Chris Hall, a writer on the newly launched atheist network The Orbit, is very displeased with Charlie Hebdo‘s latest editorial about the Brussels attacks. Very, very, very displeased. He is so displeased with the editorial that he draws a very clear line, and declares anyone who dares defend the magazine from this point forward to be racists in progressive disguise:
There is already an enormous amount of evidence demonstrating Charlie Hebdo‘s racism and xenophobia. But for those who are still hanging on by their bare fingernails, who are still making excuses about how the rest of us don’t understand the context of French politics and culture, Charlie Hebdo‘s recent editorial titled, “How Did We End Up Here?” should be the final blow. […] There was a point where people could disagree in good faith about whether Charlie Hebdo was racist or just crude satire that struck at all targets. […] But that time is over. If, at this point, you’re still claiming that Charlie Hebdo is a progressive force and Americans just don’t get the joke, the only excuse is that you’re trying to provide cover for your own bigotry.
He also points out that the defenders of Charlie Hebdo are silent about it, and he points out some who have remained silent about this editorial. I was one of the people who defended Charlie Hebdo against allegations of racism, so I’m going to not-ignore the editorial. And I’m going to ask the question: Is Charlie Hebdo‘s editorial racist?
One problem with Hall’s analysis is that he never argues as to why he considers the editorial racist. It seems he considers this so blatantly obvious that he feels no need to make an argument for it. He calls the editorial “truly, deeply, disgusting piece of shit”, but the only reason he brings for this strong condemnation is this:
According to the editorial, all Muslims in Europe play a role in terrorism, merely by being Muslim and acting as good neighbors. Simply by making it acceptable to be a Muslim professor, baker, or a woman who wears a veil while otherwise minding her own fucking business, they’re setting us up to accept the eventual destruction of secularism. The bombers, according to the writer, are merely “the visible part of a very large iceberg”
Yes, that is what the editorial says. But there’s nothing racist about that. At least, I hope there’s not, because I said the same thing when the magazine was attacked. Not the exact same thing – but reading the editorial, I feel we’re making the same arguments. I continue to strongly believe that such problems are social problems, that everyone shares the blame, and that it’s a social responsibility, and that it’s upon us to accept our own blame as the first step toward genuine reform. This is what I had written:
Muslim reformists should not deceive themselves into thinking that this extremism is only a tiny minority of “fake” Muslims that is being exaggerated by the hostile colonialists media. While extremists such as these shooters indeed are a minority (though not that tiny) within the Muslim community, they are not the disease, they are merely the symptom of a greater disease that is much more prevalent. And Muslims reformists, in alliance with secularists, have a duty to cure this disease, albeit slowly. The first step is admitting – stop shifting the blame and accept that the demon lies within and not without.
This disease, in particular, is the Muslim attitude towards blasphemy, and the attitude towards apostasy.
That’s still true. And it’s true about all societies. The pleasant anti-choice grandmother is not blameless in abortion clinic attacks. The liberal Zionist is not blameless in the atrocities committed by the Israeli government, nor the angry Arab Muslim in those committed by Hamas. The young white man with implicit and non-threatening racism is not blameless when it comes to KKK.
The same is true about Muslims and the violence inspired by Islam: While only rabid racists/xenophobes/Islamophobes blame innocent Muslims in a direct manner for Islamic violence, on the other hand, only wishful thinkers ignore the fact that the myriad of bigotries and violent positions that hold create the perfect environment for Muslim terrorists to prosper.
Sure, the bigotry of anti-Muslim bigots also contributes to this atmosphere, but my point is, you cannot turn the blame away from ordinary citizens – not from any demographic, not when it comes to any problem.
Now, I go back to my original question: Is Charlie Hebdo‘s newly written editorial racist? Is it what Chris Hall describes it to be? I would say that you can certainly level fair criticisms against it: It doesn’t accompany many caveats that it should, like distinguishing between the social-responsibility blame and direct blame.
Also, while I agree with its criticism against Tariq Ramadan and other progressive Muslims that sometimes their instinct to defend Islam in the face of atrocities is premature and unseemly (as well as untrue), it doesn’t mention that ultimately such people are as much part of the solution as they are part of the problem. Ultimately progressive Muslims are what we need, and their gradual reform is our salvation, and our disagreements over such issues are minor.
So, I guess, overall, my verdict is not racist, but poorly and sensationally written?
Maybe I’m being too charitable. The editorial is not clear enough for me to decide if the authors are making hasty generalizations or not, but my ultimate impression is no. What I know for sure is this though: Chris Hall’s reasoning is inadequate and unconvincing. Calling violent extremism the tip of the iceberg and pointing out the culpability of the Muslim community at large is not bigotry, it’s simply laying the ground for reforms.