Since yesterday’s tragic attacks in Paris, I’ve noticed a trend among some journalists and readers who are implying that the satirists at Charlie Hebdo had their violent deaths coming. Here are five instances in which journalists, readers, and even the President himself have expressed preference for self-censorship in the face of an intolerant, hate-driven extremist Muslim opposition.
Ravi Somaiya’s piece from yesterday focuses like a laser on just how “provocative” Charlie Hebdo is, and seems to imply that it isn’t satire the paper produces so much as simple provocations. And, while the piece isn’t as bad as some of the others on this list, there’s definitely a they had it coming to them feel.
The French see Charlie Hebdo as a basic staple of the culture’s publishing landscape. The satirical cartoons that supposedly give such great offense are more comical than shocking or groundbreaking. It’s easy stick a finger in your eye satire. Certainly it’s good but, to be sure, much of it is easy. It’s a stretch to say the paper produces content that is truly controversial to most French citizens. The only thing that makes the paper’s work “provocative” is that extremists are sensitive and don’t believe in free speech.
Mocking that intolerance isn’t provocative. Our ideals require it. Focusing on the provocative angle reveals the implication that the cartoonists and writers at Charlie Hebdo are doing something they shouldn’t, and now they’re dead for it. It’s an angle that misses the point—not only of what they did, but of what free speech means in a free society.
To some, no retreat is complete enough, and Tony Barber’s op/ed at the Financial Times yesterday illustrates this tendency perfectly. Barber writes about the previous threats Charlie Hebdo had received and comes up with an analysis that seems to reject ever confronting anyone or anything.
This is not in the slightest to condone the murderers, who must be caught and punished, or to suggest that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion. It is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo, and Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims.
Common sense being that one should remain silent if crazy people might be offended. Just as interesting is Barber’s other concern about what the shootings mean for politics.
Emotions are understandably high in France, where the next question is what impact Wednesday’s murders will have on the political climate, and in particular the fortunes of Marine Le Pen and her far-right National Front. Anti-Islamism is part of the electoral attraction of a party that topped the polls in May in France’s European Parliament elections.
The chain of logic here seems to be that Charlie Hebdo shouldn’t provoke Muslims, because if Muslims are provoked, extremists will hurt people, the far-right will claim that Muslims are dangerous, and that will cause societal tension. This is a kind of appeasement. Surely France has learned that appeasement doesn’t work, although the lesson appears to have been lost on Mr. Barber. He also seems to have zero faith in moderate Muslims, which is hypocritical.
After the offices of Charle Hebdo were firebombed by Muslim extremists in 2011 (no one died), Bruce Crumley, then Paris Bureau Chief at Time Magazine, wasted no daylight condemning not the extremists, but Charlie Hebdo. Crumley believes that if a group responds to words with violence then it’s the person who said the words that’s at fault.
Okay, so can we finally stop with the idiotic, divisive, and destructive efforts by “majority sections” of Western nations to bait Muslim members with petulant, futile demonstrations that “they” aren’t going to tell “us” what can and can’t be done in free societies? Because not only are such Islamophobic antics futile and childish, but they also openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy in the name of common good. What common good is served by creating more division and anger, and by tempting belligerent reaction?
Crumley goes on to say that he believes the firebombing was the kind of reaction Charle Hebdo “was after in the first place” which sounds a lot like “look what she was wearing!” Then, in a moment of true profundity, he asks “What was the point (of satirizing extremist Islam) otherwise?” Parenthetical text mine.
I doubt we’ll see Mr. Crumley repeat this bit of victim blaming. People are dead this time.
4. Gawker Media’s readership
Yesterday, Max Read over at Gawker put together an excellent shorthand guide to just what Charlie Hebdo is and what it did all while showing that the periodical had a track record of attacking everyone with equal relish.
Some Gawker readers saw this as an opportunity to speak out against free speech while showing they can’t tell the difference between extremist Islamists and moderate Muslims just trying to live their lives. Given the “Muslims have no agency” bigotry of some, it’s unsurprising that, in the end, they conclude that Charlie Hebdo caused the violence it suffered and might be racist (because intersectionality gone wild).
236 stars. The most upvoted comment on the article.
Freelance journalist Joel Gillin apparently disapproves of the foundations of the institution in which he is employed. I wasn’t aware France was bombing their Muslim population, Joel, but, again, to some people, Muslims are all just the same.
Sally Kohn, journalist at the Daily Beast and CNN also posted this bit of a non sequitur. France, Sally — this took place in France and condemnation of right wing shooters is universal in the U.S. among non-medication needing persons. This attempt to distract from the topic is weird (or possibly clickbaity).
Funny enough, all the above individuals are sort of agreeing that certain speech should be suppressed so as to not give offense. That includes this Islamic extremist who enjoys freedom of speech.
6. The Time The White House Implied Charlie Hebdo Was Asking For It
Coinciding with Crumbley’s Time piece, the White House really came out against freedom of speech back in 2012 after the Charlie Hebdo offices were bombed. Here’s the relevant bit from when Jay Carney, then Press Secretary. Remember, he speaks for the President in his endorsement of self-censorship.
Q: The French government has decided to temporarily close their embassies and schools in several Muslim countries after a satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, that published cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Is the White House concerned that those cartoons might further fan the flames in the region?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad, and obviously, we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this. We know that these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory. But we’ve spoken repeatedly about the importance of upholding the freedom of expression that is enshrined in our Constitution.
In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it. And I think that that’s our view about the video that was produced in this country and has caused so much offense in the Muslim world.
Now, it has to be said, and I’ll say it again, that no matter how offensive something like this is, it is not in any way justification for violence — not in any way justification for violence. Now, we have been staying in close touch with the French government as well as other governments around the world, and we appreciate the statements of support by French government officials over the past week, denouncing the violence against Americans and our diplomatic missions overseas.
You have the right to freedom of speech but please, just don’t say anything that might offend anyone because that’s more important than your fundamental right to speech. Can anyone imagine the White House responding this way if the firebombing had taken place in the U.S.? Obama would have been facing impeachment by week’s end.