A friend says: “I am not Charlie Hebdo” (part I)

The topic of government hypocrisy is likely to be boring and “ho hum” to radical libertarians (aka Anarcho-Capitalists). But, that does not make spreading the word any less important–there are still a lot of zombies out there that believe government is the only “legitimate” source of information when the truth is the opposite.  — jtl, 419

Posted by Claire Wolfe in her Living Freedom blog.

I did not write the following. It was sent to me by a friend who has concluded that free speech is now such a myth that anonymity is the only protection. These are my friend’s opinions. Because they’re long, I’ll split this into two parts and run them on successive days.

—–begin anon text—–

I am not Charlie Hebdo

The killing was carefully planned, methodical and precise. The killers knew the habits and schedule of their victims. Their choice of weapons, uniforms, and their cold-blooded efficiency strongly suggested military action.

The victims were guilty of offensive speech. Specifically, they had offended powerful people who would stop at nothing to silence them. Unwilling or unable to debate, to respond to free speech with more speech, the decision was made to murder those who had given offense.

The victims were well aware that their speech was highly offensive to some people. But they also knew it was very effective at communicating certain ideas and concepts. It was precisely because their speech was so effective at informing and motivating some people that the powerful were so determined to silence them.

Warnings were given to those producing and publishing these offensive ideas. When they failed, the threats were escalated to various forms of coercion and violence. When that failed, the powerful decided that execution was necessary.

We all know the result. The executions proceeded as planned. The offending speaker was silenced, along with an editor and others. The executions did not take place on a battlefield. The victims had no chance to defend themselves, no real warning that today was the day they would die. No court of law sanctioned the killings; the executioners acted on their own, flagrantly flaunting both law and civil society.

On September 30, 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen by birth, was murdered for his fiery sermons. Another American citizen, Samir Khan, a magazine editor, died with him.

You might have thought I was writing about the killings of Jean Cabut, Stéphane Charbonnier, Philippe Honoré, Bernard Verlhac, Georges Wolinski, Bernard Maris, and two police offers whose names are not yet known, at least to me. But it is more likely that you didn’t know those names, but know only the name of the magazine they worked for, Charlie Hebdo.

That’s one of the reasons I titled the essay “I am not Charlie Hebdo.” Those were men who were killed, not a magazine. Human beings. They had names. They had families. Friends. Mothers and fathers. If their work deserves remembrance, surely we should start with their names.

There are many similarities between the killings of Anwar al-Awlaki, Samic Kahn, unknown others (their car was destroyed and the bodies burned beyond recognition), and Jean Cabut, Stéphane Charbonnier, Philippe Honoré, Bernard Verlhac, Georges Wolinski, Bernard Maris, and their guards. But there are many important differences.

It hasn’t been two weeks since the French murders, so we don’t know yet if any of the children of the slain will also be killed. Two weeks after al-Awlaki’s death, the U.S. killed his 16-year old son with a missile as he sat in an open air café. Nine others were killed, including his 17-year old cousin.

Both groups angered their governments with their speech, but the behavior of the French and American governments was very different.

After Charlie Hebdo published cartoons highly offensive to many Muslims, French President Jacques Chirac condemned “overt provocations” which could inflame passions. “Anything that can hurt the convictions of someone else, in particular religious convictions, should be avoided”, Chirac said.

But when The Grand Mosque, the Muslim World League and the Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF) sued, claiming the cartoon edition included racist cartoons, future president Nicolas Sarkozy sent a letter to be read in court expressing his support for the ancient French tradition of satire. François Bayrou and future president François Hollande also expressed their support for freedom of expression.

Executive editor Philippe Val was acquitted by the French court.

Anwar al-Awlaki and Samic Kahn certainly infuriated the U.S. government. In April 2010, US President Barack Obama placed al-Awlaki on a list of people whom the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency were authorized to kill. Unlike President Chirac, Obama declined to publish his reasons. (The memo was recently released after a lengthy court battle.)

There was no day in court for Anwar al-Awlaki. When his father filed suit in U.S. court to have his son’s name removed from the kill list, the US judge threw out the case. No future presidents or prominent sitting politicians or candidates defended the First (free speech) and Fifth (due process) rights of the US citizen.

There is little doubt that al-Awlaki was murdered for his effective speech. Glenn Greenwald noted before al-Awalaki’s murder:

What has made Awlaki of such great concern for American officials is not any alleged operational role in Terrorism, but rather the fact that he advocates violent jihad and does so with some degree of efficacy. To see how true that is, just consider this morning’s New York Times debate forum that asks: ‘How Dangerous Is Anwar al-Awlaki? With Yemen on the verge of civil war, how aggressive should the U.S. be in trying to kill an American-born cleric?’ The responses from five terrorism experts span the range of opinion from ‘he’s not particularly dangerous’ to ‘he’s extremely dangerous,’ but all of them — in explaining why he’s attracted so much attention — emphasize the speeches he gives and ideas he advocates, and make only the most passing and cursory reference to the unproven government assertions that he’s involved in plotting terrorist attacks.

There is also little doubt that al-Awlaki’s offensive speech was protected by the First Amendment. From Greenwald again:

Indeed, the First Amendment not only protects the mere ‘attending’ of a speech ‘promoting the violent overthrow of our government,’ but also the giving of such a speech. The government is absolutely barred by the Free Speech clause from punishing people even for advocating violence. That has been true since the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1969 decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio, which overturned the criminal conviction of a Ku Klux Klan leader who had threatened violence against political officials in a speech.

People who are serious about free speech understand that inoffensive, popular speech does not require protection. It is precisely the most repulsive and offensive rhetoric that must be protected from governments.

The French honored that principle. The U.S. abandoned it.

The response to the killings is also quite different. President Obama was hailed for his strong, decisive leadership in killing a U.S. citizen and his 16 year-old son. Talking heads and talk shows buzzed with approval. There were few critics. The most prominent U.S. citizen to criticize the murders was Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary to the Treasury and former former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, who wrote “The Day America Died.”

Awlaki was a moderate American Muslim cleric who served as an advisor to the U.S. government after 9/11 on ways to counter Muslim extremism. Awlaki was gradually radicalized by Washington’s use of lies to justify military attacks on Muslim countries. He became a critic of the US government and told Muslims that they did not have to passively accept American aggression and had the right to resist and to fight back. As a result Awlaki was demonized and became a threat.

All we know that Awlaki did was to give sermons critical of Washington’s indiscriminate assaults on Muslim peoples. Washington’s argument is that his sermons might have had an influence on some who are accused of attempting terrorist acts, thus making Awlaki responsible for the attempts.

Obama’s assertion that Awlaki was some kind of high-level Al Qaeda operative is merely an assertion. Jason Ditz concluded that the reason Awlaki was murdered rather than brought to trial is that the U.S. government had no real evidence that Awlaki was an Al Qaeda operative.

The French citizenry erupted in massive protests over the killings of their countrymen.

These displays might have been more convincing if they had also been held after al-Alwaki’s death. The message that many Muslims will understandably receive is that speech that is intensely offensive to Muslims will be tolerated, protected, and even celebrated, while speech by Muslims that is intensely offensive to Westerners will be silenced.

Part II tomorrow

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