Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bill Maher is Wrong About Pope Francis' Take on Charlie Hebdo

Francisco (20-03-2013).jpg
Last night, in one 'Real Time' spot during his opening joke segment, Bill Maher saw fit to call out the Pope for his recent remarks that there are limits to free expression. According to Maher, wearing a half-assed smile:

"This is so sad! I was starting to really like this Pope. Oh yeah, fuck the Pope! Well, George Bush said it, 'you're either with us or against us'.  Apparently the Pope is not with us because he came down on the side of the bad guys. 'You cannot provoke, you cannot insult someone's faith, you cannot make fun of the faith of the others'. I guess he doesn't get HBO.  ....And then he mimicked punching someone in the face! He said, if Luigi here made fun of my mother, POWWW!"

SO what, Bill? The Pope is exactly correct on this and I am afraid you and the righteous mob are all wrong. Moral courage, in fact, means not standing with the mob but with moral clarity and moral communication - which is what the Pope's message was all about, see e.g.

And I provided two links therein, one noting how despicable 'cockroach'  cartoons led to the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda, e.g.

and also how the Nazis' portrayal of the Jews dehumanized them and led to their mass slaughter.

And by the way, any dodo who refers to Obama as a "Nazi" clearly doesn't get it, and has no clue what a Nazi even means, or what it meant. As my late German friend Kurt put it (he had been in the Hitler Youth, under compulsion) it meant: mercilessly beating up socialists, workers union members, Jews and communists and-  if not killing them- making sure they didn't  ever return to the particular village or town.  Obama meets the definition on none of these, nor in fact being a member of the N.S.D.A.P. for Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei . (Again, a right wing fascist party, not a left-socialist party, despite the misleading name)

Back to Maher. He doesn't get the Pope's point at all. Nor is the Pope "on the side of the bad guys", which is the simpleton's take - the same as if some clueless critic said I was "with the bad guys" for writing this blog post.. As I asked in my earliest blog on the Paris Hebdo attack:

Can one condemn the brazen attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine but also criticize the outrageous satires the medium used, especially to attack Muslims?

The Pope showed one could condemn the murderous attack, but also hold the propagator of the inflammatory cartoons partly responsible. As I noted myself in that January 8th post:

"No one gets to insult whoever and whatever they want without any consequences. Ask any drunk in a bar who after one too many begins hurling epithets at the mothers of the all the other patrons. Think he will last very long before being punched out for his intemperance? Anyone who believes so is an idiot"

The Pope said essentially the same thing:

"If my good friend, Dr. Gasbarri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch."

He referred above to Alberto Gabarri, who organizes papal trips and was standing by Francis side when he made his remarks. (Francis made the comments to reporters en route to the Philippines.)

Francis went on to defend freedom of speech as a fundamental right and even a duty to speak out for the common good. But he said there were limits to free speech, especially when confronting another equally fundamental human right: the freedom of religion. Meanwhile, Hebdo had indiscriminately attacked all religions, including Catholicism, Islam and even Jews (a la the Nazis' cartoon exaggerations).

Francis' points didn't come out of the blue either, but from a long Catholic tradition in its canon that freedom can never be absolute. Points I noted earlier including the three axioms tied to the "paradox of freedom":

The first paradox of freedom is that true freedom is experienced only in relation to what is good and true.

The second paradox of freedom is that, since we are contingent and limited beings, we can only experience freedom within parameters and by limiting our freedom to a certain extent:

The Third paradox of freedom is that my freedom today often exists due to prior constraint."

The point missed by Maher (and the Hebdo satirists and their mob defenders) is that so long as over two billion subscribe to these principles, making gratuitous attacks (under the 'free speech' banner)  on religions or minorities is a fool's errand.   As I asked in my Jan. 8 blog:

How can we ever expect to make the world a better place by tearing others down, whether via films ('Desert Warrior', 'The Interview') or by over the top "satire" which is designed to impale raw nerves and inflame hatreds?

Maher himself has been on an anti-Islamic tear for over two years now, referring to "radical Islam" as if Islam itself is innately radical. But as his guest, author Wes Moore (a former soldier in Iraq) corrected him, one must "distinguish between the radicalization of Islam and Islam itself".   A good point, which again brings up the importance of history - especially of the Middle East- when most Americans don't even know their own.

Thus, as Shamus Cooke (on smirkingchimp) has observed, "Islamic fundamentalism was virtually extinguished from 1950-1980, with Saudi Arabia and later Qatar being the last bastion and protective base of fundamentalists "  

But in the 1980s, as I also pointed out in the last chapter ('From November 22, 1963 to September 11, 2001')  of  my recent book, 'The JFK Assassination: The Final Analysis', the U.S. - under Reagan - had to interfere in Middle East geopolitics by propping up Saddam Hussein's Iraq against Iran. It did this by supplying him with arms, including poison gas (later used on the Kurds) and also set the stage for later jihadi assaults by herding radical Islamists into Afghanistan to fight the Russians.

A good summary from Shamus Cooke:

"The U.S.-backed Afghan jihad was the birth of the modern Islamic fundamentalist movement. The jihad attracted and helped organize fundamentalists across the region, as U.S. allies in the Gulf state dictatorships used the state religion to promote it. Fighters who traveled to fight in Afghanistan returned to their home countries with weapon training and hero status that inspired others to join the movement.

The U.S. later aided the fundamentalists by invading Afghanistan and Iraq, destroying Libya and waging a ruthless proxy war in Syria. Fundamentalists used these invasions and the consequent destruction of these once-proud nations to show that the West was at war with Islam."

So basically, the U.S. created the 'Frankenstein' monster of "radical Islam"  itself - by its interference for purposes of hegemony only, in the Middle East. Now, having created that monster, we stand and gape at the dozens of attacks launched by these mutants - after WE created them in the first place!

There is such a thing as taking responsibility but evidently we have none. We'd rather have people believe that these Islamic radicals simply sprang out of the blue.  No remote clue the original RPGs, IEDs etc. were given to them by the U.S., as well as many other arms.

Meanwhile, let's return to the matter of "free speech" and where it should really matter in true freedom of the press. To most intelligent people and those educated in history and the march of globalism, it means inveighing against the powerful - not picking on minorities or religions. To the extent the Hebdo cartoonists didn't  consistently attack the Neoliberal World Order - and took time instead to jab religions and minorities, they weren't doing their jobs.

This is the background that Maher would do well to learn, as well as many others in this country, before they launch into their anti-Islamic jeremiads again.

But am I hopeful they will? Hardly! Not when PR and propaganda dominates exchanges and most people have the historical memory of a gnat.

See also:



"One look at Charlie Hebdo cartoons shows that the word satire is being used very loosely. The depictions of cabinet minister Christiane Taubira as a monkey, and the kidnapped Nigerian school girls as pregnant welfare recipients make a mockery of the world satirical. Regardless of how many French politicians are skewered in its pages, it must be pointed out that Charlie Hebdo indulges in racist hate speech."

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