Garry Trudeau’s full (and clueless) remarks on “hate speech” published in The Atlantic

April 12, 2015 • 12:21 pm

At least one person questioned, when I reported yesterday that Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau criticized Charlie Hebdo for engaging in “hate speech,” whether Trudeau’s remarks might be inaccurate, perhaps distorted through other peoples’ Twi**er reports.

Sadly, that’s not the case. The Atlantic has published Trudeau’s full remarks that he made on receiving a Polk Award for journalism, and it substantiates what I said yesterday. Here are just a couple of excerpts from the Atlantic piece, “The abuse of satire.”

I, and most of my colleagues, have spent a lot of time discussing red lines since the tragedy in Paris. As you know, the Muhammad cartoon controversy began eight years ago in Denmark, as a protest against “self-censorship,” one editor’s call to arms against what she felt was a suffocating political correctness. The idea behind the original drawings was not to entertain or to enlighten or to challenge authority—her charge to the cartoonists was specifically to provoke, and in that they were exceedingly successful. Not only was one cartoonist gunned down, but riots erupted around the world, resulting in the deaths of scores. No one could say toward what positive social end, yet free speech absolutists were unchastened. Using judgment and common sense in expressing oneself were denounced as antithetical to freedom of speech.

And now we are adrift in an even wider sea of pain. Ironically, Charlie Hebdo,which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population, has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest.

Really, Mr. Trudeau? That’s Charlie Hebdo’s fault? Why isn’t it the fault of those “non-extremist’ Muslims who decided to align with the murderous thugs.

Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.

By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charliewandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.

. . . What free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged. They’re allowed to feel pain. Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility. At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.

I really believed that Trudeau was more thoughtful than this. First of all, in what sense are Muslims “non-privileged”? Yes, there are anti-immigrant strains in France (not just against Muslims, but against blacks as well), but in many cases Charlie Hebdo was going after Islam in general, which has hegemony over several powerful and important countries in the world. Yet Trudeau still intimates that Charlie Hebdo violated French law and, by extension, should be prosecuted.

Second, why are bad ideas limited to the “privileged”? Why is it off limits to go after those ideologies held by minorities? After all, another reviled minority in France is skinheads and Nazi sympathizers. Should we declare satirizing those groups off limits because they’re “non-privileged”? What about black charlatan preachers like Creflo Dollar? Is it mean to make fun of his desire for a multi-million-dollar jet, and of those who fund it, because they’re members of an oppressed minority?

Further, why is “punching up” okay if doing that is also liable to create violence? After all, if you “punch up” against Islam in Pakistan, you’re a dead cartoonist.  Should one always refrain from mocking bad ideas if the target is liable to react violently? Do tell us what you think, Mr. Trudeau.

In the next-to-last paragraph above, Trudeau comes close to blaming Charlie Hebdo for the violence it incited. Sorry, Mr. Trudeau, but that fault lies at the door of the offended Muslims. And seriously, do you think the magazine’s staff was “directly inciting violence”? How did it do that, exactly? Did it tell Muslims to engage in a killing spree?

I am immensely saddened to realize that I’ll never again have quite the admiration for Trudeau that I once felt. He is apparently converging with the Offended Snowflakes who populate American campuses. Sure they’re allowed to feel pain, to be outraged, and to use their own right of free speech to protest. But they have no right to embark on violence or engage in censorship. To equate satirizing bad ideas, religious or otherwise, as “its own kind of fanaticism” is ridiculous. Trudeau neither understood the purpose of Charlie Hebdo’s satire, nor, apparently, the reason why we must protect that kind of speech and continue to encourage criticism of bad ideas. For if we shut up for fear of outraging proponents of bad ideas, we’re simply lost.

112 thoughts on “Garry Trudeau’s full (and clueless) remarks on “hate speech” published in The Atlantic

  1. This is in such stark contrast to how I previously understood Trudeau to be that I actually worry for his mental health. Or maybe he’s just hidden it so well for so long?

    But, regardless…was it not noble that the various revolutionaries of a couple centuries ago fought and died for the right to speak freely? Should we not hold those who die today for the crime of speaking freely in similar reverence?

    I can’t think of anything more anti-American than blaming the victims of murderous Muslim censorship for their own deaths. Really — I can’t.


    1. I agree with Ben and Jerry, and said a lot of this yesterday. I continue to be surprised at the number of people incapable of understanding the principle of free speech. No matter how upset you are by something someone says, writes, or draws, the appropriate response is never violence. This is the value of freedom of speech – we have to opportunity to speak out against any idea we don’t like.

      Now, who’s for ice cream?

          1. Yes – ice cream only came to mind because of the phrase ‘Ben and Jerry’, and Lou Jost has a good idea for the flavour too!

    2. Not just anti-American, but anti-Humanist as well. Trudeau, regardless of what he may believe he is standing up for, is ultimately advocating silence in response to doctrines and resulting behavior that is reprehensible and inhumane. Islam, as much as Nazism, racism, Christianity, Judaism, Communism, etc., deserves to be mocked for promoting dogma and belief in supernatural non-sense.

        1. I think, sadly, in his eyes the aggrieved muslims are, by definition being bullied and the journalists that those aggrieved muslims slaughtered are, by definition, the bullies.

  2. Yes, this is lousy news. Oh well. I guess we can only do what we already do for other creative people: if an unattractive detail from their past is revealed, we just deal with it — and still go on admiring the actor or writer. Daniel Barenboim can explain why he loves Wagner.

    1. I don’t know why, but I’ve never, even as a teenage girl, put people on pedestals. I’ve been disappointed when I’ve discovered someone I admire isn’t perfect, but I never imagine people are perfect in the first place, so it’s not accompanied by the shock many experience.

      For example, I never stopped admiring the skill of Tiger Woods while for many revelations about his private life ruined that for many. And I’ve never expected people I admire to have the same opinion as me, so when I disagree with them, I don’t turn vicious like many do. They seem to take it personally if Dawkins, for example, says something they don’t like. I know I’m being a bit supercilious and arrogant, but I find that childish.

      1. I agree Heather. I do however reserve a certain amount of disdain for the hypocrites in politics, the men and women(?) who decry some moral evil and then are found to be hip deep in their own filth and corruption.

        Even more so the religious leaders like Ted Haggard, the ones who vilify others, spew and spread hatred, but then are caught doing the very same thing. At the same time I feel somewhat sorry for them, the hatred they must feel for themselves.

        1. Hypocrisy is a bit of a different matter to me too, especially from those (as you say) in politics in religion. They’re up there telling everyone how to run their lives and presenting themselves as an example, and not walking the talk. Those people lose my respect, although anyone who is telling others how to live their life usually didn’t have my respect in the first place.

      2. I’m with you, Heather. Though I often expect better of some people based on what I think I know of them, and then the feet of clay appear. It can work the opposite way, too. Humans are complex organisms.

        In that way, I’m now regarding this disappointment with Trudeau the same way many Hitch admirers regard his unfortunate pro-Iraq war stance. Both are very regrettable but not to the extent that they tar all of their lifetime accomplishments.

    2. And racism was not even the half of it – Wagner could have been the most unracist citizen of the 19th Century and he would still have been a nasty piece of work. And still a great artist.

      (Also, there have been quite a lot of Jewish Wagner specialists – starting with Gustav Mahler.)

  3. I wonder if GT is groping for an answer to your succinct, accurate remarks. It would be nice if he were to be brave enough to admit error – unlikely. The schools should teach it’s OK to be wrong, it can be a fine learning experience. But ‘most everybody gets so defensive about being in error. Is that part of the whole self esteem is inviolable thing?

  4. If satirizing a man who is known to 1.6 billion people as “The Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)” is not “punching up,” nothing is.

  5. I agree with most of your post, particularly your arguments about “punching up” and privilege, and Trudeau’s misunderstanding about the purpose of attacking these fundamentalist ideas. I do think, though, that you’re oversimplifying his statements about blaming the cartoonists for the violence and about the the “non-extremist” muslims aligning themselves with the violent perpetrators. I don’t think his words suggest that these mainstream believers support the violence, but rather that they are aligning themselves in opposition to the so-called hate speech. And to say that the cartoons incited the attackers; well, they did. The fact that Trudeau says so doesn’t mean he is justifying the violence or that he thinks they deserved the consequences.
    Otherwise, I’m totally with you, and I agree that Trudeau is really missing the point by not aligning himself with those who fight for this kind of expression–even if he thinks the expression itself is extreme or not his style.

    1. Well that makes a lot of sense. The cartoonist incited the murderers to kill them by publishing cartoons. What a lovely thought. It makes no sense at all.

      Does the word intimidation mean anything any more. I did not hear Trudeau mention that word once. That is the game all terrorist play and it is illegal in most states. They play this game very well all over the world. Some of us do not buy it.

    2. Trudeau is trying to make the case that the cartoons were hate speech, because they supposedly incited ‘directly’ incited violence. That is a wrong understanding of and interpretation of the law.

      Charlie Hebro did not directly incite violence. They would have had to actually call for violence for that to be true.

      The murderers were directly incited to violence by the religion of Islam.

      Trudeau is just wrong in his understanding.
      There is no hate speech to be in opposition to, the mainstream believers are aligning themselves with a religion. a cause and certain types of people who really do incite violence, and are hence, guilty by association.

      As is Trudeau

      1. Maybe you’re right, and I read Trudeau’s argument less carefully than you. If so, then I retract my minor disagreement with Coyne. Thanks.

      2. This is what really stuck out to me. Charlie Hebdo cannot be accused of incitement to violence in any sane world. Only those imams and mob leaders who called for or encouraged violence against the cartoonists could be guilty of this. Whether the people arrested by French authorities for sympathizing with the terrorists crossed that line into criminality is something that can be debated on a case by case basis, but Charlie Hebdo has no legal culpability. For Trudeau to get this basic fact so wrong shows either blinkered incompetence or staggering dishonesty.

        1. Trudeau is an intelligent person. I’d have to go for: “blinkered incompetence”, in the sense that he must not have considered the complexity of the situation. It’s full of ambiguities. He must have been distracted by the plethora of PC opinions floating about. Given time he might come around to a more sagacious view. I hope.

  6. He misunderstands France’s law against inciting violence. He has tripped up on a classic example of correlation not meaning causation.

    This mistake is correctable; I’ve seen friends figure out their victim-blaming position and ultimately reject it.

    For now, he is siding 100% with a reigning pope. That alone should give him pause to reconsider what he is arguing for.


    1. He comes very close to saying France should prosecute Charlie Hebdo for having incited the killing of their own people. Not to mention, smacking of “if governments don’t prosecute this kind of speech, then vigilantes will be forced to”. An absolutely disgusting argument.

  7. I felt the same way when I learned of the writers that I had held in high regard who blamed Rushdie for the fatwa issued against him for his writing. Otherwise intelligent, liberal-left siding with the far right extremist Islamo-facists is heart-rending.

    “The idea behind the original drawings was not to entertain or to enlighten or to challenge authority”

    So, from his subjective view of this, the Hebdo cartoons would have been ok if he found them “entertaining and enlightening”? I found them to be both. and furthermore, they absolutely were meant to challenge authority, the authority of the muslim clerics and fundamentalist extremists to decide what the rest of the world gets to view, to read, to think, the believe or not believe. Shame on Trudeau for such weak and shallow thinking. Shame on him for blaming the victims.

    1. Trudeau appears to have fallen for the idiocy that only standard bearers of power in the west, mainly the government, deserve ridicule, but other, even more reprehensible, forms of tyranny must be off limits.
      Admittedly, as a young adult in the ’80s, I preferred Bloom County, even if it was a more absurdist variation of Doonesbury. Well, actually specifically because it was more absurdist.

      1. +1. I read “Doonesbury” when it crossed my path but I bought the “Bloom County” books (also “Calvin and Hobbes”). Because, as you point out, the latter was more absurdist. I love Berke Breathed for coining the phrase “offensensitivty“. Reading his strips about that concept was the primary influence in my rejecting the concept of “politically correct”.

  8. It annoys me when I hear muslims described as a “powerless, disenfranchised minority”. In what sense, exactly are they “disenfranchised”? In a democracy like France, muslim citizens have exactly the same franchise as everyone else, i.e. the right to cast a vote in the democratic election, the right to join, or form, a political party of their choice, and so on. If you want to find “disenfranchised” muslims, the best place to look is in one of the many countries that are actually, you know….run by muslims.

    And as for muslims in the west being “powerless”, well given the blood-curdling extremist views that opinion polls suggest are all too common in that section of the population, I can only say thank g*d they are powerless. Under current circumstances I don’t think I’d want to live in any society where muslims exercised a significant degree of political power.

    1. Again, the inanity of trying to arrange the world into a neat hierarchy of “privilege” or “power”, with all criticism directed “up”, is breathtaking to me. I hate to go all Goodwin here, but there was a time when the Nazis were just powerless, downtrodden, brownshirts. Had we lived then, would the prescription have been to spare them from ridicule for the vile things they preached, because, hey, they are oppressed by Versailles, they are “powerless”? Are we only allowed to criticize dangerous, vile, and violent ideas AFTER they attain the power they clearly announce that they seek, only AFTER they are a existential threat to the rest of us? That makes no sense whatsoever.

      1. “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” as Mao said. The cartoonists were unarmed. (Not a call for more guns on my part, just agreeing with you on the absurdity of the ‘powerless’ Muslims trope.

    2. Basically the “Muslims are disenfranchised” is a trope which has its origins in the narrative of the supporters of Palestine.

      The Israel/Palestine conflict is a very complicated issue and there’s no doubt that Israel has frequently acted in ways that do no respect the human rights of the Muslim population in Gaza and the West Bank (and elsewhere, too).

      And it’true that some xenophobic assholes in “the “West” have physically attacked Muslims just because they’re Muslims, which is obviously barbaric.

      But this doesn’t mean that Muslims are “an oppressed class” in every country in the “the West”.

  9. it blows my mind that not once does he question the reaction to the charlie hebdo cartoons in any way. it seems as if he thinks that the reaction is completely justifiable since he thinks the right to offend doesn’t mean you should offend.

    it works the other way, too: just because religious texts justify violence doesn’t mean you have to engage in it. mr. trudeau clearly holds one group to a much lower stander than the other.

    1. I think people who share his position don’t think that far ahead (about questioning the reaction).

      (Regarding speech) the victim blamer can start from the rather benign position of, “that is something I would never do.” But from there they go off the rails by essentially saying no one else should do that either.

      I have never met a friend or aquaintance state that killing a cartoonist who is offensive to some as being justifiable. They simply don’t think that far ahead with their logic. They are hung up on an pseudo-argument containing only one premise: it’s something they would not do.

      It’s amazing to watch otherwise erudite people get stuck in that kind of reinforcing feedback loop.


    2. He needs to learn that freedom of speech for others also means freedom from speech for himself.

      Nobody’s making him listen to anything he finds offensive. And egging on those who kill those speakers you find offensive…damn, but that’s just begging for all kinds of blowback….


    3. Actually he accuses the cartoonists of hate speech based on the fact that the cartoons “incited violence”.

      There is no way he can really be that uninformed about basic logic. But if so — I wouldn’t trust much else coming from him. It’s got to be pure trickery of language he is demonstrating; he must surely know how his “logic” is bizarre.

      The equivalent is if I were to draw Catholics or the pope or JC himself with a big nose doing something outrageous and then Catholics rioted and then later killed me and some people standing around me – that means my drawings would count as hate speech because my drawings caused my own death??? Do I have that right?

      Am I being to obvious to point out that the “incitement” part of hate speech is about saying “hey all you so and so’s are so vile — describe, describe, describe enough” that the NON-so and so’s reading or hearing the speech go and get violent toward the so and so’s? It’s obvious isn’t it? Really I’m confused. Is GT even plausibly correct that the rioting in the actual Charlie Hebdo case was incited in that sense?

      The argument is clearly made with a low level intelligence.

    4. “it seems as if he thinks that the reaction is completely justifiable ”

      I read it as more “unavoidable” than “justifiable”. He, and many liberals, seem to view Muslim reaction to insults like some law of physics. It’s not a matter of justification, but of simple cause and effect.

      Of course, this just reveals the truly massive case of I Help the Little People arrogance. The Little People are so little, in this view, that they lack all agency. This is what Trudeau is really saying: Muslims can’t help themselves, so blame for their reactions must always lie elsewhere. Muslims are mere pawns in some game that the non-Muslim world is playing, and can no more be the subject of blame than a pawn in a Kasparov game.

      Muslims may feel that these kinds of liberals are their allies, but it’s hard to see what can come of an alliance where one side has such low regard for the other. At least the right-wing acknowledges that Muslims could behave differently, which accords them a respect that Trudeau and his other fellow travelers don’t. Personally, I think it would be more respectful towards Muslims if Trudeau were to just spit in their eye.

  10. I suppose Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rehman were also guilty of ‘punching down’ on Islam in Bangladesh.

  11. I wonder if Garry Trudeau thinks Ayaan Hirsi Ali deserves to live in fear or if Theo van Gogh was similarly inciting his own murder. At least Charlie Hebdo criticized and satirized ideas and ideologies. Trudeau’s depiction of Dan Quayle as a feather is just ad hominem. Did Trudeau ever acknowledge that the allegations of Quayle’s pot smoking were the lies of a convicted criminal?

    1. I suppose by Mr. Trudeau’s logic, Dan Quayle would be justified if he came gunning for Trudeau. Quayle might not have seen any humor in the feather, and might even be right in thinking that Trudeau was “punching down” since Trudeau probably had more political power than Quayle at the time. But I suspect Trudeau knows he has never attacked anyone who would actually come gunning for him.

      1. Good point. Maybe we’re analyzing this too hard. Maybe it’s simple cowardice (or prudence, depending on your demands for self sacrifice)?

  12. Trudeau : “Not only was one cartoonist gunned down, but riots erupted around the world, resulting in the deaths of scores.”

    Notice that Trudeau thinks that ‘riots erupted’, as if the process were merely one in which the cartoon was published, and the immediate result was riots. So in Trudeau’s mind it goes something like this:

    Cartoons –> riots

    Notice that this implies a rather lowly picture of Muslims in general as unthinking automatons, reacting blindly to stimuli.

    The reality is that the violence ‘provoked’ by Danish cartoons were the result of an orchestrated campaign of hatred carried out by several Danish Muslim preachers, one of whom has since recanted and advocates for free speech.

    1. Not only that, but as I tried to say above, even if “cartoons therefore riot immediately” is true, that is not what incitement means. The cartoons were not “telling” Muslims to go and riot, nor were they suggesting they should.

      The incitement that actually occurred would be from the “several Danish Muslim preachers”, because they (if this is true) suggested strongly IIRC that rioting would be a good idea.

      1. Definitely a misunderstanding and misuse of incite.
        Probably selectively misunderstood so as to create or support this erroneous narrative.

    2. Exactly!! I mentioned the same thing above before getting this far. It’s a truly insulting stance that this strain of liberal is taking towards Muslims and I marvel that more people don’t seem to notice it. At least the right-wing acknowledges that they are people with agency. Not certain liberals.

    3. The Danish cartoons caused little trouble initially. They were actually published in the Cairo newspaper Al Fagr on October 18th, and provoked some minor and peaceful demonstrations and protests. It was not until the following February that some religious nutters added three more drawings and finally managed to stir up the violence that they apparently wanted all along.

  13. Created simply to incite – not to entertain, not to satirize, not to educate. The thinking goes that speech without a so-called point is nothing but provocation.

    But that of course misses the point. Provocation is valuable in at least two ways: 1, it serves like the miner’s canary, warning of attacks on the soft underbelly of free speech, and 2, it should remind the majority of people that this kind of provocation should never be a capital offense.

    1. Even if it is created simply to incite, it makes the point that Islam (in this case) is easily provoked, and often responds to provocation with violence or threats of violence. That in itself makes a very important point. It exposes a dirty underbelly, which surely is one of the achievements of a good cartoon.

      1. Again again.

        Imagine a neo-Nazi skin-head who draws a wandering Jew drinking baby blood as he steals money and candy from children, while reading from the OT and holding a menorah. The caption reads “Go and get them yuckies!!”

        Jewish people don’t like it so go out and riot.

        Meanwhile young skin-head punks go out and smash up some windows of Jewish businesses and beat up an orthodox Jew in a park, while carrying placards of the cartoon.

        Can Gary Trudeau spot the difference between these two scenarios?

        Which group was “incited” to riot?

  14. Garry Trudeau is himself at the core of the center of the establishment. He himself is “up” as far as “up” goes. So he really should punch himself in the face according to his own logic.

  15. Well, the father of modern satire, Swift, wrote this: “…I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.” The object of satire is all humankind.

    And Voltaire, as we’re on the subject of French satirists, went after Islam in Candide and his play ‘Fanaticism or Mohammed the Prophet’.

    The latest Charlie Hebdo features the headline, ‘148 dead in the Kenya University Attack’. Beneath is an AK47-bearing jihadi, face-palming. And a speech bubble: “The shame! Even a depressed co-pilot could do better than me!”

    Sad indeed about Garry Trudeau. He seems to be going the same way as Finlay Peter Dunne, who coined the idea of satire afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. He ended up regularly dining at the White House. Comfortable, but conflicted.

    Allele akhbar. x

  16. Mr. Trudeau observes:

    “My years in college had given me the completely false impression that there were no constraints, that it was safe for an artist to comment on volatile cultural and political issues in public. In college, there’s no down side.”

    Those no-downside days are largely gone. Many colleges and universities now impose vague “speech codes” via which students can be shunted to microscopic “free speech zones” to express their opinions, or even brought before mock “courts” with the options of public censure, the ruin of youthful reputations, or expulsion of those with views that are deemed unpopular or “incorrect.” Shrill minorities can even censor the showing of commercial films, as recent events at the University of Michigan so disgustingly demonstrate.

    As he indicates, Mr. Trudeau strives for a certain “correctness,” seeming thus to fault those, like some at Charlie Hebdo, who transgress the bounds of his own private vision. Ah, well. In France, at least, the clumsy satirists of such as Charlie are granted liberty of speech; here in USA, such liberty rapidly becomes more, uh, “nuanced,” as colleges increasingly spread their messages of expressive intolerance. We live in strange times.

  17. I for one would very much like to hear Garry Trudeau’s answers to the questions Jerry Coyne puts forward.

  18. Trudeau’s argument about the limits of satire boil down to “Don’t tease the Rottweiler”, and that is good advice if you are dealing with Rottweilers, but as #12 observed, that is treating Muslims like non-human automata. Offense is probably inevitable in human society and if you are easily offended you need to learn to deal with it non-violently and within the law or else face the consequences. It is no excuse to claim that you are just an out-of-control Rottweiler and whatever happens is not your fault. Even worse is other people playing the Rottweiler card for you.

    1. Absolutely. GT’s argument implicitly views (some) moslems as rabid pitbulls, in just the same way as the guy posting about israel and gaza mentioned in a post last week.

  19. This is certainly a disappointing development. I find it hard to understand how Trudeau could be so dense here. And this bit in particular:

    “Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world”

    This is shocking doublespeak. I can’t expect that Trudeau fails to know the definition of the word “incite” – urge or persuade someone to act in a violent or unlawful way. So I’m forced to conclude that he is purposely obscuring the definitions here. Charlie Hebdo’s drawings did not urge or persuade – i.e. incite – anyone to violence. An offended group decided to *react* to the drawings with violence. These are not the same thing, and I’m rather disgusted that Trudeau makes the false equivalency. Very disappointing.

    1. -An offended group decided to react to the drawing with violence-

      Exactly! It seems so obvious to me.

      I am reminded of the talks I have with my 12 year old to take responsibility for own his actions and not to put the blame for his decisions on others!!

      (Who decided to start a riot/set off a bomb? Cartoons or people?!)

        1. Whew – some commenters noticing the obvious that I did as well above (having commented a lot above before reading all the way down here).

          You are both so so so correct. I think it’s the main thing he gets wrong, because it’s not really him just expressing a different opinion or perception of the situation; it’s a basic error. And it’s an error that takes at most an 18 to 22 year old’s (or a smart high school student’s)logical reasoning abilities to understand. Very disappointing of GT indeed.

    2. Agreed, a possibly deliberate misunderstanding of or misuse of, incite, to further the ‘narrative’.
      The incitement to violence came directly from Islamic speech.

  20. The only aspect of Trudeau’s article that he gets a little bit right is the hypocrisy of the French government in responding to a violent attack on free speech rights with an attack on Muslim free speech rights. But this is something others have pointed out, and not as a simple one-sentence “gotcha”:

    Of course, the French government’s using the attacks as a pretext to censor others merely makes a case against the hypocrisy of the government’s actions, not a case for some sort of equality in censorship, as Trudeau seems to have it.

  21. It’s funny how Charlie Hebdo’s “punching down” requires so much more courage than Trudeau’s “punching up”.

  22. The anti-free speech meme has really captured a big part of the so-called “social justice” left. The most extreme argument around “punching down” and the consequences of it came from a San Francisco sex blogger, Kitty Stryker, who takes a very thinly “Charlie Hebdo had it coming” stance on the shootings:

    (NSFW note on some of the material in the sidebar on the blogs, as it’s normally a sex blog)

    In the first of these entries, she acknowledges the shootings weren’t “ethically Right with a capital R”, but “understandable” in the same way “a protester attacks a cop” is.

    The really disgusting thing is that after this article, the author of that screed was welcomed as a speaker at at least one *atheist* event in San Francisco, Greta Christina’s “Godless Perverts Social Club”:

    So unfortunately, this is the degree of crazy that much of progressive politics has fallen into, and in that context, Trudeau’s argument probably comes across as moderate.

    1. I won’t say too much, but the Christina and PZ crowd has demonstrated many examples of the SJW nonsense pervading the liberal left, things topical here.

  23. I wonder if free speech now suffers from the same problem as vaccination etc. In the “West”, we have been so successful in enabling free speech that the current generation are not really aware of its importance and can only see the harms – real or imagined. Just as rare adverse reactions to vaccines are the price we have to pay for a life without TB and polio, occasional offence is the price we have to pay for a life without true repression of freedom. I hope it doesn’t take the equivalent of a measles outbreak to make people realise their folly.

    1. That’s a really interesting point and analogy. All these college campuses that are going on about “safe speech” become the anti-vaxers.

      A lot of people, as you say, don’t appreciate the value of free speech because they don’t know what it’s like not to have it.

    2. I think this is a general problem in successful societies/businesses/organizations/families. We habituate to our success and forget how far we have come. Mere irritations start to seem intolerable because we have lost the context to see them as mere irritations.

      Some time ago I was with some friends and we were discussing an upcoming election. My otherwise very smart friend said of the incumbent, “Anything would be better than what we have now.” I thought, “My, hardly have I ever heard a more foolish assertion.” I’ve heard some variant of this sentiment at every election since then, and it never seems any less foolish. You can only think this be being oblivious to how far down things could go from here, and that’s very far indeed. I liken social progress to climbing a mountain. High on a mountain, most randomly chosen directions lead down.

  24. When I wa a teenager and began reading Doonesbury, Trudeau was fighting against The Estabilshment.

    As so often happens, he’s gone from being the revolutionary fighting the system, to living comfortably within it. He’s respected and rich.

    He now has completed his assimilation – he now IS the establishment.

  25. Trudeau’s words above are horrifying in their implications. Thank you Jerry for illustrating that this cartoonist has no clothes. Trudeau has to answer these questions:
    1) How is drawing Muhammed inciting lethal violence in France? These cartoons weren’t drawn in Pakistan.
    2) How is satirizing “depiction of the prophet” of 1.2B people not punching up?
    3) Why did the Charlie Hebdo murderer kill innocent, non-cartoonist Jews in a deli?
    4) Even if we grant CH was being provocative, how is that equal to incitement of violence?
    5) You claim “punching down” fails because it’s poor satire but go on to conflate bad comedy with good reasons for violence. Why should the consequence of bad comedy be murder?
    6) If you draw a provocative cartoon in the US, will you fear for your life in the future?

    1. I largely agree, but I find necessary to emphasize that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons wouldn’t be more incitement if they were published in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.
      I can understand (though disagree with) saying that their cartoons are of bad tatste or insensitive . But they definitely don’t call or encourage violence.
      If anything, they are provocation, but the whole idea of free speech is allowing unpleasant speech. Songs about flowers and butterflies don’t need freedom of speech to be allowed.

      1. “Provoke” is a much more apt term for what Trudeau means than “incite.”

        And when we’re kids, most of us are taught not to let teasing provoke us, because then the teasers win. Muslims, it appears, are taught just the opposite.

        1. I completely agree.
          Just to be clear, I did not mean to suggest that the so called provocation of Charlie Hebdo justifies or excuses the attack.

  26. Trudeau claims that “free speech absolutists” denounce “[u]sing judgment and common sense in expressing oneself…as antithetical to freedom of speech.” Hardly.

    Most “free speech absolutists” — and I’m about as close to favoring unrestricted free speech as they come* — have no problem with speakers and writers using judgment and common sense in expressing themselves (and, in the main, wish to hell they would). We also wish that those with forums for public expression would “punch up” against the privileged more often, and agree that satire should be used to afflict the comfortable rather than vice versa. What we oppose is having the State (the entity, that is, with the power to make and enforce laws limiting speech) decide what constitutes “judgment” and “common sense” in matters of expression.

    Speech that that does the opposite — speech that punches down against the non-privileged or discomforts the afflicted — is certainly ill-advised and may be despicable. But that does not, contrary to Trudeau, make is “hate speech.” That term has legal consequence, putting expression beyond the pale of legal protection and permitting the government to censor it. But what the non-privileged and afflicted need is free-speech protection, not protection from hurtful speech. For when censorship comes, it is invariably the powerful and privileged inflicting it on the rest of us, with no one left to speak up for the poor, the non-privileged, and prejudice’s victims.

    Like many others, I have long respected Trudeau as a bellwether rather than one of the flock, as a lunsman among the right-minded. To be fair, his Atlantic article nowhere expressly calls for governmental restrictions on free expression. A charitable reading would be that it is his cri de coeur for fellow satirists to exercise judgment and common sense, to punch up and afflict the comfortable. As mistaken as his turns of logic may be, we free speech absolutists, so-called, are foursquare in favor of Trudeau’s right to be wrong, as we wish he were for others’.

    *”Free speech absolutist” is a misnomer anyway. Even Hugo Black and William O. Douglas — the U.S. Supreme Court Justices who famously asserted that the First Amendment phrase “no law…abridging the freedom of speech” meant no law abridging the freedom of speech and are, thus, considered the most stringent free-speech absolutists in the Court’s history — recognized some limits on speech. Like the Supreme Court, I think restrictions for “fighting words” and speech that presents a “clear and present danger” of violence are appropriate, as long as they are strictly delimited so as not to give hecklers or would-be rioters a veto over others’ speech. (In a related regard, I disagree with Trudeau that satire such as Charlie Hebdo‘s is aimed at the vast majority of non-privileged Muslims; it is aimed at terrorists, who are privileged by their exclusive access to unrestricted private violence.)

    1. ” To be fair, his Atlantic article nowhere expressly calls for governmental restrictions on free expression.”

      Not expressly perhaps, but as I’ve argued upthread, he certainly does expressly claim that Charlie Hebdo violated French hate speech laws and was guilty of inciting their own attack. There’s certainly the implication there that the French government should prosecute them. Perhaps even the suggestion that the terrorists were simply acting as vigilantes acting when the state wasn’t enforcing its own hate speech laws.

      There’s some very nasty implications to what Trudeau is saying here, and one has to make an overly-charitable reading of his statement to avoid those implications.

      1. That’s precisely what I took Trudeau to task for in my comment, particularly in the third paragraph. A charitable reading of your reply is that you didn’t miss that point, but felt is should be driven home more deeply.

    1. I, on the other hand, have been moved, tickled, heartened and inspired by his work for four decades. He has had iconic strips at iconic junctures in recent American history. He’s provoked a ton of people himself, and has been frequently censored.

      This is not to say that you must like him; perhaps you had to “know” him back when, grow up in the same era more or less. This is more addressed to the others here who would seem to have once felt as I did but are now claiming to have lost all respect for him.

      Once I again I draw the parallel between this “breach of faith” and Hitchens’ (far more dire, IMO) support for the Iraq war. If we can regard that as a “no one is perfect” blemish, surely we can express our disappointment at Trudeau’s opinion here without denigrating all the genius we’ve appreciated for most of our lives.

  27. Many pseudo-liberals (SJW etc) genuinely think that criticising islam is “punching down”, while passive-aggresssive bullying based on political correctness is “punching up”.

    At least it all seems clear now.

  28. Should the forerunners of the Enlightenment have remained silent at the threat of heresy charges? After all, speaking out incited violence. Should Galileo and Bruno have remained silent under threat of excommunication, house arrest and much worse in Bruno’s case? Or, is this “punching up?”

    What about Rosa Parks and MLK Jr.? Should they have remained silent because the majority of southerners, if not actively taking part, still approved of segregation lynchings? And, as several people have pointed out, now that the tide of secularization has turned against racism and bigotry, should we not satirize the KKK or Westboro Baptist? Should we remain silent because a fringe group may act violently?

    Trudeau and the accomodationists can’t have it both ways. Al Qaida cannot simultaneously be both a fringe terrorist group not representing true Islam and be a minority worth protecting from “hostile” verbal attacks on the horrible ideas that form their worldview. Finally, was 9/11 representative of punching up or punching down? I’m confused as to where the line is between critical speech and speech so heinous that it is worth attacking Charlie Hebdo or the World Trade Center over.

  29. Wow, did I expect more from Gary Trudeau than this. It is the classic social justice warrior narrative, Muslims are cast as the “underdog” and ergo can’t possibly be wrong while Charlie Hebdo is the avatar of evil western oppression and thus, can’t possibly be the victim.
    We need some kind of liberal insurrection. I am scared to death that one day this kind of PC nonsense is going to lead to someone like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul getting elected President of the US. That’s how bad these SJWs are screwing up, they’re proving the Limbaughs and Becks of the world right. If that’s not the definition of screwing up for a liberal, I don’t know what is.

  30. I am so tired of this “punching up/down” rhetoric. (I refer to it as the “punch vector”.)

    It implies that there is a simple hierarchical relationship in these matters and, of course, there almost never is.

    Trudeau should be smarter (and less PC) than that.

  31. As Graham Linehan wrote in defense of Charlie Hebdo, “I don’t buy the ‘good satire always punches up’ line. Good satire punches every which way, but bad satirists *always* punch down.”

    As others have pointed out, Trudeau seems to view French Muslims, and Muslims in general, as no more than automatons who are either poor faceless masses or ravening pit bulls.

    But take a look at some of the staff of Charlie Hebdo. There’s cartoonist Riad Sattouf; there’s Mustapha Ourrad, the fact-checker who was killed in the attacks; and there’s columnist Zineb El Rhazoui, who now fears for her life and travels with bodyguards. What does Trudeau have to say to them? As far as I’m concerned, all he should say is an apology.

      1. I once heard an SJW say that satire, if not published in the right venue – such as the Onion – is merely hate speech and should be treated as such. “Intent isn’t magic”.

        Oh, this was an SJW on Pharyngula who said that Justine Sacco deserved to suffer death/rape threats and have her life ruined because she made a satirical tweet about Africa and AIDS that didn’t come off so well.

        1. I’ve seen the same kinds of comments from SJWs. Apparently they are all strict consequentialists and intentions matter not one iota. I suggest the next time one of them hits a pedestrian who jumps out in traffic that we throw the book at them–murder in the First Degree. After all, who cares whether the driver was following all traffic laws and had no intention of hitting the irresponsible pedestrian? The driver should know not to drive at all…

    1. Amazingly contradictory. OK, if he was once an advocate of free speech and now condemns it, the search for a reason is truly confounded. We are left groping straws – brain tumor?

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