About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

January 9, 2015

I am Ahmed Merabet

Let's not forget the French police officers who were killed. Particularly Ahmed Merabet, who died protecting other people's right to make fun of his religion.

David Brooks has an interesting take on the matter. While deliberate provocation is best left at the kids' table, let's not get too on our high-horse about our own dedication to free speech:
Let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.
Americans may laud Charlie Hebdo for being brave enough to publish cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, but, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali is invited to campus, there are often calls to deny her a podium.
It’s a good time to come up with a less hypocritical approach to our own controversial figures, provocateurs and satirists.
In most societies, there’s the adults’ table and there’s the kids’ table. The people who read Le Monde or the establishment organs are at the adults’ table. The jesters, the holy fools and people like Ann Coulter and Bill Maher are at the kids’ table. They’re not granted complete respectability, but they are heard because in their unguided missile manner, they sometimes say necessary things that no one else is saying.

Healthy societies, in other words, don’t suppress speech, but they do grant different standing to different sorts of people. Wise and considerate scholars are heard with high respect. Satirists are heard with bemused semirespect. Racists and anti-Semites are heard through a filter of opprobrium and disrespect. People who want to be heard attentively have to earn it through their conduct.

The massacre at Charlie Hebdo should be an occasion to end speech codes. And it should remind us to be legally tolerant toward offensive voices, even as we are socially discriminating.


Jay Livingston said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay Livingston said...

I heard Brooks on radio saying that he was truly amazed that anybody could have thought that he was equating speech codes and mass assassination. Gee, maybe it's because he said that "the massacre . . . should be an occasion to end speech codes."
I'm not wild about speech codes, but when it comes to Yalies who march by dorms yelling "No means yes, Yes means anal," students who draw nooses on the dorm doors of Black students or scrawl "Fags die" on walls -- I would hardly include them as among "our own controversial figures, provocateurs and satirists."