Dear NYT: We prefer our free-speech martyrs with 75% less ... Che Guevara

BREAKING NEWS ALERT: Irony died today, expectedly, in the pages of the New York Times. Their profile of a woman facing a prison term in Tunisia for sharing a Facebook joke is a worthy enough subject. Emna Chargui made the mistake of thinking that a satirical version of a Koranic sura that read “Wash your hands” would be taken as a gentle reminder of proper COVID-19 hygiene. The Tunisian government disagreed and sentenced her to six months in jail for the offense of “inciting hatred between religions,” an absurd reaction to a Facebook share.

So yes, the action of Tunisia — which is usually regarded as a West-leaning moderate Islamic state — is of concern to free-speech rights. It would be easier to credit Chargui as an advocate for freedom, however, if she wasn’t wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt. Apparently neither Chargui nor the New York Times are aware that Guevara was a terrorist in service to a regime that has oppressed speech for decades in Cuba.

Here’s the screenshot, in case it disappears:

It looks like Chargui has a real problem with iconography, and with consistency. The slogan underneath the iconic picture of the Cuban revolutionary says Hasta la Victoria Siempre, Che’s rallying cry which roughly means that the victory of the revolution should live forever. Michael Munger quoted Che extensively to explain how the revolutionary saw individual rights in that victory:

Society as a whole must become a huge school.… Education takes among the masses and the new attitude that is praised tends to become habit; the mass gradually takes it over and exerts pressure on those who have still not become educated. This is the indirect way of educating the masses, as powerful as the other, structured, one.…

We can see the new man who begins to emerge in this period of the building of socialism. His image is as yet unfinished; in fact it will never be finished, since the process advances parallel to the development of new economic forms. Discounting those whose lack of education makes them tend toward the solitary road, towards the satisfaction of their ambitions, there are others who, even within this new picture of over-all advances, tend to march in isolation from the accompanying mass. What is more important is that people become more aware every day of the need to incorporate themselves into society and of their own importance as motors of that society.…

The vanguards have their eyes on the future and its recompenses, but the latter are not envisioned as something individual; the reward is the new society where human beings will have different characteristics: the society of communist man.

If Chargui embraces Che, then she has nothing to complain about in Tunis. They want what Che wanted — for people to incorporate themselves into the masses for the good of society. Not to mention, of course, that Che helped Fidel Castro round up and kill dissenters in Cuba before and after Castro came to power, by the hundreds if not thousandsChe rounded up gays and lesbians and put them in concentration camps, and threatened journalists who tried to use free speech to tell the truth about the Castro regime.

None of that makes what happened to Chargui right, of course. But people who use the iconography of oppression shouldn’t expect much sympathy when they fall victim to it. Chargui might not know any better, but the New York Times certainly does, or it should. 

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