“I Am Not Charlie Hebdo” (or am I?)

While scanning through the book of face this morning, I came across a New York Times Op-Ed column by David Brooks titled “I am Not Charlie Hebdo” I thought I’d link to/share here. It’s kind of a weird piece and I’m not sure what to make of it.

Let me quote from the first couple paragraphs, which are the most confusing part for me:

The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but 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.

Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.

Just look at all the people who have overreacted to campus micro-aggressions. The University of Illinois fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality. The University of Kansas suspended a professor for writing a harsh tweet against the N.R.A. Vanderbilt University derecognized a Christian group that insisted that it be led by Christians.

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.

First off, let’s be clear that there is an enormous difference between all of the examples that Brooks cites here and killing people in their offices. The idea that he is making a comparison at all strikes me as both downplaying the terrorism and exaggerating the on-campus examples. The fact is  censoring a student newspaper (which I would agree is wrong) is simply not at all “like” killing people.

Second, context matters a great deal here. There’s a difference between all of the things that Brooks mentions happening on a college campus versus not. So yeah, the University of Illinois might have “fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality” (though I am quite certain that there’s more to the story about whatever he’s referencing here), but it’s not as if that speech is shut down entirely– probably not at the Catholic student center at UI, for example.

This all seems to circle around the bad logic of “Political Correctness,” which, as far as I can tell, is always in the eye of the beholder.  One person’s “ideologue who must be silenced” is another person’s “voice of freedom and reason.” I don’t disagree that college campus discussions often get skewed by different views, and sometimes the effort to protect people/censor people in the name of decorum or fairness or whatever goes too far. But using this particular French situation as an example of how speech codes in the U.S. have run amok go too far.

2 thoughts on ““I Am Not Charlie Hebdo” (or am I?)

  1. I think its a fair point to state that what happened in Paris and what is happening weekly/monthly on college campuses in the US is separated by just a few degrees … meaning the intent to quash speech, unpopular, or in this case, satirical, is all too real.

    I have sent site-dad numerous links to stories in the past six months stating the very real threat that college campuses, led by left wing progressive academics, are the most viable threat to free speech in this country. You have journalism professors at reputable j-schools publicly calling for certain speech to be banned … and there is little outrage when in fact, he should be fired for lack of fitness to hold such a position. Can you imagine a Jewish studies professor who was a Holocaust denier being allowed to teach in America? While I understand site-dad cannot run everything, the pattern of these stories becoming to all to common but under reported remains common. Even on this blog.

    Students claim “violence” is upon them during discussions about race, when certain people, gasp, use the “N” word in REFERENCE during the discussion. Campus speech codes are more and more common and even accepted … yet First Amendment education is rare.

    Look just down the street, where Omar Mahmood was terminated from his position as a columnist for the school newspaper, The Michigan Daily. The gist of the story is simple, he broke ranks with the narrative of how things are done and he was fired and even vandalized.

    I am not certain when or why college campuses, long a bastion of liberal ideals but still open to points of view, became a “our way or you are wrong and should not be allowed to speak” place for discourse, but it should be a point of concern for all academics that either actively encourage or enable via silence, this trend of limiting speech on campuses in America.


    • Three quick responses for now:

      * As has always been the case, I kind of feel like in my role as “sitedad” that I am the host of the party, and as such, I do make choices about what news/comments to invite or not invite.

      That said, if Grady (or anyone else,) wants to actually write a post about one of these issues, I’m happy to give them consideration and most of the time I’ll post those posts, even if I don’t agree with them. Sending me links to things that I frankly don’t think are actually stories or all that interesting and/or that I don’t agree with and then saying “hey, write something about this” is not the same thing. Grady, take the time you took with this comment about one of those links, give it a headline you’d like to see, and send it to me at emutalk@gmail.com and we’ll see what happens, okay?

      * Generally speaking, I tend to not post stuff about U of M unless I see it as really relevant here. That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t post about this guy and also one of the reasons why I didn’t write anything about the U of M professor who got some conservative undies in a bundle when she said she “hates Republicans.” But again, if someone else wants to write it, feel free.

      * “Political Correctness” has been around for a long long time and it generally seems to me (and I admit to be pretty liberal) an excuse for people to be kind of rude and/or make fun of others, often because of issues like race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc. It’s also a way of reducing what is probably a more complicated story– which I suspect (though I don’t know this to be sure) the case with Omar Mahmood.


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