Je suis Charlie et Ahmed

by Rant on January 13, 2015 · 12 comments

in Media, News and Views

Yes, dear regular reader, I know what you’re thinking. “What? This isn’t about doping in sports?” And you’re right, it isn’t. Not at all. It’s about something much bigger and more important.

As you might know, I started my professional life as a journalist, after graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri – Columbia. Photojournalist to be exact. And I still have a number of friends who are journalists of all stripes. Writers, editors, television, print. And photo. Especially photo. And yes, I miss being a photojournalist every day — every time I see the brilliant work being done by my classmates and other friends from the business.

So I take an attack on other journalists personally. Even if they aren’t my friends or relatives. Even if they live in a different country. To say I was appalled by the slaughter at Charlie Hebdo in Paris last week would be an understatement. Same for the killings at Hyper Cacher (the Kosher market) two days later.

Much has been written about Charlie Hebdo and what it supposedly is or isn’t, and what kind of work it puts into the marketplace of ideas. I’m not going to touch on that, for a very simple reason. Without fluency in a language, and a culture, and the context, it’s impossible to evaluate the work in terms of whether it is racist, for example. Much of what has been written in America is through American eyes looking at cartoons, using Google Translate or (heaven forbid) Bing to figure out the text in the captions or in the image. It’s a dangerous formula for commentary, and it’s a game I’m not going to play.

Over at The Daily Kos is a very good article that explains some of the magazine’s works and gives some of the context to the work. I’ll say this much. It’s probably not what you think. Read the article.

My concern is the reaction that the magazine shouldn’t have provoked the attackers and is somewhat to blame for what happened. No, they aren’t. It is never acceptable to kill journalists, no matter what you think of their work. And no, the magazine should not necessarily censor itself and hold back publishing material that might be offensive to someone. In the business of satire, much of what is written or drawn is offensive to someone, somewhere. So to hold back would be not to publish satire at all.

We don’t have anything quite like Charlie Hebdo in the US, from what I can tell. The TV shows “The Family Guy” or “The Simpsons” might come close. And Mad Magazine of a certain era, too. But that’s about it.

But if we did, then the magazine or show should be free to publish or say what they wish.

Now having said that, even when speaking freely we aren’t absolved from responsibility for our speech. For example, if I publish an article that claims a person is a child-abuser, I’d better darn well have proof that this is so. Otherwise, I’ll face the possible wrath of a defamation lawsuit. And deservedly so, if the claim is not true.

I’m no fan of a certain “news” network, or certain bomb-throwing commentators who suggest that those not like them are traitors and should be dealt with in various harsh ways. The discourse in this country has become so polarized and vehement, that someday, somewhere, someone is going to snap, and we’re going to have a Charlie Hebdo-like event right here.

Because it’s not that far from demonizing one or more groups of people to someone actually taking matters into their own hands and causing harm. It might be directed towards an ethnic group, a racial group or a religious group, or even a political group. But it can happen.

It’s not a matter of if. It’s only a matter of when. Unless…

Unless we can move the dialogue in this country back from the brink. Unless we can find a way to respectfully disagree. Unless we can marginalize the shrill voices of unreason. And unless we find a way to make sure that everyone has a good education and an opportunity to get ahead. Unless we can create an economy that has jobs that pay a living (or better than living) wage to all.

None of this is easy. It takes everyone’s effort. We are all in this together. We may not agree on how things should be done, or even what should be done, but if we don’t find ways of working together, we’re doomed.

The lesson of Charlie Hebdo, to me, is not that journalists shouldn’t be killed. Of course they shouldn’t. Or that they should not publish what stories or commentary they will. They should be free to say what they think.

The lesson is that we need to be sure we have an environment where differences of opinion are respected — even if we find those other opinions abhorrent. And an environment where the conditions that led to the radicalization of these men do not exist.

What happened in Paris happened because the extremists could not accept that others have a right to say things they disagree with or find offensive. And they felt somehow justified in using violence to silence those they disagree with.

While I have no idea how to do it, we need to find a way — both in France and the US — to build a society where such extremism is much rarer than it is today. And not just in matters of religion.

So, that said, I am both Charlie and Ahmed. The provocateur and the person defending the provocateur.


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MattC January 14, 2015 at 11:54 am

Hey Rant…very scary stuff indeed happening around the world. Who was it many years back (in my poor mind I vaguely recall the name Salmon Rushdie…or something akin to that…I’m sure my spelling is not even close) who had a death-sentence placed on him by the radical Islamist’s for disparaging Allah (I can’t even remember what he did/said)…he literally had to move to a new country and hide out, and as far as I know he’s STILL hiding out, as that sentence never goes away.

Anyway, I think the world is facing a HUGE problem (just one of a ka-jillion I admit) that the radical Islam fundamentalists absolutely feel like they have the right, nay…. the DUTY, to kill anybody who isn’t a Muslim, can’t be converted and doesn’t agree with them (or disparages Allah in ANY way). It’s not like you can open a dialogue with these people…they’re well beyond that…and in many cases willing to die for that belief.

You touched on the fact that here in the good ol’ US of A we have gotten SO polarized and politically correct that it’s hard to even say ANYTHING without offending somebody. I can’t even imagine being a politician in this day and age. In the news last night and this morning I heard Speaker of the House Boehner has death threats against him (credible).

In the case of cartoonists being targeted, I can’t help but think back many a year to Gary Larson’s “The Far Side”. I LOVE those cartoons…I’d go so far as to say they are my all time favorites. I have many of his collection books, which are wonderful as he gives commentary and thoughts on some of his favorites. A few that come to mind are his cartoons on God. One was of a young goofy looking kid, face and clothes all scorched up, and feathers floating in the air all around him. The caption was something like “As a child, God tries to make his first Chicken”. He said the religious groups went absolutely bonkers over that one. Pretty much anytime he did a cartoon on God he took a ton of heat (but he did them anyway).

I guess that’s my point here…he was free to make his cartoon, and others were free to like it or hate it….and sure, even be quite vocal about their displeasure. But NOBODY made death-threats (as far as I know) or persecuted him for his satire. In my own thoughts on the matter, I’d like to think God would have been laughing his a@# off about it…who else but God would have the greatest sense of humor? (just look at a duckbill platypus to see that!)

Sadly in this day and age those times seem to be fading rapidly into our rear-view-mirror. Times when EVERYBODY was free to speak their mind and express themselves (as long as they didn’t slander and such). The entire world seems to be getting SO sensitive to every little thing. We certainly seem to be on some kind of brink or cusp…and I have no idea how we step back from that ledge collectively. People have to be WILLING to step back, and I don’t see that…I see the world in general stepping CLOSER to the ledge. If everybody could just take a breath, and maybe teach the world to sing and buy the world a Coke or something.

MattC January 14, 2015 at 11:54 am

Holy cats…that got long…I kind of put a post in your post! Sorry bout that Rant!

Rant January 14, 2015 at 12:49 pm

No worries, Matt. That’s why I named this site “Rant Your Head Off.” 😉

By the way, the author you’re thinking of is Salman Rushdie. He was in hiding for a good long time after publishing a book called “The Satanic Verses.” From what I understand he still has bodyguards, but he no longer lives in hiding.

Liggett junkie January 17, 2015 at 1:33 pm

Oh. My first reaction was, ‘well that’s one thing the French can’t blame on Lance Armstrong.’ They haven’t tried yet, have they?

[Salmon Rushdie was the fish sitting in an armchair reading The Atlantic Verses, in, by happy coincidence, an old Larson cartoon.]

Rant January 18, 2015 at 2:51 pm

Liggett junkie,

I’d forgotten about Salmon Rushie ala Larson. Thanks for reminding me. That was a good cartoon way back when.

MattC January 22, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Rant, have you seen the Velo News article discussing the systematic organized doping program at Rabobank during the 2000’s? VERY interesting…makes me think back on the WADA phrase (wasn’t it dick Pound?) about the Devil’s team (Lance) and “the most organized doping program in the history of sport”…this seems to be right on par w/ the Devil’s program! So just MAYBE other teams were doing it to? Oh gee and golly gosh…I feel cheated…we’ve been led to believe that ONLY Lance’s team was doing it!

here’s the link:

William Schart January 27, 2015 at 10:43 am

When all the stuff about LA et al came out a few years back, many stated that this was the “biggest and best” doping program. Perhaps, but at the time we knew little about other teams’ doping programs, other than some vague ideas that others were doing it too. Perhaps it was the biggest and/or best; perhaps it was simply on par with other programs. No one can really say unless we know, or at least have a good idea, about what other teams were doing.

Perhaps LA won because he out doped others, perhaps he won because he leveled the playing field vid-a-vis doping and was the better athlete, and perhaps it was some combination. Perhaps over time we will learn more about other teams’ doping programs. As time goes on, perhaps riders will feel the need to come clean. On the other hand, as time goes on, memories fade, hard evidence disappears, and some may try to unfairly take down some team over some real or perceived harm.

MattC January 28, 2015 at 2:36 pm

Typically the subject here is “doping” in sports….but I think that alludes to the broader category of “cheating” in sports. Which brings me to my question: what do you think of the ‘deflategate’ dilemma we are currently being deluged with by the media?

MY thoughts are that IF it’s a fact that the balls had been intentionally underinflated, then the game is forfeit and the Ravens go to play Seattle (won’t happen but I think it SHOULD). I’ve heard all the lame reasons the Pats have given thus far, and it reminds me of dopers coming up with all sorts of insane scenarios for how it could have happened (knowing they were guilty all along). I heard the one about the balls being inflated inside at room temp, and then the cool outside temp causing the lower pressures…so were the Ravens 12 footballs the same? Haven’t heard that…did they check?

All I can say for sure is that if there WAS an intent to cheat (to gain an advantage over your adversary) then the results are forfeit, much like a cyclist found guilty of doping (and no matter if the deed made any actual quantifiable difference in the outcome) then those results are negated. But this is the NFL, where their doping program consists of the players being notified well in advance of any doping controls (the players union truly did their job here in protecting the players).

That it seems to have been brushed under the table just tells me they (the NFL) just want it to go away and get on with the game. Any kind of a cheating scandal for the superbowl is NOT in their best interest. I hope Seattle hands them their hats (sign me NOT a Pat’s fan). Just my 2 cents.

Rant February 1, 2015 at 9:57 pm


I think you’re on to something there. I think there were a whole lot of programs at the level of the USPS/Discovery program during that era. Rabobank doesn’t surprise me too much. There have been rumors floating around about them for a long time. I hate to say it, but nothing shocks me much anymore when it comes to doping stories. Guess I’ve gotten cynical in my old age. 😉


That’s it in a nutshell. Without knowing the details of the other programs, I always thought the USADA line about the USPS/Discovery program was bordering on hyperbole.

Matt (going in order here),

I’m not up on NFL rules, but assuming that the rules specify a certain pressure in the footballs, then the Patriots sure look like they were cheating in the conference final. Not sure what the penalty would be for that, though.

One thing that strikes me as odd is that the teams bring their own footballs. That just seems to be begging for something like this to happen. Surely the league can afford to supply the footballs, can’t they? Where does all that advertising money and money for TV rights go? Not to the officials on the field, from what I can tell.

I was rooting for the Seahawks, even though I used to live in Ann Arbor once upon a time and the last couple of years I lived there, some guy named Brady was a QB for the University of Michigan team. Unfortunately, it appears my encouragement wasn’t enough to help Seattle win. But they put up a good fight.

William Schart February 3, 2015 at 3:19 pm


I think the reason the NFL allows the teams to supply the balls is the teams like to break in the balls: soften up the leather, take the shine off etc. what surprised me is that they allowed the teams to take charge of the balls once they were vetted by the ref.

Back in the early 1990s I officiated some high school football. Each team supplied a ball to use when they were on offense. Or inspections basically consisted of eyeballing it and feeling by hand. I’m sure the rules specified some pressure, but we never used a guage. Can’t speak for other officials other then those I worked with.

As to the penalty, the problem is that at this point in time, at least we in the general public do not know if this was indeed intentional and if so who is the guilty party. Should the whole team be penalized if some low level equipment manager took a a needle to the balls?

Oh and Matt, it would have been the Colts who would have advanced if the game had been forfeited.

Rant February 3, 2015 at 7:24 pm


Interesting. As you might have guessed, I’m not so knowledgeable about football to know that. I can see the point of breaking in the footballs. And I’m definitely with you on the team having control of the balls after they were vetted by the ref. Maybe that’s the way it’s done in the pros, but it just kind of sounds odd.

And what you point out about team sports is well taken. Should the whole team forfeit if it were some low-level person going rogue? I don’t know. That’s a tough call.

That said, I’ve got a whole lot of friends who would have been very happy to see the Colts in the Super Bowl.

William Schart February 16, 2015 at 11:42 am

Well, we now have another case of team officials cheating and the team being punished: the Little League World Series. Was stripping the team if its title an appropriate punishment and how much does this decision apply to the NFL.

To me, the LLWS powers had little choice, there was not much else they could do. I suppose they could ban any adults involved from any further involvement with LL, but whether such a ban would be honored by other youth sports organizations is unknown. I also suppose they could ban future iterations of the offending team, but that would equally punish innocent players.

In contrast, the NFL has a wide range of possible sanctions they are empowered to level against both individuals: fines, suspensions, loss of draft picks etc. Futhermore, I’m sure the NFL prefers that the Super Bowl title be decided on the field and not in a hearing room. Given the fact that at this point in time, well after the fact, nothing has been revealed about the results of the investigation, it’s hard to say what, if any, sanction is warranted. Nor can we go back in time. It would seem likely, to a neutral observer, that if the Colts had been awarded a spot in the SB, Seattle would have likely prevailed, but who can really say?

And suppose that, if some have suggested, NFL refs are pretty casual about checking the pressure. The Pats might have simple submitted under inflated balls, hoping to slide by. If the refs did check the pressure, probably all that would have happened is the refs would top off the balls.

Now, there is also the case of the Syracuse men’s basketball team. Apparently some years back there were violations, and the school has self imposed a ban on post season play this year. None of the current players are implicated or connected with these violations, so it sure looks like the school is throwing the current squad under the bus in hopes of avoiding other penalties.

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