I'll just leave this here.

I’ll just leave this here.

When I heard that Sony was cancelling ‘The Interview’ I was pissed off.

This was definitely a case in which the terrorists won, and I wanted to write about it.

But then Sony decided to cave a second time.

And 12 people were murdered in Paris, because other people disagreed with their ideas.

It got me thinking about responsibility and agency.

And I’ve come to the potentially controversial decision that if people want to risk their lives by going to a theatre that might be blown up, or by printing a cartoon that will enrage people, then that is their right, and we have no right to stop them.

And if journalists want to be able to call themselves that then they should probably start posting a few more pictures of Muhammad.

Let’s talk about Anita Sarkeesian. It should surprise no one that I’m a big fan of her work. To be perfectly honest the gaming industry, like most industries, could do with a few more people who call it on its bullshit. She’s pretty great.

But she recently cancelled a speaking engagement because one of the “#gamergate” morons threatened to murder her, and anyone who tried to listen to her.

You know, because they are all about ‘ethics’.

In the same way that weapons manufacturers are all about peace.

As a brief side note “gamergate” has nothing to do with ethics in game journalism. Other commenters like Jim Sterling, Ben Croshaw, the guys at Extra Credits and many others (including of course Anita Sarkeesian) have been talking about ethics in game journalism for years and they have been ignored.

Until that is someone decided that “ethics” meant “it’s ok to pretend you’re stronger than you actually are, by picking on women from the safety of the Internet”.

Actual photo. #notallmisogynists

Actual photo. #notallmisogynists

Anyway, Sarkeesian did not over-react. When someone threatens that you are “going to die screaming like the craven little whore that she is if you let her come to USU. I will write my manifesto in her spilled blood” then you can be forgiven for going “Holy shit, I need to get the fuck out of Dodge!”.

Her reasoning for cancelling her talk was that if someone did indeed make an attempt on her life then anyone who attended the talk would be at risk and she couldn’t endanger anyone else just because a group of bigoted morons were targeting her.

And I think she’s wrong.

This is another perfect example of the terrorists winning. I absolutely respect her stance, but I think she was wrong.

Sadly, the same is happening in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, and on a much larger scale. News organisations are censoring themselves by not showing the cartoons that made CH a target.

This is problematic for two reasons.

Firstly, it allows people to ignore the fact that Charlie Hebdo had previously been the vehicle of some arguably racist, sexist, and homophobic content.

If you’d like an example of some of their ‘finer’ works then go and check this out. It’s a collection of their cartoons with the captions translated into English.

But let me pick just one. It’s a cartoon of the Pope appearing before a crowd of adoring French citizens. The caption reads “The pope in Paris. French people are just as stupid as black people”.

That’s the least inflammatory translation. Other people have argued that it actually says “The pope in Paris. French people are just as stupid as niggers”.

It must be noted that this is a small sample and may not be indicative of their body of work as a whole, and it’s also true that they may have been saying it ironically. Some on the ‘Net are also saying the CH doesn’t actually subscribe to any particular ideology, but express a range of opinions.

And it should go without saying that even if they were total racists they did not deserve to die.

But the way that many news outlets are censoring their cartoons allows people to hold onto the lie that the murdered Charlie Hebdo employees were somehow ‘the good guys’, and this ‘good guy’ narrative is serving to shield them from criticism.

Their stance on free speech is laudable, I hope they continue to publish in spite of the attempts to silence them, and they are a hell of a lot better than the evil people who murdered them.

But no one is above criticism.

And I’d like to deal with two other, related, problems. The first is people saying that it’s too soon to criticise the murdered journalists, even though they’ve wasted no time at all condemning all Muslims everywhere for this massacre. And the second is the idea that the Arab world supports the attacks. Here is a seriously good article from Israeli newspaper Haaretz about how the Arab world has actually responded to the attacks.

Hey, guess what? They’ve completely condemned it, and in heartfelt terms.

I bet the news organisations you’ve been reading and watching have decided not to mention that particular fact.

But to get back on topic there is a larger problem with news organisations choosing not to reprint comics by Charlie Hebdo: by censoring themselves these news outlets are announcing that they are afraid, and that the terrorists have won.

By giving in to these angry children Sony, Sarkeesian, and these news outlets are making it more likely that they will do similar things in the future. They are enabling and emboldening them.

But maybe a little bit of self-censorship is a good idea...

But maybe a little bit of self-censorship is a good idea…

They are telling them that terrorist tactics work.

But what should people do in these cases? Have the talk, show the movie, publish the cartoons and run the risk that people will be killed?

Yes, that’s exactly what they should do.

They should make sure that everyone knows about the threat, provide informed opinion of how credible the threat is, and then let people make their own choice about whether to be involved or not.

If no one wants to be involved then that’s fine, they’ve made their choice and they’ve decided to let the terrorists win.

This isn’t just a macho thing either. It’s not me hiding behind my titanium hide saying that I’m brave.

I’m thinking about incentives, and game theory.

See, the way things stand with two of the examples I’ve listed is that the terrorists haven’t lost anything. They’ve expended very few resources and their plot has been a total success (obviously this assumes that Sony hadn’t changed their mind).

This makes it likely that the terrorists will do similar things in the future, because there is absolutely no rational reason not to.

Now let’s look at the alternative, Charlie Hebdo. Terrorists attempted to intimidate them into shutting up and they failed. CH carried on publishing its own brand of xenophobic stupidity unabated, just as I hope they will continue to do so after this tragedy.

Let’s say that Sony had never caved and had shown ‘The Interview’ despite threats of violence.

If the movie gets shown then either there will be attacks, or there won’t be.

If there are no attacks then we’ve learned that the terrorists are toothless, and we don’t have to fear them.

Matrix kitty is not toothless. Very toothful indeed.

Matrix kitty is not toothless. Very toothful indeed.

And if there is an attack, as there sadly was with Charlie Hebdo, then at least the terrorists will have had to pay for the impact they’ve achieved.

If someone really did try to harm Sarkeesian when she spoke then that would be bad for her, whether the attack succeeded or not. But it would also be game over for the attacker. Think about it. There is no realistic scenario where someone opens fire inside a crowded auditorium in a US university, and gets away with it.

The same has happened with the Charlie Hebdo atrocity. In less than 24 hours the French police announced that they had identified some of the attackers and at the time of writing arrests seem imminent.

The attackers’ deaths at the hands of police or the time they spend in jail will both be powerful disincentives to the next group of terrorists.

But what about the crowd? I hear you mutter. With any terrorist attack there will be collateral damage. Is it fair to risk these other people just to make this moral and practical point?

No, of course not.

Which is why we should leave the choice up to them.

Inform them, in a realistic way, about the dangers involved and then ask them whether they are willing to take the risk.

Or whether they want to let the terrorists win.

They key point is not just that we should have the courage of our convictions and stand up to cowards like Kim Jong Un, the nameless manchild who threatened Sarkessian with slaughter, and the thoroughly despicable Charlie Hebdo attackers. It is also that we should recognise that individuals have the right to put themselves in harm’s way if they believe that it is worth the risk.

I had no intention of watching ‘The Interview’ but now I’m going to. If Sarkeesian ever speaks in my home town I shall be there with bells on.

If someone ever tries to stop me from saying my little piece by threatening my safety, then that’s just about the best reason I can think of to keep talking.

And, much more importantly, the same goes for all of you.

Because we all have a responsibility to defend our rights. If you want to live in a country with free speech then you have to be willing to take risks to defend it.

In the interests of balance

In the interests of balance

[Edit: when initially posted this article was a lot more critical of Charlie Hebdo’s use of racist stereotypes in their cartoons. But since then I’ve read a lot of analysis about possible different interpretations of what they were doing. And since I’m not French, so I can’t find out for myself, I’ve edited the article to give them the benefit of the doubt. Goodness knows, with all that’s going on, they could use some.]

[Standard Disclaimer: this post was entirely my own opinion and was not paid for in any way, directly or otherwise, by anyone or anything that stands to gain in any way from the ideas expressed herein.]

Related Posts: