what did they expect?

“What did they expect?” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this comment made about the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. “What the fuck did they expect?

The implication is that since the editors and cartoonists knew that images of the Prophet Mohammed offended Muslim extremists, they should have expected a violent reaction from them. Because they knew Muslim extremists were capable of massive acts of immoderate and irrational violence, they should have expected to be firebombed or stabbed or shot. Because they knew something like this might happen, they shouldn’t publish cartoons of the Prophet.

In other words, Charlie Hebdo should let extremists decide what they ought to publish.

But let me actually answer the question. What did the editors and cartoonists and support staff of Charlie Hebdo expect? They expected people who were offended by their magazine would choose not to read their magazine. It’s that simple.

If you’re offended by rap music, don’t listen to rap music. If you’re offended by South Park, don’t watch South Park. If you’re offended by Sarah Palin, don’t listen to Sarah Palin. If you’re offended by photographs of naked people, don’t go to exhibits that show photos of naked people. If you’re offended by Charlie Hebdo, don’t buy or read Charlie Hebdo.

So let’s turn that question to the Muslim extremists? What the fuck did they expect? If they knew Charlie Hebdo published outrageous cartoons of the Prophet, they should have expected to be offended. So let’s consider their options.

Option 1 — Don’t buy or read Charlie Hebdo.

Option 2 — Gear up and slaughter as many people who work at Charlie Hebdo as they possibly can.

This is not a difficult decision. I don’t think it was unreasonable for the staff of Charlie Hebdo to expect folks to choose Option 1.

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10 thoughts on “what did they expect?

  1. how does one comment on the obvious… which is yet, at the same time, ignored by those in fear of anything. what do these people expect when they get into their cars? I mean, 98.765% of all car accidents are within 10 miles of one’s home… so will they drive? or will they move?

    to me, there is such a revealing moment, just like in other instances: the reaction in Boston, versus the reaction in Paris (police, authority and people)… and the bombing in London back in the oughts, and any bombing here. for country rather “untouched” by such man-inflicted acts, and also that carries the proverbial big stick, there is a strange reaction. I do wonder if it is also related to the facile comparisons made to Nazis for all kinds of grievances by the gov’t.

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  2. I’ve been thinking about this stuff. It seems to me — and I admit, I may be entirely wrong — that beneath the ‘what did they expect’ viewpoint is an intense hope for stability. “Maybe if we ignore them, they’ll just leave us alone and go away.” I’m not just talking about the Hebdo attack, or even about political or ideological extremism. I think that irrational hope also applies to other unpleasant realities like climate change and (in the US) gun policy.

    I think that’s a false hope, but there it is.

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    • I agree. People have amazing powers of denial and mighty powerful reluctance to have to shift themselves to actually take action on anything in their own lives, much less something bigger, more amorphous and harder to feel they can have any impact on by their own little selves. Inertia and denial…

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  3. I don’t really have an ounce of defense for Charlie Hebdo. Sure, it’s wrong that they were killed. That’s easy. But it’s also wrong to act like “if you don’t like it, don’t read it” is an acceptable place to leave things when it comes to hate speech.

    It’s not only acceptable, but important, to defend a wide range of things that people have a difficult time with- whistleblowing and other forms of speaking truth to power, pornography created by consenting adults and clearly marked as mischief for mischief’s sake…

    But it’s important to acknowledge that hate speech- which I believe is what Hebdo’s virulently racist content was- is a form of harm and aggression toward a group of people, and a clear precursor to even more material harm, quite a bit of which has actually occurred to that group.

    Even porn that makes representations of obviously unacceptable behavior does not present itself as endorsing that in real life, though sometimes that distinction gets abused. It takes some personal judgment to decide whether someone is hiding behind “satire,” or “porn” to get away with something. I feel like Charlie Hebdo is doing that.

    Not for a second does the cartoon hate speech justify senseless murders. But there’s something morally bankrupt about all these political leaders making a pious show of respect for free speech in this case, but when it comes to whistleblowers blowing the lid off the same leaders’ behavior, they can’t shut them up fast enough.

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    • There are a LOT of people who agree with you. I’m not one of them, I’m afraid.

      I admit, though, a lot of CH’s cartoons make me uncomfortable. I find many of them offensive. But here’s the problem (at least in my opinion): it’s not always easy to distinguish between hate speech and satire. A lot of times it has to do with context and consistency. Here’s an example — the American underground cartoon artist R. Crumb created a character named Angelfood McSpade. She was drawn in an incredibly racist caricature style, and the comic plots had her engaged in incredibly racist behaviors. The exaggerated racism of that cartoon was directed AT racism rather than BY racism. The same was true of the Archie Bunker television character, who was consistently presented as being racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic. It’s the context that reveals the purpose.

      When you add that to the long tradition in France of vulgar satire (which goes back to the days of the French revolution), particularly towards religion, it makes it even more difficult for folks (like me) who aren’t French to understand Charlie Hebdo.

      You say you think CH is hiding behind “satire”…to get away with something. I suppose that’s possible, though it seems unlikely to me. I mean, if CH really wanted to promote hate surely they could find a more effective way of doing that than publishing a satirical magazine directed at liberals, leftists, and intellectuals.

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      • I think you’re missing the crux of the problem I’m having. Certainly what we’re debating here is *part* of it. The blurry situations that can occur when we become satirical or sarcastic are a necessary part of free conversation, and I have a pretty high tolerance for them. So the fact that we’re parsing them a little differently isn’t that important to me.

        What is VERY important to me is that people in formal positions of institutional power seem to me to be behaving disingenuously. I think we hold such people to a higher standard than we ought to- their personal utterances in informal moments ought to be given just as much leeway for humanity and moments of frustration as any other human who’s not always at their best.

        But when you are occupying an institutional role, and you choose to use it to make highly visible, pious displays of reverence for freedom of speech over what I think is hard to understand as anything but virulently racist expression, while remaining silent about whistleblowers and various other speakers of truth to (your own abuses of) power, or more controversial things like porn that satirically exposes hypocrisy by making tawdry imitations of it, I have a problem. I see white supremacy, and repressive states exhibiting troublingly selective vision about the freedoms they’re supposed to uphold.

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      • [P]eople in formal positions of institutional power seem to me to be behaving disingenuously.

        I agree. How could I not? Yes, absolutely, government officials who attempt to silence reports of governmental abuses and still trumpet free expression are being disingenuous.

        I think, though, that it’s not entirely hypocritical for those same government officials to be shocked and outraged by a murderous assault on a satirical magazine by religious extremists.

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  4. I also don’t consider the fact that the French have a long cultural history with grotesquery to be much of a defense. European cultures in general have deep strains of ugliness and bullying in them that don’t deserve reverence just because they’ve been going on a long time.

    And I say this as a Francophile with a generally deep affection for the culture, the language, and the place.

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    • I don’t think Charlie Hebdo is worthy of reverence. I’m not entirely convinced they’re worthy of respect.

      Free expression, on the other hand, is absolutely worthy of respect and reverence and protection.

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      • I think it’s entirely hypocritical if they’re going to have a massive freakout and show of piety over this, and crickets over whistleblowers and politically thornier things to take a stand on than mass murder.

        Again, I’m not a detractor from this conversation on free speech grounds at all. I’m a detractor from it on grounds of balance- the sense of proportion and attention given here is baldly power-motivated and racist.

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