I witnessed something genuinely disturbing at Trinity College Dublin last night: trendy, middle-class, liberal students cheering and whooping a man who had just given the closest thing I have yet heard to a justification for the massacre at Charlie Hebdo.
It was as part of a debate on the right to offend. I was on the side of people having the right to say whatever the hell they want, no matter whose panties it bunches. The man on the other side who implied that Charlie Hebdo got what it deserved, and that the right to offend is a poisonous, dangerous notion, was one Asghar Bukhari of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee.
Bukhari defamed Charlie Hebdo as racist, the same dim-witted claim made by every Charliephobe who has clearly never seen an issue of this magazine that rails against the far right and prejudiced politicians.
He then offered us a potted history of French imperialism and brutality in Algeria. Why? As an explanation for why the murderers of Charlie Hebdo’s staff — who were of Algerian descent — did what they did.
There was a political context to their actions, he suggested, but the media ignored it in favour of depicting the killers as ‘brown savages’. Every time Bukhari mentioned Charlie Hebdo, he did so through gritted teeth, with a palpable sense of contempt; he spoke of Charlie Hebdo in the same breath as 'white supremacism'. In contrast, he talked about the killers with what sounded a lot like sympathy, presenting them as the aggrieved products of French militarism in Algeria.
In his warped worldview, it’s almost as if Charlie Hebdo were the guilty party, a foul committer of Islamophobic speech crimes, and the killers were the victims — victims of history, victims of France, victims of prejudice, driven by political anger. The murdered are the oppressors; the murderers the victims. Real through-the-looking-glass stuff.
I stood up to make a point of order. I wanted to ask if he felt that perhaps he was apologising for mass murder, justifying it even. But he wouldn’t take my point. So, somewhat impertinently — hey, I was pretty angry by this point — I interjected: ‘This is an apology for murder.’ His response? To accuse me of racism. To suggest that, like the rest of the media, I was treating Muslims as ‘brown savages’. Because of course, if you ask a difficult question of a Muslim in the public eye who is talking a colossal amount of rubbish then you must secretly hate all Muslims. What a cheap, reactionary shot: shut down criticism by playing the racism card.
Also, can we ponder the eye-swivelling irony of my being accused of racism by a man who once sent money to Holocaust denier and anti-Semite David Irving? In 2006, Bukhari sent £60 to Irving as part of his ‘fight for the Truth’. He encouraged Irving to continue to ‘expose certain falsehoods perpetrated by the Jews’. Yeah, sorry, I’m not taking lectures about racism from a man who funded Jew-hatred.
But there was something even more disturbing than Bukhari’s comments on Charlie Hebdo — the audience’s response.
It is of course in the interests of a representative of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee to exaggerate the hatred and difficulties faced by Muslims in Europe, because these unrepresentative community groups derive their moral authority from claiming to speak on behalf of a beleaguered, victimised minority.
So they’re inexorably drawn towards ratcheting up the victim narrative, to trawling for more and more examples of slights against Muslims, to treating as ‘Islamophobia’ everything from a scurrilous cartoon that mocks Muhammad (not ordinary Muslims) to a newspaper article that describes Osama bin Laden as an ‘Islamic terrorist’ (seriously). Because victimology is their fuel; it sustains their outfits and boosts their standing in public life. There’s a logic — a perverse logic — to their hysterical claims about widespread Muslim-hate.
But the audience at last night’s debate was not part of any cynical, self-styled community group. They were young. They were mainly liberals. They were pretty cool. Some were painfully PC. And yet some of them — a significant chunk of them — cheered Bukhari’s explanation for the Charlie killers’ actions, and applauded his suggestion that my question must have been motivated by racism.
During my speech, students had hollered ‘Shame! Shame!’ when I suggested that Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ should not be banned on campuses. And yet they listened intently, with soft, understanding, patronising liberal smiles on their faces, as Bukhari implied that Charlie Hebdo brought its massacre on itself. This is how screwed-up the culture on Western campuses has become: I was jeered for suggesting we shouldn’t ban pop songs; Bukhari was cheered for suggesting journalists who mock Muhammad cannot be surprised if someone later blows their heads off.
It provided a glimpse into the inhumanity of political correctness. The PC gang always claim they’re just being nice; it’s just ‘institutionalised politeness’, they say. Yet at Trinity last night I saw where today’s intolerance of offence and obsession with Safe Spacing minorities from difficult ideas can lead: to an agreeable nod of the head when it is suggested that it’s understandable when poor, victimised Muslims murder those who offended them.
No, a PC student at such a prestigious college as Trinity is very unlikely to kill you for being offensive. But if someone else does, they won’t be outraged or upset. They’ll think you had it coming. Nice? Polite? Please. Political correctness is murderous.
You can read Brendan O’Neill’s speech at Trinity here.