Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo, the Free Press, and Racism

00 Speak Out Against Racism

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How do we put in perspective the international media focus on the massacre of 12 journalists in Paris on 7 January at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, notorious for its racist anti-Muslim caricatures and the lack of media response to the routine, daily racist police murders of black youth in the USA? Why did France ban any protests of the 15 journalists killed amongst the 2,000 deaths in the Israeli assault on Gaza this past summer? Don’t those lives matter? The Charlie Hebdo assassinations strengthen the hand of the state, which uses them in an ideological offensive, even if the state had a role in arming and training the killers. Why do we not mourn other murders, not respect them, not even report them… even the murders of other journalists? A crucial role of the corporate media is to try to shape the perception of which lives matter. Consider the mass outpourings following several different, very public killings in the USA. Hundreds of thousands of youths were in the streets repeatedly in America, confronting the refusal of the state to prosecute killer cops, even when millions saw their murderous crimes on video. Hundreds of thousands of people were in the streets of Paris on 11 January. French, other European, American, and Israeli politicians led the march honouring the slain journalists. Twice, on 27 December and 4 January, thousands of uniformed police from all over the USA converged on New York City for separate funerals of two police officers shot in their patrol car in 20 December. Jet Blue offered free flights to all police traveling nationally to the funeral. The US Vice President, New York State Governor, and the New York City Mayor attended the funerals. They closed off roads in the areas; the put up giant outdoor TV screens.

Not a Free Speech Issue

The French government’s protection of the racist journal Charlie Hebdo had nothing to do with protecting freedom of speech. We must face this deception. In 2012, the same government that protected this vile publication banned any demonstrations, protests, or even public prayers opposing the racist publication. French law allows for the prosecution of “public insults” based on religion, race, ethnicity, or national origin. However, the racist, sexist, bigoted, grossly insulting cartoons in Charlie Hebdo were never once a source of any successful legal action. However, France did ban anyone from even protesting the cartoons that insulted Muslims or the prophet Mohammed. In 2012, as protests swept the Muslim world in response to an anti-Muslim film made in the USA, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said prefects had orders to prohibit any protest and to crack down if anyone challenged the ban. “There will be strictly no exceptions. Demonstrations will be banned and broken up” (Daily Mail, 21 September 2012). They even banned prayer meetings and street prayers (CNN, 19 September 2012). In the same week, Charlie Hebdo put out an extra run of cartoons featuring a grossly obscene caricature of a naked prophet Mohammed. They gave the magazine extra police protection. Freedom of speech and of the press is hardly sacred in France. It was punishable by a year in prison to even post on the Internet a notice of a demonstration opposing the Israeli onslaught on Palestine during the Israeli 2014 summer offensive on Gaza. France was the only country in the world to bar all demonstrations and protests in any form supporting Palestine during that time. The penalty was one year in jail and 15,000-Euro fine (1.12 million Roubles. 110,000 Renminbi. 1.1 million INR. 17,800 USD. 21,200 CAD. 21,800 AUD. 11,700 UK Pounds). It’s worth noting the double standard… there was no similar crackdown against the current rightwing fascist demonstrations against immigrants.

Role of Nazi Caricature

Charlie Hebdo serves a very important purpose for French imperialism; that’s why they protect its virulent racism, at the very time that they prohibit protests against it. Charlie Hebdo may have run cartoons to ridicule the powerful 40 years ago when it claimed to be left-wing, irreverent, and nonconformist. However, there’s a big difference between satire ridiculing the powerful… a French tradition going back to Voltaire… and the current imagery promoting fear and loathing of the oppressed and powerless. The latter is rightwing and fascist in character. In this period, when Muslims face increasing extreme rightwing attacks and fascist mobilisations grow in Europe, Charlie Hebdo functions like the Nazi publication Der Stürmer with its vehemently anti-Semitic caricatures. Jewish people in Der Stürmer, as Muslims are in Charlie Hebdo, were depicted with exaggerated facial features and misshapen bodies. Both publications used obscene sexually explicit caricatures. The Nazi caricatures were part of a policy to make Jews an object of hatred, fear, ridicule, and disdain. At the end of World War II, Julius Streicher, the editor of Der Stürmer… even though he didn’t run death camps, but only used the press to incite hatred… was put on trial, convicted of crimes against humanity, and executed. They protect Charlie Hebdo as it hardens the population against Muslims, to divide the population. The French government announced a grant to Charlie Hebdo of 1 million Euros (74.4 million Roubles. 7.3 million Renminbi. 73.4 million INR. 1.18 million USD. 1.42 million CAD. 1.46 million AUD. 780,000 UK Pounds), and Google donated 250,000 Euros (18.6 million Roubles. 1.825 million Renminbi. 18.35 million INR. 295,000 USD. 355,000 CAD. 365,000 AUD. 194,500 UK Pounds). Charlie Hebdo isn’t about freedom of expression and freedom of press. It’s an instrument of war mobilisation. It ran cartoons demonising Serbs during the NATO campaign against Yugoslavia, and it supported NATO’s attack on Libya.

No Free Press

Although they laud and glorify “free speech” and “free press” in their reporting of the murder of the French journalists, no such thing exists in any capitalist state. The press in France or in the USA isn’t free, open, or accessible. The ruling class own the media and it serves their interests. They tightly control what one can say and who can say it. The corporate media in capitalist society serves class rule. What’s covered depends entirely on who can pay for publication or airtime. A handful of multibillion-dollar media conglomerates control almost all information, culture, and entertainment in the Western capitalist countries… although in the past decade social media and the internet opened a few cracks in this overwhelming corporate control. The media industry has an enormous impact in shaping what lives have value and what deaths go unreported, unmarked, or consciously covered up.

The hundreds of thousands of deaths in wars initiated by American imperialism, with full support of French and British imperialism, are unmarked and unmourned, callously labelled “collateral damage”. The media ignore or barely mention the enormous toll in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. No mass sympathy arises when an American drone wipes out a wedding party in Pakistan or a whole village with a Hellfire missile. No one notes the assassinations of journalists in these wars. There were no state funerals for the 166 journalists killed in Iraq under American occupation. Chelsea Manning is in prison for releasing videos of American helicopters gunning down two Reuter’s camera operators in Iraq and then circling to kill the family that stopped their van to try to help them.

According to The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, 15 journalists died in the 2014 Israeli bombing of Gaza. They “were killed in civilian sites which are supposed to be safe for civilians”. The Israelis targeted and bombed eight media centres. American bombers targeted and destroyed RTS, Radio TV Serbia, in the 1999 American/NATO war on Yugoslavia, killing 17 journalists. The most dangerous country in the world for journalists is Honduras. Since the American-backed coup, they’ve assassinated 46 media and information workers. The International Federation of Journalists sharply criticised NATO 2011 air strikes against Libyan television, which killed three people and injured 15. The IFJ stated that the strikes violated international law and UN resolutions. If a free press existed, then, Chelsea Manning wouldn’t be in prison or Edward Snowden and Julian Assange on the run, living in exile. What media they even allow in imperialist countries demonstrates how little they respect freedom of the press. For example, they ban Press-TV, an Iranian news channel broadcasting in English, from broadcasting via satellite throughout Europe, Canada, and the USA. France, Germany, and the USA bans al-Manar, a Lebanese satellite station affiliated with Hezbollah. Both Press-TV and al-Manar protested, to no avail, that this was a grave breach of freedom of speech. Whilst both news channels are available via the internet in limited form, Apple and Google removed al-Manar mobile apps.

National Oppression

We can’t ignore national oppression and racism in France. There are 5.5 million residents of African origin, many of them born in France and most of them citizens. A large number are Muslims, although not all practise. They live in poverty and isolation in suburbs that have high unemployment, inferior schools, and substandard housing. Just as American prisons overwhelmingly imprison black and brown youth, the same is true in French prisons. According to Muslim leaders, sociologists and researchers, about 60 to 70 percent of all inmates in the country’s prison system are Muslim, although Muslims make up only about 12 percent of the country’s population (Washington Post Foreign Service, 29 April 2008). Imperialism needs hatred of targeted peoples. Western politicians cynically use Islamophobia to advance rightwing political agendas and curtail freedoms.

Who Benefits?

Regardless of whether a police conspiracy is ever exposed, we do know that the French ruling class and the corporate media are always primed to take full advantage of such acts to reinforce the repressive state apparatus and sow division among the working class. There shouldn’t be an iota of confidence in the news stories of this massacre at Charlie Hebdo. We know only what French military police and state intelligence agencies have told the corporate media. We do know that three men, who’re now dead, were tools of imperialism in their wars of conquest in Syria and Libya. They’ve recruited, trained, and armed more than 1,000 French citizens of Arab and North African descent for use as weapons conduits, saboteurs, and terrorists in the efforts of the USA, France, Britain, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia to overthrow the government of Syria.

This leads to the fundamental question of whose policies are responsible for the massacre and who gains from the massacre? Since the collapse of the USSR, American imperialism, aided by the old colonial powers of Europe, has engaged in a whole series of wars to reconquer countries that achieved a high level of development based on sovereignty and control of their resources. In their frantic efforts to recolonise Iraq, Syria, and Libya, they’ve cynically whipped up sectarian divisions, organised deadly militias, and promoted fanaticism and anarchy. That aroused deep-seated rage against the USA, France, and Britain. It’s also highly unpopular that French imperialism is widely involved in Africa, primarily in the majority-Muslim countries of Mali, Central African Republic, Chad, Ivory Coast, and Djibouti, and in Abu Dhabi on the Arabian Peninsula. The French ruling class wants to divert mass attention from their expanding wars and increasingly militarised society. We must oppose and counter the mobilisations claiming to defend a free press.

13 January 2015

Sara Flounders

Workers World

http://www.workers.org/articles/2015/01/13/charlie-hebdo-free-press-racism/

We’re NOT All Charlie: A Little Self-Censorship Isn’t a Bad Thing

00 charlie hebdo cover. 13.01.15

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L’affaire Charlie Hebdo has reached its dénouement, leaving a score of people dead and many controversies in its wake. Firstly, off the bat, let’s establish that we believe there should be no death penalty for expression of opinion, no matter how repellent. Lately, all too often in the news, we’ve seen losers with access to heavy weapons displaying their angst at the point of a gun with tragic consequences.

 That said, other questions present themselves in the wake of this series of tragedies. The Berkeley Daily Planet’s Eclectic Rant columnist Ralph Stone, who’s also an attorney, put it succinctly in this comment, 

“The killing of 12 people at the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo is appalling. I hope that we’d soon catch and prosecute the perpetrators. The fact that 12 people are dead over cartoons by white male cartoonists is horrible. Free speech is an important part of our society and criticism of Charlie Hebdo cartoons is also speech. However, we should kill no one over cartoons. However, the statement JE SUIS CHARLIE (I AM CHARLIE) ignores the magazine’s history of xenophobia, racism, sexism, and homophobia. I sympathise with the victims’ families and I defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish hateful cartoons, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be Charlie”.

Someone who blogs under the name of Winston Alpha pointed up that in 2008 Charlie Hebdopulled (read: censored) a satirical piece about former President Sarkozy’s son. Philippe Val, the editor of Charlie Hebdo then, ‘agreed that the piece was offensive and told its author to apologise’“. Winston also noted that France has a law that bans denying that the Holocaust took place, not exactly consistent with American standards of free speech. (I’d ask for permission to reprint his whole post, which is pretty good, but we have a firm requirement that writers who appear in the Planet must attach their real names to their opinions. As a card-carrying literature major, I appreciate Winston’s homage to 1984 in his choice of pseudonyms, but my grandmother always said to consider the source before reacting to something someone says. If I don’t know who he is… he says he’s young, that’s all… I don’t know how to calibrate his ideas.)

A key point in any discussion of free speech is to remember exactly what the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The usual interpretation infers that the reference to Congress includes all the federal government, but note that the First Amendment refers only to government action. In other words, it’s about what the government says we may do, not what we should do. A French-American friend said that like many, he grew up with Charlie Hebdo, and that the killings there are like assassinating Jon Stewart would be in this country. Well, not exactly. Much of what the magazine publishes seems to go farther over the imaginary line in the sand than the Daily Show ever has. Presumably, there was never any Holocaust denial, or they would’ve faced prosecution, but they seem to have gored every other sacred cow.

Winston said, “The same paper that was apparently more than content to ridicule Islam again and again, backed down and quickly censored a piece that featured a single joke about Jews”. I can’t confirm that, however. The Jewish Daily Forward, amongst others, showed some of Charlie’s cartoons lampooning Jews. Another grandmotherly favourite was, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you”. Many nonetheless do believe that the wrong words (or cartoons) will do harm. How much self-censoring should publications do? Obviously, we must make editorial choices of all kinds all the time, but it’s not all censorship… even on the internet, there’s limited space and time.

Our neighbours at local blog Berkeleyside.com wrestled with the question of what kinds of reader comments they should publish. I admire their generosity in devoting a lot of space to largely anonymous and often remarkably ill-informed reader musings, and I shudder to think what they must read only to reject, including presumably the kind of “xenophobia, racism, sexism, and homophobia” that many criticise Charlie Hebdo for running. I’m not so generous, so, over the years, I’ve saved myself a lot of trouble by not having an open comment feed. We only publish under our Public Comments heading pieces sent by e-mail that are both signed and literate. However, this doesn’t solve every problem however… we got ourselves in a peck of trouble in 2006 by running a letter in our print paper from a literate English learner who signed his own name. Without a hint of satire, he opined that some Jewish people had brought trouble on themselves, with examples from Israel and elsewhere… that opinion offended many, understandably. Even though it was difficult for us, and, perhaps, ultimately, even caused the demise of the print Planet, I deeply appreciate the fact that for the most part words were the only weapons objectors used to attack us for this seeming transgression. I’m a charter subscriber to Justice Brandeis’s dictum that the remedy for speech you don’t like is more speech. Except for some graffiti, a few eggs thrown at our door, and one guy who proudly claimed that he’d urinated on our garage, we escaped physically unscathed. Instead, those offended by the piece employed boycott (against our advertisers, urging others to do likewise), divestment (cancelling their own ads) and sanctions (ginning up nasty letters signed by rabbis and public officials from Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates up and down the ladder), but no one came into the newsroom with a machine gun.

Lampooning religion instead of criticising it in straightforward prose is either better or worse… I’m never sure which. I’ve long since given up going to church, in fact, most of the time I’m profoundly annoyed at all three desert religions, which are indistinguishable to the rational observer at more than forty paces, yet, I’m offended when I see a bunch of mostly old white guys in San Francisco dressing up like nuns to mock them. After all, these are women who educated other women as diverse and valuable as Nancy Pelosi, Fredericka Von Stade, Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, Lady Gaga… and me… why should they be a target? It feels sexist, even though the guys in question happen to be gay. “Hate crime” law, more popular all the time in France and the rest of Europe, is a slippery slope. Banning expression of unpopular, wrong, downright crazy, or even vicious ideas is like putting a tight lid on a boiling pot. Eventually, with enough heat, the lid will blow off… better to have a little vent to let out the steam, or you’re in for trouble.

It’s easier to keep an eye on what the KKK is up to if you let them march through town instead of making them hide out in the woods. Sentiments like those expressed by our 2006 op-ed writer are much more common now than they were then, and the world needs to know that such ideas are abroad. However, that doesn’t mean that we all need to imitate Charlie Hebdo by running insulting cartoons to denounce the murder of its staffers. Self-censorship has gotten a bad name, but there’s nothing wrong with using good judgement and perhaps some empathy for the feelings of those not like ourselves. I agree with the slogan mistakenly attributed to that sharp-tongued anti-Islamic (and anti-Christian and anti-Jewish) deist Voltaire by his biographer, ”I disapprove of what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”. I hope I won’t need to do that, however. For the next few days, editorial pages will be full of navel-gazing, especially in those publications who decided not to join the stampede to publish the drawings. Me, I think I’m one of those who can say with a clear conscience, in the French I learned from the nuns, je ne suis pas Charlie Hebdo.

12 January 2015

Becky O’Malley

Editor, Berkeley (CA) Daily Planet

Counterpunch

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/12/were-not-all-charlie/

Sunday, 11 January 2015

11 January 2015. How Pro-Life is the “Pro-Life Movement?” A Point to REALLY Ponder

00 06.10.12 Oppose the Republican Anti-Life Programme

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Barbara-Marie Drezhlo. Respect for Life from Beginning to End. 2012

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Barbara-Marie Drezhlo. Now, THAT'S Pro-Life... 2012

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Barbara-Marie Drezhlo. Pro-Life Means... 2012 copy

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I didn’t wake up one day and say, ”I’m gonna have cereal for breakfast and an abortion for lunch”. It was a difficult decision. It was also a decision that I’ve thought about every day for twelve years. It left deep emotional scars. Even though it was the right thing at that time in my life, it wasn’t something I wanted to do. People that stand outside of clinics with those signs are assholes. They aren’t Christian. They screamed at me and made the most difficult day of my life a million times more difficult. I’m not alone, either. I’m sure millions of other women have had the same experience. Therefore, if you’re one of those people holding up pictures of bloody foetuses and screaming “murderer” outside of a clinic, prepare yourself for hell because if you believe it exists, that’s where you’re going.

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I need add nothing. I HATE the Pro-Life Movement as it’s a shameless whore for the US Republican Party… a faction that upholds perpetual warfare in foreign parts, torture, the TSA Gestapo, the Department of Homeland Security Cheka, the enriching of the Affluent Effluent at the expense of the rest of us, the gutting of Social Security, and destroying the social safety net. That’s NOT “Pro-Life”. If you’re in the so-called “Pro-Life Movement”, I oppose you and all of your works, as they go towards upholding an objectively evil political movement, one so evil that it merits the label “demonic” (for no man can serve two masters).

I don’t like abortion… I think that we should do our best to limit it… however, the present Pro-Life Movement is a sham and an imposture, and I’ll have nothing to do with it. By the way, I’m not the only Russian Orthodox person in the USA to feel this way. To oppose the Pro-Life Movement is NOT to endorse abortion. I oppose the hypocritical politicisation of this serious issue and its hijacking by amoral monsters such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Don’t forget how Cruz virtually spat in the face of Arab religious leaders… you want to support such godless sectarian filth? Now, that negates one’s Christianity…

BMD

The entire piece from which I took the excerpt is here.

 

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Not Just a Joke: Reflections on Free Speech, Violence, and Mislabelled Heroism

01 beep beep my ass

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Many years ago, when discussing the issue of hate speech and how we should address it on college campuses, my friend Paul Gallegos at Evergreen State College smiled and said, “Ya know, just because speech is free, doesn’t mean that it has to be worthless”. It’s a concept and a phrasing that stuck with me for years. His deft appropriation of the double-meaning of “free” (both as liberty but also as a statement of non-existent value) was a stroke of genius, and one that has informed my understanding of these issues ever since. I’m thinking about it again in the wake of recent events in France.

Following the horrific killings of journalists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, pundits and prolific purveyors of Tweet said much… about fanatical interpretations of Islam, about free speech, about satire’s importance, and about religious profiling and the notion of collective blame. Some of this commentary was helpful and instructive, whilst other iterations were incendiary and useless. However, through it all, and although I’m most horrified by those rightwing voices who seek to use the tragedy as a way to stoke their well-cultivated Islamophobia, I’m also troubled by what seems to be a prominent if not dominant narrative amongst many a liberal. It’s a narrative that posits the victims of this grotesque crime as high-minded truth-seekers worthy of praise and emulation, and even as heroes, perhaps, martyrs for the cause of freedom and liberty.

It strikes me that we should be able to roundly condemn the senseless and barbaric murders of journalists whilst still managing to have a rational conversation about free speech, in which empty platitudes about heroism need play no part. For instance, I believe that it’s possible to agree that free speech is an essential value, and that journalists should have the right to say what they want… even to offend others… without then proceeding to act as though every utterance (just because people have a right to it) is therefore worth defending as to its substance, and that free speech protects one from being critiqued for the things one says.

What I mean is this… I suppose that I have a right to stand in the middle of Times Square and shout racial slurs or insult peoples’ religions. For instance, I could stand on a soapbox outside the TKTS booth and say things about the Prophet Mohammed, Jesus, or Mary. I could call them all kinds of vile things, and the Constitution would protect all of it. I surely should be able to do that without fear of someone murdering me for it. In particular, this last point is so obvious as to be beyond debate, I’d hope. However, if I do this, whether in Times Square or in print, makes me an asshole, and one who deserves to have people label me as such. Not a hero… an asshole. I don’t become a hero just because some of the people I happened to insult (and was trying to insult) ended up being even bigger assholes than I was, and so dangerous and unstable that they decided to hurt me. In that case, I’m simply the unlucky victim of a bigger and more evil asshole who was unsatisfied with the pen or keyboard as a weapon and decided to use something more deadly. Nothing more… nothing less.

People seem to confuse the principle of free speech with the idea that one’s speech is protected from pushback; whilst violent pushback is always wrong… always… I’m more than a little uncomfortable with the idea that we should make heroes out of those whose job appears to have been insulting people they deemed inferior (whether because of culture or because they were just “silly superstitious” believers who deserve ridicule because Richard Dawkins or Bill Maher say so). I’m especially uncomfortable with the political canonisation we’re expected to endorse for these satirists, because historically, satire has always been about barbs aimed at those who are more powerful than oneself (the élite, royalty, the dominant social, economic, political, or religious group), and not being aimed down the ladder at those with less power. In the old days, when the King would bring in the jester or the royal fool to tell jokes and entertain the nobility, the court comic didn’t spend 20 minutes doing “can you believe how bad those peasants smell” jokes; rather, he told jokes at the expense of the nobility. The King and his royal prerogatives were the target of ridicule.

Therefore, whereas it would be legitimate satire for Muslims to satirise their own extremists in countries where Muslims hold power (and this is done, by the way, more than most of us realise), in France, satire aimed at Muslims, who’re the targets of organised attempts to restrict their rights and even their presence in the country, isn’t brave; it’s piling on. Likewise, for Jews to satirise Palestinians in Israel would be asshole behaviour, whilst satirising the nation’s Jewish religious leaders who wield such outsized influence on state politics would be the very definition of legitimate satire. In the USA, where Christians hold the bulk of political and economic power, satirising the Religious Right is quite different from satirising Muslims, who’re targets in regular hate crimes and who face communities trying to block them from having mosques in which to worship.

As an analogy, I find tedious and cringe-worthy the never-ending stream of sitcoms that revolve around a married couple where the husband is sorta stupid, child-like, and bumbling, and his wife is always rolling her eyes and making fun of him, but they love each other and it all works out in the end. Yet, however ridiculous I think this formula is… and however much as a man and husband I think it presents an absurd one-dimensional picture of those things I happen to be… it really would be different and a whole lot worse, to have those sitcoms revolve around a husband who constantly demeans or pokes fun at his ditzy wife. Ya know why? Patriarchy, that’s why. The social context within which humour takes place matters. It’s why telling jokes about rich people really is different from rhetorically ganging up on the poor with jokes about homelessness and government cheese.

In short, power dynamics really do make a difference. To satirise people who’re targets of institutionalized violence (whether for religious, racial, cultural, linguistic, sexual, or gendered reasons) isn’t brave. It’s sort of shitty, in fact. Should we protect it legally? Sure. Should we kill those who do it or punish them in any way? Of course not. However, should we hold them up as exemplars of who we want to be, all the while ignoring how the exercise of their freedom, without any sense of responsibility to the common good, actually feeds acrimony and violence on all sides? I think not. I fear that if we fail to separate the principle of free speech from those who hide behind its cloak… often, simply to justify their own dickishness… we’ll only make the chasms between all peoples greater.

8 January 2015

Tim Rice: Antiracist Essayist, Author, and Educator

http://www.timwise.org/2015/01/not-just-a-joke-reflections-on-free-speech-violence-and-mislabeled-heroism/#more-6548

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