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.
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?
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.
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?