Adam Morby offers yet another opinion of the situation in Paris
I was sat in a meeting talking about the news with my senior editors, and we got onto the Paris shootings. Suddenly, I realised how difficult I was finding it to come up with any kind of an opinion and how blurred so many of the lines had become between all the varying sides.
Freedom of Speech is good, we need it. Racism though, is bad. Offending people is also bad, but so too is shooting people.
We’ve turned it into a black/white binary, haven’t we? There are the heroes on one side, hell-bent on pushing the boundaries of Freedom of Speech, and eventually paying the tragic price for doing so. On the other side there are the monsters, the Muslim fundamentalists with machine guns, utterly convinced they were carrying out the Will of God.
But those guys weren’t heroes. Unlike the fire-fighter charging into the burning building or the activist running in front of the bulldozer or the nurse on the plane to Sierra Leone, they didn’t realise the extent to which they were risking their lives. If they did, come on, I think there’d be a little more security in the foyer. They were satirists, heavy-handed satirists, convinced of their own Western philosophical righteousness, and whose cartoons were so unsubtle that Jonathan Swift is probably turning in his grave.
And the other guys, on the other side, weren’t monsters. As Hannah Arendt, Zygmunt Bauman, Michel Foucault and any other self-respecting philosopher or sociologist will explicitly spell out for you, there’s nothing more dangerous than an assumption of the existence of evil. It gives us a lazy answer to something far more complex than the good-evil binary. We’d be much better off calling them insane, and if we do, one or two other things seem to become clear. Firstly, why challenge insanity? Why challenge gun-toting, religious-fundamentalist insanity? What end does it achieve? It’s insanity. It’s not rationality. You can’t argue it into submission. Slapping a madman in the face and calling his mother a twat isn’t going to change the discourse. By entering into an ideological debate with them, by drawing those cartoons, by saying, I offer the assertion that your mother is most definitely a twat, please offer a counter-argument, does it not assume them to be sane? There’s a reason we don’t argue with the unhinged, because it’s a little bit ridiculous.
If you lived opposite an institution for the criminally insane and one of the staff knocked on your door and told you, ‘not matter what, don’t paint your house orange, because if you do they’ll all crash out and come and kill you’, what would you do? Well, apart from putting your house on the market and moving to a hotel, there’s definitely one thing you wouldn’t do. But Charlie Hebdo did paint their house orange, then they painted themselves orange, dyed their hair ginger and went around their neighbourhood painting a few random strangers orange too; strangers, like those dead policemen, who certainly didn’t ask to be martyred in the name of a few bigoted cartoons. Not to say, of course, that anybody involved in this whole mess deserved to be shot.
Why wave the red rag at the bull? Actually, why do people wave red rags at bull? Exhilaration, I suppose. For the joy of it. The camaraderie it creates between friends. If there’s any sort of a binary going on here, it’s this. On one side you’ve got a group of guys getting off on pushing the boundaries as far as they’ll go, because pushing boundaries is a lot of fun. And it is, too. Then, on the other side, you’ve got insanity, plain and simple. If you think about it in this way it renders the entire discourse kind of ridiculous.
When everybody starts raving about something, the politicians take it upon themselves to do something about it. It earns votes – this is how these things work. But just what is Cameron et al going to do about this? What could they possibly do? They’ll make all sorts of assurances and promises; they’ll guarantee our Freedom of Speech, telling us that it’s central to the very core of Western civilisation; they’ll even perform the emptily symbolic act of joining arms and grieving in front of the cameras. One thing they won’t do is warn us about the dangers of reifying the entire Muslim community into a single entity, which is something Charlie Hebdo have inadvertently done with spectacular aplomb. ‘Now do you get it?’ a Daily Mail reading loved-one recently asked me.
Finally, two thousand people were slaughtered last week, men, women and children, piles of bloody, fly-covered corpses rotting in the African sun. But there’s no entertainment value there. It’s not postmodern enough for us. There’s nothing to debate so it barely makes the news; the gunmen weren’t captured on CCTV escaping down a street that looked like our own street, in a car that looked like our own car, and so the potential for the hyper-reality that we all crave is almost non-existent. So we do nothing. So the politicians and the governments do nothing. So that’s that, five million cartoons of Mohammed hit the streets and everything’s back to normal.
Image credit – Valentina Cala, Creative Commons via Flickr