Fuck Censorship and Draw On!

It’s safer to be a smart-ass in print than it is in real life.

The dominating story in the news the last day(s) was the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo and the killing of 12 people — ostensibly because they offended some believers (or what they think is holy). Not to mention those who were killed simply because they were trying to enforce the rule of law and ensure the safety of their fellow citizens. But yeah, the main issue seems to be: Some cartoonists/satirists drew cartoons of Mohammed and made fun of Islam. And they were killed for it.

For some reason, these incidents really piss me off. I was angry when Lars Vilks was attacked, I am livid now.

In no particular order …

  • I am pissed that a few assholes can tarnish the reputation of a major religion.
  • I am pissed that these particular assholes killed 12 people as if it were nothing, one practically en passant. ( /!\ I scorn trigger warnings but this video is … hard to watch. /!\).
  • I am pissed that right-wing movements will use these incidents to further their cause, using attacks against free speech to try to establish a kind of “government” that has even less respect for free speech as these terrorists.
  • I am pissed that major news organizations have printed “Je suis Charlie.” images but not the ostensibly offending or “blasphemous” cartoons. I guess many editors are glad that they could bypass the difficult decision and simply print black images with “Je suis Charlie.” or donating money — instead of printing images like these:
  • I am pissed that while the chancellor (of the country I am living in) promised that all belief systems will be protected against the inevitable backlash after this attack (well, let’s be honest, it will be only against one belief system) (German site), she does also warn about having a general discussion about Islam. Sorry, but while I agree that belief systems should not be attacked, discouraging an open discussion where all people will be heard will ensure even more resentments against Islam (and Muslims). If “the masses” have prejudices and misconceptions then for fucks sake openly address these misconceptions!
  • I am pissed that while major Muslim organizations condemn the terrorist attack, they do not seem to take a stand of showing that they will rather accept blasphemy than murder. I mean seriously, if I were to belong to a movement and people claiming to work for the movement did something so vile … I’d make sure that I’d sour their work. And if it meant debasing myself I would. Look. If I were a Catholic pastor who would be pissed off by “some nutjob” pissing on a crucifix and calling it art, and some Catholic killed that “artist” claiming to defend the honor of Christ, I would display a copy of that “artwork” in my church. Simply because no matter how bad or how … disgusting I would find any piece of art it would never justify murder. I would not like it (that’s the point — if it were easy, it would not mean anything!), but I would hold the terrorists responsible, not the artists. The terrorists ostensibly acting in my name shamed me into doing something I detest. Because doing something I detest is necessary to make perfectly clear that I do neither agree with their actions nor would I want in any way profit by them. So I agree with this image:

And beyond the issues that immediately pissed me off — let’s look at the reactions. I mean, seriously, there were a lot of beautiful and clever and moving images about the attack, drawn by cartoonists who sympathize with Charlie Hebdo. You find a great gallery here.

But if these cartoonists really want to give these cowards the finger, shouldn’t they draw cartoons of Mohammed instead of these terrorist fucks? Making fun of terrorists is actually the easy thing to do. The radicals don’t consider you a blasphemer if you do it and they don’t try to kill you.

I agree with Ayaan Hirsi — it’s time to republish the cartoons, and I agree with this discussion that it’s time to spread the risk.

And it’s time for Muslims whose reputation was tarnished by this terrorist attack to show that while blasphemy is … well, blasphemy, it does not justify killing people for it. If you cannot offend people, freedom of speech doesn’t mean shit.

And you know something … it stops here. Fuck it. Terrorists want to induce fear, they want to induce resentments. As someone said, they know they are not strong or powerful enough to bring down a society, so they want the society to turn on itself. As a counter-insurgent specialist once said:

“Every time you disrespect an Iraqi, you are working for the enemy. There’s counter-insurgency in a nutshell. Don’t create enemies.”
Tom Ricks about McMasters and his approach to counter-insurgency

They want the public to treat Muslims like terrorists to create terrorists. Terrorists claim disrespect of the prophet to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not to mention that this kind of climate will only strengthen right-wing politics — which are worse than any terrorism could be.

And yeah, it’s (more or less) easy for me to write this. While I have about 11k visits a month, this blog is miniscule in comparison to what goes on online. I have some good postings, some helpful ones, e.g., on Scrivener and other software. Some good tips and tricks. But I’m not exactly at risk here.

But one thing I know is that I passionately believe in freedom of speech. I believe in the open marketplace of ideas. I respect the complexity of an individual and the need for the freedom to express different views of the world. Well, as long as it does not curtail the freedom of other individuals (or kill them). And you cannot have freedom of speech with censorship. Whether it comes from the fear of your own mind, or of what others might think (with or without an AK-47).

So yeah. These terrorists can deal in fear. They can make people feel afraid. They will always be able to kill people or make them beg for their lives. Anyone who is determined to train to acquire some skills can do it. And they have the obvious advantage of determining when to strike — they have the initiative. But they are few. And while their attacks are oftentimes devastating in brutality and loss of lives, they are limited. They cannot get us all, especially not if more object to them.

So fuck censorship — object to living under censorship laws and draw on.


Update (14-01-2015)

Looking at the press reports since the incident, I came upon one good argument why it might backfire to ask Muslims to take a stand against blasphemy laws by holding up the respective cartoons themselves. One article (forgot which one, sorry) mentioned that it’s the … well, rather uneducated “rebellious” youth who get sucked into terrorism (not surprisingly, others would have questioned why those calling for these attacks don’t do it if it’s so great). If they see their “elders” committing blasphemy by holding up these cartoons themselves, they’d likely see them as sell-outs or traitors — and it might create an even deeper rift. So others might have it even more difficult to notice radicalization and miss chances to intervene (or let the police intervene). Not to mention that even if blasphemy would become a non-issue, the ones calling for terror would just pick/create something else to be offended.

But then again, I still think that Islam desperately needs a reformation — and more humor. Any religion that cannot laugh about itself has a serious problem — or is one for other faiths (and actually, that applies to Atheists/Agnostics too).


  1. Freedom of speech is a beautiful principle. But for me it is also about respect for one another. Those Mohammed cartoons are beyond the limit for me. In France you can go to jail for denying the Holocaust. If there really is freedom of speech one should be able to say “I don’t believe the Holocaust took place”. Don’t get me wrong: I personally do believe the Holocaust happened, but why imprison people who do not if you believe in free speech? Out of for the Jews one should acknowledge their painful history. Where is the line? I have not seen any cartoons about Jahweh.

  2. One more thing: there were no organised marches after Israel’s slaughter of almost 2000 innocent women & children in Gaza, or when 800 000 Tutsis were massacred in Rwanda. No cared about those “incidents” – I am expressing myself politely.

  3. Great comments, thank you. I try to address both in one reply.

    Let’s start with the tension between freedom and speech and respect. The cartoons were designed to offend, no question about it. It’s satire, if it does not hit where it hurts it is not effective. It lampoons bad ideas and people who take ideas as issues of faith do have a problem with it. Of course, there’s a difference between satire and plain insulting without the least respect. But I would ignore that, otherwise you put a value judgment on free speech. And personally, I think that even low-value speech has its place. So yeah, the cartoons hurt, that was their point.

    That brings me to Holocaust deniers.

    I could argue that drawing cartoons of a religious figure vs. denying a historical event that killed millions are two different things. The cartoons criticized an idea and the behavior of its adherents, while denying the Holocaust puts the slaughter of millions of people in question. But I won’t follow that line of thought. It’s not the main issue.

    We have a similar law against denying the Holocaust in German and I totally agree with you that I also think the Holocaust did happen. And as a side-note: Although I do not feel in the least guilty about it as I wasn’t even alive back then, I do think that Germany has a responsibility when it comes to preventing genocides. And as a German citizen I also do feel a certain responsibility — not fault, not guilt, but responsibility. So regarding your second comment — yeah, Germany failed that responsibility in Rwanda. And as for Israel: Unfortunately there is this view that you cannot criticize Israel, otherwise you’re an Anti-Semite or Neo-Nazi. Personally, I think some of their actions might seem understandable in their situation and I’m glad I’m not living there. But even so, I think many things they did are not justified. And I’d hope that we can start criticizing when a countries does something bad, no matter which atrocities have happened to the ancestors of many of their relatives. Two wrongs do not make one right.

    But when it comes to the law against denying that the Holocaust did happen — I think it’s a really, really bad law. I get the impression that the goal is not so much protecting the descendants of the victims, but to ensure that a country can squelch Holocaust deniers quickly. Because let’s face it, these deniers give the country a very bad reputation on the international stage. No matter how many (or rather: few) they are. But I think it’s the wrong way. Let these idiots speak. Then at least we know who they are and how many they are. We can react and, e.g., find out better ways to inoculate the population against these views and evaluate whether these inoculations works. And if it were legal to deny the Holocaust, I don’t think it’s that much of a problem. Do we really think that most of the population sympathizes with these stupid views? If so, we have a huge problem. Personally, I think you’d find a few right-wing newsletters denying the holocaust — at the most. This abhorrent view just has no traction and is widely reviled. But yeah, no idea, even abysmal ones, should be beyond critique. People should know why the idea is abysmal, not end the discussion with “you questioned it, that mean’s you’re wrong”.

    Censorship, even in the name of ostensibly good causes, is very tempting for groups in power. Whether it’s outright laws or just the political correctness that you cannot criticize certain groups or positions or movements. But it weakens the group in power. And given that we have — more or less — a democracy, I do not want that to happen. Because one thing’s for certain, the group that topples a democracy will have no respect for freedom of speech or the rights of the population. We’ve been there, I don’t want it back. And these groups grow when ideas cannot be questioned and issues cannot be openly discussed.

    BTW, the only really difficult issue I have with freedom of speech is libel. In the sense of accusing people of something they did not do, or saying they did not do what they did do. But here the issue is not freedom of speech. It’s — I think — already covered by false accusations. If you make a factual statement about a person you should be able to back it up, or face the legal consequences.

  4. One other issue. I also think that the outrage about these cartoons is mostly manufactured. People who are outraged are … well, not really in the mood for long-term planning. The kind of planning most terrorist attacks took. It’s not my topic, but I think that most terrorist leaders who send out suicide bombers or instigate terrorist attacks are cold power-focused people who use these issues to gain, maintain and play with power. I mean, seriously, for someone who likes power it must feel pretty cool to send out people to die. And I think (but I may be wrong) that here’s a huge difference to, e.g., military commanders. If you command in the military, sending out people to die does not give you power, it does not give you influence. And there’s no ostensibly religious motivation for it. If anything, it makes you a bad commander when people under your command die. But if you are a terrorist leader — my guess is sending out people to kill and (likely) die is better than sex. I would even guess that these people at times feel as powerful as a god. So I wouldn’t even assume a direct causal relationship between cartoons mocking Mohammed and terrorist attacks. There are people who use these cartoons to build personal power. Hmmm, and I don’t know, but perhaps that’s the weakness of a non-hierarchical religion. I detest the Catholic Church hierarchy, but it might have at least some advantages over Islam.

  5. Thank you for this detailed reply, I really appreciate it & can agree with what you say.
    Regarding the Germans & WW2: I look at it as a historic event which was able to take place for many reasons, one of which was denial of freedom of speech. I feel that the Germans of today need not feel any guilt or responsibility for it, they have learned their lesson & so have people in the rest of the world, esp. Europe.
    I do believe that Israel & the Jews have manipulated the Holocaust to their advantage in a pretty disgusting way, not the least financially. The US is basically Israel’s minion, its lap dog that does not dare to do anything against its masters wishes. Furthermore, Israel has basically silenced the German voice for good by using that lever of the Holocaust. Anything Germany says that smacks of the slightest criticism is immediately silenced with cries of “anti-semitism”, neo-nazism, etc. And that is what makes me so angry. And Germany has paid & continues to pay heavily financially.
    To go even further; I believe the current Israeli generation uses strategies & tactics against the Palestinians that are similar to some of Nzai-Germany’s. That makes me even more angry. I guess you understand my pseudonym now 😉
    You might find these 2 articles interesting:

  6. I hate all religions, in any case the 3 major ones. They have only brought war & misery to humanity. I am an atheist & becoming stronger in my atheist convictions every day.

  7. Thank you for the links. BTW, regarding your pseudonym, I made the experience that thinking and emotions, esp. being angry (but also being elated), do not mix well. One of the reasons why I prefer writing when it’s a cold anger, not a hot one. Emotions can provide the necessary motivation, but they frequently bias.

    Regarding the links, I have seen the “IN SOLIDARITY WITH A FREE PRESS: SOME MORE BLASPHEMOUS CARTOONS” article. Personally, I have two issues with it. First, it uses an event of — ostensibly — “Muslim” terrorist violence to demand freedom of speech rights for other groups. Groups that might be on the other side, or at least-side-by-side with that side. Sure, everyone should have freedom of speech, but this is … well, as one person on Twitter said, it’s like going to a strangers’ funeral shouting: “I HAVE ENCOUNTERED LOSS, TOO!”. And while I agree that you should be able to criticize Israel, that there are reasons to do so, and that it is frowned upon and often has severe negative consequences, you rarely get death threats when you do it. Currently, it seems to me that there is mainly one religious “group” that calls for violence. In this sense, yeah, no wonder they are ridiculed the most.
    So I’m not a fan of that article, but still, I don’t think it that shouldn’t be published.

    Regarding the other one — perhaps I’m missing something, but why would they make the claim that “Charb, Hebdo’s murdered editor, he comes across as a racist asshole” when he says that Muhammad isn’t scared to him and the he does not live under Koranic law? He’s right when he does not consider Muhammad as sacred as he does not believe in Islam. And he’s right regarding the law he lives under. And all through the article there’s this “it’s racist” theme. As has been said before, Islam isn’t a race. It’s a faith. What got race to do with it? Aren’t accusations of racism the quickest way to stop criticism? Well, accusations of sexism are faster, but still. And the article using the term “White men” as if it meant something — well, *that* is racist. I mean, I read the article and thought to myself — “WTF, it does not make sense!” And to say that “free speech does not mean freedom from criticism” in the wake of people exercising their right to free speech being gunned down? Killing someone because you (or your leaders) disagree with what they say or draw is not criticism. It’s a cowardly and vile crime.
    But still, if someone thought it should be published, yup, they should do it. Now I know what to think about their site.

    One last comment about atheism and hate of religions. I consider myself an agnostic/atheist, but I do not hate religions. If people decide that they want to believe in something, even as a group, good for them. Religion can provide some people with a framework of life, hope, a purpose. In some cases, religion also motivates people to atrocious crimes. And sometimes, religious institutions protect criminals (e.g., the Catholic Church when it comes to sexual abuse of children). These negative effects should be addressed and the responsible people brought to justice — secular justice. But it’s every person’s personal decision what to believe in. But personally, I am willing to go against a religion when people asserting to act in the name of that religion do terrible things. Whether it’s a terrorist attack, or whether it’s trying to control the way research money is spent (e.g., stem cell research). But even then, it’s usually the people who are the problem, not necessarily the religion. People should have freedom of religion, including freedom from religion. But hating religion? That clouds the issue. And you might end up acting just like the people you despise. What matters is not (only) whether the position a person holds has merit, but also how this person came to this position, how this person defends this position, and how this person treats people who hold different positions.

  8. I agree with balanced argumentation based on facts, but a bit of emotion makes it colourful and, after all, we are not machines.
    Regarding your comments about the 1st article, I don’t agree with yourstatement “you rarely get death threats when you do it. Currently, it seems to me that there is mainly one religious “group” that calls for violence”. The extreme conservative settlers in the Westbank carry out the same kind of violence against the Palestinians there, except we don’t hear about it. The extremist Jews are no different than the extremist Muslims.
    Regarding hate of religion: I hate religion but am not intolerant towards it. I accept & respect people’s choice, but do find it pitiful if I see a person with a high level of education clinging to a fairy story. But that is their choice, I accept it.

  9. I don’t know what happens in Israel, but let’s assume a good faith discussion and consider some extremists settlers killing. I highly doubt that they visited, e.g. the US first, got radicalized and trained, and send back for terrorist/suicide attacks. This training and radicalizing — followed by turning them lose on people not directly involved in the conflict, on commentators and satirists — do you find this anywhere else? Beyond an intensive and stuck “local dispute”?

  10. Training & radicalisation of extremists takes place in Israel proper, don’t believe that they don’t “organise” themselves. And for me cold-blooded killing of commentators & satirists is no different from cold-blooded killing of “regular” people, which is what happens in the Westbank. You are right when you say it does not happen in other countries, but the crime is nonetheless the same, in my opinion anyway.

  11. Hmm, seems like the differences between the situations stack up though: external vs. local training/radicalization, involving people in different countries vs. local people only, a attacking ideas/blasphemy vs. a resource/land-based conflict. It’s one thing living in an area with a huge degree of conflict, but the kind of terrorism that happened in Paris tries to turn the whole world into a potential war zone. And sure, having someone else come into your country is unfair, but I don’t think that both situations are comparable. Well, perhaps in one regard: Most people just want to get on with their lives and have a better life for their children.

  12. Your phrase “having someone else come into your country is unfair” is an understatement, and “Turning the whole world into a war zone” is an overstatement. Let’s just agree to disagree on this.

  13. Note to “phil”:

    The comments are moderated,
    because there’s such a thing as spam.
    Your comments were deleted,
    because there’s such a thing as style.

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