Monday, January 12, 2015

Are We Charlie?

David Brooks puts his finger on a peculiarity in some of the reaction in the United States to the massacre of the Charlie Hebdo staff. Brooks notes that the same intolerance of those who voice opinions we don't like, of those who ridicule our most cherished beliefs, exists right here in the putative bastion of free speech, the American university.

It does seem both fatuous and hypocritical for American liberals to proclaim "Je suis Charlie" while at the same time establishing campus speech codes, disinviting speakers, and punishing faculty for holding opinions that lie outside the mainstream of acceptable progressive thought.

Brooks puts it this way:
The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.

Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.

Just look at all the people who have overreacted to campus micro-aggressions. The University of Illinois fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality. The University of Kansas suspended a professor for writing a harsh tweet against the N.R.A. Vanderbilt University derecognized a Christian group that insisted that it be led by Christians.

Americans may laud Charlie Hebdo for being brave enough to publish cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, but, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali is invited to campus, there are often calls to deny her a podium.

So this might be a teachable moment. As we are mortified by the slaughter of those writers and editors in Paris, it’s a good time to come up with a less hypocritical approach to our own controversial figures, provocateurs and satirists.
Brooks' column provokes a question: How much of the left's willingness to identify itself with the Charlie Hebdo staffers is a consequence of the fact that much of Charlie Hebdo's satire was aimed at targets the left holds in contempt? Would the left be as sympathetic if the magazine were written from a more "right-wing" perspective and went to great lengths to lampoon the pieties of the left? In any case it certainly is ironic to see folks of the same ideological stripe as those who seek to silence critics of global warming, Darwinism, gay marriage, and other progressive sacred cows painting, if only in a figurative sense, "Nous sommes Charlie" on their faces.