I’ve taken down the original version of this post because after further considering Charlie Hebdo’s output, the circumstances surrounding the shootings, and the extremely varied responses to Charlie Hebdo and the shootings among people with Muslim backgrounds, I became increasingly unhappy with it.
I have reached the conclusion that my original emphasis on hate speech, and the right of people to fight hate speech is the wrong emphasis. I say this only because I don’t think the killings had anything to do with fighting hate speech. This is so even if you take the alleged killers’ reasons for the shooting at face value, which I don’t.
Fundamentalist objections to blasphemy and secular objections to Islamophobia are almost entirely different things, each originating in a political tendency completely at odds with the other. It now strikes me as wrong-headed for non-Muslim leftists to conflate the two, as if the fundamentalist shares their anti-racist and anti-imperialist objections, but lacks the sophistication to analyze and articulate them in the same way.
This is not to exonerate Charlie Hebdo. The case against them for racism and Islamophobia is stronger than I’d even originally thought, though opinions on that among non-extremist Muslims appear to be all over the map. It’s not a trivial matter, since the extent of Charlie Hebdo’s racism is the measure of #JeSuisCharlie’s depravity. However, I think the discussion of Charlie Hebdo’s content and the limits of satire are out of all proportion to their relationship to the shootings, the most important aspects of which are the political and social forces that brought them about and the ways in which power has exploited, and will continue to exploit them.