Monday, January 19, 2015

THE ART OF DRAWING LINES AND CROSSING THEM

     by Philip J Cunningham                                                                                       January 19, 2015

The bloody attacks on French cartoonists have the Western media talking about press freedom, but the hail of bullets that cut down innocent lives in Paris is about much more than that.
The shootings were a pointedly political attack, a premeditated sneak attack, a dagger in the heart of Marianne, an assault not just on a tradition of liberty, but reason and civilization itself.
It is perhaps inevitable that early reactions to the shock should be self-reflective: What does this mean for freedom of speech in France? What does it mean for the future of political satire? If a red line was crossed editorially, is the right response to pull back, or double down, asserting the right to offend? All of these are important questions, and while it seems everyone has an opinion on the matter, there are few easy answers.
So it's natural for the press to react, perhaps even over-react when fellow members of the pen-wielding tribe get hit, especially when it takes place in a fabled city that gave the world "Miss Liberty", or at least a statue by that name, which now stands holding a torch in New York Harbor.
To frame the attack as a freedom of the press issue is to box it off and isolate it from the horrors committed by like-minded cold-blooded operatives who seek to destroy civic society on a far greater magnitude in places like Iraq, Syria and the borderlands of the Sahara desert, such as northern Nigeria, where horrific assaults have taken place in the name of "books are bad" Boko Haram.
In the West, there's been a rush to defend the right to offend at any cost, though it was European rather than US newspapers that were at the vanguard of reprinting the cartoons, given the US' penchant for political correctness on questions where certain forms of racism or religion might be at play.


French President Francois Hollande (L) welcomes US Secretary of State John Kerry before their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris January 16, 2015. Ceremonies continue to honour the memories of the 17 people who were killed in last week's attacks. [Photo/Agencies]



Wars and violent conflicts make one feel despair for the human condition, but history suggests that decency and tolerance survive and thrive in the long run. Each society has its piety, and every culture has its sacred cows, so it is as wrong to impose intolerance from the outside as it is to stifle diversity within.
The Charlie Hebdo attack has been traced back to hate-filled Islamists residing in the Arabian Peninsula who proselytize and fund cruel mutations of an ancient creed with the tragic result that some youth are recruited to become killers and suicide bombers, fanning the flames of hatred around the world.
It is this divisive hate, more than any of the second-tier press issues, that needs to be addressed in a concerted manner by US, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, India and other countries that have been victims of extreme Islamist violence.
The agents of ill will who would turn the suburbs of Paris, or the streets of lower Manhattan, or the port of Bombay, or the desert reaches of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region into a battlefield for their own twisted purposes are the root of the problem, and as such, the common enemy to civilization on earth in all its diverse manifestations.
The author is a media researcher covering Asian politics.
(published in China Daily, January 19, 2015)