Tag Archives: Naomi Klein

Why We Are Not Charlie

by Cleopatra Parnell, Vanessa Tottle, and Gabriel Valdez
guest edited by Pi Anlo

Please forgive us. We’ve dropped nearly everything from our music and movie coverage for a few days to put our heads together and react to the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo.

You see, we see Charlie Hebdo differently than many. Let us be clear: no one deserves to die for cartoons. Charlie Hebdo staff and artists did not deserve to be attacked by terrorists.

The terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo had no justification and, if we talk about the situation of Muslims in France, we are not attempting to justify the actions of a terrorist organization that has made the situation of French Muslims even worse. Four million French Muslims and a Yemen terrorist organization are two very separate things.

We write this because, as we champion, emulate, and re-post the work of Charlie Hebdo on a massive scale, we have got to ask ourselves: what exactly are we perpetuating?

Most Muslims in France are forced to lead a lesser life with fewer rights than their non-Muslim counterparts. The French government has passed laws specifically aimed at barring Muslims from wearing religious symbols in public. Police are required to stop Muslims on the street and examine their clothing. Riots involving the murder of Muslims have become repetitive. When Muslim children are killed, even by police, the acts are often excused. Gang rape of Muslim women is not prosecuted. A whopping 85% of anti-Muslim violence targets women. Connect those last two sentences. The French prison population is 60-70% Muslim, despite Muslims making up less than 20% of France’s population.

Charlie Hebdo is not responsible for any of this. Yet it is this reality into which Charlie Hebdo launches their cartoons. We will not depict them here, but if you wish to view them, this is a good primer.

Arguments in favor of what Charlie Hebdo does run the gamut. They insult everybody, Muslims and Catholics alike. Never mind that the ratio between the two in negative cartoons, according to our in-house count, is about 9-to-1. Just answer this:

If you walked into a public place in Arizona and launched into a diatribe insulting Caucasians, would it have the same validating effect on power culture and top-down violence as it would if you walked into that same place and launched into a diatribe insulting Mexicans?

Let’s take your hypothetical speech about Caucasians. Just as Mexicans do not have the public support and media framework to take advantage of your speech about the dominant culture in Arizona, Muslims do not have that support and framework to take advantage of that viewpoint in France.

Let’s take your hypothetical speech about Mexicans. Just as politicians derive power from such viewpoints to create legal hurdles and obstacles that enable prejudicial treatment and violence toward Mexicans in Arizona, politicians derive power from dominant French viewpoints to create legal hurdles and obstacles that enable prejudicial treatment and violence toward Muslims in France.

Or, in the words of Arthur Chu: “[French President] Francois Hollande is not on the same level as girls who have been kidnapped into sexual slavery, and having the same ‘no-holds-barred’ attitude toward them both is not the same as treating them fairly.”

That’s not to say one speech has more right to exist than the other. They are both subject to free speech, an ideal that should not be censored or otherwise infringed upon. However: to quote Jacob Canfield, “Free speech does not mean freedom from criticism.”

What our metaphor serves to illustrate is that an artist has the responsibility to understand the context into which they launch their free speech, and they must take responsibility when that free speech serves to damage others.

Arguments that claim Charlie Hebdo doesn’t bother anybody are true, so long as you don’t ask the people it bothers.

Aggravation is no basis for criticism, however. What concerns us is the real-world impact. The cartoons of Charlie Hebdo are part of a larger cottage industry of hate perpetuation that runs from Sweden, Denmark, through the Low Countries, and all the way through France. This industry makes its profit through the maintenance and proliferation of a viewpoint that endorses a religious and racial hierarchy in Western European culture, which places European atheists, Protestants, and Catholics at the top, while Jews, Muslims, Arabs, and Africans remain at the bottom. That attitude makes France one of the most violent nations toward Muslims in the world, and that violence is increasing at an incredible rate.

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo were tragic and wrong. The aftermath of tragedy is normally a time to remain respectfully silent, and we would but for the fact this tragedy is producing icons whose hate speech is championed, idolized, emulated, and proliferated.

We support satire. We support free speech. We believe free speech is a blanket that rightfully covers many things, even hate speech, from censorship. We believe free speech, however, is not a blanket that covers over anything and everything from criticism, context, and responsibility.

We also believe in nonviolence. That is why the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo is unjustified, baseless, and tragic. It is also why we must criticize what Charlie Hebdo did as a business and as artists.

Naomi Klein posted a few days ago that “shock is not about bad things happening; it is about allowing ourselves to lose our bearings and narrative when bad things happen.”

Charlie Hebdo may represent free speech, but they also represent hate speech. If you champion them, please do not overlook the hate and violence in France to which they contribute. They still represent something important about free speech, but what they represent is part of a more complex narrative than the “us vs. them” framework currently being defined by many news outlets.

Most importantly, if you emulate, imitate, or even re-post Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons for the sake of free speech, please be aware that you may bring the very real baggage of hate speech along with you, and that – in its own way – continues the proliferation of that hate.

As Teju Cole wrote in the New Yorker, “It is possible to defend the right to obscene and racist speech without promoting or sponsoring the content of that speech. It is possible to approve of sacrilege without endorsing racism. And it is possible to consider Islamophobia immoral without wishing it illegal. Moments of grief neither rob us of our complexity nor absolve us of the responsibility of making distinctions.”

Thank you. We’ll get back to movies, music, and our usual wheelhouse of American social commentary in a few days.

Please note that the writers who contribute here do not constitute a hivemind. This article is endorsed by its writers: Cleopatra Parnell, Vanessa Tottle, and Gabriel Valdez, and its guest editor for cultural context, Pi Anlo. It is also endorsed by writers S.L. Fevre and Olivia Smith.

It is not endorsed by Maria Felicia, Eden O’Nuallain, and Rachel Ann Taylor, a choice that we respect.

Top 10 — The Books That Stay With Me — Gabriel Valdez

One thing we noticed when putting together these lists is that Vanessa’s had seven women writers. Mine only has two. Cleopatra’s and Eden’s lists had three. Now, we’re working with a small sample size, but looking at the rough draft I did – where I listed about 20 books, I still only had three women (Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife just missing my top 10).

I didn’t actively avoid women writers. I just didn’t give it a second thought when I grew up reading so many books written by men. It’s worth considering how this trained me at a young age to look at art – even the best male writer will include different perspectives and prioritize different themes than women writers.

It’s very easy to limit our viewpoints without ever realizing it, especially when we’re young and haven’t even had our own viewpoint challenged. That’s one reason why, as readers and viewers, it’s crucial to always be expanding, challenging, and communicating about the way we look at art.

Here’s my top 10:

Books Watership Down

Watership Down
by Richard Adams

Even today, if I see the cover, I’ll feel chills up my spine, the urge to go hide under blankets. There’s nothing else like reading this so young as I did. The tale of a group of rabbits who set out to find a new home after their old one is destroyed, Watership Down joined White Fang and The Secret of NIMH as challenging works that introduced me to political and philosophical strife. Rabbits and wolves and mice taught me about conquest and military industrialism and social experimentation, that it wasn’t always us vs. them but that it was very often us vs. our government, and them vs. their government, and that we’re often thrust in the middle of false wars to keep administrations running.

Book Congo

Congo/Sphere/Eaters of the Dead
by Michael Crichton

All right, this is cheating, but everything I learned about pulp genre fiction came in a compilation my parents got me for Christmas one year. I didn’t really look at Eaters of the Dead, but Congo – about an adventurous archaeological expedition in Africa – was an action movie in a book. It even found an inexplicable reason to have a gorilla go along for the ride, though for the life of me I can’t remember why.

Sphere, on the other hand, regarding the exploration of a mysterious alien artifact under the ocean, was the most complex science-fiction novel I’d read up to that point. They were gateway novels – Congo led me to Edgar Rice Burroughs and other pulp writers, while Sphere led me to start reading Golden Age science-fiction – the big idea stuff from the 60s and 70s.

Books Chronicles of a Death Foretold

Chronicles of a Death Foretold
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

At a point, I realized I should read something written by the author I was named after. To fully define the effect Gabriel Garcia Marquez has had on my life, I’d need a full article. Luckily, I already wrote one.

Books The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass
by Philip Pullman

The entire His Dark Materials trilogy is stunning, but it was the first – The Golden Compass – that captured me so completely. Known as Northern Lights outside North America, it was the beauty of Pullman’s prose, describing in all of its detail a Victorianesque fantasy world, that made me change the way I wrote. I realized it wasn’t just the words themselves, but some magical atmosphere that resulted from their rhythm, from the intersection of their sounds, that made the kind of writer I wanted to be.

Books Edgar Allan Poe

The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

And so I sought out the master of that rhythm, the man who wrote about sacrificing accuracy in your description for the tone of the sentence as a whole, the one who came up with alliterative phrases that overpowered your senses. I read everything he wrote – his famous horror stories, his comedies, his detective stories, his poems, his essays on writing, and with this came an awareness of other writers of dark fantasy – Sharon Shinn, Clive Barker, Graham Joyce, Neil Gaiman – and how they’d used the lessons Poe taught in their own work.

Books Neuromancer

by William Gibson

My introduction to cyberpunk, an 80s science-fiction genre that posed a world dominated by disturbing attachment to technology, racial divides, military-industrial oligarchies, and aristocratic corporation-states. The work of William Gibson has continued to pose an eerily accurate portrayal of the direction our world is taking, less in its action scenes but more in its mortifying concepts of corporate personhood and human inconsequence. Neuromancer is the definitive introduction to cyberpunk, an enigmatic head trip of mood, tone, and international corporate politics.

Books The Word for World is Forest

The Word for World is Forest
by Ursula K. Le Guin

The 1972 novel with which James Cameron’s Avatar holds a strange number of similarities. I’d read Le Guin before, but never had she written a tale so brutal, stark, and unforgiving. The tale of an indigenous race of aliens who are ghettoized and exterminated in order to retrieve a valuable resource, I would later find it was a direct response to America’s involvement in Vietnam. Even without that context, you could tell it was housed squarely in the United States’ historical genocide of indigenous Americans.

I hadn’t expected three of us this week to include an Ursula K. Le Guin novel on our lists, yet alone three different ones (Vanessa chose The Dispossessed, and Eden chose The Left Hand of Darkness). If you’re at all a fan of science-fiction, you owe it to yourself to pick up one of her novels and dive in.

Books Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
by Robert Heinlein

Heinlein wrote some good novels and Heinlein wrote some great novels. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is his best novel. The story of a penal colony on the moon that revolts against Earth and declares itself a nation, it forced me to look at how cultures develop alternative lifestyles to those typically found in Western nations, and why terrorism, revolution, and rebellion are sometimes interchangeable concepts.

Books Pedro Paramo

Pedro Paramo
by Juan Rulfo

During an independent study in college, I was directed toward Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo. This was the novel that inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez toward magical realism. I started with one translation, not liking it much, before I switched to my girlfriend’s translation, which maintained a more Spanish attitude of thought. It was yet another novel that communicated its messages more in tone than in finite detail.

Books Shock Doctrine

The Shock Doctrine
by Naomi Klein

I’m a little surprised that all four of us chose a Naomi Klein book. We didn’t communicate about it beforehand, but while Vanessa, Cleopatra, and Eden all went with her seminal expose on manufactured identity and brand loyalty No Logo, it was her history of how administrations use disaster and war to overhaul governments that most haunted me.

She compares these restructurings to torture – the idea of torture is not so much to punish or to elicit information. It is instead to force a reset in perceived reality on the part of the victim. You don’t change the victim, you just retrain them to look at the world the way you want them to see it. From early American experiment in torture MK-Ultra, she follows a line of conservative academic thought that posed that torture and overhauling the reality of victims can actually be performed not just on individual victims, but on nations.

She follows the journalist thread from how the CIA practiced social experiments in third-world countries to small-scale implementations up to the seizure of African-American property and the overhaul of New Orleans’ school system after Hurricane Katrina. She finally introduces the ultimate experiment in disaster capitalism – the Bush-Cheney administration and its wholesale overhaul of American government and military structures after 9/11.

The Shock Doctrine is the most revealing look at 21st Century Western government you’ll ever find, and Noami Klein is the single most important non-fiction writer working today. If you take nothing else away from our book lists this week, please remember her name, and look up what she’s written.

– Gabriel Valdez