PARIS, January 7, 2015 — Political correctness is observed when speech is censored, or when retribution for offensive speech is exacted. Today’s attack was Islamic Political Correctness.
Reasonable people everywhere are appalled by the killing of 12 people at the Paris office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in an apparent militant Islamist attack. Four of the magazine’s well-known cartoonists, including its editor Stephane Charbonnier (Charb) and Jean Cabut (Cabu) were among those killed, as were two police officers.
They died for the right to express themselves. Expressing the freedom of speech. They were not “politically correct”, at least not to those who follow radical Islamic rule.
Let’s be clear: if something is “correct,” it needs no modifiers. “Politically correct” means that it’s not correct – but it’s a popular term among those who wish to curb free speech, without being called “censors.” Political (coercive) it is, but it’s not correct.
In the U.S., political correctness is practiced by speakers who are sensitized to not offend others. It is enforced by those who are offended, or, more-frequently, by those who think others may be offended – people who get offended on the behalf of others, like the politicians who want the Washington Redskins’ name changed.
In the U.S., political correctness is also enforced by editors. For instance, if I were even to try to directly quote President Lyndon Johnson’s vile quote about how, if he signed the Civil Rights Act (which he opposed), “n*****s will vote Democratic for the next 200 years,” my editor would surely redact the offensive word.
Political correctness, in this land of the First Amendment, has taken over for onerous legislation, and unlike legislation, has no limits. It distorts meaning, and even rewrites history, creating falsehoods and clouding understanding.
Even in the face of the limits so reverently invoked by the very politicians who swear to uphold the Constitution, we have expanded penalties when a crime is motivated by “hate,” as though “hate speech” uttered by the murderer somehow leaves the victim more dead than a silent murderer would.
In the U.S., it is perfectly acceptable to make off-color, even demeaning jokes about, say, Catholics or Wall Street-ers, or white politicians, it is borderline criminal, or actually criminal, to criticize (for a few examples) Jews, black civic leaders from the left, women, fat people, or, lately, Muslim radicals.
The effectiveness of these taboos is measured largely in the retribution one expects from those who are criticized. Catholics didn’t go after (untouchable – female and black) Whoopie Goldberg for Nunsense. Making crude jokes about (open target – white, male, and non-left) Chris Christie’s girth is a late-night pastime. But making fun of Oprah’s avoirdupois is taboo – she’s female, black, and leftist. Some categories trump others.
Political leanings and the PC crowd’s recognition are telling. Though “the wealthy” are often mentioned as targets, both Christie and Oprah are in the wealthiest 1%, though Oprah is reportedly a lot wealthier than the governor; wealth, beyond a certain threshold, is relevant only when combined with other factors. Gates and Buffet are immensely wealthy leftists. Donald Trump, something of a wild card, is wealthy, but his politics run against the President’s; he can be openly criticized.
Toleration of free speech, even when offensive, crude, or just stupid, is necessary in a free society. Such speech is not to be encouraged, or even accepted; it need not be understood or embraced. But its existence must be allowed, for it shows prejudiced people for what they are (covering up LBJ’s remark protects whom? – only a racist president!), and gives everyone else the information they need to decide whether or not they wish to associate or do business with them. And it’s everyone’s right to be prejudiced – it is also everyone’s right to recognize the ignorance underlying that prejudice.
Covering up one’s prejudices through censorship just makes it more difficult to see who’s ignorant. To the extent that a particular prejudice is in or out of favor, it promotes that prejudice. For example, when I hear, “Hands up – don’t shoot!” all I want to do is… shoot. The ignorance and prejudice belied by that expression are offensive to those who revere tolerance and truth. And because I am tolerant, even of the simpletons who shout such racially-motivated provocations, I don’t shoot. They may be annoying, but they are non-violent. That’s OK in America. But I don’t have to do business with them. (Unless the law forces me to. Which is a topic for another column.)
But today we’re not talking about the U.S., where satire is generally accepted, unless it impinges upon the sensitivities of certain groups.
In the global political world, it’s OK to say anything at all about the United States or most of her allies, even to attack their embassies and consulates. But rioters don’t storm the (Communist) Chinese Embassy. Only Russians make fun of the Russian government – and those who gain traction often end up in prison.
And today we see political correctness in its raw form in Paris, where a handful of Islamic terrorists (we can call them “terrorists” if they’re not killing people on a U.S. military base, where terrorism by radical Muslims is called “workplace violence”) walked into the offices of the satirical tabloid Charlie Hebdo, asked for a specific cartoonist and the editor, and killed them, along with eight co-workers and two police.
It was not too many years ago that an Amsterdam cartoonist sparked a wave of Islamic violence, curbing unflattering portrayals of Islam and the Prophet from most of the world’s press; only rabidly satirical publications dared continue. And now, one of the last ones is silenced.
That is not a good thing. It’s not correct. It’s political. And it’s deadly.