iran and France (et al) over nuclear power. Iran needs to say something about the attacks, and whatever they say will annoy someone.

    3) To build recruiting in Europe by persuading the general public to be beastly to the generally passive local Muslims. Or to build recruiting by appealing to alienated youth by saying “Join us. Look how powerful we’ve become.”

    The list goes on. The target choice of cartoonists indicates the desire for maximum worldwide press coverage. That doesn’t reduce the list of motivations by much.

    But, in this case I doubt that re-publishing the cartoons does any harm. I don’t see it helping any of the different goals that I can see for the attack.

    1. SHG Post author

      That’s a very sophisticated view of motivations. Whether its accurate, at least in this instance, is unclear, but definitely a very significant observation. And one that hadn’t occurred to me, so it brings a very new perspective. Thank you.

  13. Pingback: A Personal Choice | RHDefense: The Law Office of Rick Horowitz

    1. SHG Post author

      There always seems to be someone who plays the Arthur Chu role of self-proclaimed arbiter of worth.

      If he wanted to diminish CH as vapid and vulgar (which it may well be) as a content review, that would be fine any other day. But even with his opening apology, this was just absurdly wrong.

      1. Patrick Maupin

        It was absurdly wrong, but at least he was brave enough to include his fallacious thesis in a reasonably succinct paragraph:

        Personally, I can’t just let that slide. You see, I’m from the Internet. Things move pretty fast here compared to the “old media” world that Charlie Hebdo occupied, and I’ve already seen what happens when you get a culture that, rather than asking to what end we defend free speech, valorizes free speech for its own sake and thus perversely values speech more the more pointlessly offensive it is—because only then can you prove how devoted you are to freedom by defending it.

        Of course, he buried that right at the end, but it’s still better than the articles where you get all the expository apologia without ever finding out if the author is actually capable of articulating his core belief.

        1. SHG Post author

          Brooks had a few good lines in there. But this was a strawman, that in our dumb rush to post gut reactions in the internet age, we leap to “perversely value speech more the more pointlessly offensive it is,” because we’re just dopey digital kids and he’s a more serious, more thoughtful, grown up.

          There is a rush to judgment in the digital age, but his dismissal of all views but his on that basis is nonsensical.

          1. Patrick Maupin

            It may have been set up as a strawman, but I can argue it without even treating it as such. To prove that we have freedom of speech is to prove a negative, or more precisely, it is sometimes an argument from ignorance to assert that you can say a particular thing without negative consequences from government action (or in the instant case, negative consequences from the sorts of action the government reserves exclusively for itself).

            The best way to reduce the ignorance, to increase the range of ideas that we are fairly sure we can express with minimal fear of official retribution, is to work hard to protect those who espouse the most extreme ideas, because, unlike some of the cops, they really are putting their lives on the line every day.

            So, yes, in point of fact, I do “value speech more the more pointlessly offensive it is.” Not because I agree with its content, but because it helps to inoculate the herd from attacking me for the stupidest shit I might happen to utter. A purely selfish reason, I am more than willing to admit.

            Unlike Arthur Chu, who says “Charlie Hebdo is also a crap publication and people need to stop celebrating it and making martyrs out of its staff.”, Patrick Maupin says “Those guys were awesome!!! But they’re dead now. Who’s going to step up and assume the mantle?”

            1. SHG Post author

              Maybe the issue is the word “value.” I may not personally value particular speech, but I value speech. To do so, I defend speech, and the defense happens on its fringes (as is similarly the case with criminal law). Whether I value the speech I defend isn’t important; it’s that I defend the fringes because that’s where the fight over the speech I do personally value happens.

            2. Patrick Maupin

              > Maybe the issue is the word “value.”

              Yeah, I guess I’m thinking in terms of meta-value, or at least valuing the effect rather than the content. (Those would seem to be inseparable, but a quick glance at any unmoderated forum will disabuse you of that notion.)

              I value some of the speech I don’t value the most, because as long we’re arguing over whether those people should be allowed to say that, we’re not arguing over whether I should be allowed to say this. The Charlie Hebdos, the Randy Weavers, the sovereign citizen lunatics who save kittens — all these are my heroes, not because I agree with any of them, but because they risk their lives to show us where the real boundary is right now.

              > the defense happens on its fringes

              I would like to think a (the?) fundamental mistake that people like Arthur Chu make is assuming that the boundary is static — that if we all just stayed away from it, it wouldn’t change. But I can’t think that, because he appears to recognize that events on the internet have helped to expand the boundary. (And in fact, that seems to be part of his argument — haven’t we gone more than far enough?) So if he recognizes that the boundary moves, what failure of imagination or intellect or hubris leads him to believe that it could never be moved to constrict him?

  14. Pingback: A Lawyer’s Duty – Lawyers Respond To #JeSuisCharlie | Associate's Mind

  15. Pingback: The Context of Offensiveness | Single Speed Seattle

  16. Pingback: A Gift, With No Strings Attached | Simple Justice

Comments are closed.