Some people are missing the point. The victims of the Charlie Hebdo assault in Paris are not the Muslims satirised by the magazine, or Muslims facing the possibility of backlash. The victims are the 10 journalists murdered for drawing cartoons. Their murder deserves better analysis. They don’t deserve defamation after death-for exercising the right which caused their murder. They certainly don’t deserve their status as victims to shift to people who weren’t murdered for drawing cartoons. They deserve unreserved sympathy, for existing, and proudly asserting their right to do so in the face of murder and terror.
What happened on Wednesday was viscerally clear: A cornerstone of liberal democracy was assaulted by theofascists. Focusing exclusively on the ‘racism’ of the cartoons, immediately after it’s assault, distorts this fact. Whether the cartoons are horrible or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is whether they have the right to exist, unburdened by the threat of murder. As the incidents on Friday suggest, this is more profound than the contents of the cartoons. This is an assault against free speech, Jews, gays, women and anything or person inconsistent with their warped ideology. This is a cult of death and an attitude of appeasement, apologetics and equivocation constitutes suicide.
But people are still missing the point. They’ll continue to do so because, put simply, the victimhood of non-white people is the premise with which they draw conclusions; 10 journalists murdered for cartoons is really about the Muslims they portrayed and the Muslims who could face backlash. The murder of these journalists is not an assault on free speech-that is too simple, straightforward and direct. It is really about race narratives, interconnectivity between power structures and “islamophobia“. The fetish for nuance nullifies an honest analysis. Rather than stating the force of radical Islam directly threaten our liberties, we inwardly gaze for our Islamophobia and imperialism. Rather than saying “x” we say “x, but”. If we can’t respond to straightforward evil with a straightforward moral response, our values will continue to degenerate intermittently.
It has already begun. Freedom of speech being qualified with respect to beliefs is indistinguishable from de facto blasphemy law. Hate speech laws, blasphemy laws, every tenet of civil liberties will soon be sullied. Unless, of course, rights are affirmed and analysis is honest. The two go hand in hand and depend on positive dynamism. Not self-loathing and not paralysis.
This attitude, though, will continue to fester amongst people of my generation. Anti-racism is developing from a principled position into a vehicle for excusing and mollifying totalitarian forces. These forces don’t possess shaven heads or white masks. They do possess the same impulses, instincts and the same pathological supremacism. The response to them should also be the same. I fear it won’t and my fears are not being assuaged at the moment.
Imagine an ideology rigidly dictating who can say what and how to think. This is Identity politics and it stipulates that the legitimacy of ones views is determined by ones identity; defined by gender, ethnic or sexual orientation. This is inimical to universalist Enlightenment values.
Identity politics is, firstly, corrosive to liberty. Personal liberty emerged by smashing taboos. Therefore, ideologies which endorse speech taboos are-by definition, reactionary. Identity politics is reactionary because freedom of speech is circumscribed on the basis of who a person is. The rhetoric of privilege becomes a cudgel to batter liberty. More notably, though, it batters equality; prohibiting certain people from freely speaking-on the basis of their identity- is incommensurate with egalitarian principles. Identity politics entails this, by assuming a hierarchy of oppression should precondition how we assign human rights to individuals; Not impartially-as it should be, but contingent upon a persons identity. Although this affront to egalitarianism is objectionable, identity politics’ draconian impulse extends more prominently to debate.
It impairs debate in a simple way. Rather than maintaining a dispassionate focus on issues- discourse, shaped by identity politics, begin and end in ad hominem. Rather than constructing a sound argument, one can just emphatically declare “check your privilege”. This antipathy to argument, and to critical thinking more generally, is debilitative. Egalitarian principles has been dynamically allied with rational dialogue in ameliorating human society. Identity politics doesn’t allow for either.
It is, therefore, untenable on two counts: it weaponises the language of privilege against egalitarianism, and it circumscribes rational debate for dogma. Consequently, it should be resisted.