Monday, January 12, 2015

Je Suis Dan Synder?

Can anyone help me understand the difference between cartoons mocking Mohammad and use of the name “Redskins” for an American football team? 

I’m not writing to excuse the assault on Charlie Hebdo, and I don’t mean to trivialize its consequences or implications by comparing it with the ongoing uproar over the name of Washington DC’s team.  I’m just trying to get my mind around how editorialists and other opinion makers can more or less simultaneously insist that we beneficiaries of Western Civilization stand in solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo staff (peace be upon them), and not with Dan Snyder, owner of the Redskins.  Are/were not both exercising the right of free speech, freed expression?  Have not both been assaulted (albeit in very different ways) by people who believe that they have the right not to be offended?

Does the difference lie in the nature of the assault?  Native Americans and others in the U.S. have used legal action and appeals to public opinion; the attackers of Charlie Hebdo used bullets and (earlier) firebombs.  That’s a valid distinction, surely, but does it justify us in ramping up editorial mockery of Islam – as is surely implied by the call for us all to “be Charlie," and not rationalize backing Snyder?  If somebody took out the Washington team's owner tomorrow, should we all start chanting “RedSKINS, RedSKINS?”

Or does the difference lie in the perceived basis for the offence?  Radical Islamists like those who attacked Charlie Hebdo apparently believe that they are acting on behalf of God/Allah himself when they do their dirty deeds, while Native Americans who object to the Redskins sobriquet base their objections on centuries of genocidal oppression.  Maybe that's a valid distinction, but it strikes me as a rather slippery one.  In an interesting coincidence, Muslims have been experiencing oppression by western colonial powers since about the same time Native Americans began to feel it – ca. 1492 AD.  And God/Allah is notoriously mum about his/her desires (except to some fundamentalist Christian mullahs, with whom he [definitely HE] apparently chats routinely), while history is by definition in the past.  The basis for rage among Islamists and some Native Americans in the present seems to come down simply to the fact that they are offended by what they view as disrespect for their spiritual/cultural beliefs.

So where do we draw the line?  Under what circumstances do we line up in support of free expression, and when do we support its suppression, whether through self-censorship or the acts of government?  I don’t deny that there are lines to be drawn; I self-censor myself all the time, and I imagine that so does anyone else who writes for public consumption.  But I worry about it, and I worry about populations and media that rally to slogans without thinking through their implications.  I’d be grateful for enlightenment.


EB said...

Nous sommes Charlie precisely because Dan Snyder can call his team the Washington Redskins. No one is going to storm his office with weapons drawn. Where do we draw the line? We draw the line when a fundamental right is taken. He has the right to use the word - not to profit from it. Freedom of expression is fundamental - making millions licensing t-shirts is not. He is free to speak. And just as he is free to speak by keeping the name, so are we all free to say how offensive it is. I have not thought of Je suis Charlie as supporting these cartoons, but as supporting the cartoonists - - supporting the right to say what we want without being gunned down in cold blood. We cherish our choice, our right to say “Fuck the draft” (Cohen v. California), to burn flags (Texas v. Johnson), to have groups of caustic individuals assemble to speak their minds (National Socialist Party v. Skokie), and to mock public figures (Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell). It is the nature of the assault. If Dan Snyder wants to keep his team name he still has that choice. We line up when someone takes that from us.

Anonymous said...

The vile and cowardly assault on Charlie Hebdo by those opposed to CH’s free expression rights cannot rightfully be compared to the rational, civil and reasoned opposition that has been lodged in the courts of law and public opinion by the opponents of the Washington NFL teams’ name.
Certainly Dan Snyder’s critics are not advocating anything remotely similar to the violent actions perpetrated against the beloved artists, writers and poets of Charlie Hebdo.
In a free and democratic society we are encouraged to express our civil objections to speech, that dialogue is fundamental to our civil society.

The terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo acted as judge, jury, and executioner, there was no respect for CH’s rights and humanity.
The basis for comparison is not there Dr. King.

Anonymous said...

I'd go to the wall to defend the right to protest/petition/sue/pressure/boycott. But some choose guns. The anti-Snyder people are not using guns. So the difference between actions in Paris and DC is what is within your rights to do. And aside from rights, the best tactic in attacking offensive speech is always more speech.

Douglas J. Boucher said...

Dear Tom---

Hello, I'm Douglas Joseph Boucher. I am an intern at Petra National Trust in Amman, Jordan. I am here developing CRM curricula for Jordanian Youth while I get my Master's Degree in Global Development from University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. I want to say thanks! Your book Cultural Resource Laws and Practice has really helped me out! Jordan is lacking in CRM legislation so your book and I are trying to fix that. Again, thanks for being there.

Douglas J. Boucher, BA (anthropology)
Petra National Trust
Amman, Jordan