The week in review

As is always the case, lots happened this week, but my preoccupation continues to be the implications of the 7 and 9 January 2015 murders in Paris, or at least what they are coming to represent. As Kenan Malik laments in his excellent op-ed piece for Göteborg-Posten, the initial wave of sympathy for the dead and the huge public manifestations which happened as a reaction all over France, and in other countries, exactly one year ago don’t seem to have changed much for the better when it comes to public opinion on freedom of speech and freedom of expression. European countries, France not least among them, continue prosecuting people for various forms of “hate speech” and “terrorist sympathies” while identity politics are leading educated people in increasingly absurd to silence others. And Islamist reactionaries and jihadists seem as determined as ever to silence any perceived transgressors, whether in the West or in Muslim majority countries, most recently and horrifically Saudi Arabia. At the same time, very few in the West are joining Charlie Hebdo in the necessary, continued testing of the boundaries. And frankly Charlie itself is much diminished now that several of their best cartoonists are either dead or have left the publication.

There is, however, some cause for optimism. The fact that Charlie is now a household name, and that the timing and particular combination of targets in the attack last January seems to have secured for them a special, still-horrifying place in our collective memory, may mean that the particular issues of intolerance and freedom of expression they raise will remain with us as reminders of what we have to lose for a long time.

Related links:

  • Jeremy Harding on Emmanuel Todd’s Who Is Charlie? I found Todd’s polemic-dressed-up-in-sociological-respectability at times grating, even shrill, and at times overly Utopian, but it is a fascinating read for what it tells us about French nationalisms, and for what it suggests regarding am egalitarian republican future that not only incorporates but is nurtured lapsed Muslims. The review is a good introduction, but read the book.
  • Adam Gopnik’s forward to the American edition of murdered Charlie editor Charb’s in my opinion rather underwhelming posthumously published pamphlet Open Letter on Blasphemy, Islamophobia, and the True Enemies of Free Expression. Gopnik isn’t all that great here, but he is eloquent and summarizes the contents of the book well.
  • Kenan Malik (again!) is worth reading on the roots of radicalisation in Europe, and Thomas Hegghammer’s weeks-old op-ed on the allure of life as a jihadist today is a fascinating, even humanising read.
  • Al-Jazeera cameraman and journalist Sami al-Hajj on his time in custody in Pakistan and at Guantanamo Bay. Horrifying and informative.

  • The illustration above is by T. Thorhauge. I ran as part of Danish comics site Nummer9’s cartoon responses to the January Paris murders.