Reluctant politics, again

Trying to make sense of what is happening.

CH did not have that many fans, with their tiny circulation they were always on the verge of bankruptcy. From what I have seen of CH's production, I'm not a big fan either: by temperament I have little affinity with that kind of rowdy & bawdy approach. They also seemed well staffed with those typical  French sexist intellectuals which I have always found wisest to ignore.  But their undeniable  redeeming feature: no pompous authority (of whatever stripe or colour) was safe for their searing sarcasm (1). So yes, I find it  reassuring to live in a society cherishing a tradition in which  this kind of exuberant irreverence can be part of the landscape. 

However, as b.  pointed out in a recent post, it may be very difficult to understand a tradition in which one has not grown up.  Just as it is not easy for a religious person to understand a  tradition of combative secularity (2) ,  it is not easy for a 'modern' to understand a tradition of love and reverence for religious authority.

Which constitutes an enormous challenge for a diverse, pluralist society which is now composed of  people coming from very different  traditions and backgrounds - how to live together (3) with so very different backgrounds? How to find a common stock of shared values and objectives to build a society upon? (4)  How to accommodate profound differences of opinion? That's what  politics is all about.   

What would Arendt say? 

Hannah Arendt always insisted on plurality as the essence of humankind: "the fact that men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world" .
Arendt's view on politics as summed up by Peter Baehr: (5)
"Politics is a public space where people articulate and clarify common concerns, though from different points of view" [...].
 The specific means of politics is not 'violence', which isolates people and compels them to be silent, but 'power',[... ] deriving  from collective action [of individuals].

Violence ends the debate and the possibility of politics

So I suspect the only solution is : debate, more debate, shouting even, but keep talking: open politics in order to, hopefully, find a compromise allowing people to live together in peace.

Violence ends the debate and the possibility of politics.

Freedom of expression (6)  is essential for debate and for the possibility of politics in a diverse society. The separation of state and religion, together with freedom of religion,  is a necessary pre-condition for a pluralist society.
That set of values constitutes the core of a  pluralist democracy.  It can not be negotiated as it would mean the end of the possibility of having people of different traditions and religions living together  peacefully.

Crushing the offensive voice (or pencil, for that matter) by violence is inadmissible, because it ends the debate and therefore the possibility of politics in a pluralist society.


As an afterthought - the most interesting recent comments I have come across all paid tribute to Ahmed Merabet, French citizen and police officer.  Merabet was a muslim and most probably not a fan of CH, but he was executed by the CH- attackers  because he defended the values and public order of the French republic.

(1) I keep laughing at the CH cover about the revered French actor Depardieu (very talented, worshipped by the French, but over the years having become both exceedingly rich and fat) seeking "Fiscal Asylum" in Belgium. The cover showed the familiar bloated face of Depardieu on a background of Belgium's national colours ; a rhetorical question on top: "Can Belgium  Take In All The Cholesterol of The World"? 
(2) as a Belgian politician from the left insisted quite some time ago : "we're not going to hand back to the Imam, what we have taken from the Bishop"   
(3)   In Dutch the  word "Society" translates as "Samenleving" - "Togetherliving"
(4) off the top of my head: some useful values to build a society upon:   "Live and let Live" -  "Do not to another what you do not want done upon yourself"  - "Peace" - "Individual Freedom without hurting or constraining others" - "Equal opportunities" - "Liberte, Fraternité-Sororité, Egalité"
(5)  The Portable Hannah Arendt - Introduction by Peter Baehr

(6) ok, freedom of expression, but should people be insulted regarding that what is dearest to them? The answer depends on whether you ask for a judgment of good taste or for a political judgment. So where do I stand on this? I’d like to sub-divide the question in 5 gradations:

1.Would I myself want to  offend someone’s feelings by poking fun at religion?  No I would not, that is to say, I would not as long as that religion were a matter of private faith for a community of consenting individuals. So when my Muslim grocer offers me free sweets at the Ramadan-feast, smiling & beaming “c’est la fête”, then I graciously accept the gift.   Because I respect his personal attachment and because courtesy and civility are the cement of good neighbour-ship. (That same grocer wishes me 'Merry Xmas' on Dec 25th). But all the same, I do maintain that, in general, people are entitled to publicly state and defend their atheism.

2. Do I find it personally good taste when a magazine publishes satirical pictures seeking to provoke and offend? Well no, not really.  Savage provocation is not my cup of tea. I also think that more empathy and sensitivity would certainly help to smooth out strained relations between different groups. But, then again, there's a huge difference between ridiculing fundamentalist terrorists (by all means, do deploy pencils against kalashnikovs)  or ridiculing the faith of common law-abiding citizens (not gracious). 

3. Should it be forbidden by law to publish satirical pictures  that provoke and offend?   
Each citizen has the right to go to court if he/she thinks the line between satire and hate speech is crossed. A judge should carefully consider whether a single group is systematically singled out for contempt and derision up to the point that it might foster hate towards that group. Incitement to racial or religious hate is no laughing matter.  
 But if religions and authorities of all kinds are equally targeted by such a magazine? Hard to maintain then that it is persecuting a particular  religion or group.
So no,  I ‘m not in favour of an a priori ban on offensive satire, but case-by-case judgments of whether the satire verges into hate-speech can be sought by each citizen.    

4.Should the law forbid “blasphemy”? ( the web says “blasphemy  is  the action or offence of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things”).  Euh, well …… how to define “God” and “sacred things” in a pluralist society? Each religion has its own revealed sacred truths.  And what about the truths atheists and agnostics hold dear?  So no, the law in a pluralist democracy cannot forbid “blasphemy” 

5. Do those who feel offended by “sacrilegious” pictures or deeds have the right to physically attack  the persons responsible for them: No, Never.        


billoo said...

This is a great post, fff, and I think you're spot on to say that violence (and more generally, fundamentalism) end the debate.

Relatively less important points:

1.ridicule doesn't necessarily further debate either (imo).

2. I don't think it's the question of ridiculing religious *authority* here (the analogy of the Prophet with the Pope is perhaps not the right one, the importance of the 'sunna' notwithstanding.)

3. There are 'indigenous' traditions (humour, poetry) which are anti-clerical (i.e. anti-mullah) so if CH was making those points I actually think they'd be welcomed by lots of muslims [who, believe it or not, can laugh! :-)]

What did Arendt once write ..(from memory): "charm, the last humane corner of the world"



Swann Ffflaneur said...

dear b.
1. " ridicule doesn't necessarily further debate either " that is true, one can indeed so hurt people's feelings that they withdraw altogether from the debate.

2. a distinction perhaps difficult to understand for those who have lost the belief in transcendence - but for a catholic, would Jezus be an equivalent of the Prophet?

3. my local paper indeed showed examples of Iraqi TV series poking exuberant fun at IS etc.

I've added further nuance by a footnote 6 :-)

Here's to charm, courtesy, love and "imagination"!


billoo said...

Absolutely agree with you, fff! The idea that one has a right (legal or moral) *not* to be offended strikes me as odd (though I think the language of rights can divide or isolate individuals -a good *and* a bad thing, imo).

And it is worth remembering how the blasphemy laws have been misused to persecute Christians and Hindus in Pakistan (and I suspect in other countries as well).

Aside: I have friends (Ahmadis) who have received death threats and one who has actually had to leave the country.

Yes, I think that's probably a good equivalent-and for what it's worth, since muslims are supposed to recognize/respect and revere all the Prophets (of the Book) mockery of Christ is also considered by many to be deeply offensive.

Och, what can I say much 'thoughtlessness'! There was a time when Ibn Arabi could say that in some sense the polytheists are closer to the truth because they don't 'bind' the divine to one form or perspective; Rumi could say to be a muslim Christ must be born in the desert of the heart..

[Gosh, for a second I almost sounded religious! :-)]

I think formal religion is over (by and large). But the religious spirit continues: in art, companionship, love, music, beauty...maybe that's what Holbein's 'Dead Christ' was about? (Kristeva has a fantastic essay on this).



Swann Ffflaneur said...

dear b - very interesting, your thoughtful comments are a joy to read.

and yes, i too ardently hope that beyond "materialism" , beyond "formal religion", the religious spirit can continue - thoughtfully & humanely ... [amen -:)]


PS will be checking out the Kristeva essay

Roxana said...

thank you for this post, fff, i have finally found a reaction to this issue with whom i totally agree, and i think it couldn't have been written better, with such thoughtfulness and attentiveness to detail...

Swann Ffflaneur said...

hey Roxana - good to hear from you! (now that the bridge is floating in stillness...).

thanks for your generous comment - but more and more I feel that thoughtfullness and attention to detail are in fact not what it takes to thrive in this world...

i hope you're well? , and as creative as ever?