Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Guardian narrowly avoids reaching a new low

Regular readers will know that we have an occasional series, "The Guardian reaches a new low", linking to particularly obnoxious pieces that that august organ sees fit to post to its website, Comment is Free.

However - credit where it is due - the Guardian, uncharacteristically for recent years, reacted modestly well to this week's outrage, a terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, in which at least twelve people died. Over a cartoon, for heaven's sake.

It even managed to organise a solidarity event where m'good comrade Nick Cohen spoke, coming down for once on the right side between modern Islamist fascism and free speech. Perhaps with the pending departure of its editor, Alan Rusbridger, it is finally starting to clean up its act, although, since he will anyway become the chair of the Scott Trust, its governing body, that is probably too much to hope for.

Ok, so it did the usual apologist piece, where the cold-blooded murder of civilians was all blamed on the West:
As often happens in these cases, and presumably after a lot of readers annoyed by the idiot sentiment, eventually the Graun had to accept that it was not "many Muslims" but merely "fundamentalists" who were "angered" (who knew?) in the hastily rewritten headline.

But this was all quite anodyne stuff. In the end, it was their former columnist, Glenn Greenwald who managed to stoop to a depth that even the Graun at its worst could not reach.

Given the attack was apparently over a cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed, he decided that it was open season on all cartoons, no matter how vilely racist they might be. I invite you to click on this link and observe the pretty nasty cartoons he elected to post. You need a pretty strong stomach.

Essentially his argument is this: if you laugh at Muslims you must be able to say anything you like about Jews. That classic resort of the logically barren: whataboutery. Oh yes, that may be awful, but what about this? Or, in this case, this may be acceptable, but then [insert something utterly unacceptable] must be, too.

Note how he equates the magazine's mocking of Islam and Islamists with the overt racism of Carlos Latuff, a deeply unpleasant cartoonist known to readers here for his Holocaust cartoons (see here). But he does not try and say "Charlie Hebdo's cartoons are bad, so these ones are equally bad". No, in fact, Latuff he refers to approvingly as "brilliantly provocative", "not-remotely-blasphemous-or-bigoted". You judge for yourself. 

And even if these are his less horrific cartoons, please check out these. Holocaust and cartoons are not really things which go together, I'm sorry.

No conception at all from Greenwald, of course, that race and religion are different concepts, and that one can perfectly well mock a religion without resorting to racist canards (Jews with big noses, Jews controlling the world, etc.). Or that you hardly pretend to evaluate the rights and wrongs of a complex conflict between Israel and Palestine by the gross number of corpses racked up on either side.

No, the Guardian, in parting company with Greenwald, this time had a lucky escape. Because even they would have baulked at publishing the cartoons that his new, "edgy" vehicle, the "First Look" blog, has done.


  1. The important point is nobody will try and kill Glenn Greenwald and he knows it. So even if they were as bad to suggest posting anti-Semitic images is a similar act is disingenuous. I posted this on Labour List btw ...

    The reaction of the liberal media so far over this affair has not been good. The editor of the Independent was debating on the Today programme with a German tabloid editor - no prises for guessing which one decided to publish the cartoons. The Indie editor blustered but admitted fear for his staff as a reason for holding back. Fair enough - but be honest. Here are a couple of suggestions for what liberal editors could do (Labour List take note):

    1. Publish the cartoons and if you believe they are offensive then write an editorial to accompany the images explaining that although you think they are offensive freedom of expression is more important.

    2. Publish a blank page with a caption as to why the cartoons are absent explaining it is because of security fears and nothing to do with not wishing to cause offense.

    The weasely excuse of "tolerance" won't wash. Freedom of expression is only ever tested when it causes offense. Tweeting "Je Suis Charlie" means nothing - nobody is "offended" by those three words (although some like Mehdi Hasan couldn't even bring themselves to do that).

    I would add that I regularly challenge anti-Muslim bigotry (check my comments on Harry's Place as evidence) but am appalled at the Left's craven subservience to militant Islam. I am no longer dismayed by the bien pensant progressives that do this. I am utterly disgusted and repelled by them.

  2. Good for you Matthew. Agree wholeheartedly, I am dismayed that editors cannot be a bit more robust and far-sighted about this. We all got very worked up about Leveson, didn't we! But when there's a real challenge to free speech, it goes all quiet.

    Btw, I think I shall go and check this out at LabourList. There is not nearly enough writing in this vein there (since I stopped my column, that is!)

  3. Thanks Rob. I made point 1. because I do think some of the cartoons were offensive and under normal circumstances I myself wouldn't publish them - I believe in being civil and see no need to insult any section of society. But we've moved beyond that now and we need to demonstrate that free expression means just that otherwise it isn't free! "I agree in principle but" means you aren't in favour of freedom. So say it's distasteful but publish what it is you say is distasteful this time to prove you agree with the principles you profess to be in favour of.

  4. Interestingly, today Nick Cohen also made your point 2. in his piece.


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