Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Qualified Thumbs Up for 'Je ne suis pas Charlie'

This article in London's Independent is a very good summary of what is wrong with the ongoing fixation with the tawdry, satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Apart from what reads to my eyes like a subtle endorsement of censorship of the magazine, this article is a major contribution to the argument that 'Je ne suis pas Charlie' is the better response to that magazine's 'journalistic' output. And, as the author, Nabila Ramdani underlines, nothing in her critique or any other critique of the magazine takes away from the rightful disgust and sympathy for the families of the victims in the attacks which took place over a year ago.

One other qualification to my endorsement however. Near the end, Ramdani writes:
Secularism and liberalism are not meant to subjugate religion. On the contrary, if they are applied properly they create a respectful society in which all expressions of faith can flourish, along with those who are atheists or agnostics.
 But this is not completely right. Liberalism and secularism cannot be applied in a positive way, just as much as they should not be applied in a negative way. A liberal society does not apply liberalism, it allows for liberalism to flourish out of an essential passivity. Or, at least, the sense of passivity that comes from separating powers: separation of the government from the judiciary from the police and security forces. A passivity that allows an ordered liberty to flourish in which speech is not monitored or censored and where the judiciary does not usurp the powers that rightly belong to parliaments and legislative assemblies. And vice versa. Etc. etc.

She appears to have bought into a part of the problem with secularism that she means to decry. A friendly amendment to this article would say this: religion will flouish so long as it is freely chosen in a liberal society. As Locke might have said it, the only kind of religion worth having is religion that is chosen by and for oneself and one's children. Likewise, a liberalism that is worth having is a liberalism that could not conceivably be foisted upon anyone to begin with. Her main point is that secularism is being applied by governments in an illiberal way, and on that score, she is absolutely right.

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