Nous Sommes Charlie, But Who Are You?


People died because of this. Fanatics were outraged because of the content of its expression, and killed them. Many are outraged at the violence, but too fearful of publishing it lest some fanatic be outraged and do the same to them.

They say they want free expression, but they refuse to take any personal risk for it.  Let Charlie Hebdo take the risk. Let the people at Charlie Hebdo die.  They will weep over their deaths, but they won’t show the courage to stand up against the murders.  Who?

As for the present day, CNN, NYT, AP, NBC, ABC, the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, and the CBC, will *not* be running Charlie-Hebdo cartoons.

Why should they?

Today, our home was attacked. I don’t mean France. I don’t mean Paris. I don’t mean Charlie Hebdo. I mean our freedom of expression. Ours.

But this was the work of murderous, violent fanatics.  What does this have to do with our freedom of expression? While we may challenge the deficit of fortitude by a few, should we not also remember that these cartoons were offensive?

Not that anyone should die for them, of course, but as so many have explained in angry tone, hate speech is violence.  And really, wasn’t this just hate speech?  Weren’t they asking for it?  Didn’t Charlie Hebdo tempt fate by publishing offensive and hateful cartoons?

The fanatics avenged their prophet. You avenge your cherished feelings. But it’s not the same at all, you cry. A false equivalency, an unfair comparison.  You would never murder anyone because they uttered whatever it is you deem hate speech.  Yet, you are all too happy to have a SWAT team sent in to do your dirty work for you.  You advocate the imprisonment of those whose expression hurt your feelings. You demand that actual harm befall those who utter ideas that displease you.

And you think you are different because they are murderous fanatics and you are special and get no blood on your own hands?

Charlie hebdo

This is what Charlie Hebdo would look like if it were up to you, because the content would offend someone. And indeed, it was offensive. Ideas can offend. No one forced Charlie Hebdo to publish content that offended, but then, without their having done so, the ideas behind this content wouldn’t have existed. It would be blank. There would be no challenge to the ideas.

blank cartoon

And this would be all content, empty, if you had your way.  You still don’t see a problem.  You still don’t see the comparison.  Because you care only about your feelings, and silencing all others who would say anything that might hurt them. And you are good, righteous people, unlike the murderous fanatics.

There is no bringing the dead back to life, but that doesn’t mean their deaths should be in vain.  You don’t have to express any thought that you don’t want to, that you think might offend someone, if that’s your nature.  But when you demand that others be silenced at the end of a gun, whether a fanatic’s or a cop’s enforcing laws you demand to criminalize expression that offends you, you are no different than the fanatics.

Christopher Hitchens saw this clearly when, in 2006, he wrote:

I went on Crossfire at one point, to debate some spokesman for outraged faith, and said that we on our side would happily debate the propriety of using holy writ for literary and artistic purposes. But that we would not exchange a word until the person on the other side of the podium had put away his gun.

There can be no negotiation under duress or under the threat of blackmail and assassination. And civil society means that free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient.

Whether the gun is in your hands or the hands of police sent out to enforce the laws you demand makes no difference.  We are all Charlie Hebdo. Some of us are the people who would express ideas that offended the fanatics, and others are the fanatics who want us dead.

Who are you?

19 thoughts on “Nous Sommes Charlie, But Who Are You?

  1. John Barleycorn

    “Lashes if you’re Not dying of laughter”

    I think the quote of the cartoon says.

    Pretty messed up all the way around.

    Your point echoes of the empty walls of far to much silence.

    1. Philly Jim

      @ John Barleycorn, you missed an important part of the quote: “One hundred lashes…” I intend no criticism, translating jokes is really tough. So much humor is based on puns and twists that you will miss a lot but missing just a little bit.

    1. SHG Post author

      Thanks, Judge. My wife often wonders how long it will be before somebody takes sufficient umbrage at my writing to decide to teach me a lesson, perhaps with extreme prejudice. I’m no tough guy or martyr, but I agree with Hebdo editor Stéphane Charbonnier that “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees.”


  2. DHMCarver

    You should mention in your list of shame Yale University Press who, when set to publish a book on the cartoon controversy a couple of years ago, decided to pull reproductions of the cartoons from the book. A university press — publishing a book about the controversy — yet too chickenshit to publish the objects of the controversy.

    Every publication who bows down to the intimidation of radicals makes life more dangerous for those who have the courage to stand up to them.

    And thanks for drawing the connection to how things play out on these shores — and for quoting Hitch. I cannot help but think what would be flying off of his pen today.

    Je Suis Charlie.

    1. SHG Post author

      Navigating the world of academic inoffensiveness is very tricky business. Nice to see Yale doing itself proud.

  3. David

    I note that Slate, unlike the media organizations you name, has actually included images of e.g. some of their most controversial Charlie Bebdo covers including some shown in your post here like the cover of the issue the premise of which was it was guest-edited by Mohammed. They also showed “Piss Christ” in a story about the AP removing it from their website after the double-standard in keeping that picture available while removing images many Muslims would object to was pointed out… And they “reprinted” a 2006 Hitchens article.

    Considering also the excellent Emile Yoffe article on sexual assault allegations you posted about recently, I’m thinking I should perhaps pay more attention to Slate as a news source…

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s a hit or miss proposition. Remember, Slate also has the XX Factor, where Amanda Marcotte explains why all men are evil misogynists and all sex is rape. You have to take the good with the bad.

  4. Mark D


    If you insist on republishing images such as those pictured second and third above, please have the decency to include a prominent trigger warnings for those of us in the avalanche survivor community.

  5. KP

    Ah yes, our Prime Minister also said freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our society… unless you disagree with vaccines in Australia!
    “”Doctors are calling for the federal government to stop a high-profile American anti-vaccination campaigner from entering Australia for a planned speaking tour in March.””

    ..and to defend your freedom of speech you certainly don’t want a couple of un-armed policemen outside, you want your staff members to carry sidearms! I get incensed by the moaning and wailing but no recognition that a Govt cannot protect you, they can only investigate after you are dead!

  6. John A. Bourgeois

    Je suis Charlie! Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite! And now, for once, let’s try to live up to the ideals that allegedly informed the creation of our Constitution which (Freedom Fries notwithstanding) owe something to the French (and English) enlightenment. Herblock and many others must be weeping. A significant fear is that France, like us, will exploit the incredible unity that now envelops it to justify the further erosion of individual liberty to exalt security. Which would, of course, grant victory to the scumbags.

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  8. Bruce Godfrey

    The fresh legend – perhaps the truth, though it would take actual journalism to confirm it – is that a Muslim police officer whose bailiwick included Charlie Hebdo’s offices died in the defense of the security and rights of a publication that routinely mocked his religion and culture.

    It may be an urban myth, but if it be a fable, I’ll take it over Aesop’s talking pigs.

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  10. Vvill

    At The Intercept, Glen Greenwald raises an (IMO) important issue : we seem to agree that Freedom of (public) speech is uncompromisingly essential… but how far would _we_ be willing to go to make that point ?
    [Trigger warning: intentionally offensive images]

    [Ed. Note: This comment violates almost every rule here, but it raises an important point.]

    1. SHG Post author

      If Greenwald’s point is to challenge the hypocrisy of identitarian groups, whether progressive, pro-Israel, anti-Christian, whatever, he’s right. But his conclusion is wrong; his beef is with hypocrites, not with free speech advocates.

      You included a trigger warning. Why? That, in itself, is part of the hypocrisy of free speech, and embrace of the progressive concept that people are entitled to, and should be, forewarned that the life has unpleasant things ahead. That’s life. Suck it up and live it.

      Here is one of the “offensive” cartoons included in Greenwald’s post (no trigger warning, because we’re not infants):


      So I’m Jewish. I should be offended. I should argue that this is different, that this is wrong, a lie, should be censored. Meh. It will compete in the marketplace of ideas like all others, and if it’s wrong, it will lose. That’s that.

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