Friday, January 16, 2015

Charlie Hebdo : A Systems Failure

It isn't my intention to lay polemics in this post. But somethings have to be said.

The Charlie Hebdo incident points to an inability on the part of our civilization to think in terms of "systems". People keep talking about how complex and interconnected our world is but it is to no effect, people truly don't get it.

At the top of this mess is a seemingly confusing set of antiquated French laws that treat the publishing of a prophet's cartoons as okay, i.e blasphemy is fine, but on the other hand it is considered a crime to publish material provoking hatred among his followers.

You must be a toddler to not understand that the two could be interrelated, especially when we talk about the Islamic religion. Messing around with one could automatically trigger the other and often the consequences in our post 9/11 world are on a macro level, not just restricted to France.

Faith is old as the earth. It's complex. It's super sensitive. If you don't understand it, leave it alone. You don't know the unknowns.

Unfortunately the editorial team at Charlie Hebdo did not exercise broad based thinking. This could have easily been done in a review meeting some days before publishing, where each member weighed the pros and cons of what they were about to attempt. They could have had a PR guy who had expertise in foreign relations chime in with inputs. 'Hundreds of French people live and work in Middle Eastern countries. Could this at a very minimum risk their lives? Many Muslims live in our own country but aren't well integrated. Could this create more friction in society?' 

Given the attrition rate in newspaper readership these days, I'm not surprised that the desire to be ever more edgier takes predominance over the need to exercise control. A national tragedy could only have been prevented if the decision making went correctly or if a system of laws were crisp and clear of what is allowed and what isn't allowed. I'm quite sorry for the French. 


Arjan said...

A coupple of remarks (don't think my earlier attempt to post made it)

- The Anglo-Saxon culture has stand-up comedians, the French have satirical publications, including ones that publish (almost) only cartoons.
- Charlie Hebdo has been in existence since 1992, and at no time (as far as I know) have any French in the Middle East been harassed because of these publications.
- The circulation of Charlie Hebdo is about 60.000 weekly. To single them out is kinda like bullying the smallest kid on the schoolyard.
- Freedom of speech does not imply nor equate to the right to be taken serious.
- Islam is in a very sorry state if it needs guys like Amedy Coulibaly to defend it.
- The protests are indeed very arbitrary.

Ron George said...

Hi Arjan,

Great to hear back from you. Sorry for the commenting troubles, I seemed to have just the same. This is my second reply. I guess I just wanted to reply that even though Charlie Hebdo is in existence since 1960's, depicting these cartoons are a relatively new phenomena. The Muslims consider any depiction of the Prophet as a form of idolatry. Given the internal politics in CHebdo post attack, the news seems to suggest that one or more of the editors had an agenda. I think freedom of speech should be tuned to the times we're living in. Somethings are better not said or done.

Arjan said...

I agree with you on your last line, and freedom of speech does not allow you to yell "Fire!" in a cinema.

I haven't read Charlie Hebdo (or any other French cartoon for that matter), but I reckon they started depicting those cartoons in the late 90ies as a reaction to the then-current affairs. I don't think that any of the editors have, or had, an agenda concerning the type of cartoons, apart from having one depicting the Prophet on the front page of the first post-attack issue. I found that one to be quite gentle, but I'm an agnostic.

And even idiots have freedom of speech, but then do keep in mind that it's still an idiot talking.