The decision by PEN American Center — the literary organization — to give its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to Charlie Hebdo has prompted six writers to withdraw from the event. According to The New York Times, one of the writers cited the magazine’s alleged “cultural intolerance.” Another denounced “PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”
Of course, in January, 12 people were permanently “disempowered” at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris by two Islamist gunmen.
Naturally, Glenn Greenwald used this news to once again accuse Charlie Hebdo of bashing Muslims because he is unable to distinguish between criticism or satirization of a religion, and attacks on members of that religion as a whole. Hence in a piece published Monday about the PEN gala, Greenwald gives us nonsense like this:
“What, pray tell, is remotely admirable about sitting in the west – which has been invading, bombing, and otherwise dominating Muslim countries around the world for decades, and has spent the last decade depicting Islam as the Gravest Threat – and echoing that prevailing sentiment by bashing Muslims? Nothing is easier than mocking and maligning the group in your society most marginalized and oppressed…. Bashing Muslims and Islam is orthodoxy in the west, both on the level of official policy and political culture.“
It must be exhausting being Glenn Greenwald, for whom everything is part of some global Manichean struggle. Charlie Hebdo, you see, isn’t merely a satirical magazine; it’s a cog in the nefarious machinery of Western oppression because it dares to lampoon sacred cows, including religion and Islam. Like Doonesburycartoonist Garry Trudeau, Greenwald seems to think that people in the West should carry around a profound sense of guilt about their Western-ness and act accordingly. Doing so means not saying anything critical about Islam — which really just is a set of ideas — because the vast majority of its adherents aren’t Westerners and aren’t white.
This is a profoundly troubling position to have, but it’s the perfectly natural outgrowth of Greenwald’s rabid consequentialism.
Furthermore, the idea that “[b]ashing Muslims and Islam is orthodoxy in the west, both on the level of official policy and political culture” is plainly preposterous. After the attack on Charlie Hebdo in January, French president Francois Hollande went so far as to claim, “These fanatics have nothing to do with Islam.” Here in the states, for 14 years, two consecutive U.S. presidents have bent over backwards to assure us that Islam is a religion of peace and that Islamic extremists aren’t really Islamic. And while the United States has inflicted a lot of needless damage on Muslim-majority countries, the motive behind it hasn’t been driven by some base desire to kill and injure Muslims because they’re Muslims. To say otherwise is just incorrect.
Finally, what Charlie Hebdo did was courageous, considering their offices had been firebombed in 2011 for publishing cartoons mocking Islam. Slain Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier once said, “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.” It was this attitude that led Charbonnier and his staff to carry on despite knowing the risks involved. For this, they paid with their lives, and for Greenwald to denigrate their memory with false accusations of “bashing Muslims” is simply atrocious.