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“Free Speech and Religious Freedom after Charlie Hebdo and Section 18C” Roundtable University of Wollongong, April 7 2016.

Alana Lentin
Alana Lentin
Alana LentinAssociate Professor in Cultural and Social Analysis

On April 7 2016, I participated in a roundtable event on freedom of speech and racial discrimination at the University of Wollongong.

“Free Speech and Religious Freedom after Charlie Hebdo and Section 18C” Roundtable University of Wollongong, April 7 2016.

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FREEDOM OF SPEECH & THE POST RACIAL
DENIAL OF RACE
Alana Lentin, Western Sydney University
Roundtable on ‘Free Speech and Religious Freedom after Charlie Hebdo and Section 18C’
University of Wollongong, April 7 2016
This question posed by Arab-American author, Saladin Ahmed on Twitter frames this short presentation on freedom of speech as a discursive construct, and the denial of
racism as central to the post racial - more specifically, the form taken by the post racial in present times (with particular reference to pervasive global Islamophobia, anti-
blackness and the continuities of coloniality). 

Due to time constraints, I will stick to recent examples from France but there are important connections to be drawn with denialism as a main staple of the dominant
white Australian relationship with the history of invasion.

It is important to stress that my ideas are honed through engagement with activists and writers at the heart of these struggles who I have been consistently reading and
been inspired by - e.g. the Mouvement des indigenes de la republique and the Marche pour la dignité, the Brigade anti-Negrophobie, the CCIF, and here in Australia
Indigenous activists such as SOS Blak Australia, the Redfern Tent Embassy and Indigenous X among others.

My job is to try to link the analyses they have carried out and to relate them to some ideas I have been developing on antiracism in ‘post racial' times.
EXHIBITS A, B & C
3 ‘racial events’ from the past week in France all of which can be individually parsed in terms of the theme of post racial denialism but which, when taken together, also
shed light on the particular problem of the antiracist response.
‘The Belgian singer’s [Stromae]
father was in fact a member of the
Tutsi population in Rwanda, and
was killed during the genocide in
1994. During these massacres
which took the lives of more than
800,000 people, many victims were
dismembered. Stromae’s song,
Papaoutai, thus makes reference to
this loss experienced by the artist’
BFMTV
Exhibit A: Charlie Hebdo 

The cover of Charlie Hebdo (left) and the Belgian response.

The Stromae cover can be read as CH’s total disregard for black and brown lives. It is impossible that Riss (the caroonist) was unaware of the circumstances of the
singer’s father’s death. So, he is cynically making use of it to make a point about Brussels.
‘And yet, none of what is about to happen in
the airport or metro of Brussels can really
happen without everyone's contribution.
Because the incidence of all of it is informed
by some version of the same dread or fear.
The fear of contradiction or objection. The
aversion to causing controversy. The dread of
being treated as an Islamophobe or being
called racist. Really, a kind of terror. And that
thing which is just about to happen when the
taxi-ride ends is but a last step in a journey of
rising anxiety. It's not easy to get some proper
terrorism going without a preceding
atmosphere of mute and general
apprehension.’
CH’s pencil is supposed to symbolise freedom of speech, the only ‘weapon’ of the caricaturist in the face of murderous evil. The implication is that only those devoid of
words - the uncivilised - fail to use the pen as their sword (rather than the suicide vest or the kalashnikov). The fact that the states that preach their civility have always
killed, even in the name of ‘humanitarianism’, can be conveniently left to one side.

What CH and its supporters have advocated for is the ability to say anything - anything at all - in the name of freedom. However, what the CH editorial (written in English
for an international audience) juxtaposed with the cartoon cover of Stromae (from previous week’s edition) indicates is that it actually engages fully - as its critics have
always held - in active incitement. 

The editorial argues bluntly that all Muslims who defend Islam and the Muslim community participate in creating the conditions for terrorism.

Many have already drawn the analogy with the Nazis’ totalising language about Jews in the run up to the Holocaust. But this misses out the central place given to
freedom in Charlie Hebdo’s discourse and why it continues to be supported. The trope of freedom cannot be divorced from the context of post racialism within which the
current moment plays out.

Fiona Nicholl ‘The very idea of suggesting that someone might be racist has been elevated into a crime to rival (if not displace) racism itself’ (Nicholl 2004).

Luke Pearson: ‘…White Australia still thinks that being called racist is the worst thing that could possibly happen to anyone, worse even than experiencing racism on a
regular basis from individuals as well as from the media, the government, and the knowledge that this is the general status quo.’

CH follows the well-trodden path of racist gas lighting which claims that the interdiction on speaking racism forbids truth telling. The same language is used here in
‘Laurence Rossignol, the
Muslim, veiled Negress that I
am says “fuck you”’
Ndella Paye
Exhibit B: Laurence Rossignol

Rossignol, Socialist Minister for Families, Childhood and Women’s Rights was interviewed about her thoughts about fashion brands making clothes for religious Muslim
women (e.g. H&M). 

When the interviewer made the point that some women choose to wear the hijab, she responded by saying ‘Il y avait des nègres afric… des nègres américains qui étaient
pour l’esclavage !’ - there were, she started to say African, then corrected to American, negroes (in French the word is the equivalent in English of N-) who supported
slavery.

The Anti-Negrophobia Brigade in France and black Muslim activist Ndella Paye [click for picture] immediately pointed out Rossignol’s anti-blackness.

As was made clear on the ‘Une autre histoire’ website and by Sadri Khiari, Rossignol would have had great difficulty in naming one African American who actually
supported slavery, but this was ultimately unimportant in the overall aim of blaming slaves for their own slavery and thus minimising what the website correctly calls a
‘crime against humanity’. 

Read against Charlie Hebdo’s version of ‘freedom’, Rossignol’s outrage at the idea that the veil could be freely chosen reiterates again the belief that freedom, according
to French secularists and their liberal supporters worldwide, is - properly understood - a (white) European property. To grant freedom to black slaves or Muslim women
leads, according to their logic, for it to be misused to either uphold slavery or choose to wear a veil - slavery by another name according to Rossignol.

From a post racial perspective that (a) reverses racism onto its victims (b) denies its continuing significance and (c) decries the ability to say anything for fear of being

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“Free Speech and Religious Freedom after Charlie Hebdo and Section 18C” Roundtable University of Wollongong, April 7 2016.

  • 1. FREEDOM OF SPEECH & THE POST RACIAL DENIAL OF RACE Alana Lentin, Western Sydney University Roundtable on ‘Free Speech and Religious Freedom after Charlie Hebdo and Section 18C’ University of Wollongong, April 7 2016
  • 2. This question posed by Arab-American author, Saladin Ahmed on Twitter frames this short presentation on freedom of speech as a discursive construct, and the denial of racism as central to the post racial - more specifically, the form taken by the post racial in present times (with particular reference to pervasive global Islamophobia, anti- blackness and the continuities of coloniality). Due to time constraints, I will stick to recent examples from France but there are important connections to be drawn with denialism as a main staple of the dominant white Australian relationship with the history of invasion. It is important to stress that my ideas are honed through engagement with activists and writers at the heart of these struggles who I have been consistently reading and been inspired by - e.g. the Mouvement des indigenes de la republique and the Marche pour la dignité, the Brigade anti-Negrophobie, the CCIF, and here in Australia Indigenous activists such as SOS Blak Australia, the Redfern Tent Embassy and Indigenous X among others. My job is to try to link the analyses they have carried out and to relate them to some ideas I have been developing on antiracism in ‘post racial' times.
  • 3. EXHIBITS A, B & C 3 ‘racial events’ from the past week in France all of which can be individually parsed in terms of the theme of post racial denialism but which, when taken together, also shed light on the particular problem of the antiracist response.
  • 4. ‘The Belgian singer’s [Stromae] father was in fact a member of the Tutsi population in Rwanda, and was killed during the genocide in 1994. During these massacres which took the lives of more than 800,000 people, many victims were dismembered. Stromae’s song, Papaoutai, thus makes reference to this loss experienced by the artist’ BFMTV Exhibit A: Charlie Hebdo The cover of Charlie Hebdo (left) and the Belgian response. The Stromae cover can be read as CH’s total disregard for black and brown lives. It is impossible that Riss (the caroonist) was unaware of the circumstances of the singer’s father’s death. So, he is cynically making use of it to make a point about Brussels.
  • 5. ‘And yet, none of what is about to happen in the airport or metro of Brussels can really happen without everyone's contribution. Because the incidence of all of it is informed by some version of the same dread or fear. The fear of contradiction or objection. The aversion to causing controversy. The dread of being treated as an Islamophobe or being called racist. Really, a kind of terror. And that thing which is just about to happen when the taxi-ride ends is but a last step in a journey of rising anxiety. It's not easy to get some proper terrorism going without a preceding atmosphere of mute and general apprehension.’ CH’s pencil is supposed to symbolise freedom of speech, the only ‘weapon’ of the caricaturist in the face of murderous evil. The implication is that only those devoid of words - the uncivilised - fail to use the pen as their sword (rather than the suicide vest or the kalashnikov). The fact that the states that preach their civility have always killed, even in the name of ‘humanitarianism’, can be conveniently left to one side. What CH and its supporters have advocated for is the ability to say anything - anything at all - in the name of freedom. However, what the CH editorial (written in English for an international audience) juxtaposed with the cartoon cover of Stromae (from previous week’s edition) indicates is that it actually engages fully - as its critics have always held - in active incitement. The editorial argues bluntly that all Muslims who defend Islam and the Muslim community participate in creating the conditions for terrorism. Many have already drawn the analogy with the Nazis’ totalising language about Jews in the run up to the Holocaust. But this misses out the central place given to freedom in Charlie Hebdo’s discourse and why it continues to be supported. The trope of freedom cannot be divorced from the context of post racialism within which the current moment plays out. Fiona Nicholl ‘The very idea of suggesting that someone might be racist has been elevated into a crime to rival (if not displace) racism itself’ (Nicholl 2004). Luke Pearson: ‘…White Australia still thinks that being called racist is the worst thing that could possibly happen to anyone, worse even than experiencing racism on a regular basis from individuals as well as from the media, the government, and the knowledge that this is the general status quo.’ CH follows the well-trodden path of racist gas lighting which claims that the interdiction on speaking racism forbids truth telling. The same language is used here in
  • 6. ‘Laurence Rossignol, the Muslim, veiled Negress that I am says “fuck you”’ Ndella Paye Exhibit B: Laurence Rossignol Rossignol, Socialist Minister for Families, Childhood and Women’s Rights was interviewed about her thoughts about fashion brands making clothes for religious Muslim women (e.g. H&M). When the interviewer made the point that some women choose to wear the hijab, she responded by saying ‘Il y avait des nègres afric… des nègres américains qui étaient pour l’esclavage !’ - there were, she started to say African, then corrected to American, negroes (in French the word is the equivalent in English of N-) who supported slavery. The Anti-Negrophobia Brigade in France and black Muslim activist Ndella Paye [click for picture] immediately pointed out Rossignol’s anti-blackness. As was made clear on the ‘Une autre histoire’ website and by Sadri Khiari, Rossignol would have had great difficulty in naming one African American who actually supported slavery, but this was ultimately unimportant in the overall aim of blaming slaves for their own slavery and thus minimising what the website correctly calls a ‘crime against humanity’. Read against Charlie Hebdo’s version of ‘freedom’, Rossignol’s outrage at the idea that the veil could be freely chosen reiterates again the belief that freedom, according to French secularists and their liberal supporters worldwide, is - properly understood - a (white) European property. To grant freedom to black slaves or Muslim women leads, according to their logic, for it to be misused to either uphold slavery or choose to wear a veil - slavery by another name according to Rossignol. From a post racial perspective that (a) reverses racism onto its victims (b) denies its continuing significance and (c) decries the ability to say anything for fear of being
  • 7. French antiracist organisations including the Licra and the LDH successfully took a case against ‘anti-white racism’. Despite a recent study carried out by the French national demography institute (INED) that racism against white French people represents a tiny proportion of racial discrimination cases, the idea of anti-white racism is dominant among mainstream politicians, intellectuals and writers in France. Republican antiracist organisations have supported the idea for a number of years despite opposition from self-organised black and ‘Indigenous’ antiracists and their supporters. This happens in a context in which Laurence Rossignol can defend her words from an antiracist standpoint (cooptation of the language of negritude) and that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons can be defended as a meta-critique of racism (showing Christine Taubira as an ape is actually a comment on how she is perceived by the far right). It demonstrates, as I have written in a 2011 paper, how the ‘badge of antiracism’ can serve to shield the wearer from accusation of racism. Because I declare myself an antiracist I cannot be accused of racism if I replicate it with regards to contexts or people who I believe are not deserving of my antiracist support.
  • 8. CONCLUSION ➤ Denialism as central to postracialism ➤ The post racial as always already racial ➤ Replacing white with Black analytics 1. Denial of racism is central to how racism operates. It is bound up with who gets to define what racism is. A dominant strain within white left/liberalism literally equates whiteness with neutral universalism, thus according itself the right to define racism for black and brown people who, it is argued, have no ability to see clearly. This is what leads Jean-Luc Melenchon, a left Socialist Euro MP to come out in defence of Laurence Rossignol. She is not racist, because he knows her. In contrast, building on Du Bois’s idea of double consciousness and the second sight that black people have, into both their own lives and the white society under which they must live, or Patricia Hill Collins’s demarcation of the insider/outsider status, arguably the contrary is true. Nonetheless, the conditions created by racism - white supremacy - means that the racialised have not only to defend against racism, but to fight to define it. 2. Although there is tendency to talk about the post racial as new, following Barnor Hesse, we might argue that the racial has always contained the possibility for postness within itself. This is because racism has always been portrayed as excessive to or aberrant from rationality/liberalism/democracy etc. Angela Mitropoulos introduces the concept of the ‘racial speculative’ to argue that race is always predicated on ‘what might happen in some indefinite but calamitous future’. Hence, as I read it, racial logic intervenes to stop an undefined outcome (which does not need to be defined). This is the slippery slope argument of the Charlie Hebdo editorial: we must stop all Muslims because, while we might think it is ridiculous today to make a connection between not serving bacon and blowing up an airport, we won’t be thinking that in the future if it is the sandwich seller who ends up with the suicide vest on.