Secularism is Not a Western Ideal

"God Does Not Exist" ... "HE DOES."

“God Does Not Exist” … “HE DOES.”

As my friends on the Left settle into what I consider a reductive understanding of Charlie Hebdo’s work as racist, Islamaphobic, problematic, whatever – here’s a collection of cartoons by Cabu (one of the assassinated cartoonists) which evidence a more nuanced progressive point of view at that magazine.

The cartoonist Cabu (who drew all of the cartoons shown here) was consistently anti-colonial and anti-imperial in his work, just like the rest of Charlie Hebdo. This character, a French soldier on the cover of a fictional magazine called ‘the pacifist union’ says “France doesn’t have oil, but we do have an army!” The magazine used crude stereotypes and often provoked the sensibilities of readers, often to a problematic extent, but almost always in an attempt to lampoon commonly held beliefs which led to bad policy and intercultural conflict in French society.

Cabu was not shot because of France’s occupation of Algeria, Mali and Syria.  He was not shot because of the American-led War on Terror (which France largely bowed out of in 2003, if you’ll remember), Guantanamo, or Abu Graib.  He was not shot because French immigration policy, or scarf laws, or the 2nd Crusade.

Cabu was shot in cold blood for committing blasphemy by cartoon, just as his killers said.  

The characterization of Hebdo’s work as mostly directed (‘downward’ as they say) toward Islam and as pointlessly insulting avoids the more complicated reality that not every joke is for every person, especially when concerning religion, ethnicity and politics. It’s not the funniest magazine and certainly it used some grotesque stereotypes, but it hardly had a single point of view and was a part of a French tradition of mockery which has a long and problematic history. These distinctions are constant when reviewing satire and speech of any kind and engaging with these differences when the threat at hand is so explicit and so gruesomely vile to me misses the point monumentally.

Continue reading

Freedom of Speech Cannot be Killed


By Joe Randazzo

Originally published on MSNBC here:

When I was editor there, The Onion was located in the heart of Manhattan and the one person manning our front entrance was our petite, tattooed office manager, Jessie. She was the definition of unthreatening, and we used to joke that she was the only thing standing between us and some heavily armed radicals, should any ever become enraged by something we put in print. Right now, that joke makes me sick to my stomach.

Twelve people were murdered at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper, today, apparently for doing the very thing The Onion does: satire. These people – including one guest and one police officer – are dead. They were cartoonists and editors and humorists. People whose job in life was to point at hypocrisy and laugh at it; to ridicule hate; to make us all try to see our own failings as humans. And they were killed for it.

For those who would trivialize the idea, this was what an actual attack on freedom looks like. Continue reading

Religiously Liberal

Ben gets the lead here for calling Harris and Maher racist. Steele and Kristof do a good job trying to inject the ‘reasonable persons’ argument.

My problem is this – Affleck is right. Harris is also right. Islam is not a blind spot for liberals, how we approach intolerance of Muslims while maintaining an anti-authoritarian, anti-theocratic point of view is a confluence of ideological imperatives that takes more than a soundbite to parse and understand.
As a person who feels strongly that religious ideology is poisonous to all reasonable debate (and dangerous when mixed with military or police powers), I also recognize that the ‘liberal values’ that Maher is adopting as his shield evolved from Protestant Christian thought during the Renaissance and Reformation. Without the enlightenment, led by many Christian and former Christian/Deist and Jewish philosophers, Maher would have no universal rights of man to point to.

Likewise, we Americans give a pass to ourselves and choose to ignore the religious ideation of many of our own value systems when we look at our actions, political or otherwise. Atheist liberals look at the civil rights movement as a victory of humanist ideals, when really it was led by black ministers. When our own terrorists like Timothy McVeigh and Robert Bales kill hundreds no one calls the pope or Rick Warren to account. This is because white Americans see their own foundational beliefs and power structures as natural and progressing toward a positive end, for us and everyone, while we regard foreign concepts as suspect and ill-wrought. Islam has had enlightenments before, where religious pluralism, the arts and sciences flourish. This is not because of Islam, it is because of people. Likewise with violence and intolerance, from all cultures.

Sam Harris has indeed made a career of criticism of religious thought, and the fact is, he’s lightyears ahead of most folks on the subject intellectually. But he’s also made a lot of money in the post 9/11 world, cashing in on Islamophobia when he can do so with a bit of professorial distance. Affleck is a hero of mine, and Harris is one of my faves as well. This argument speaks to the core of what it means to be a liberal in the United States. But it isn’t necessary to pick a side. Because the bottom line is that good people are good no matter what they believe, and as long as the good people in any culture can ignore the ugly parts of their people’s ideologies – and actively decry them in public spaces, an all too difficult thing to do in moderate Muslim countries, in Communist countries, in America (if you’re black) – and treat each other like human beings, then we can thrive together.

In the Future You Will

I know they’re AT&T ads, but I remember watching these and being so excited for the future. Yesterday, I actually looked up how much a virtual reality headset costs. My car drives on half electricity generated when I brake. These videos make me flush with gratitude for how tech has changed our world.

But I also see that really nothing big has changed. The advances demonstrated in this video are largely conveniences meant to help people consume more quickly and work during their vacations, and making face to face communications obsolete through video screens. Almost everyone in these videos is alone. The in-person interactions are incidental. (The exception is the athlete receiving medical care, which stands out as a humane and very necessary deployment of tech. Sagefully, the patient’s health is of utmost importance to a major American corporate entity – his NFL team – making his recovery not a self evident matter of good fortune for a person and his family, but because he gets back on the field, the season is saved, blah blah blah.)

Commerce will self-innovate, businesses will always look for ways to improve themselves to out compete the next business or address new needs and pain points for consumers. But tech and money can’t solve problems that exist between people. They can only make the conversations more predictable and less frequent, less intimate, they insulate the richest people from the poorest people, and provide a dim glow of connectedness for the warm smelly suchness of other people.

So ‘think different’ is all I’m saying. just do it. you will.

Iconoclasm in Kiev


Click over to the Guardian to see protesters in Kiev pull down the statue of Lenin, and read about how statues – invisible symbols of entrenched and assumed power in our everyday lives – becoming sitting ducks during an expression of revolutionary disobedience. Since the dawn of man, in our freest moments we have torn the idols down.

Some pics from RT:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Direct link to video:

R.I.P. The Last Revolutionary Hero


Nelson Mandela, 1918 – 2013

‘Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.’

– from ‘Invictus’ by W.E. Henley.


Not a Review: The Late Late Show at Bootleg


I try to see everything labeled ‘environmental/immersive/ambulatory’ that pops up in Los Angeles because I feel it’s the coolest thing theater has going for it. No other form can make you stand up, walk around, touch, feel, smell and throw yourself into a story or experience like the present art of theater. TV and video games can’t do that, and never will (my apologies to Virtual Boy.) And yet, how do we spend our time at plays?  Silent, seated, hands folded or clutching a program, policing the behavior of other paying patrons, and counting the minutes until the intermission brings renal release. Artists and companies which go out of their way to stretch and mangle the frozen boxes where we usually imbibe our drama are doing us and the art form a great service, because they are giving audiences something they can’t get from a screen, something undeniably now, with more dimension and perspective than can be achieved while sitting down.

Continue reading