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Hebdo's Dubious PEN-Pals: Privileged Conservative Pundits

May 5, 2015 in Blogs

By Jim Sleeper, AlterNet

Freedom of speech means little if one side has megaphones while the other has laryngitis from straining to be heard.

Explaining last week in The New York Times why the Poets, Essayists, and Novelists American Center is honoring Charlie Hebdo today at a gala ceremony, PEN officers wrote, “The question for us is not whether the cartoons deserve an award for literary merit but whether they disqualify Charlie Hebdo from a hard-earned award for courage.” In PEN’s view, the cartoonists’ valor lay “in their dauntless fortitude patrolling the outer precincts of free speech.” 

But two weeks earlier, another cartoonist ,Garry Trudeau, accepting a George Polk award for his own work as creator of the Doonesbury strip, saidthat Hebdo’s patrol had crossed the border beyond which “ free-expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious” and is “its own kind of fanaticism.” “ By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons,” Trudeau contended, “Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that.” Trudeau wasn’t excusing the murders of Hebdo staff. He certainly wasn’t “lecturing his murdered peers” that they’d had it coming, as the conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat claimed in an ideologically obsessive, morally confused column that ended with Douthat himself lecturing the slain cartoonists about “progressivism’s present confidence (even in the face of murder) in its prescribed hierarchies of power and victimhood…” But when Trudeau noted an undeniably causal connection between the cartoons and the consequences, he revivified a hard truth that Douthat ducked and that PEN overlooked: Courage without merit doesn’t always justify the cause or message it claims to be promoting, and the blood that is shed in its struggles  – even its own blood — doesn’t automatically, retroactively sanctify its noble-sounding claims. When Trudeau added that “ Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean,” he really got under the skins of conservatives such as Douthat and the former George W. …read more


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