“You keep abusing Islam’s almighty Prophet with disgusting and disgraceful cartoons using excuses of freedom of speech. Be Allah’s curse upon you!”
That was the message that hackers left on the website of France’s satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, after it announced plans to feature the Islamic prophet Muhammad as “editor-in-chief” of an upcoming issue. When the issue appeared last week, the publication’s offices were firebombed and destroyed.
Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier, was not cowed. “We no longer have a newspaper,” he said. “All our equipment has been destroyed or has melted. We cannot, today, put together a paper. But we will do everything possible to do one next week. Whatever happens, we’ll do it. There is no question of giving in.”
Charbonnier also warned of the danger of placing Islam and Muslims above criticism and even mockery: “If we can poke fun at everything in France, if we can talk about anything in France apart from Islam or the consequences of Islamism, that is annoying.”
“Annoying” and worse: It would spell the destruction of free society. Even those who find mockery of someone else’s revered figure distasteful should find this alarming, and support Charlie Hebdo. Islamic supremacists are engaged in a full-out assault on the freedom of speech, an assault that has both violent and peaceful manifestations. This couldn’t be more serious: The freedom of speech is the basis for all our freedoms, for without it all the rest could be taken from us, and not a word could be raised in protest.
Yet already there are calls for free people to surrender. Calls for self-censorship and greater “sensitivity” toward Muslims have already begun. Bruce Crumley wrote in Time magazine in the wake of the bombing that “it’s obvious free societies cannot simply give in to hysterical demands made by members of any beyond-the-pale group,” and that “intimidation and violence must be condemned and combated for whatever reason they’re committed,” but that “it’s just as evident members of those same free societies have to exercise a minimum of intelligence, calculation, civility and decency in practicing their rights and liberties—and that isn’t happening when a newspaper decides to mock an entire faith on the logic that it can claim to make a politically noble statement by gratuitously pissing people off.”
Certainly a decent person doesn’t go around gratuitously angering people. But when it comes to censorship or even legislation, who is to decide what angers people gratuitously? The people in power, of course. Time is essentially calling for restrictions on the freedom of speech and the creation of a special, privileged class that is beyond criticism. That is the death of free society and the road to tyranny, for the class that is beyond criticism will have a free hand to do whatever it wants, and what will anyone be able to say?
Unfortunately absent from the public square are the voices telling the Muslim community in Paris, and Muslims all over the West, to grow up, and to stop reacting with firebombs and threats and murder to everything that offends them. The fact that it is virtually certain that such voices will be less numerous than those calling for “sensitivity” in the face of violent intimidation and thuggery is as good an indication as any that Western society is desperately ill, and that when it comes to Islam, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have lost all sense of perspective. Before they regain it, we are certain to be in for some very rough days ahead—days that will make the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo look like a gesture of mild disapproval.
Crumley, of course, like so many other enlightened liberals, camouflages his slouch toward totalitarianism in the guise of “sensitivity” and resistance to “Islamophobia.” The gaping hole in his argument, however, is that he is making it after Muslims reacted violently to satire. Judaism and Christianity are lampooned on a regular basis, but Bruce Crumley never lifted a finger to call for “sensitivity” toward the religious feelings of others when Piss Christ was being displayed as a serious work of art. So Time’s argument boils down to saying that we should capitulate in the face of violent intimidation. This is not really about being sensitive at all. It is about doing what the thugs want so they won’t hurt us again.
I’d rather die first.