Category Archives: America

Interview With Charlie Hebdo’s Robert McLiam Wilson

Friday night I had an email exchange with Robert McLiam Wilson, an Irishman that has found himself working at Charlie Hebdo. We discussed satire, writers objecting to PEN America giving on May 5th the Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo, and how social discourse copes with terrorism and political correctness.
Before we get into food fights at PEN America giving an award to the magazine, and where people seem determined to draw the line for cartoonists and kill satire if not satirists themselves – what were you doing that you ended up working at Charlie Hebdo?

I’m not quite sure. It’s pretty typical of Charlie how haphazardly it came about. The very fine French writer, Marie Darrieussecq suggested it to me. And I naturally said yes without hesitating. I had written a piece (in Libération – shorter English version) in the Big Issue after January’s attack which is perhaps what made Marie think of me.

I don’t think anyone at Charlie Hebdo really has a clue who I am. I think I send my stuff in and they go “Shit, is it that Irish bloke again? Christ, what’s he on about this time?”. They’re nice about it. But a little bewildered.

Your article in The New Statesman sums up the frustration that free speech when denied by the assassin must be defended [still]. There really should be no “but” in that situation. That does not seem to stop people that have no idea commenting on a French publication tackling racism and the far right. The goal posts move if you explain one cartoon. How do we get passed that, without losing our own sanity?

Personally, I think that this is how you get past it. This is the incredibly moving and extraordinary moment when Mme Christiane Taubira gave a eulogy at the funeral of Tignous, one of the the murdered cartoonists. I really sincerely believe that this is the silver bullet. The Charlie Hebdo cartoon which portrayed this brilliant and daunting woman as a monkey was the big, BIG problem in the English-speaking world. It is a shocking and repellent image. It is meant to be so. Because what it is lampooning with horrible viciousness is a far right campaign against this black, female Minister of Justice. A campain of such gross, infantile ugliness that I simply refuse to repeat it any way. Suffice to say, it involved bananas! A thing of toe-curling shamefulness.


Charlie mocked this vileness by trying to show how nauseating it was, how infantile and pathetic. If the Charlie cartoon is a racist disgrace, then why is the subject of that image speaking at the funeral of a Charlie contributor???


I have never met Mme Taubira nor spoken to her. It would be interesting to hear her views. Perhaps, I would be surprised by them myself. But clearly, this victim of Charlie Hebdo’s ‘racism’ did not think they were racist. To be honest, I think it is, if not racist, certainly incredibly presumptuous to think that this educated, powerful woman needs the protection of a bunch of hapless novelists.

If I could have one wish, it is that the boycotting writers would watch this. Even without French, is not her emotion absolutely evident? I don;t think these writer are wicked or stupid people. I think they are ill-informed and extremely sure of themselves. I have always felt that this is a pretty poor combination.

I am desperate for the discourse to become more civil, more measured. And perhaps more respectful of the facts. The abuse heaped upon the PEN boycotters has been personal and vicious (I am not speaking of Salman Rusdie, who can do no wrong in my book…almost).

I beseech them to inform themselves more fully, more humbly. I don’t challenge them to do so. That’s a bellicose idiom and there are no enemies here. I entreat Joyce Carol Oates, whom I admire, to look again at her assumptions. I beg Teju Cole, the unfortunate begetter of much of the Taubira cartoon misinformation, to listen to what she says. I would ask Rick Moody if he thinks I must be racist because I write for Charlie Hebdo.


We should all be talking about the grotesque loss of life almost every week amongst desperate people sailing across the Mediterranean toward countries that do not want them.


That’s a moral issue worth getting all riled up.

I remember mentioning [Mme Taubira] and the cartoon when countering Mehdi Hasan’s New Statesman article  – I hope people watch that video you link to. The emotion needs no translation.

Hopefully people will try to learn about Charlie Hebdo and its place in French political culture, and why SOS Racisme has been vocal in it’s support.
[Here is a translation of the President of SOS Racisme, Dominique Sopo, comments:]
Will satire ever dare to be the same again? Luz will no longer draw Mohammed. Editors at an event today, Free House in DC, mention not being a symbol but making people think and love  It feels like the writers do not see satire and cartoons as a way to think about the world. The terrorists found the cartoons too funny, the writers staying away say they are not funny because it is about religion.

Well, writers don’t like anyone but writers. And they don’t like most of them generally. We tend either not to understand cartoonists, photographers, painters or performances artists or to simply dismiss them. I have some sympathy. Me, I hate musicians. What a bunch of bastards! No excuse for musicians.

Seriously, there’s a limit to how much or how accurately you can comment if you don’t speak the language. I made this point in the New Statesman and some people (very few) actually riposted, ‘duh, what an arsehole! Has he never heard of Google Translate?!’. Clearly, I can’t do much to help people who think that way. But I would seriously suggest that everyone should be more humble before making breathtakingly confident comment about texts in a language they can’t read. And there is generally text – even in cartoons (except when it is clipped off, Teju).

But who knows? Maybe SOS Racisme is wrong. Fuck, maybe is SOS Racisme is racist too! Wow, wouldn’t that be something? I may give serious thought to boycotting those supremacist motherfuckers.

The latest twitter storm showed once again the limits to people using Google translate without finding out the context in the google search box.

Martin Rowson gave a moving – and colourful – acceptance speech on behalf of Charlie Hebdo when they won Secularist of The Year. Hosted by the National Secular Society. Declaration – I had a fabulous three course meal during. He mentioned that the most offensive thing anyone could do was kill another person. I despair that people cannot see the difference between mocking a religious figure as an ordinary human being and something that dehumanises a group of people. Religion is a powerful thing, and all power is accountable to people, not least artists and writers.

I see that Queen’s University Belfast is finally going to host a conference on Charlie Hebdo. Do you think people can be persuaded to be open minded?

I come from Belfast where you learn early in life that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a top lad and a great writer but that he didn’t know much about ordinance. The guys who come to your door with the 9-MM or the AK47 disprove le contrat sociale pretty thoroughly. Those guys are the custodians of your rights. They decide what’s going to happen to you. And the hardware is not a promising sign.

I think this is all about displaced emotion. About the death of politics. In my view, political correctness was one of the most spectacularly successful political movements of the 20th century. Within a generation, it civilised public discourse to a remarkable degree. Not perfect, but absolutely fucking astonishing compared with even as recently as the 1970s.

Identity politics or cultural relativism is something else. For me, there’s only one kind of politics, class politics. And class politics when waged successfully and sincerely will encompass race, gender, sexuality, disability, everything. Because class politics is not about the white working class. It’s about all disadvantaged classes. And sees them as one class.

Queens University did something difficult and classy. They changed their minds. They admitted the mistake. I am now not interested in the reasons. And I hope people don’t sneer or crow now about pressure from outside forcing it or anything like that. And I don’t care about investigations to the Nth degree into the truth of the original decision.

They showed some class. Now, it’s our turn. Well done, Queens. Debate is never a bad idea.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

My Huffington Post Blog


Filed under America, Religion, secular, Secularism, World

Silent Night By The Westboro Baptist Church


The Huffington Post reports (and has audio) of the Westboro Baptists Church take on Silent Night.

Silent night, awful night, You have no peace; you’re full of fright, God’s righteous anger is close and near, His hate for this nation is painfully clear, Behold the wrath of the lamb, Behold the wrath of the lamb.

Mercifully they do not go carol singing, as the cult ban Christmas for not being Christian. Though they have been known to picket churches at this festive time.

The only unchristian response is pay them back in kind. Rather then turn the other cheek, I say kiss my ass.

Here is my effort:

Silent night, freezing night
You’re full of hate, at the sight
Of gays and lesbians over the place
Showing their love in warm embrace
Who gives a fuck what you think?
Who gives a fuck what you think?

A more restrained analysis of the Westboro Baptist Church can be read here.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

My Huffington Post Blog

Leave a comment

Filed under America, Poetry and Music, Religion

By Pulling “The Interview” We Have Told The Wolves We Are Sheep


Fear is what kills freedom, as companies and even nation states do the bidding of tyrants and fundamentalists. Under President Obama the U.S. is no longer feared nor respected, as the wolves of Putin, ISIS and Kim Jong Un come to chase the sheep we have become. They are ready to feast on what remains of the Liberty we abandon in our stampede for peace and security.

The Art of Cyberwar – first demoralise and sow confusion against your opponent with hacks to emails – has delivered by relying on a cheap threat of bloodshed to any cinema goer or neighbourhood that might host a showing of “The Interview.” One by one, movie theatres refused to show the film in the US.

Without a shot being fired, without any physical harm to anyone, Sony pulled the film from general release. Victory was accomplished by “the Guardians of Peace” without having to leave their keyboards.

Backbones are absent when you compare this situation to “The Satanic Verses” where people were killed and personally threatened. If North Korea and their cyber Bureau 121 unit are behind this, we have just given Kim Jong Un the assurance that his unpredictability and willingness to talk up war truly does get results. Stamping his feet, demanding concessions during negotiations, knowing he can use fear to strike at the heart of American life. Without using a long range missile.

Threaten violence, by calling to mind 9/11, and free enterprise that made the US the economic superpower will fold to the whims of a dictator. The hope that the antics of the Guardians of Peace might increase box office attendance as a big all American fuck you to tyranny, has instead been replaced by a whimper of please do not hurt us. We will do as you want.

Benjamin Franklin would have understood the dangerous situation:

But our great security lies, I think, in our growing strength, both in numbers and wealth; that creates an increasing ability of assisting this nation in its wars, which will make us more respectable, our friendship more valued, and our enmity feared; thence it will soon be thought proper to treat us not with justice only, but with kindness, and thence we may expect in a few years a total change of measures with regard to us; unless, by a neglect of military discipline, we should lose all martial spirit, and our western people become as tame as those in the eastern dominions of Britain, when we may expect the same oppressions; for there is much truth in the Italian saying, Make yourselves sheep, and the wolves will eat you.

Thus we lose our freedom, first to make our own choice whether to watch a movie. Next we lose our freedom to make the movies we want because of potential threats. Then we lose our ability to articulate our opinions in case we become victims for expressing ourselves.

Finally those expressing their opinions become the enemies of the state they live in, for daring to incite threats by rogue states and fundamentalists. Do not rock the boat less we all drown. Far better to throw you overboard. You cannot stop the threats, but you can stop people being controversial.

This is the situation we are approaching in Britain, which Nick Cohen writes in Standpoint:

True liberals always held that people should be free to speak their minds as long as they did not incite violence. Now the Home Office wants laws that will force us to be nice citizens, who never say anything the thin-skinned might consider “hateful” or “inappropriate”. Secularists fear that atheists will be locked up for being beastly about religion. Christians fear that evangelicals will be jailed for being beastly about gays. We will live in a country where we cannot utter a controversial opinion.

We have to stand for our freedoms against those that would rob us of them. The problem is the enemies of freedom are foreign and domestic. Even our own governments.

Those liberal freedoms we hold dear need us to be lions even if we are led by lambs. Those wolves will not go away by themselves, as they savour the meal to come.

More on the story of “The Interview” being pulled can be read here.

Update 23 December:

Some cinemas will now show as part of a limited release, and rumours are it will be on demand. Pity more cinemas not prepared to stand up to the threats [see more from BBC]

Update 24 December:

You can indeed watch the film on the internet via this link here.

Some reports if the story tried to claim this was capitalism covering their backs (and profits) rather than caving in to terror. However appealing it might be to show business has no values other than monetary for some, this ignored the threats meant a denial of our liberties for supposed security.

I am reminded therefore of another quote by Franklin.

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

As to Sony manipulating events to gain maximum publicity for their film. No, the fall out and stress from the hacking and impact of terror on business makes that too cynical as this story spun itself without Sony having any control beyond deciding to stream film or not. Which would have taken sometime to organise and get approval within the organisation.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

My Huffington Post Blog

1 Comment

Filed under America, British Politics, British Society, Culture, Film, politics, World

Naomi Wolf Suggests ISIS Beheaded Victims and Families Part Of Conspiracy

Naomi Wolf at the Brooklyn Book Festival.jpg

Absolutely astounded that someone could be so naive, crass and gullible.

Update: 4 October 2014

Naomi Wolf has posted after NYT reporter contacted her as above:

A commentator below self-identified as being the New York Times reporter covering the hostage crisis. This reporter asked me to take my post about asking for confirmation of the hostage story down, as this reporter said that keeping it up is “irresponsible” and not respectful to the pain of the families involved.
The reporter wrote that there has been a news blackout requested of media for the last two years and that the abductions were known for two years to news outlets, who were respecting the blackout. The reporter also said that it is common tor people in conflict areas to go from the military to nonprofit work.

So I have taken the post down pending more reporting of the questions, at which point I will include the new reporting and repost it with the new information included. I asked the reporter to contact me at, first so I can confirm this is indeed the New York Times reporter who is covering the hostage crisis, and second because, as I wrote back, we still have several unanswered questions we have been putting to the New York Times for some weeks about this story.

First: it is helpful for us to know that there was a news blackout, according to this commentator/reporter (I gather that was reported). But it raises more questions — if there was a news blackout that protected the hostages for the last two years, how are news outlets not endangering them by reporting so widely on the crisis now?

Second: I asked the reporter to help us understand some issues that we have not had solid answers from the New York Times about yet (or other outlets for that matter). One is: if we can assume the identity of the hostages is confirmed (and I would still want to know the reporter’s sources for being certain) — how does the New York Times know the video/s are real? These are two separate reportorial issues. I am not saying they are not — I am saying (as I have said for weeks) that the source of SITE is problematic, that it received half a million dollars in government funding in 2004, that it is a syndication service for media so we can’t seem to double-check the videos online (other people have not been able to find them) and that I was trained, as are all journalists, to have two independently confirmed sources for a news story. As far as I know there is only this one problematic source for most of the videos.

Third: the New York Times public editor told us they “verified the videos internally”. I would like for our readers and the Times’ readers to have more disclosure about this process. I am very familiar with the New York Times’ facility as a family member of mine worked there for many years. Unless this has changed recently, I am not aware that the Time has a video analysis facility. So we just want to understand the process of the Times “verifying the video internally.”

I guess fourth is — this is a public story now; the Times made the decision to run it big, as did every other news outlet. If reporters can ask questions — as they should — I really don’t see how it is irresponsible of citizens (or other reporters) to ask questions as well.
It is a terrible thing, a verified video of an assassination, of course. That should go without saying. But many stories the New York Times and other major outlets have run based on government assurances — including the Weapons of Mass Destruction story — seemed very solid at the time and one would have sounded disrespectful at the time to request confirmation of the reporting; but confirming important news stories is really what reporters are supposed to do.And citizens should be trained to do it too if democracy is to be strong and journalism as well.

The word you are looking for is sorry.

Massive hat tip to Frances Barber

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

My Huffington Post Blog

Correction – mistakenly wrote up as if Naomi Klein rather than Naomi Wolf few minutes ago. Whilst I am sure screen shots from tweets above made clear my error apologises to her and email subscribers. My thanks to those that instantly corrected me on twitter.  

Deleted that post. This is the same post bar that obvious correction.

Sorry folks.

1 Comment

Filed under America, World

The Extremists Of God


“We must rebel. Blood and bullets are the only two things that will change this world, short of divine action.”

Regarding religion as the truth leaves no room for doubt and uncertainty. An open minded believer will say it is a matter of faith, and that makes it right for them but it is a personal choice. Regard as truth for everyone, in the world, throughout the cosmos and the thing is what stops you imposing it on others.

Take it further. You see yourself as an agent of God to impose his will on others. With a mission: to change the world. By force of arms.

“ looking for absolute Freedom by doing the Will of God.”

Is a madman above using religion to achieve their political rather than theological ends by death, or does belief pushed to its limit make people believe they are the right hand of Allah?


Accept the quotes above are not from an Islamic terrorist using social media. Welcome instead to the rantings of Talbot, a white male 38 year old Christian, investigated by the FBI

Christian? Going by how he identifies himself and his motives. Which incidentally is applying the same standard to judge ISIS by. Imposing theocracy on others by bloody force and vengeance.

Talbot posted on Facebook that he had gone to four Bank of America branches to “play observation.” Talbot allegedly urged “anyone who robs these banks to kill everyone working for the ‘banking Cartels’ during the heist.”

Talbot’s Facebook post continued: “That is exactly what I will have my men do during the heist. Same goes with the Muslims. Mosques are to be a blast! With three of my guys with FA [full automatic] AK’s [AK-47 semi-automatic rifles], we will send that white house worthless piece of dirt and his Muslim brotherhood a message they will never forget.”[Southern Poverty Law Center]

The story (from March) came up on twitter today as an example that non Islamic extremism did not hit the headlines the same way Islamic extremism does.

As Robert James Talbot Jr. mentioned in one of his last Facebook posts before his arrest:

“In a few weeks me and my team are going active for Operation Liberty. I will not be able to post no more. We will be the revolution, things will happen nationwide or in the states. They will call us many names and spin things around on media. Just remember we fight to stop Marxism, liberalism, Central banking Cartels and the New World Order.”

Free thinking must be about promoting the civic virtues of free speech, free religion and freedom from religion. That democracy requires the free association of people to function without threat or hindrance.

These values are needed to challenge extremisim. Mr Amin, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Dudley North in the UK, was quoted on Islamic extremism. It applies however to all society:

“We must not be afraid to ask the difficult questions and to thoroughly cleanse our ghettoised communities from feeling so distant from the ideals of what it means to live in a free society where you can choose to practise faith or not to, where you can live alongside every faith and none, where your rights are protected under law and you are an equal citizen. These are noble values, yet in Muslim communities I have almost never heard these being discussed with young people in inner-city areas.”

These nobel values need to be the air we breathe. On the street, each mosque, every home, all schools, everywhere. For a living breathing civil society.

Extremism in all it’s forms – whether the far right or theocratic – must concern us all if we value freedom. It cannot exist if it does not apply to all.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

My Huffington Post Blog

Leave a comment

Filed under America, British Society, Religion, secular, World