Friday, March 18, 2016

Open Letter by Charb

Why review this book? I mean this blog is about Manga and Anime and my thoughts on those mediums in particular and it is a manifesto on free expression by the untimely slain editor in chief of Charlie Hebdo Charb. Firstly I write this as a reviewer of a medium I love and a staunch defender of Absolute Freedom of Speech no exceptions. Manga has recently been under attack by the UN over the perceived victimization of fictional children in Manga on the same day I learned of this on Wednesday of this week I learned of a case in Sweden were a Manga collector and translator was convicted of possession of child pornography from Manga images that involved no real children and ended up having to go all the way to the highest court in that country. With that as my background, I gladly bought this book as a show of solidarity for the ideal of unhindered free speech. My personal motto is the words of George Orwell from Homage To Catalonia when asked what he was fighting for “basic human decency.” With that Charb's book is unapologetic in it's frank and pungent defense of the right to express ideas to offend others for the sake of the principle of free expression and to mock those that defend fanatics in a misguided sense of solidarity and the fanatics themselves. While I may have philosophical differences with the author's strident Atheism and almost glibly positive view of the tolerance of Atheists I am sure the victims of Maoist China, the Khmer Rouge, and The League of the Militant Godless in Stalinist Russia would disagree but when one is writing a Manifesto nuance is sometimes lost in the fight to make a rhetorical or ideological point. With the critique of religion being simply the same hackneyed arguments of religion as a tool of social control and The Old Testament being a bloody and violent book along with faith being the seed bed of fanaticism (which is not entirely wrong). Still his tolerance of the believer who is not trying to use his faith as tool for public policy, cudgels to enforce his world view or to hamper free expression is commendable It's nothing I haven't heard before but Charb does make the valid point that someone who does not believe in something can not be guilty of blaspheming the thing they do not believe in. I, for instance, do not believe Krishna or Aharu Mazda so I can't be guilty of blaspheming them because I do not think they exist. While the main target of his ire are the self-appointed “guardians of tolerance” who he paints as either in the case of the media cynically manipulating the people they claim to protect for ratings (Charb focuses primarily on Islam and it's defenders and the strange bedfellows they have in Anti-Racist Leftists and Right Wing Nationalists). The Anti-Racist Leftist he portrays as more interested in assuaging their privileged consciousness by supposedly fighting for the enfranchisement of Muslims while simultaneously infantilizing and stereotyping them and betraying the secular values of the French Republic they profess to honor. Points that one would think would be obvious are repetitively stated more for emphasis I feel than out of laziness. While other parts are particularly dealing with French political climate at the time of writing or the cultural milieu in France making it hard for me to understand the nuance without the helpful footnotes included in this translation. The main point that blasphemy should not be prosecuted as a crime in a secular republic is valid and as an American I commend the author for defending the separation of church and state while the idea that Charlie Hebdo was the unintentional dancing bear for the right wing of world politics is more a matter of dishonest citation and bad faith on the part of the accusers than the magazine itself willfully “punching down” for the sake of cheap publicity. Of course, one can assume cynically that Charb is put his best foot forward but when the man who wrote these things has now been dead for over a year due to the actions of the very extremists he criticized I think that assumption is the act of bad faith not the snark and irreverence of the publication. Often acerbic, more than often offensive, and even insightful Open Letter is if not a blueprint for a more honest and open society. It is a call to arms to those who hold the freedoms that the staff of Charlie Hebdo died for. To fight for those freedoms or lose them forever due to the thin skinned over sensitivity of the politically correct, the fanatical and the priggish. Let this man though he speak as one from beyond the grave sound the alarm of the slow corrosion of the freedom of speech while it is still possible to fight for it. Or we can simply discuss how many micro-aggressions can dance on the head of a pin until we destroy ourselves for the sake of not “offending”, imagination is in short not a crime.

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