Defending free speech and free press rights, which typically means defending the right to disseminate the very ideas society finds most repellent, has been one of my principal passions for the last 20 years: previously as a lawyer and now as a journalist. So I consider it positive when large numbers of people loudly invoke this principle, as has been happening over the last 48 hours in response to the horrific attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

Usually, defending free speech rights is much more of a lonely task. For instance, the day before the Paris murders, I wrote an article about multiple cases where Muslims are being prosecuted and even imprisoned by western governments for their online political speech – assaults that have provoked relatively little protest, including from those free speech champions who have been so vocal this week.

I’ve previously covered cases where Muslims were imprisoned for many years in the U.S. for things like translating and posting “extremist” videos to the internet, writing scholarly articles in defense of Palestinian groups and expressing harsh criticism of Israel, and even including a Hezbollah channel in a cable package. That’s all well beyond the numerous cases of jobs being lost or careers destroyed for expressing criticism of Israel or (much more dangerously and rarely) Judaism. I’m hoping this week’s celebration of free speech values will generate widespread opposition to all of these long-standing and growing infringements of core political rights in the west, not just some.

Central to free speech activism has always been the distinction between defending the right to disseminate Idea X and agreeing with Idea X, one which only the most simple-minded among us are incapable of comprehending. One defends the right to express repellent ideas while being able to condemn the idea itself. There is no remote contradiction in that: the ACLU vigorously defends the right of neo-Nazis to march through a community filled with Holocaust survivors in Skokie, Illinois, but does not join the march; they instead vocally condemn the targeted ideas as grotesque while defending the right to express them.
But this week’s defense of free speech rights was so spirited that it gave rise to a brand new principle: to defend free speech, one not only defends the right to disseminate the speech, but embraces the content of the speech itself. Numerous writers thus demanded: to show “solidarity” with the murdered cartoonists, one should not merely condemn the attacks and defend the right of the cartoonists to publish, but should publish and even celebrate those cartoons. “The best response to Charlie Hebdo attack,” announced Slate’s editor Jacob Weisberg, “is to escalate blasphemous satire.”

Some of the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo were not just offensive but bigoted, such as the one mocking the African sex slaves of Boko Haram as welfare queens (left). Others went far beyond maligning violence by extremists acting in the name of Islam, or even merely depicting Mohammed with degrading imagery (above, right), and instead contained a stream of mockery toward Muslims generally, who in France are not remotely powerful but are largely a marginalized and targeted immigrant population.
But no matter. Their cartoons were noble and should be celebrated – not just on free speech grounds but for their content. In a column entitled “The Blasphemy We Need,” The New York Times‘ Ross Douthat argued that “the right to blaspheme (and otherwise give offense) is essential to the liberal order” and “that kind of blasphemy [that provokes violence] is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good.” New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait actually proclaimed that “one cannot defend the right [to blaspheme] without defending the practice.” Vox’s Matt Yglesias had a much more nuanced view but nonetheless concluded that “to blaspheme the Prophet transforms the publication of these cartoons from a pointless act to a courageous and even necessary one, while the observation that the world would do well without such provocations becomes a form of appeasement.”

To comport with this new principle for how one shows solidarity with free speech rights and a vibrant free press, we’re publishing some blasphemous and otherwise offensive cartoons about religion and their adherents:

And here are some not-remotely-blasphemous-or-bigoted yet very pointed and relevant cartoons by the brilliantly provocative Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff (reprinted with permission):

Is it time for me to be celebrated for my brave and noble defense of free speech rights? Have I struck a potent blow for political liberty and demonstrated solidarity with free journalism by publishing blasphemous cartoons? If, as Salman Rushdie said, it’s vital that all religions be subjected to “fearless disrespect,” have I done my part to uphold western values?

When I first began to see these demands to publish these anti-Muslim cartoons, the cynic in me thought perhaps this was really just about sanctioning some types of offensive speech against some religions and their adherents, while shielding more favored groups. In particular, the west has spent years bombing, invading and occupying Muslim countries and killing, torturing and lawlessly imprisoning innocent Muslims, and anti-Muslim speech has been a vital driver in sustaining support for those policies.

So it’s the opposite of surprising to see large numbers of westerners celebrating anti-Muslim cartoons – not on free speech grounds but due to approval of the content. Defending free speech is always easy when you like the content of the ideas being targeted, or aren’t part of (or actively dislike) the group being maligned.

Indeed, it is self-evident that if a writer who specialized in overtly anti-black or anti-Semitic screeds had been murdered for their ideas, there would be no widespread calls to republish their trash in “solidarity” with their free speech rights. In fact, Douthat, Chait and Yglesias all took pains to expressly note that they were only calling for publication of such offensive ideas in the limited case where violence is threatened or perpetrated in response (by which they meant in practice, so far as I can tell: anti-Islam speech). Douthat even used italics to emphasize how limited his defense of blasphemy was: “that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended.”

One should acknowledge a valid point contained within the Douthat/Chait/Yglesias argument: when media outlets refrain from publishing material out of fear (rather than a desire to avoid publishing gratuitously offensive material), as several of the west’s leading outlets admitted doing with these cartoons, that is genuinely troubling, an actual threat to a free press. But there are all kinds of pernicious taboos in the west that result in self-censorship or compelled suppression of political ideas, from prosecution and imprisonment to career destruction: why is violence by Muslims the most menacing one? (I’m not here talking about the question of whether media outlets should publish the cartoons because they’re newsworthy; my focus is on the demand they be published positively, with approval, as “solidarity”).

When we originally discussed publishing this article to make these points, our intention was to commission two or three cartoonists to create cartoons that mock Judaism and malign sacred figures to Jews the way Charlie Hebdo did to Muslims. But that idea was thwarted by the fact that no mainstream western cartoonist would dare put their name on an anti-Jewish cartoon, even if done for satire purposes, because doing so would instantly and permanently destroy their career, at least. Anti-Islam and anti-Muslim commentary (and cartoons) are a dime a dozen in western media outlets; the taboo that is at least as strong, if not more so, are anti-Jewish images and words. Why aren’t Douthat, Chait, Yglesias and their like-minded free speech crusaders calling for publication of anti-Semitic material in solidarity, or as a means of standing up to this repression? Yes, it’s true that outlets like The New York Times will in rare instances publish such depictions, but only to document hateful bigotry and condemn it – not to publish it in “solidarity” or because it deserves a serious and respectful airing.

With all due respect to the great cartoonist Ann Telnaes, it is simply not the case that Charlie Hebdo “were equal opportunity offenders.” Like Bill Maher, Sam Harris and other anti-Islam obsessives, mocking Judaism, Jews and/or Israel is something they will rarely (if ever) do. If forced, they can point to rare and isolated cases where they uttered some criticism of Judaism or Jews, but the vast bulk of their attacks are reserved for Islam and Muslims, not Judaism and Jews. Parody, free speech and secular atheism are the pretexts; anti-Muslim messaging is the primary goal and the outcome. And this messaging – this special affection for offensive anti-Islam speech – just so happens to coincide with, to feed, the militaristic foreign policy agenda of their governments and culture.

To see how true that is, consider the fact that Charlie Hebdo – the “equal opportunity” offenders and defenders of all types of offensive speech – fired one of their writers in 2009 for writing a sentence some said was anti-Semitic (the writer was then charged with a hate crime offense, and won a judgment against the magazine for unfair termination). Does that sound like “equal opportunity” offending?

Nor is it the case that threatening violence in response to offensive ideas is the exclusive province of extremists claiming to act in the name of Islam. Terrence McNally’s 1998 play “Corpus Christi,” depicting Jesus as gay, was repeatedly cancelled by theaters due to bomb threats. Larry Flynt was paralyzed by an evangelical white supremacist who objected to Hustler‘s pornographic depiction of inter-racial couples. The Dixie Chicks were deluged with death threats and needed massive security after they publicly criticized George Bush for the Iraq War, which finally forced them to apologize out of fear. Violence spurred by Jewish and Christian fanaticism is legion, from abortion doctors being murdered to gay bars being bombed to a 45-year-old brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza due in part to the religious belief (common in both the U.S. and Israel) that God decreed they shall own all the land. And that’s all independent of the systematic state violence in the west sustained, at least in part, by religious sectarianism.

The New York Times‘ David Brooks today claims that anti-Christian bias is so widespread in America – which has never elected a non-Christian president – that “the University of Illinois fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality.” He forgot to mention that the very same university just terminated its tenure contract with Professor Steven Salaita over tweets he posted during the Israeli attack on Gaza that the university judged to be excessively vituperative of Jewish leaders, and that the journalist Chris Hedges was just disinvited to speak at the University of Pennsylvania for the Thought Crime of drawing similarities between Israel and ISIS.

That is a real taboo – a repressed idea – as powerful and absolute as any in the United States, so much so that Brooks won’t even acknowledge its existence. It’s certainly more of a taboo in the U.S. than criticizing Muslims and Islam, criticism which is so frequently heard in mainstream circles – including the U.S. Congress – that one barely notices it any more.

This underscores the key point: there are all sorts of ways ideas and viewpoints are suppressed in the west. When those demanding publication of these anti-Islam cartoons start demanding the affirmative publication of those ideas as well, I’ll believe the sincerity of their very selective application of free speech principles. One can defend free speech without having to publish, let alone embrace, the offensive ideas being targeted. But if that’s not the case, let’s have equal application of this new principle.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images; additional research was provided by Andrew Fishman

BY GLENN GREENWALD @ggreenwald 01/09/2015
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Find this story at 9 January 2015


Charlie Hebdo: This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech — It Was About War

White people don’t like to admit it, but those cartoons upheld their prejudice, their racism, their political supremacy, and cut it how you will — images like that upheld a political order built on discrimination.

In less than an hour of the dreadful shooting of 12 people at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, the politicians had already started to lie to their own public.

John Kerry, US Secretary of State, declared that, “freedom of expression is not able to be killed by this kind of act of terror.”

The media lapped it up — the attack was now spun as an attack on ‘Freedom of Speech’. That cherished value that the West holds so dear.
The British Government was so in love with it, that they were passing laws that demanded nursery school teachers spy on Muslim toddlers because they had too much of it. Toddlers were ‘free’ to speak their mind as long as it agreed with UK Government policy.

A ‘free speech’ machine. It looks for people who do not have enough free speech and them gives them some
Still at least it was not as draconian as Western Governments routine harassment of those they thought spoke a bit too freely. Ask Moazzam Beg, the freed Guantanamo Bay Detainee and human rights campaigner, who was falsely accused of terrorism and imprisoned for months, after flying back from Syria with damning evidence of Britain’s complicity in torture in the Muslim world.

Or for that matter the Al-Jazeera journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye incarcerated in Yemen at the behest of the America for reporting the wrong type of facts.

They loved it so much, they kept spying on everyone, tapping their phones and arresting them for not having the right sort of it.

Basically Muslims were FREE TO AGREE — that great overarching cherished Western principle that Muslims just didn’t understand.
As usual there was no real depth in any of the analysis in the media. The public were left in shock and anger but without any real answers

The elites narrative was simple, a left-wing magazine, had produced ‘satirical cartoons’ about all religions and politicians, some of them about the Prophet of Islam — Only the Muslims took offence (subtext because their backward barbaric religion was alien and intolerant).

The argument sounded reasonable enough… if you lived in a bubble on the land of middle class white guy — sadly Muslims usually didn’t have that luxury.
Let me explain it from a different perspective, one that Muslims saw all too clearly.

After all its only a joke! They make fun of white people as well!
In 30’s America when white people were burning black people on trees, whites could equally have used this argument. After all there were cartoons even about the president! However making insulting cartoons about white people who controlled the power structures was not the same as demonizing black people — a powerless underclass.

Imagery of black people being, dumb, violent, lazy, thieves who looked like monkeys — upheld a political reality, the very imagery re-enforced the prejudices of those in power and subjugated blacks.

The same with Jews in Nazi Germany — Imagine today’s spurious and conceited argument being used by the Nazi’s — could a German newspaper hide behind the claim it also made fun of white Germans? How unjustified that only the Jews complained so! After all Germans didn’t complain when they were made fun of — those backward Jews and their greedy religion didn’t understand free speech!

White people don’t like to admit it, but those cartoons upheld their prejudice, their racism, their political supremacy, and cut it how you will — images like that upheld a political order built on discrimination.
The Muslims today are a demonized underclass in France. A people vilified and attacked by the power structures. A poor people with little or no power and these vile cartoons made their lives worse and heightened the racist prejudice against them.

Even white liberals have acted in the most prejudiced way. It was as if white people had a right to offend Muslims and Muslims had no right to be offended?

After the massacre of 1000 Muslims by Egyptian dictator in a single day — the paper ran this headline “The Quran is sh*t it doesnt stop bullets” — Imagine if a Muslim paper did this about them now — still find it funny?
Cue some right wing media white dude (or some Zionist) to now accuse me of justifying the murder —After all, if you are Muslim, explaining things is justifying them right! ?

The truth is, this awful attack can not be explained in a vacuum, absent of the context around it. It has to be seen through the prism of events that are going on around the world. With eyes firmly fixed on the wars going on from Palestine to Pakistan.

A global view spreading across the Muslim world, is that the West is at war with them (propagandists say this is due to hate preachers — nothing to do with more bombs being dropped on Iraq alone than were used in the whole of the first and second world war).

This anger sweeping the Muslim world, is solidifying in the consciousness of millions, re-enforced by daily bombings, kidnappings and of course wars that the West has initiated and engaged in. These policies have lead to many Muslims abandoning the belief that they could bring any change peacefully — cue the rise of men taking up arms.

Killing Muslim children doesnt make Muslims take up arms — its just they hate freedom of speech honest!
These images then, can be played down as just a ‘bit of fun’ as no doubt the least perceptive of you will try to argue, or it can be seen through the prism of the war on terror — just another front on the war against Islam that has claimed so many lives — and the demonology behind it.

The Orientalist racist stereotype of the Muslim humourless barbarian — in this image of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH — it says “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing!”
I argue, that we are creating extremists in the bucket load and have done so exponentially, since we declared this endless war of terror . Our policies are hardening views on all sides.

To justify its continuation, politicians have to keep lying (via the plaint corporate media) to the public, saying Muslim violence is due to ‘Islamists, Extremists, Hate Preachers — the evil Muslim fairy, or any other word that makes people think the problem is faith and not the real driver — War.

This false narrative is creating extremism in white communities too (note the rise of right wing neo-facists across Europe. And of course as the bombs fall like rain — it hardens opinions and creates extremists in the Muslim world. And both these people are expressing themselves in very ugly ways — and that’s exactly what happened here.

Twelve people are dead — because the world we are creating — is utterly polarised.

Our bombs dont leave much room for ‘freedoms’ and now neither do theirs.
Extremism leads to extremism — this is just another symptom of the world Bush and Blair gave us and our political classes are determined to keep it going. Read more on this here and here.

Drone strike — another dead Muslim
The two sides are set to clash unless we pull the foot off the accelerator — and our elites don’t have the sense to do that .

By the time the dust settles, there will more attacks against Muslims in the streets, mosques burned down, politicians introducing draconian laws against Muslims, media wall-to-wall demonization and France along with the rest of Europe will lurch right — proving true the very thing these Muslims believe — that the West hates them — and they wouldn’t be wholly wrong.

Someone, more powerful than you or I reader, in the political elites has to have the sense to change the mood music of war and hate, re-look at our policies and have the courage to say:

‘Everyone chill out, put the guns down and lets talk’.

Even if I am wrong, one thing is for sure — to bring an end to this — we got to do something differently, because what we are doing now — isn’t working.
And if they dont — buckle up — we haven’t seen anything yet.

Asghar Bukhari

Find this story at 7 January 2015


Why I am not Charlie

There is no “but” about what happened at Charlie Hebdo yesterday. Some people published some cartoons, and some other people killed them for it. Words and pictures can be beautiful or vile, pleasing or enraging, inspiring or offensive; but they exist on a different plane from physical violence, whether you want to call that plane spirit or imagination or culture, and to meet them with violence is an offense against the spirit and imagination and culture that distinguish humans. Nothing mitigates this monstrosity. There will be time to analyze why the killers did it, time to parse their backgrounds, their ideologies, their beliefs, time for sociologists and psychologists to add to understanding. There will be explanations, and the explanations will be important, but explanations aren’t the same as excuses. Words don’t kill, they must not be met by killing, and they will not make the killers’ culpability go away.

To abhor what was done to the victims, though, is not the same as to become them. This is true on the simplest level: I cannot occupy someone else’s selfhood, share someone else’s death. This is also true on a moral level: I cannot appropriate the dangers they faced or the suffering they underwent, I cannot colonize their experience, and it is arrogant to make out that I can. It wouldn’t be necessary to say this, except the flood of hashtags and avatars and social-media posturing proclaiming #JeSuisCharlie overwhelms distinctions and elides the point. “We must all try to be Charlie, not just today but every day,” the New Yorker pontificates. What the hell does that mean? In real life, solidarity takes many forms, almost all of them hard. This kind of low-cost, risk-free, E-Z solidarity is only possible in a social-media age, where you can strike a pose and somebody sees it on their timeline for 15 seconds and then they move on and it’s forgotten except for the feeling of accomplishment it gave you. Solidarity is hard because it isn’t about imaginary identifications, it’s about struggling across the canyon of not being someone else: it’s about recognizing, for instance, that somebody died because they were different from you, in what they did or believed or were or wore, not because they were the same. If people who are feeling concrete loss or abstract shock or indignation take comfort in proclaiming a oneness that seems to fill the void, then it serves an emotional end. But these Cartesian credos on Facebook and Twitter — I am Charlie, therefore I am — shouldn’t be mistaken for political acts.

Among the dead at Charlie Hebdo: Deputy chief editor Bernard Maris and cartoonists Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut (aka Cabu), Stephane Charbonnier, who was also editor-in-chief, and Bernard Verlhac (aka Tignous)
Among the dead at Charlie Hebdo: Deputy chief editor Bernard Maris and cartoonists Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut (aka Cabu), Stephane Charbonnier, who was also editor-in-chief, and Bernard Verlhac (aka Tignous)

Erasing differences that actually exist seems to be the purpose here: and it’s perhaps appropriate to the Charlie cartoons, which drew their force from a considered contempt for people with the temerity to be different. For the last 36 hours, everybody’s been quoting Voltaire. The same line is all over my several timelines:

From the twitter feed of @thereaIbanksy, January 7
From the twitter feed of @thereaIbanksy, January 7

“Those 21 words circling the globe speak louder than gunfire and represent every pen being wielded by an outstretched arm,” an Australian news site says. (Never mind that Voltaire never wrote them; one of his biographers did.) But most people who mouth them don’t mean them. Instead, they’re subtly altering the Voltairean clarion cry: the message today is, I have to agree with what you say, in order to defend it. Why else the insistence that condemning the killings isn’t enough? No: we all have to endorse the cartoons, and not just that, but republish them ourselves. Thus Index on Censorship, a journal that used to oppose censorship but now is in the business of telling people what they can and cannot say, called for all newspapers to reprint the drawings: “We believe that only through solidarity – in showing that we truly defend all those who exercise their right to speak freely – can we defeat those who would use violence to silence free speech.” But is repeating you the same as defending you? And is it really “solidarity” when, instead of engaging across our differences, I just mindlessly parrot what you say?

But no, if you don’t copy the cartoons, you’re colluding with the killers, you’re a coward. Thus the right-wing Daily Caller posted a list of craven media minions of jihad who oppose free speech by not doing as they’re ordered. Punish these censors, till they say what we tell them to!

Screen shot 2015-01-09 at 12.34.32 AMIf you don’t agree with what Charlie Hebdo said, the terrorists win.

Screen shot 2015-01-09 at 12.22.15 AMYou’re not just kowtowing to terrorists with your silence. According to Tarek Fatah, a Canadian columnist with an evident fascist streak, silence is terrorism.

Screen shot 2015-01-08 at 11.46.59 PMOf course, any Muslim in the West would know that being called “our enemy” is a direct threat; you’ve drawn the go-to-GItmo card. But consider: This idiot thinks he is defending free speech. How? By telling people exactly what they have to say, and menacing the holdouts with treason. The Ministry of Truth has a new office in Toronto.

There’s a perfectly good reason not to republish the cartoons that has nothing to do with cowardice or caution. I refuse to post them because I think they’re racist and offensive. I can support your right to publish something, and still condemn what you publish. I can defend what you say, and still say it’s wrong — isn’t that the point of the quote (that wasn’t) from Voltaire? I can hold that governments shouldn’t imprison Holocaust deniers, but that doesn’t oblige me to deny the Holocaust myself.

It’s true, as Salman Rushdie says, that “Nobody has the right to not be offended.” You should not get to invoke the law to censor or shut down speech just because it insults you or strikes at your pet convictions. You certainly don’t get to kill because you heard something you don’t like. Yet, manhandled by these moments of mass outrage, this truism also morphs into a different kind of claim: That nobody has the right to be offended at all.

I am offended when those already oppressed in a society are deliberately insulted. I don’t want to participate. This crime in Paris does not suspend my political or ethical judgment, or persuade me that scatologically smearing a marginal minority’s identity and beliefs is a reasonable thing to do. Yet this means rejecting the only authorized reaction to the atrocity. Oddly, this peer pressure seems to gear up exclusively where Islam’s involved. When a racist bombed a chapter of a US civil rights organization this week, the media didn’t insist I give to the NAACP in solidarity. When a rabid Islamophobic rightist killed 77 Norwegians in 2011, most of them at a political party’s youth camp, I didn’t notice many #IAmNorway hashtags, or impassioned calls to join the Norwegian Labor Party. But Islam is there for us, it unites us against Islam. Only cowards or traitors turn down membership in the Charlie club.The demand to join, endorse, agree is all about crowding us into a herd where no one is permitted to cavil or condemn: an indifferent mob, where differing from one another is Thoughtcrime, while indifference to the pain of others beyond the pale is compulsory.

We’ve heard a lot about satire in the last couple of days. We’ve heard that satire shouldn’t cause offense because it’s a weapon of the weak: “Satire-writers always point out the foibles and fables of those higher up the food chain.” And we’ve heard that if the satire aims at everybody, those forays into racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism can be excused away. Charlie Hebdo “has been a continual celebration of the freedom to make fun of everyone and everything….it practiced a freewheeling, dyspeptic satire without clear ideological lines.” Of course, satire that attacks any and all targets is by definition not just targeting the top of the food chain. “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges,” Anatole France wrote; satire that wounds both the powerful and the weak does so with different effect. Saying the President of the Republic is a randy satyr is not the same as accusing nameless Muslim immigrants of bestiality. What merely annoys the one may deepen the other’s systematic oppression. To defend satire because it’s indiscriminate is to admit that it discriminates against the defenseless.

Funny little man: Contemporary caricature of Kierkegaard
Funny little man: Contemporary Danish cartoon of Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard, the greatest satirist of his century, famously recounted his dream: “I was rapt into the Seventh Heaven. There sat all the gods assembled.” They granted him one wish: “Most honorable contemporaries, I choose one thing — that I may always have the laughter on my side.” Kierkegaard knew what he meant: Children used to laugh and throw stones at him on Copenhagen streets, for his gangling gait and monkey torso. His table-turning fantasy is the truth about satire. It’s an exercise in power. It claims superiority, it aspires to win, and hence it always looms over the weak, in judgment. If it attacks the powerful, that’s because there is appetite underneath its asperity: it wants what they have. As Adorno wrote: “He who has laughter on his side has no need of proof. Historically, therefore, satire has for thousands of years, up to Voltaire’s age, preferred to side with the stronger party which could be relied on: with authority.” Irony, he added, “never entirely divested itself of its authoritarian inheritance, its unrebellious malice.”

Satire allies with the self-evident, the Idées reçues, the armory of the strong. It puts itself on the team of the juggernaut future against the endangered past, the successful opinion over the superseded one. Satire has always fed on distaste for minorities, marginal peoples, traditional or fading ways of life. Adorno said: “All satire is blind to the forces liberated by decay.”

Funny little man: Voltaire writing
Funny little man: Voltaire writing

Charlie Hebdo, the New Yorker now claims, “followed in the tradition of Voltaire.” Voltaire stands as the god of satire; any godless Frenchman with a bon mot is measured against him. Everyone remembers his diatribes against the power of the Catholic Church: Écrasez l’Infâme! But what’s often conveniently omitted amid the adulation of his wit is how Voltaire loathed a powerless religion, the outsiders of his own era, the “medieval,” “barbaric” immigrant minority that afflicted Europe: the Jews.

Voltaire’s anti-Semitism was comprehensive. In its contempt for the putatively “primitive,” it anticipates much that is said about Muslims in Europe and the US today. “The Jews never were natural philosophers, nor geometricians, nor astronomers,” Voltaire declared. That would do head Islamophobe Richard Dawkins proud:

Screen shot 2015-01-09 at 3.01.25 AM

The Jews, Voltaire wrote, are “only an ignorant and barbarous people, who have long united the most sordid avarice with the most detestable superstition and the most invincible hatred for every people by whom they are tolerated and enriched.” When some American right-wing yahoo calls Muslims “goatfuckers,” you might think he’s reciting old Appalachian invective. In fact, he’s repeating Voltaire’s jokes about the Jews. “You assert that your mothers had no commerce with he-goats, nor your fathers with she-goats,” Voltaire demanded of them. “But pray, gentlemen, why are you the only people upon earth whose laws have forbidden such commerce? Would any legislator ever have thought of promulgating this extraordinary law if the offence had not been common?”

You are an infamous impostor, Father, but at least you’re circumcised: Voltaire lectures to a priest
You are an infamous impostor, Father, but at least you’re circumcised: Voltaire lectures to a priest

Nobody wishes Voltaire had been killed for his slanders. If some indignant Jew or Muslim (he didn’t care for the “Mohammedans” much either) had murdered him mid-career, the whole world would lament the abomination. In his most Judeophobic passages, I can take pleasure in his scalpel phrasing — though even 250 years after, some might find this hard. Still, liking the style doesn’t mean I swallow the message. #JeSuisPasVoltaire. Most of the man’s admirers avoid or veil his anti-Semitism. They know that while his contempt amuses when directed at the potent and impervious Pope, it turns dark and sour when defaming a weak and despised community. Satire can sometimes liberate us, but it is not immune from our prejudices or untainted by our hatreds. It shouldn’t douse our critical capacities; calling something “satire” doesn’t exempt it from judgment. The superiority the satirist claims over the helpless can be both smug and sinister. Last year a former Charlie Hebdo writer, accusing the editors of indulging racism, warned that “The conviction of being a superior being, empowered to look down on ordinary mortals from on high, is the surest way to sabotage your own intellectual defenses.”

Of course, Voltaire didn’t realize that his Jewish victims were weak or powerless. Already, in the 18th century, he saw them as tentacles of a financial conspiracy; his propensity for overspending and getting hopelessly in debt to Jewish moneylenders did a great deal to shape his anti-Semitism. In the same way, Charlie Hebdo and its like never treated Muslim immigrants as individuals, but as agents of some larger force. They weren’t strivers doing the best they could in an unfriendly country, but shorthand for mass religious ignorance, or tribal terrorist fanaticism, or obscene oil wealth. Satire subsumes the human person in an inhuman generalization. The Muslim isn’t just a Muslim, but a symbol of Islam.

Cartoon by Sudanese artist Khalid Albaih, from
Cartoon by Sudanese artist Khalid Albaih, from

This is where political Islamists and Islamophobes unite. They cling to agglutinative ideologies; they melt people into a mass; they erase individuals’ attributes and aspirations under a totalizing vision of what identity means. A Muslim is his religion. You can hold every Muslim responsible for what any Muslim does. (And one Danish cartoonist makes all Danes guilty.) So all Muslims have to post #JeSuisCharlie obsessively as penance, or apologize for what all the other billion are up to. Yesterday Aamer Rahman, an Australian comic and social critic, tweeted:

Screen shot 2015-01-09 at 12.08.33 AM

A few hours later he had to add:

Screen shot 2015-01-09 at 12.07.58 AM

This insistence on contagious responsibility, collective guilt, is the flip side of #JeSuisCharlie. It’s #VousÊtesISIS; #VousÊtesAlQaeda. Our solidarity, our ability to melt into a warm mindless oneness and feel we’re doing something, is contingent on your involuntary solidarity, your losing who you claim to be in a menacing mass. We can’t stand together here unless we imagine you together over there in enmity. The antagonists are fake but they’re entangled, inevitable. The language hardens. Geert Wilders, the racist right-wing leader in the Netherlands, said the shootings mean it’s time to “de-Islamize our country.” Nigel Farage, his counterpart in the UK, called Muslims a “fifth column, holding our passports, that hate us.” Juan Cole writes that the Charlie Hebdo attack was “a strategic strike, aiming at polarizing the French and European public” — at “sharpening the contradictions.” The knives are sharpening too, on both sides.

We lose our ability to imagine political solutions when we stop thinking critically, when we let emotional identifications sweep us into factitious substitutes for solidarity and action. We lose our ability to respond to atrocity when we start seeing people not as individuals, but as symbols. Changing avatars on social media is a pathetic distraction from changing realities in society. To combat violence you must look unflinchingly at the concrete inequities and practices that breed it. You won’t stop it with acts of self-styled courage on your computer screen that neither risk nor alter anything. To protect expression that’s endangered you have to engage with the substance of what was said, not deny it. That means attempting dialogue with those who peacefully condemn or disagree, not trying to shame them into silence. Nothing is quick, nothing is easy. No solidarity is secure. I support free speech. I oppose all censors. I abhor the killings. I mourn the dead. I am not Charlie.

Posted on 9 January 2015

Find this story at 9 January 2015


Am I Charlie?

I am Charlie because 12 people were executed in cold blood.
I am not Charlie because I am troubled by the crowd of mostly white middle class liberals who took to the streets in Paris to protest the killings, many of whom apparently feel their culture and values are superior to others. Many of them also enjoy the privileges of being white and middle class in Paris, a city where many of the lowest paid work is done by Africans, including Muslim North Africans.

I am Charlie because no one has an inherent right to the protection of the dignity of their religious or national identity, under threat of execution. For example, we should all be able to critique and even ridicule Islam, Christianity, Judaism or any faith when its scriptures are used to justify human rights abuses against women or gay and lesbian people.

I am not Charlie because racism is rife in France, and five million French people voted for the Front National last year, a far right party that blames immigrants, most of whom are black, for the ills in French society. And I believe the publishers of Charlie Hebdo played into that racism by invoking cultural stereotypes, whether intentionally or not.

I am not Charlie because I live in South Africa, and every day in this country, even in 2015, there are white people who try to erase the legacy of slavery, colonialism and Apartheid. Some of them argue against the use of affirmative action to redress past discrimination. Their aim seems to be to protect their privilege, and I believe many white liberals in France would like to do the same when it comes to their history of colonisation of North Africa.

I am Charlie despite the fact that I live in South Africa, because South Africa desperately needs satirists to expose the hypocrisy of our leaders. South Africa is now more unequal than it was under Apartheid, such that two rich men have the same wealth as 50% of the entire population, and yet instead of focusing on addressing this, many of our leaders are black billionaires, preoccupied with personal self-enrichment. And when cartoonists such as Zapiro or artists such as Brett Murray have tried to use satire to criticise the corruption of our leaders, they are warned not to insult the dignity of the president or his comrades.

I am Charlie because political leaders here try to use race to silence their critics, arguing that it is only white cartoonists and artists that would humiliate an older person who deserves respect in black culture, just as some in France have argued that only non-Muslims would ridicule or satirise their prophet. And yet this is not true in either case. In South Africa, artists like Ayanda Mabulu and musicians like Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh also use art and music to challenge and ridicule black leaders.

I am not Charlie because Barack Obama continues to roll out his “war on terror” around the world in the name of American values, using drone strikes against whole families and communities, plus routine torture and execution, arguably creating more terror than many of his ‘terrorist’ opponents. And in order to legitimise these wars and prevent his terror being morally compared with that of his opponents, he needs us all to be Charlie. He needs us all to buy into a distorted dichotomy between Western liberalism that defends freedom of speech, and the barbarism of religious fanatics and terrorists whose only motive is to murder Americans.

I am not Charlie because it’s not a crime for a policeman to murder a black youth in Ferguson.

I am not Charlie because “concomitant action” in Marikana left 34 striking miners dead.

I am Charlie because Boko Haram used Islam to justify the abduction and sexual enslavement of more than 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria in April 2014. And yet I am not Charlie because there’s another story here of the systematic marginalisation of millions of Nigerians in the North and the East of the country and the theft of their natural resources by a Nigerian elite in cahoots with multinational corporations.

I am not Charlie because they called it a democratic Arab Spring and yet after the NATO planes were returned to base, cities were left to burn, dreams were forgotten and the only thing left was the rubble.

I am not Charlie because until 2008 Nelson Mandela was officially considered a terrorist and yet he is now remembered as one of the greatest people to have ever lived.

I am not Charlie because it just isn’t that simple. We cannot create a more just society simply by defending the right of everyone to speak out freely, using the social and economic power they currently have. We need to redistribute power and wealth to create a just society, whether in South Africa, France or elsewhere in the world.

I am Charlie because without freedom of expression, we cannot organise people to transform our societies to create more justice, equality, harmony and solidarity.

Am I Charlie?


Find this story at 9 January 2015


They bombed al-Jazeera’s reporters. Now the US is after our integrity (2010)

A lot can change in five years. In December 2005 the Guardian opened its pages for me to respond to a leak – the Bush-Blair memo in which both leaders discussed the possibility of bombing Al-Jazeera’s Qatar HQ, where more than 1,000 people work. While those who leaked the memo were imprisoned, its detailed contents were never disclosed. Earlier this year I learned from a senior US official that the discussions had indeed taken place.

I was not surprised. Our bureaus in Kabul and Iraq had previously been bombed by the US in an attempt to stifle the channel’s independence; one of our journalists in Iraq was killed. But this did not deter us from our mission to provide “the opinion and the other opinion” – our motto; to give a voice to the voiceless; to hold centres of power to account; and to uphold our editorial independence no matter what the cost. We maintained these values even as the US bombed our offices, continuing our coverage of both sides of the story.

The Arab world, the region in which we are located, continues to see its share of bloodshed and war. Our audience, often the victim of these conflicts, demands honesty, credibility and integrity. If we get a story wrong, or are biased, it could mean the difference between life and death for viewers. They have come to expect independence as a standard.

This week our independence was once again called into question. Cables from the US embassy in Doha were made accessible by WikiLeaks, alleging that Qatar was using Al-Jazeera as a tool for its foreign policy. While nothing could be further from the truth, US diplomats had the freedom to express their opinions. But interpretation and conjecture cannot take the place of analysis and fact. They focused on the source of our funding rather than our reporting, in an attempt to tarnish our work. Judgments made in the cables are plainly erroneous, such as the assertion that we softened our coverage of Saudi Arabia and the Iranian elections due to political pressure – one needs only to look at our reporting of these events to see that this is not the case. We are journalists not politicians – we are not driven by political agendas, for or against anyone.

Journalists across the world picked up the story, and while some were careful to place it in context, many uncritically took the claims as fact. The Guardian’s report went well beyond even what was stated in the cables; the article clearly misunderstood the rhetorical statements reportedly made by Qatar’s prime minister, which then fed the false claim that al-Jazeera was being used as a “bargaining chip”. Those who understand the Middle East also know that Al-Jazeera’s coverage is no obstacle to a durable peace in the region. Context, analysis and a deep knowledge of the region are essential to a proper reading of the cables. Without these, journalism is another unwitting tool for centres of power.

The region where we are situated is host to some of the most repressive governments in the world, where freedom of expression is silenced, journalists languish in prisons, and independent civil institutions are rare. Allegations that we lack independence are part of our daily routine – they no longer surprise us.

But we take measures to protect our editorial integrity in spite of intimidation from governments and regimes – our journalists have been banned, imprisoned, tortured and killed. Al-Jazeera’s bureaus have routinely been closed, many times by Arab regimes with which Qatar has good relationships. Although banned in these countries, we continue to cover their stories with depth and balance. To institutionalise our independence we have ensured diversity among our staff, and have more than 50 nationalities represented – with no majority of any one nationality.

Questions about al-Jazeera’s independence and its relationship with Qatar, our primary source of funding, are asked in almost any interview I give. Because the region has a history of state-controlled media it’s assumed our host country must impact upon our editorial policy. But the Qatari government has kept its distance – it is similar to the kind of model one sees in other publicly funded arm’s length broadcasters such as the BBC. Qatar’s prime minister openly criticises al-Jazeera, and has talked about the “headaches” caused by our independence. But we subject state officials to the same hard questions and journalistic standards we have for everyone else. Al-Jazeera has strong editorial policies to protect its independence from the influence of power – one only has to look at the screen to witness this.

While we don’t claim to get it right all of the time (we are only human), we have got it right most of the time. We have placed a great deal of value on reporting from the field. Had the US diplomats actually watched al-Jazeera’s reports, they would have heard the voices and players who were shaping conflicts, wars and emerging democracies. By analysing our content they would have gained insights into the region. When George Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq and most media outlets echoed his simplistic version of events, al-Jazeera was providing pictures and analyses that predicted the coming storm. At the time we were roundly criticised, often by states who had friendly relations with Qatar. And in Afghanistan, while others broadcast images of progress and calm, al-Jazeera highlighted the growing influence of the Taliban, reflecting the politics on the ground. In these cases and many others, time has vindicated our reporting. Had these diplomats listened to the voices reflected in our coverage perhaps some of their mistakes could have been averted.

Those who lobby against al-Jazeera seek to delegitimise the work of dedicated and courageous journalists who put their lives on the line. For 14 years we have committed ourselves to safeguarding our editorial independence. Our audiences rely on us for this, and we will not be affected by pressure from regimes, states, media or other centres of power. We have full confidence in our mission as journalists.

Wadah Khanfar
The Guardian, Friday 10 December 2010 21.46 GMT

Find this story at 10 December 2010

© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Guantánamo Bay files: Al-Jazeera cameraman held for six years (2011)

An al-Jazeera journalist was held at Guantánamo for six years partly in order to be interrogated about the Arabic news network, the files disclose. Sami al-Hajj, a Sudanese cameraman, was detained in Pakistan after working for the network in Afghanistan after 9/11, and flown to the prison camp where he was allegedly beaten and sexually assaulted.

His file makes clear that one of the reasons he was sent to Guantánamo was “to provide information on … the al-Jazeera news network’s training programme, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo and Afghanistan, including the network’s acquisition of a video of UBL [Osama bin Laden] and a subsequent interview with UBL”.

The file shows that the camp authorities were convinced that al-Hajj was an al-Qaida courier who had provided funds for a charity in Chechnya suspected of having links with Bin Laden.

However, the contents of the file also appear to support complaints made by al-Hajj to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, that during his first 100-plus interrogations he was never once questioned about the allegations he faced, and that he eventually demanded that he be questioned about what he was supposed to have done wrong.

Stafford Smith believes the US military authorities were attempting to force al-Hajj to become an informer against his employers.

Al-Hajj was finally released in May 2008.

Ian Cobain
The Guardian, Monday 25 April 2011

Find this story at 25 April 2011

© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Fury at US as attacks kill three journalists (2003)

Al-Jazeera quits Iraq as Americans accused over deaths

The Arab satellite television channel al-Jazeera is to pull its reporters out of Iraq after one of them was killed during a US air raid on Baghdad.

“I cannot guarantee anyone’s safety,” the news editor, Ibrahim Hillal, told reporters. “We still have four reporters in Baghdad, we will pull them out. We have one embedded with US forces in Nassiriya; we want to pull him out.”

The move followed a day in which three journalists were killed by US fire in separate attacks in Baghdad, leading to accusations that US forces were targeting the news media.

Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk, 35, was killed when an American tank fired a shell directly at the Reuters suite on the 15th floor at the Palestine hotel, where many journalists are staying.

Jose Couso, 37, a cameraman for the Spanish television channel Tele 5, was wounded in the same attack and died later in hospital. Samia Nakhoul, the Gulf bureau chief of Reuters, was also injured, along with a British technician, Paul Pasquale, and an Iraqi photographer, Faleh Kheiber.

Earlier, al-Jazeera cameraman Tarek Ayyoub, a 35-year-old Palestinian who lived in Jordan, was killed when two bombs dropped during a US air raid hit the satellite station’s office in the Iraqi capital.

American forces also opened fire on the offices of Abu Dhabi television, whose identity is spelled out in large blue letters on the roof.

All the journalists were killed and injured in daylight at locations known to the Pentagon as media sites. The tank shell that hit the Palestine hotel slammed into the 18-storey building at noon, shaking the tower and spewing rubble and dirt into hotel rooms at least six floors below.


The attack brought pandemonium in the hotel which lies on the east side of the Tigris. It was adopted by all remaining western journalists in the city after advice from the Pentagon to evacuate from the western side of the river.

Central command in Qatar said its troops had been responding in self-defence to enemy fire but witnesses dismissed that claim as false. According to a central command statement, “commanders on the ground reported that coalition forces received significant enemy fire from the hotel and consistent with the inherent right of self-defence, coalition forces returned fire”.

The statement added: “Sadly a Reuters and Tele 5 journalist were killed in this exchange. These tragic incidents appear to be the latest example of the Iraqi regime’s continued strategy of using civilian facilities for military purposes.”

But journalists in the hotel insisted there had been no Iraqi fire.

Sky’s correspondent, David Chater, said: “I never heard a single shot coming from the area around here, certainly not from the hotel,” he said.

BBC correspondent Rageh Omaar added that none of the other journalists in the hotel had heard any sniper fire.

Chater said he saw a US tank pointing its gun at the hotel and turned away just before the blast. “I noticed one of the tanks had its barrel pointed up at the building. We went inside and there was an almighty crash. That tank shell, if it was an American tank shell, was aimed directly at this hotel and directly at journalists. This wasn’t an accident. It seems to be a very accurate shot.”

Geert Linnebank, Reuters editor-in-chief, said the incident “raises questions about the judgment of the advancing US troops who have known all along that this hotel is the main base for almost all foreign journalists in Baghdad”.

Journalists, a watchdog group that defends press freedoms, demanded an invesigation in a letter to the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. “We believe these attacks violate the Geneva conventions,” the letter said, adding that even if US forces had been fired on from the Palestine hotel “the evidence suggests that the response of US forces was disproportionate and therefore violated humanitarian law”.

During the Afghan war, two supposedly smart US bombs hit the Reuters office in Kabul and many suspect the attack was no accident. It happened at a strategic moment, two hours before the Northern Alliance took over the city.

US military officials at central command said they were investigating and added that the casualties were “regrettable”. “We know that we don’t target journalists,” said Brigadier General Vince Brooks, deputy director of operations.

Al-Jazeera correspondent Tarek Ayyoub was broadcasting live to the satellite station’s 7am news bulletin when US aircraft fired two missiles at the bureau building, killing him and injuring a colleague. Two Iraqi staff are missing.

Ibrahim Hilal, al-Jazeera’s chief editor at its headquarters in Qatar, said a US warplane was seen above the building before the attack. “Witnesses saw the plane fly over twice before dropping the bombs. Our office is in a residential area and even the Pentagon knows its location,” he said.

Al-Jazeera correspondent Majed Abdul-Hadi said the bombardment was probably deliberate.

In Doha last night al-Jazeera’s chairman, Hamad bin Thamer, said the channel “could not ascertain” if its Baghdad bureau had been targeted by the US. But he dismissed American claims that there had been gunfire coming from the building at the time of the attack.

“This was absolutely and categorically denied by other reporters and our reporters present on the ground,” he said.

Mr Ayyoub, 35, a Palestinian born in Kuwait, had not intended to go to Baghdad but as the war dragged on he felt he had to work there, and al-Jazeera agreed to let him work in Baghdad.

His widow, Dima Ayyoub, launched a vitriolic attack on America: “My message to you is that hatred breeds hatred,” she said in a live telephone link-up from her home in Amman, Jordan. “I cannot see where is the cleanness in this war. All I see is blood, destruction and shattered hearts. The US said it was a war against terrorism. Who is committing terrorism now?”

Suzanne Goldenberg in Baghdad, Rory McCarthy in Doha, Jonathan Steele in Amman and Brian Whitaker
Wednesday 9 April 2003 07.30 BST

Find this story at 9 April 2003

© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Al-Jazeera Kabul offices hit in US raid (2001)

The channel says everybody knew where the office was, including the Americans
The Kabul offices of the Arab satellite al-Jazeera channel have been destroyed by a US missile.

This office has been known by everybody, the American airplanes know the location of the office, they know we are broadcasting from there

Al-Jazeera Managing Director Mohammed Jasim al-Ali
The Qatar-based satellite channel, which gained global fame for its exclusive access to Osama Bin Laden and the Taleban, announced that none of its staff had been wounded.

But al-Jazeera’s managing director Mohammed Jasim al-Ali, told BBC News Online that the channel’s 12 employees in Kabul were out of contact.

Mr Jasim would not speculate as to whether the offices were deliberately targeted, but said the location of the bureau was widely known by everyone, including the Americans.

He also expressed concern at reports that Northern Alliance fighters were singling out Arabs in the city since they took over early on Tuesday.

Critical situation

The station said in an earlier report the bureau had been hit by shells when the Afghan opposition forces entered the capital.

Al-Jazeera confirmed later that it was a US missile that destroyed the building and damaged the homes of some employees.

Al-Jazeera presenter
The station has been viewed with suspicion in the West for its access to the Taleban
“The situation is very critical,” Mr Jasim told the BBC from the channel’s offices in Doha.

“This office has been known by everybody, the American airplanes know the location of the office, they know we are broadcasting from there,” he said.

He said there had been no contact with Kabul correspondent Taysir Alluni because all their equipment had been destroyed.

The Northern Alliance has reportedly ordered most reporters in Kabul to gather at the Inter-Continental Hotel.

“Now that the Northern Alliance has taken over, it is too dangerous,” Mr Jasim said, adding that he had heard that some Arabs had been killed.

Taleban withdrawal

Earlier, al-Jazeera correspondent Yusuf al-Shuli quoted Taleban officials in their southern stronghold of Kandahar as saying they had withdrawn from the cities to spare the civilians air bombardment and acts of vengeance by the Northern Alliance.

Al-Jazeera footage of three boys reported to be Bin Laden’s sons
Al-Jazeera said these three boys are Bin Laden’s sons
“They told us that reoccupying these cities will not take long once the air cover that supports the Northern Alliance is over,” he said.

He said there was a “mixture of anger, despair, and disappointment among most people” in Kandahar at the fall of Kabul, but the situation there was calm.

Al-Jazeera has a reputation for outspoken, independent reporting – in stark contrast to the Taleban’s views of the media as a propaganda and religious tool.

But the channel has been viewed with suspicion by politicians in the West and envy by media organisations ever since the start of the US-led military action in Afghanistan.

Exclusive access

For a time it was the only media outlet with any access to Taleban-held territory and the Islamic militia itself.

It broadcast the only video pictures of Afghan demonstrators attacking and setting fire to the US embassy in Kabul on 26 September.

The banner of al-Jazeera
The channel says its guiding principles are “diversity of viewpoints and real-time news coverage”
Most controversially, it was the first channel to air video tapes of Osama Bin Laden urging Muslims to rise up against the West in a holy war.

Last week it showed footage of three young boys reported to be Bin Laden’s sons.

Western governments at one stage warned that the channel was being used by the al-Qaeda network to pass on coded messages to supporters around the world.

Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 13:48 GMT

Find this story at 13 November 2001

Copyright BBC

In the Wake of Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech Does Not Mean Freedom From Criticism

On Wednesday morning, the French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo was attacked by three masked gunmen, armed with kalashnikovs, who stormed the building and killed ten of its staff and two police officers. The gunmen are currently understood to be Muslim extremists. This attack came minutes after the paper tweeted this drawing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

(“Best wishes, by the way.” Baghdadi: “And especially good health!”)

An armed attack on a newspaper is shocking, but it is not even the first time Hebdo has been the subject of terrorist attacks. Gawker has a good summary of past controversies and attacks involving Hebdo. Most famously, the magazine’s offices were firebombed in 2011, after they printed an issue depicting the Prophet Muhammad on the cover.

In the face of such an obvious attack on free speech, voicing anything except grief-stricken support is seen by many as disrespectful. Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter, one of the first American comics sources to thoroughly cover the attack, quickly tweeted this:


When faced with a terrorist attack against a satirical newspaper, the appropriate response seems obvious. Don’t let the victims be silenced. Spread their work as far as it can possibly go. Laugh in the face of those savage murderers who don’t understand satire.

In this case, it is the wrong response.

Here’s what’s difficult to parse in the face of tragedy: yes, Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical newspaper. Its staff is white. Its cartoons often represent a certain, virulently racist brand of French xenophobia. While they generously claim to ‘attack everyone equally,’ the cartoons they publish are intentionally anti-Islam, and frequently sexist and homophobic.

Here, for context, are some of the cartoons they recently published.







(Yes, that last one depicts Boko Haram sex slaves as welfare queens.)

These are, by even the most generous assessment, incredibly racist cartoons. Hebdo’s goal is to provoke, and these cartoons make it very clear who the white editorial staff was interested in provoking: France’s incredibly marginalized, often attacked, Muslim immigrant community.

Even in a fresh-off-the-press, glowing BBC profile of Charb, Hebdo’s murdered editor, he comes across as a racist asshole.

Charb had strongly defended Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad.

“Muhammad isn’t sacred to me,” he told the Associated Press in 2012, after the magazine’s offices had been fire-bombed.

“I don’t blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings. I live under French law. I don’t live under Koranic law.”

Now, I understand that calling someone a ‘racist asshole’ after their murder is a callous thing to do, and I don’t do it lightly. This isn’t ambiguous, though: the editorial staff of Hebdo consistently aimed to provoke Muslims. They ascribe to the same edgy-white-guy mentality that many American cartoonists do: nothing is sacred, sacred targets are funnier, lighten up, criticism is censorship. And just like American cartoonists, they and their supporters are wrong. White men punching down is not a recipe for good satire, and needs to be called out. People getting upset does not prove that the satire was good. And, this is the hardest part, the murder of the satirists in question does not prove that their satire was good. Their satire was bad, and remains bad. Their satire was racist, and remains racist.

The response to the attacks by hack cartoonists the world over has been swift. While many are able to keep pretty benign:




Several of the cartoons sweeping Twitter stooped to drawing hook-nosed Muslim caricatures, reminiscent of Hebdo’s house style.



Perhaps most offensively, this Shaw cartoon (incorrectly attributed to Robert Mankoff) from a few years back swept Twitter, paired with the hashtag #CharlieHebdo:


Political correctness did not kill twelve people at the Charlie Hebdo offices. To talk about the attack as an attack by “political correctness” is the most disgusting, self-serving martyr bullshit I can imagine. To invoke this (bad) Shaw cartoon in relation to the Hebdo murders is to assert that cartoons should never be criticized. To invoke this garbage cartoon is to assert that white, male cartoonists should never have to hear any complaints when they gleefully attack marginalized groups.

Changing your twitter avatar to a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad is a racist thing to do, even in the face of a terrorist attack. The attitude that Muslims need to be ‘punished’ is xenophobic and distressing. The statement, “JE SUIS CHARLIE” works to erase and ignore the magazine’s history of xenophobia, racism, and homophobia. For us to truly honor the victims of a terrorist attack on free speech, we must not spread hateful racism blithely, and we should not take pride in extreme attacks on oppressed and marginalized peoples.

A call “TO ARMS”


is gross and inappropriate. To simplify the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices as “Good, Valiant Westerners vs. Evil, Savage Muslims” is not only racist, it’s dangerously overstated. Cartoonists (especially political cartoonists) generally reinforce the status quo, and they tend to be white men. Calling fellow cartoonists TO ARMS is calling other white men to arms against already marginalized people. The inevitable backlash against Muslims has begun in earnest.


This is the worst.

The fact that twelve people are dead over cartoons is hateful, and I can only pray that their attackers are brought to justice. Free speech is an important part of our society, but, it should always go without saying, free speech does not mean freedom from criticism. Criticism IS speech – to honor “free speech martyrs” by shouting down any criticism of their work is both ironic and depressing.

In summary:

Nobody should have been killed over those cartoons.

Fuck those cartoons.

by Jacob Canfield
January 7, 2015 12:49 pm

Find this story at 7 January 2015


Suspicions grow of Yemen link to Paris gunmen

IRBIL, IRAQ — As French police and security forces scoured the country for the two brothers suspected of massacring 12 people at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, intelligence officials in Europe and the United States were conducting a search of their own – for evidence that would link the two to international terrorism organizations.

French officials told the intelligence services of two neighboring countries that they believed the two suspects, Cherif Kouachi and his brother Said, had recently traveled to Syria, where they’d fought with jihadist groups. But the French alert, distributed throughout Europe’s no-visa-required travel zone, offered no specifics on when the brothers supposedly traveled to or from Syria, and American officials, for one, were said to doubt the accuracy of the information.

“We’re assuming that the French are basing this on intelligence, but they have yet to specifically share it, as one assumes they’re pretty busy hunting these guys down right now,” said one European intelligence official who does not have permission to speak to the news media.

“But it’s certainly logical based on their clear professionalism and comfort handling their weapons in executing the journalists and police, as well as making their escape,” he added.

U.S. officials are said to be more interested in connections between the Kouachis and Yemen, where al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula remains al Qaida’s most aggressive branch. Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell, now a CBS News consultant, told the network’s morning show Thursday that one of the Kouachis is thought to have traveled to Yemen in 2011.

Other sources said he was referring to Said Kouachi, 34, an assertion that was backed by French news reports. The French news magazine Le Point, citing unnamed European officials, said Said Kouachi had spent several months of 2011 training in Yemen with al Qaida-linked groups.

“We’re looking at an al Qaida in Yemen-directed attack,” Morell said. If further investigation proves that true, he said, Wednesday’s newspaper assault would be the first AQAP attack outside of Yemen since the 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt when a Nigerian AQAP recruit attempted to detonate a bomb aboard a commercial airliner as it landed in Detroit.

U.S. intelligence officials refused to comment on what their investigation has found and declined to endorse Morell’s statements. But they were echoed by John Miller, a former CBS correspondent who now is the New York Police Department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, who appeared with Morell.

Also still unanswered is whether the Charlie Hebdo attackers were acting under their own initiative or were carrying out orders from a terrorist superior elsewhere. While French authorities have told news outlets that 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad faces no charges in Wednesday’s attack, there were worries that other conspirators remained at large.

On Thursday morning, a gunman described by witnesses as of African descent and wearing body armor shot and killed a police officer in Paris before escaping, leaving authorities to scramble to determine if the incidents were related.

Cherif Kouachi, at 32 the younger of the two brothers, has a long history of al Qaida-related sympathies. According to official French statements, he was convicted in 2007 of attempting to join al Qaida in Iraq and was detained for nearly three years as part of a broader investigation into an international jihadist trafficking ring that delivered fighters to Iraq to battle U.S. troops there.

Also convicted in that investigation was Boubaker al Hakim, who now claims to be a member of the Islamic State, the successor group to al Qaida in Iraq, that now controls large chunks of Iraq and Syria. Last month, al Hakim claimed responsibility for the assassination in 2013 of two secular politicians in Tunisia, Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, researcher Jean-Pierre Filiu, an expert on radical Islam at Paris’ Sciences Po University, told the Agence France Press news agency in an interview. Filiu suggested that that connection suggests an Islamic State tie to the Kouachi brothers.

But Morell and Miller dismissed the likelihood of an Islamic State link, despite worries in Europe that hundreds of Europeans have flocked to Syria and Iraq to fight on behalf of the Islamic State. The Islamic State’s “job,” Miller said, “is to take territory and hold it, plant a flag and say this is the Islamic State. They are in the nation-building business.”

AQAP, on the other hand, is the al Qaida wing tasked with external actions, and the travel to Yemen by one of the Kouachi brothers “would suggest,” Miller said, “that this was organized and directed by al Qaida’s external planning operation.”

Indeed, Wednesday’s operation appeared to closely follow a script commonly used by al Qaida and the slew of groups its ideology and training camps have inspired. At least one witness said that the gunmen identified themselves as al Qaida members during the massacre in the newspaper’s newsroom. Le Point also said that as the gunmen were abandoning their getaway car, they told a passer-by “tell the media it’s al Qaida in Yemen.”

The attackers also appeared to be experienced and prepared. They reacted calmly when they realized they initially had arrived at the wrong office and quickly adjusted their plan to find the correct location, a sign that they were operationally comfortable and able to overcome a mistake also made not uncommonly by police and military raiders around the world.

The timing of the attack, during the newspaper’s hour-long weekly editorial meeting, indicates the attackers knew the editorial schedule of the newspaper and knew it was the one hour of the work week where all the top editors and cartoonists would be present in one room. And the attackers were able to overcome significant security procedures for a newspaper that was known to be a target and had been firebombed in 2011, including at least one armed police officer assigned to protect the editor because of previous threats.

They also called out the names of specific cartoonists to kill but let others live, and were comfortable enough with their weapons that they were able to accurately control their fire.

Still, the complexity of the operation would fall well within the capabilities of a small group of men trained on the battlefields of Afghanistan, Syria or Yemen. According to a police official quoted by Bloomberg news service, automatic AK-47 variants like those used by the attackers are easily purchased in Paris for about $1,200, making financing such an operation easily within range of a small group.

Such small groups have planned previous spectacular attacks without much outside support, including the July 7, 2005, London transit bombings, the 2004 Madrid train bombings, and a disrupted plot in 2006 to attack Heathrow airport.

The possibility that a small group could have planned the Paris attack on its own chills European security officials.

“That’s what we all fear, that this is where it’s headed,” said the European intelligence official. “These guys come home with skills and motivation but aren’t part of the traditional network.”

Prothero is a McClatchy special correspondent. Twitter: @mitchprothero
McClatchy Foreign Staff
January 8, 2015

Find this story at 8 January 2015


FBI informants may be revealed after agency loses court battle (2014)

• Photographer arrested after 2008 protest wins ruling
• FBI sought to protect ‘confidential sources’

The FBI has lost a legal battle to prevent the disclosure of documents that could reveal the identity of two of its covert informants.

In highly unusual case Laura Sennett, a freelance photojournalist, has won a ruling from a district court that compels the FBI to provide her with documents that shed light on informants use by agents used in their investigation into a protest which resulted in damage to a hotel lobby in Washington.

The FBI launched its joint terrorism task force investigation days after anarchists protested a World Bank and International Monetary Fund meeting in the capital in April 2008.

Protesters stormed into the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel around 2.30am, chanting slogans and throwing paint-filled balloons. Most of the criminal damage, including a broken window, was minor, although the hotel said a statue worth more than $200,000 was damaged.

Sennett had been tipped off about the protest and attended to take photographs. She believed the protesters planned to wake up the IMF delegates by making a commotion, and maintains she had no prior knowledge of their criminal intent. She did not enter the hotel lobby – choosing to photograph events from outside.

Both of the “confidential sources” cited in the court case were asked by the FBI to review surveillance footage of the protest, in order to help identify who was there. They identified a handful of activists as well as Sennett, who specialises in reporting grass-roots activism.

The FBI placed the photojournalist under surveillance before raiding her home with two-dozen armed law enforcement officials, who seized memory cards, hard drives and computer and camera equipment.

In an effort to find out more about why she was targeted, Sennett, 51, has been running a legal campaign to obtain information the bureau holds about her, using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

She had so far been given more than 1,000 pages of FBI documents, which the Guardian has seen, but the bureau withheld key portions, claiming they fell under an exemption intended to protect the identity of “confidential sources”. That decision has been challenged in court by Sennett’s lawyers.

On Wednesday, district judge James E Boasberg sided with Sennett, ordering the FBI to release the contested documents, which all parties accept “could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source”.

The judge said that despite three attempts, the FBI had failed to convince him the sources would have inferred confidentiality from their interactions with agents.

Dan Metcalfe, who directed the Justice Department’s Office of Information and Privacy for more than 25 years before retiring in 2007, and has represented the FBI in dozens of similar cases, said it was “extremely rare” for the bureau to be forced to reveal the identity of a source.

“I can think of just a handful of cases at most in which the FBI has had to disclose potentially identifying information about a confidential source over the past 40 years,” he said.

The case, he said, was a significant blow for the FBI, which is very strongly opposed to revealing the identity of its sources, not least because doing so could discourage future informants from co-operating.

Metcalfe, now a law professor at the American University, said the solicitor general was highly unlikely to launch an appeal.

“I’ve read thousands and thousands of FOIA opinions,” he said. “I would put this in the top percentile for being analytically sound and written exceptionally well. Based upon the facts that one gleans from reading the opinion, this is an entirely correct outcome. I see little or no prospect for reversal on appeal.”

Mike German, a former FBI agent now with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said he believed the two informants in the case, one of whom is said to have attended anti-capitalist meetings, could be private investigators.

“That is something that, having seen the documents, the judge may be less keen on keeping secret,” he said.

German said the fact an act of vandalism against the Four Seasons was even investigated by the FBI’s counter-terrorism teams followed a pattern of investigations into protest movements that are “more about suppressing dissent than investigating serious or violent crime”.

Detective Vincent Antignano, the federal marshall deputised to run the FBI’s investigation into the protest, said in a deposition conducted by Sennett’s legal team he believed Sennett was “like-minded like anarchists”, because she was among the 16 people captured on the hotel’s surveillance video.

“Everyone on that video is a suspect, so that’s the way I look at it,” he said, adding that he assumed she had similar views to the protesters captured in the video “who despise their government”.

Asked to elaborate, Antignano said that while he did not know Sennett’s dietary preference, “she could also be a vegan like … [people] who are against animal protests [sic] or animal research or won’t eat meat and stuff like that.”

Antignano had a broad notion of what behaviour constituted “terrorism”, saying that even an assault could fall within the definition.

“If you get assaulted and you believe you’ve been terrorised, then maybe that is terrorism,” he told Sennett’s lawyer.

The deposition was part of a separate case, in which Sennett’s lawyers sued the FBI for damages they said Sennett suffered as part of the raid on her home, which was led by Antignano.

Sennett said the raid was traumatising. Around two-dozen agents “yanked my 19-year-old son out of bed at gunpoint”, she said, before quizzing her about political books on her shelf and asking what “kind of an American” she was.

Sennet said she replied: “I’m a photographer.”

A freelancer whose images have appeared on CNN, MSNBC and the History Channel and in the Toronto Free Press, Sennett is adamant the FBI must have known she was present at the protest in a journalistic capacity. The FBI denied its agents knew of her occupation.

Sennett was never arrested or charged. She believes undercover police or moles within the protest group may have been responsible for giving the FBI details, including a cellphone number, which allowed agents to track her down.

Her lawyer, DC-based Jeffrey Light, argued that her status as a photojournalist should have barred agents from seizing her material, under a clause of the Privacy Protection Act.

However in that case a district court ruled against Sennett – a decision upheld in 2012 by the court of appeal, which found that while Sennett’s occupation provided “an innocent explanation” for her presence at the protest, the FBI, when it launched its inquiry, still had “probable cause” to believe she was part of a conspiracy to commit vandalism.

Wednesday’s court ruling by judge Boasberg, a Barack Obama appointee, was far more sympathetic to Sennett’s case.

Boasberg said the FBI had failed to provide sufficient proof that its informants “inferred that their communications with the bureau would remain confidential”. While acknowledging the FBI’s argument regarding preserving the confidentiality of informants – “one of source protection and empowerment of law-enforcement agencies” – Boasberg added: “That solicitude, however, can only carry the court so far.”

Light said he hoped Wednesday’s victory, which the government has 90 days to appeal, would take the capital’s protest community a step closer to discovering the identity of potential moles in their midst.

“People want to know who is spying on them,” he said.

Sennett said she hoped that by identification of the FBI’s informants in her case would discourage the bureau from conducting similar quasi-terrorist investigation in the future.

“I pursued this case because I don’t think anyone – activists, freelancers, bloggers – should have to go through what I went through.”

The US attorney’s office said it was reviewing the case but declined to offer further comment.

The FBI also declined a request for comment.

Paul Lewis in Washington, Friday 2 May 2014 18.01 BST

Find this story at 2 May 2014

© 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.

US spy agencies eavesdrop on Kiwi

The New Zealand military received help from US spy agencies to monitor the phone calls of Kiwi journalist Jon Stephenson and his associates while he was in Afghanistan reporting on the war.

Stephenson has described the revelation as a serious violation of his privacy, and the intrusion into New Zealand media freedom has been slammed as an abuse of human rights.

The spying came at a time when the New Zealand Defence Force was unhappy at Stephenson’s reporting of its handling of Afghan prisoners and was trying to find out who was giving him confidential information.

The monitoring occurred in the second half of last year when Stephenson was working as Kabul correspondent for the US McClatchy news service and for various New Zealand news organisations.

The Sunday Star-Times has learned that New Zealand Defence Force personnel had copies of intercepted phone “metadata” for Stephenson, the type of intelligence publicised by US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden. The intelligence reports showed who Stephenson had phoned and then who those people had phoned, creating what the sources called a “tree” of the journalist’s associates.


New Zealand SAS troops in Kabul had access to the reports and were using them in active investigations into Stephenson.

The sources believed the phone monitoring was being done to try to identify Stephenson’s journalistic contacts and sources. They drew a picture of a metadata tree the Defence Force had obtained, which included Stephenson and named contacts in the Afghan government and military.

The sources who described the monitoring of Stephenson’s phone calls in Afghanistan said that the NZSIS has an officer based in Kabul who was known to be involved in the Stephenson investigations.

And since early in the Afghanistan war, the GCSB has secretly posted staff to the main US intelligence centre at Bagram, north of Kabul. They work in a special “signals intelligence” unit that co-ordinates electronic surveillance to assist military targeting. It is likely to be this organisation that monitored Stephenson.

Stephenson and the Defence Force clashed in the Wellington High Court two weeks ago after it claimed Stephonson had invented a story about visiting an Afghan base.

The Human Rights Foundation says Defence Force involvement in monitoring a journalist is an abuse of fundamental human rights.

“Don’t they understand the vital importance of freedom of the press?” spokesman Tim McBride said. “Independent journalism is especially important in a controversial war zone where the public has a right to know what really happens and not just get military public relations,” he said.

The news has emerged as the Government prepares to pass legislation which will allow the Defence Force to use the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders.

The Stephenson surveillance suggests the Defence Force may be seeking the GCSB assistance, in part, for investigating leaks and whistleblowers.

Stephenson said monitoring a journalist’s communications could also threaten the safety of their sources “by enabling security authorities to track down and intimidate people disclosing information to that journalist”.

He said there was “a world of difference between investigating a genuine security threat and monitoring a journalist because his reporting is inconvenient or embarrassing to politicians and defence officials”.

The Star-Times asked Chief of Defence Force Rhys Jones and Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman if they were aware of the surveillance of Stephenson, if they approved of it and whether they authorised the investigation of Stephenson (including the phone monitoring).

They were also asked if they thought journalists should be classified as threats. Neither answered the questions.

Defence Force spokesman Geoff Davies said: “As your request relates to a legal matter involving Jon Stephenson which is still before the court, it would not be appropriate for the Chief of Defence Force to comment.”

In fact, none of the issues before that court relate to the surveillance or security manual.

Coleman’s press secretary said the minister was not available for comment and to try again next week.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the monitoring of Stephenson demonstrates that the security services see the media and journalists as a legitimate target.

“Democracy totally relies on a free and independent press,” he said. “Current attempts to strengthen the security apparatus for monitoring New Zealanders is deeply disturbing and menacing for democracy.”

An internal Defence document leaked to the Star-Times reveals that defence security staff viewed investigative journalists as “hostile” threats requiring “counteraction”. The classified security manual lists security threats, including “certain investigative journalists” who may attempt to obtain “politically sensitive information”.

The manual says Chief of Defence Force approval is required before any NZDF participation in “counter intelligence activity” is undertaken. (See separate story)

Stephenson took defamation action against the Defence Force after Jones claimed that Stephenson had invented a story about visiting an Afghan base as part of an article about mishandling of prisoners.

Although the case ended with a hung jury two weeks ago, Jones conceded during the hearing that he now accepted Stephenson had visited the base and interviewed its Afghan commander.

Victoria University lecturer in media studies Peter Thompson said the Afghanistan monitoring and the security manual’s view of investigative journalists confirmed the concerns raised in the High Court case.

There was “a concerted and deliberate effort to denigrate that journalist’s reputation for political ends”.

There is currently controversy in the United States over government monitoring of journalists. In May the Associated Press reported that the Justice Department had secretly obtained two months’ worth of phone records of its reporters and editors.

The media organisation said it was a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into its news gathering process.


A leaked New Zealand Defence Force security manual reveals it sees three main “subversion” threats it needs to protect itself against: foreign intelligence services, organisations with extreme ideologies and “certain investigative journalists”.

In the minds of the defence chiefs, probing journalists apparently belong on the same list as the KGB and al Qaeda.

The manual’s first chapter is called “Basic Principles of Defence Security”. It says a key part of protecting classified information is investigating the “capabilities and intentions of hostile organisations and individuals” and taking counteraction against them.

The manual, which was issued as an order by the Chief of Defence Force, places journalists among the hostile individuals. It defines “The Threat” as espionage, sabotage, subversion and terrorism, and includes investigative journalists under the heading “subversion”.

Subversion, it says, is action designed to “weaken the military, economic or political strength of a nation by undermining the morale, loyalty or reliability of its citizens.”

It highlights people acquiring classified information to “bring the Government into disrepute”.

This threat came from hostile intelligence services and extreme organisations, and “there is also a threat from certain investigative journalists who may seek to acquire and exploit official information for similar reasons”, it says.

Viewing journalism as a security threat has serious implications. The manual states that “plans to counter the activities of hostile intelligence services and subversive organisations and individuals must be based on accurate and timely intelligence concerning the identity, capabilities and intentions of the hostile elements”.

It says “one means of obtaining security intelligence is the investigation of breaches of security”.

This is where the security manual may be relevant to the monitoring of Jon Stephenson’s phone calls. The Defence Force was unhappy at Stephenson’s access to confidential information about prisoner handling in Afghanistan and began investigating to discover his sources.

The manual continues that “counter intelligence” means “activities which are concerned with identifying and counteracting the threat to security”, including by individuals engaged in “subversion”.

It notes: “The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service is the only organisation sanctioned to conduct Counter Intelligence activities in New Zealand. [Chief of Defence Force] approval is required before any NZDF participation in any CI activity is undertaken.”

Under the NZSIS Act, subversion is a legal justification for surveillance of an individual.

The sources who described the monitoring of Stephenson’s phone calls in Afghanistan said the NZSIS has an officer based in Kabul who was known to be involved in the Stephenson investigations.

To reinforce its concern, the defence security manual raises investigative journalists a second time under a category called “non-traditional threats”. The threat of investigative journalists, it says, is that they may attempt to obtain “politically sensitive information”.

Politically sensitive information, such as the kind of stories that Stephenson was writing, is however about politics and political accountability, not security. Metro magazine editor Simon Wilson, who has published a number of Jon Stephenson’s prisoner stories, said the Defence Force seemed to see Stephenson as the “enemy”, as a threat to the Defence Force.

“But that’s not how Jon works and how journalism works,” he said. “Jon is just going about his business as a journalist.”

The New Zealand Defence Force “seems to be confusing national security with its own desire not to be embarrassed by disclosures that reveal it has broken the rules”, he said.

Last updated 05:00 28/07/2013

Find this story at 28 july 2013

© 2011 Fairfax New Zealand Limited

US: Silencing news sources?

After the seizure of AP’s phone records, we ask if the US is still the land of the free for journalists and sources.

On May 10th, the Associated Press news agency received an email from the US Department of Justice saying that records of more than 20 phone lines assigned to its reporters had been secretly seized as part of an investigation into a government leak.
The government claimed it was a matter of national security, while the AP called it an unprecedented intrusion into its newsgathering operations. But should the journalistic community be so surprised? With the Obama White House’s track record on whistleblowers and WikiLeaks, the move to spy on AP seems consistent with an administration more committed to secrecy than ever before.
Is the United States still the land of the free for journalists and their sources? In this week’s News Divide we speak to Laura Malone, legal counsel for the Associated Press; Jeremy Scahill, author of Dirty Wars; The World is a Battlefield; the investigative reporter Dana Priest of the Washington Post; and Ben Wizner from the American Civil Liberties Union.
This week’s Newsbytes: After two years in hiding, a prominent Bahraini blogger reappears in the UK; Globovision, a leading opposition outlet in Venezuela, is sold to businessmen allegedly friendly with the government; and Islamabad is missing one of the most prominent Western journalists based there – the New York Times’ Declan Walsh was ordered to leave the country before the election.
One of the lesser-known consequences of the US-led ‘war on terror’ has been a wave of anti-terrorism legislation in other countries. One of them is Ethiopia. It is not a country known for its freedom of the press and, with ongoing internal conflicts with separatist groups, and the powers that be keeping a wary eye on the nearby Arab Spring, the government in Addis Ababa has been cracking down on the media.
It is doing so with an anti-terror law passed in 2009, which has led to the sentencing of 11 journalists, sent dozens of reporters into exile and has forced countless others to practice self-censorship. The Listening Post’s Nic Muirhead reports on the law that blurs the line between journalism and terrorism.
Unless you have been in orbit or beyond, you have probably already seen our Video of the Week – it’s astronaut Chris Hadfield and his version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, recorded while on board the International Space Station. It has been watched online and on TV millions of times over, but it is so good that we wanted to run it anyway.

Listening Post Last Modified: 18 May 2013 08:09

Find this story at 18 May 2013

Is the Government Spying on Reporters; More Often Than We Think?

There’s evidence that the Justice Department’s seizure of Associated Press phone records is far from unprecedented.

The Justice Department’s seizure of call logs [1] related to phone lines used by dozens of Associated Press reporters has provoked a flurry of bipartisan criticism, most of which has cast the decision as a disturbing departure from the norm. AP head Gary Pruitt condemned the decision, part of an investigation into leaks of classified information, as a “massive and unprecedented intrusion.” Yet there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence suggesting the seizure may not be unprecedented—just rarely disclosed.

The Justice Department is supposed to follow special rules [2] when it seeks the phone records of reporters, in recognition that such snooping conflicts with First Amendment values. As Pruitt complained in an angry letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, those logs provided the government a “road map” of the stories his reporters were investigating, and there is evidence that such seizures deter [3] anonymous sources from speaking to the press—whether they’re discussing classified programs or merely facts that embarrass the government.

Federal regulations require that the attorney general personally approve such a move, ensure the request is narrow and necessary, and notify the news organization about the request—in advance whenever possible. In this case, however, the Justice Department seems to have used an indiscriminate vacuum-cleaner [4] approach—seeking information (from phone companies) about a wide range of phone numbers used by AP reporters—and it only notified AP after the fact.

It wouldn’t be surprising if there were more cases like this we’ve never heard about. Here’s why: The Justice Department’s rules only say the media must be informed about “subpoenas” for “telephone toll records.” The FBI’s operations guidelines [5] interprets those rules quite literally, making clear the requirement “concerns only grand jury subpoenas.” That is, these rules don’t apply to National Security Letters [6], which are secret demands for information used by the FBI that don’t require judicial approval. The narrow FBI interpretation also doesn’t cover administrative subpoenas, which are issued by federal agencies without prior judicial review. Last year, the FBI issued NSLs for the communications and financial records of more than 6,000 Americans—and the number has been far higher in previous years. The procedures that do apply to those tools have been redacted from publicly available versions of the FBI guidelines. Thus, it’s no shocker the AP seizure would seem like an “unprecedented intrusion” if the government doesn’t think it has to tell us about the precedents. And there’s no telling if the Justice Department rules (and the FBI’s interpretation) allow the feds to seize without warning other types of electronic communications records that could reveal a journalist’s e-mail, chat, or Web browsing activity.

Is it paranoid to fear the Justice Department and the FBI are sidestepping the rules? Consider a case first reported in 2008 [7], and discussed at length in a damning (but heavily redacted) 2010 report [8] from the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General. In this instance, the FBI obtained nearly two years of phone records for lines belonging to Washington Post and New York Times bureaus and reporters—even though the FBI had initially requested records covering only seven months. In what the OIG called a “serious abuse of the FBI’s authority to obtain information,” agents seized these records under false pretenses, “without any legal process or Attorney General approval.” And these records remained in the FBI’s database for over three years before the OIG or the press found out [7].

It gets worse. The OIG report noted that the FBI had made “community of interest” requests to phone carriers; these requests sweep in not only the target’s call records, but those of people the target has spoken with—which can include reporters. Such requests can provide investigators an incredibly revealing portrait of entire social networks. Yet the OIG found that agents used boilerplate requests for information from the carriers; some claimed they submitted the requests without actually knowing exactly what “community of interest” meant, and even when they did it didn’t necessarily occur to them that they were likely to obtain reporter records through such requests. In other words, FBI agents often made these requests without fully understanding what they were requesting.

By Julian Sanchez | Fri May. 17, 2013 1:01 PM PDT

Find this story at 17 May 2013

Copyright ©2013 Mother Jones and the Foundation for National Progress.

AP records seizure just latest step in sweeping U.S. leak probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Justice Department’s controversial decision to seize phone records of Associated Press journalists was just one element in a sweeping U.S. government investigation into media leaks about a Yemen-based plot to bomb a U.S. airliner, government officials said on Wednesday.

The search for who leaked the information is being led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington and has involved extensive FBI interviews of personnel at the Justice Department, U.S. intelligence agencies, the White House’s National Security staff and the FBI itself.

The interviews have been lengthy and thorough, said people who have been questioned in the investigation, but requested anonymity. Two of those interviewed said leak inquiries were always aggressive and that being questioned is a wearing and unpleasant experience.

The investigation, which a law enforcement official has said was prompted by a May 7, 2012, AP story about the operation to foil the Yemen plot, appears to be ongoing. Some potential witnesses have been advised they are likely to be interviewed in the next two or three weeks.

Officials in the office of Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Attorney General Eric Holder, who recused himself from involvement in the case, largely sidestepped questions from angry lawmakers on Wednesday about his department’s secret seizure of AP records, which the news agency revealed on Monday.

The seizure, denounced by critics as a gross intrusion into freedom of the press, has created an uproar in Washington and led to questions about how the Obama administration is balancing the need for national security with privacy rights.

There are signs the administration’s efforts to find the alleged leaker were unproductive – at least before the Justice Department seized two months of records of phone calls by the AP and its journalists.

“Seeking toll records associated with media organizations is undertaken only after all other reasonable alternative investigative steps have been taken,” Holder’s deputy, James Cole, said in a letter on Tuesday to AP President Gary Pruitt, who has protested the government’s action.

In that letter, Cole revealed the Justice Department had conducted more than 550 interviews and reviewed tens of thousands of documents before subpoenaing phone company records of AP calls.

Reuters was one of nearly 50 news organizations that signed a letter to Holder on Tuesday complaining about the AP phone record seizures.


Floyd Abrams, a prominent First Amendment and media attorney, said, “The breathtaking scope of these subpoenas served on the telephone companies might suggest that after all this time, they have no idea who they’re looking for.”

Another possibility is “they are touching all bases” because they suspect someone but are not sure, said Abrams, a partner at Cahill Gordon and Reindel LLP in New York. He said it was difficult for an outsider to know.

“I don’t think that there is any doubt that this is a serious investigation that they have spent a lot of time on and that they feel deeply about,” Abrams said. Justice’s targeting of a large number of phone lines and the AP journalists who use them “taken together, certainly makes it look like the largest, most intrusive action by the government vis-a-vis the press that I can remember.”

Holder has called the leak “very, very serious” and said it “put the American people at risk.” He did not provide details.

The AP has reported that it delayed reporting the story of how the United States had foiled a plot by a suicide bomber affiliated with Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, at the request of government officials, who said it would jeopardize national security. Once U.S. officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP said, it disclosed the plot.

A law enforcement official said on Wednesday that because officials were so concerned and shocked by the leak, they opened an investigation into how the AP found out about the spy operation even before the news agency ran its initial story. The AP had contacted the government and asked for comment several days before the story was published.

The AP’s first story reported the CIA had “thwarted an ambitious plot” by AQAP to attack an airline with a newly designed underwear bomb and said the FBI had acquired the bomb. The AP reported it did not know what had happened to the alleged bomber.

A few hours after the story was published, John Brennan, then chief White House counterterrorism adviser and now director of the CIA, held a conference call with former counterterrorism officials who frequently appear as TV commentators. Brennan said the plot was never a threat to the U.S. public or air safety because Washington had “inside control” over it.

(Editing by Warren Strobel and Peter Cooney)
Wed, May 15 2013

By Mark Hosenball and Tabassum Zakaria

Find this story at 15 May 2013

© Thomson Reuters 2011. All rights reserved.

Exclusive: Did White House “spin” tip a covert op?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House efforts to soft-pedal the danger from a new “underwear bomb” plot emanating from Yemen may have inadvertently broken the news they needed most to contain.

At about 5:45 p.m. EDT on Monday, May 7, just before the evening newscasts, John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top White House adviser on counter-terrorism, held a small, private teleconference to brief former counter-terrorism advisers who have become frequent commentators on TV news shows.

According to five people familiar with the call, Brennan stressed that the plot was never a threat to the U.S. public or air safety because Washington had “inside control” over it.

Brennan’s comment appears unintentionally to have helped lead to disclosure of the secret at the heart of a joint U.S.-British-Saudi undercover counter-terrorism operation.

A few minutes after Brennan’s teleconference, on ABC’s World News Tonight, Richard Clarke, former chief of counter-terrorism in the Clinton White House and a participant on the Brennan call, said the underwear bomb plot “never came close because they had insider information, insider control.”

A few hours later, Clarke, who is a regular consultant to the network, concluded on ABC’s Nightline that there was a Western spy or double-agent in on the plot: “The U.S. government is saying it never came close because they had insider information, insider control, which implies that they had somebody on the inside who wasn’t going to let it happen.”


The next day’s headlines were filled with news of a U.S. spy planted inside Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), who had acquired the latest, non-metallic model of the underwear bomb and handed it over to U.S. authorities.

At stake was an operation that could not have been more sensitive — the successful penetration by Western spies of AQAP, al Qaeda’s most creative and lethal affiliate. As a result of leaks, the undercover operation had to be shut down.

The initial story of the foiling of an underwear-bomb plot was broken by the Associated Press.

According to National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, due to its sensitivity, the AP initially agreed to a White House request to delay publication of the story for several days.

But according to three government officials, a final deal on timing of publication fell apart over the AP’s insistence that no U.S. official would respond to the story for one clear hour after its release.

When the administration rejected that demand as “untenable,” two officials said, the AP said it was going public with the story. At that point, Brennan was immediately called out of a meeting to take charge of damage control.

Relevant agencies were instructed to prepare public statements and urged to notify Congressional oversight panels. Brennan then started the teleconference with potential TV commentators.

White House officials and others on the call insist that Brennan disclosed no classified information during that conference call and chose his words carefully to avoid doing so.

The AP denies any quid pro quo was requested by them or rejected by the White House. “At no point did AP offer or propose a deal with regard to this story,” said AP spokesman Paul Colford.

As for his appearance on ABC, Richard Clarke acknowledges he made a logical “leap” when he said that “inside control” meant “there was human inside control rather than anything else I could imagine.” But he adds that over the course of a week, ABC “took extraordinary measures … to make sure” that nothing it was planning to broadcast would damage ongoing counter-terrorism operations.


As a result of the news leaks, however, U.S. and allied officials told Reuters that they were forced to end an operation which they hoped could have continued for weeks or longer.

Several days after the first leaks, counter-terrorism sources confirmed to Reuters that a central role in the operation had been played by MI-5 and MI-6, Britain’s ultra-secretive domestic and foreign intelligence services, whose relationship with their American counterparts has been periodically strained by concern about leaks.

These sources acknowledged that British authorities were deeply distressed that anything at all had leaked out about the operation.

The White House places the blame squarely on AP, calling the claim that Brennan contributed to a leak “ridiculous.”

“It is well known that we use a range of intelligence capabilities to penetrate and monitor terrorist groups,” according to an official statement from the White House national security staff.

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Warren Strobel and Jim Loney)

Fri, May 18 2012

By Mark Hosenball

Find this story at 18 May 2013

© Thomson Reuters 2011

Here’s the story the AP suspects led to sweeping Justice Dept. subpoena

The Department of Justice secretly obtained Associated Press phone records from 20 different phone lines over two months, according to the news agency. The subpoenaed phones records included personal and office lines for several national security reporters and editors as well as “the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery.”

Presumably, now that the story has broken, public pressure will compel some sort of explanation from the Department of Justice or the Obama administration. In the meantime, the AP’s own story on the incident strongly suggests a theory for what happened: that the DoJ was looking for the source on the AP’s May 2012 story about a successful CIA operation to thwart a Yemen-based terror plot, a sort of underwear bomber part two.

Here’s what the AP says in its story about the subpoena:

The government would not say why it sought the records. U.S. officials have previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have leaked information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot. The story disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaida plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.

In testimony in February, CIA Director John Brennan noted that the FBI had questioned him about whether he was AP’s source, which he denied. He called the release of the information to the media about the terror plot an “unauthorized and dangerous disclosure of classified information.”

And here’s a snip from the original May 2012 AP story that the agency believes may have started it all. Note that the story seems to cite both the FBI and CIA, as well as revealing that the bomb may not have been detectable by then-current airport security scanners:

US officials say the plot involved an “upgrade” of the underwear bomb that failed to detonate aboard a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009.

This new bomb was also built to be used in a passenger’s underwear but contained a more refined detonation system.

The FBI is examining the latest bomb to see whether it could have passed through airport security and brought down an airplane, officials said. They said the device did not contain metal, meaning it probably could have passed through an airport metal detector. But it was not clear whether new body scanners used in many airports would have detected it.

The would-be suicide bomber, based in Yemen, had not yet picked a target or bought his plane tickets when the CIA stepped in and seized the bomb, officials said. It is not immediately clear what happened to the alleged bomber.

By Max Fisher, Updated: May 13, 2013

Find this story at 13 May 2013

© The Washington Post Company

FBI Conducts Threat Assessment on Antiwar.Com Journalists for Linking to Publicly Available Document has a troubling story detailing how what appears to be either an FBI counterintelligence investigation of suspected Israeli spies or an attempt to track down everyone who had posted terrorist watch lists online led to the FBI to investigate the site and Justin Raimondo and Eric Garris.

The story is troubling for several reasons:
The report on reveals the FBI’s Electronic Communications Unit (the same one involved in using exigent letters to get community of interest phone numbers) was already monitoring when the FBI did a threat analysis of them in 2004.
Based on the fact that they had posted two watch lists, that a number of people under investigation read the site, and other redacted reasons, the FBI recommended a preliminary investigation into whether (basically) they were spying.
The report cited electronic communications collected under FISA. While that may be no more than 4 FISA references in another case out of the Newark Office (which appears to be a prior investigation tied to the Israelis), that’s not clear that that’s the only FISA-collected information here.
Whether or not the FBI already had used FISA on, the low bar for PATRIOT powers (connection to a counterterrorist or counterintelligence investigation; the Israeli investigation would qualify) means the government could have used PATRIOT powers to investigate them.

So here’s my analysis.

Someone emailed this set of FOIAed FBI documents. The documents appear to show that the FBI did some research on in 2004 and recommended a Preliminary Investigation of them to see if they were spies. Their research appears to include 4 pieces of electronic communication collected under FISA, though it appears those were collected in another case.

The Contents of the FBI File

What follows assumes that the documents are authentic ( did not FOIA this themselves and they just received it out of the blue). It’s possible they’re an elaborate forgery, but they certainly appear to be valid FBI documents.

Roughly speaking, here’s what’s included in the document packet as a whole.
1-2: The faxed copy of a 302 (interview report) dated September 16, 2002 related to the Israelis
3-4: A transfer document
5-26: A document, dated October 4, 2002, documented the return and translation of evidence taken from the Israelis as well as xeroxes of the evidence
27-29: An interview report dated October 2, 2002, first requested September 10, 2002
30-32: An October 29, 2002 report on photos confiscated from an Israeli when he was detained on October 30, 2001
33-34: An April 23, 2003 report on an earlier arrest of four Israelis on August 14, 2001
35: Mostly blank cover sheet
36-37: An FBI handwriting analysis of documents taken from the Israelis
38-51: A report, dated July 10, 2003, summarizing and closing the case on the Israelis
52-58: A report, dated July 10, 2003, summarizing the results of the case on the Israelis
59-61: Paperwork from February and April 2004 reopening and transferring the investigation of the Israelis
62-71: A 10-page report, dated April 30, 2004, on Raimondo, Garris, and
72-84: Web printouts of related information
85-89: Paperwork related to the closure of the investigation into the 5 Israelis and the destruction of evidence collected from them
90-94: FOIA notations

Only the two bolded sections pertain to The rest (plus–it appears from the title of the Scribd file,, which appears to come from the Newark case number–at least five other sections) describes the FBI’s investigation of the five Israelis alleged to have filmed the destruction of the World Trade Center (read pages 38-51 for the most complete description of the FBI investigation). The short version of the conclusion in that investigation is that the Israelis did have ties to the Israeli government, but did not appear to have foreknowledge of the attack.

The Threat Assessment appears to have been forwarded to the counterterrorism people working on the Israeli case; it’s likely the FOIA asked for everything relating to the Israeli investigation.

The Genesis of the Threat Assessment

Which brings us to the report on itself.

It appears that, in March 2004, the FBI may have done a search of everyone who had a 9/11 “watch list” available online.

An electronic communication from the Counterterrorism, NTCS/TWWU to all field offices, dated 03/24/2004, advised that the post-9/11 “watch list,” “Project Lookout,” was posted on the Internet and may contain the names of individuals of active investigative interest. Different versions of these lists may be found on the Internet. This assessment was conducted on the findings discovered on

The file doesn’t actually say whether that’s why the FBI started investigating Rather, it says,

While conducting research on the Internet, an untitled spreadsheet , dated 10/03/2001, was discovered on the website

Given the recently reopened investigation into the Israelis at that time, the FBI may have found it in research on them and used the watch list directive to conduct further investigation. Or it may have just been the watch list directive.

The FBI’s Research into

As Raimondo notes, he posted links to that document–sourced clearly to Cryptome–in this post on the Israelis.

Ostensibly to figure out how and why he was posting a terrorist watch list, the FBI:
Did searches on its Universal Index on both Garris and Raimondo (there was significant material on one of them)
Did a scan of the Electronic Case File, apparently finding:
One completely redacted file
A counterintelligence report forwarded from the Counterintelligence office to the Office
Several documents (from a different FBI office) that appear to be based on posts of Raimondo (these have serial numbers reading “315M/N-SL-188252), though the second is a Letterhead Memo
A document citing as a source of information on US military aid to Israel
A report on a peaceful protest in the UK including a reference to an article handed out at the protest citing
A report on a Neo-Nazi conference at which a member recommended reading for information on the Middle East conflict
The contents of a seized hard drive showing its owner visited between July 2002 and June 2003.
Recorded six more completely redacted entries
Looked up details on DMV, Dun and Bradstreet, Lexis Nexis, business, and phone searches
Looked up several other database searches the description of which are redacted
Cited four FISA-derived references from a case file in Newark, but with no description of contents
Referred to a bunch of other articles on, both access via Lexis Nexis and via web searches.

The FBI’s Verdict: Further Investigation

All of which the FBI used to come to the following conclusion:

The rights of individuals to post information and to express personal views on the Internet should be honored and protected; however, some material that is circulated on the Internet can compromise current active FBI investigations. The discovery of two detailed Excel spreadsheets posted on may not be significant by itself since distribution of the information on such lists are wide spread. Many agencies outside of law enforcement have been utilizing this information to screen their employees. Still it is unclear whether may only be posting research material compiled from multiple sources or if there is material posted that is singular in nature and not suitable for public released. There are several unanswered questions regarding It describes itself as a non-profit group that survives on generous donations from its readers. Who are these contributors and what are the funds used for? [two lines redacted] on If this is so, then what is his true name? Two facts have been established by this assessment. Many individuals worldwide do view this website including individuals who are currently under investigation and [one line redacted].

With the recommendations (for DC’s corrupt ECAU office):

It is recommended that ECAU further monitor the postings on the website

And in San Francisco:

It is recommended that a [Preliminary Investigation] be opened to determine if [redacted] are engaging in, or have engaged in, activities which constitute a threat to National Security on behalf of a foreign power.

Now, it’s bad enough the FBI doesn’t consider a journalistic site at all. It’s also pretty appalling that they used pretty unnecessary questions to justify further investigation.

And remember, the bar for the FBI to use First Amendment “protected” reasons to investigate someone have been lowered since 2004.

Apparently, for the FBI, advocating for peace and making a publicly available PDF available constitutes sufficient threat to conduct a counterintelligence investigation.

Posted on August 22, 2011 by emptywheel

Find this story at 22 August 2011 Editors Sue Over FBI Surveillance

WASHINGTON — Two editors of sued the FBI on Tuesday, alleging that the bureau has failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents about the government’s investigation of the website.

FBI documents posted online show that the bureau recommended opening an investigation into the website in 2004 after it posted terrorist watch-lists online.

The Huffington Post | By Ryan J. Reilly Posted: 05/21/2013 5:13 pm EDT | Updated: 05/21/2013 6:04 pm EDT

Find this story at 21 May 2013

Copyright © 2013, Inc

Journalisten moesten Chinezen bespioneren


Van een onzer verslaggevers AMSTERDAM, vrijdag Personen die door de AIVD worden benaderd om als informant of agent voor de dienst te gaan werken, kunnen hiertoe niet gedwongen worden , zo benadrukt de inlichtingendienst. Net zomin kunnen zij gedwongen worden om bepaalde informatie te verstrekken. Zowel de medewerking als de informatieverstrekking aan de AIVD is dus geheel vrijwillig en betreft primair de verantwoordelijkheid van de betrokken persoon zelf.


Uit informatie die De Telegraaf heeft ontvangen, blijkt dat de Nederlandse journalisten is gevraagd verslagen over en foto s te maken van Chinese officials die contact zochten met Nederlandse officials en vertegenwoordigers van het bedrijfsleven en de overheid, die bijeenkwamen in het Holland Heineken House.


De AIVD wil niet ingaan op verdere vragen, bijvoorbeeld hoe de betrokken journalisten voor vertrek naar China werden geïnstrueerd en of Nederlandse journalisten vaker worden benaderd als bron voor de geheime dienst.


Find this Story at 15 juni 2012 

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