“I Make No Effort to Indulgently Understand Tyranny. I Am Charlie”

Free speech In the wake of the attack in France on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, I call on all news and publication outlets to reprint satirical articles from the magazine and publish images that Jihadis object to. This should be done in the name of freedom, symbolic expression, and solidarity with those killed in France. I consider myself a pretty decent democrat committed to liberal values that includes such qualities as tolerance, diversity, compromise, pursuit of the best argument, deliberative processes, and respect. But these Islamic extremists who kill people because of some flimsy insult push the boundaries of all of these.

They consider nothing to be outside the realm of their own decisions about what is deserving of violence, and represent the type of political sensibilities the world has been evolving away from for 200 years. They care about nothing except their own ideological purity, always a dangerous condition. And we certainly have not seen the last of these. The communities that ring the city of Paris have become infested with radicalized extremists who advocate mass murder and even genocide in certain cases. These are the kinds of extremes that call for restrictions on liberty and that’s always a dangerous moment. But what can you do? Can we make it easy to blowup soccer fields, performing arts centers, kosher grocery stores, and schools just because we object to inspections and security profiling?

And this sort of extremism in the name of religion is not the result of weak economies or abstract political theories objecting to US foreign policy. It increasingly looks like an ideological system bent on imposing its doctrines on others.

I turn at these times to the Euston manifesto with respect to democracies which advocates a muscular democracy. That is, it clearly defends the limits of tolerance and acceptability. I quote two paragraphs below but it is the very last sentence of paragraph 2 that is the most muscular. In other words, democracy is not about that spectrum of the left that knows no group that is not oppressed and gives all sorts of groups a free pass with respect to responsibility being associated with individual volition rather than abstract social forces.

1 For democracy.
We are committed to democratic norms, procedures and structures — freedom of opinion and assembly, free elections, the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers, and the separation of state and religion. We value the traditions and institutions, the legacy of good governance, of those countries in which liberal, pluralist democracies have taken hold.

2 No apology for tyranny.
We decline to make excuses for, to indulgently “understand”, reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy — regimes that oppress their own peoples and movements that aspire to do so. We draw a firm line between ourselves and those left-liberal voices today quick to offer an apologetic explanation for such political forces.

Two groups of leaders need to denounce these attacks and speak up in defense of liberal values. Muslim leaders are one of these groups and they need to go beyond simply objecting to violence. They must begin a program of explanation and clarification about Islam making clear that the God of Islam does not endorse such behavior. And secondly the leaders of Western countries must systematically explain, clarify, and defend the liberal state. Many immigrants as well as citizens of a country – whether it be in the outskirts of Paris or to the United States – need to understand more clearly and sharply what it means to live in a democracy and the boundaries of diversity and tolerance. This will include proper forms of protest. I might make the argument that a news outlet should be aware of too much satire and criticism of one group and respect in a diverse society requires limiting such copy. But this sort of criticism or humor still exists in the realm of symbolic behavior and is protected speech. The only way to object to what someone writes is more writing and the power of the better argument.



About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on January 12, 2015, in Communication and Conflict Resolution and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Well said. I applaud you sir. Islam needs a reformation. Let us hope that it is possible.

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