Open Letter to Stephen Fry – Must We Mock?
‘You MUST mock’, you say. Why? Why must we, any of us, mock? Why must we seek the sole value of purposefully offending another’s belief, way of life, or the things that they hold sacred? What good does it do to cause offence? You may disagree with a person’s choices but mocking does not serve to prove that you are right and they are wrong. By mocking we do not, as some argue, advance society. Quite the opposite, we alienate and create hate towards the mocked community.
You argue in your blog post that Charlie Hebdo spewed contempt and not hate; “Contempt for Islam, for Christianity, for Judaism – for anything they could have a go at…” I would like to make two points here. Firstly, why is spewing contempt a good thing and how is it any better or different than spewing hate? My second point is that it is inaccurate to say that Charlie Hebdo spewed contempt for anything that they could have a go at. Charlie Hebdo fired their cartoonist Maurice Sinet for anti-Semitism because of his piece mocking the son of Nicolas Sarkozy, who, it was rumoured, had converted to Judaism in order to marry a Jewish heiress. So it isn’t quite true that Charlie Hebdo spewed contempt “… for anything they could have a go at…”
‘You MUST mock’, you say. But whom? It is a shame that Charlie Hebdo felt that they needed to secure an apology from Maurice Sinet for the piece he published. The origins of satire in western Europe was an important tool linked to accounting politicians and the powerful. However satire should never be used to abuse and bully any community or their beliefs and especially when that community is a minority – one that’s subject to disempowerment and discrimination in France.
Some may believe that the freedom to mock anyone and anything enables us all to hold wrongdoers to account. They would be wrong. Take for example Julius Streicher who produced the propaganda that labelled Jews as an insidious menace. Much like Muslims today are being labelled as an insidious menace. They were ‘just cartoons’ yet the malicious nature of the cartoons helped to create an environment in which the powerful demonised and then brutalised a minority community. ‘They are just cartoons’ we’re not a defence for Streicher who was found guilty and executed for his ‘crimes against humanity’.
A call for all newspapers to print the offensive images of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo does not help, It is a misplaced sentiment. I am not arguing that the tragedy should not be appropriately marked; but teaching the world that an acceptable response to the actions of a few is to hurt and bully the rest of that community is frankly, ludicrous. When we mock communities we dehumanise them. That is why it was no surprise that after the Charlie Hebdo attack the hashtag ‘KillAllMuslims’ was trending on twitter. It was no surprise that mosques were firebombed, it was no surprise that Muslims across the world were being told, by the likes of Rupert Murdoch, that they all were collectively responsible. So much hate has been stoked against Muslims and Islam that when a member of our community does some wrongdoing, it is deemed acceptable to assign blame to us all. Your response Stephen, disappointingly, was to call for a continuation of the insult to all Muslims and not just to the criminals.
Asking for the cartoons to be republished is a knee jerk reaction that exacerbates the problems. What we should be asking for is a reasoned debate. If we really want to move forward, if we really want to understand each other then we need to be engaging in intellectual discourse. A cohesive society cannot be built upon insults and mockery, particularly on a community subject to draconian legislation and where Western nations gather to prosecutes wars in their lands in the name of fighting terror and establishing ‘freedom’. A lot has been made of the foundations of liberty. It seems we have forgotten though, that these movements began as a way to grant voice to the people. In the iconic image ‘La Liberté guidant le peuple’ –liberty guiding the people- Delacroix depicts lady liberty guiding people of all classes in a revolution against the powers that be. The revolutions did not transpire so that society could turn on itself in a hate filled rage.
Editorial Team HTB website