Financial Times columnist: Charlie Hebdo kinda asked for it, y’know

posted at 2:01 pm on January 7, 2015 by Ed Morrissey

Ahem. One might expect this kind of reaction from apologists for radical Islam or for those predispositioned to be contrarians, but people within the media world who rely on the ability to offer criticism, including ridicule on occasion? Via Dylan Byers at Politico, here’s the hot take from Financial Times columnist Tony Barber:

Two years ago it published a 65-page strip cartoon book portraying the Prophet’s life. And this week it gave special coverage to Soumission (“Submission”), a new novel by Michel Houellebecq, the idiosyncratic author, which depicts France in the grip of an Islamic regime led by a Muslim president.

In other words, Charlie Hebdo has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling French Muslims. If the magazine stops just short of outright insults, it is nevertheless not the most convincing champion of the principle of freedom of speech. France is the land of Voltaire, but too often editorial foolishness has prevailed at Charlie Hebdo.

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, but are actually just being stupid.

Noah mentioned this in an update on the earlier post, but it’s worth a look on its own. FT’s Tony Barber is correct in describing CH’s history of ridiculing Islam, but he leaves a great deal out. They also ridicule Christianity and Judaism too, as many on Twitter reminded their followers today. One CH cover in particular, which I won’t reproduce here, showed God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in a sexual daisy chain. (I’m not reproducing it myself because I find it offensive and that’s my prerogative, but I’m not demanding that anyone else stop reproducing it if they so choose. That’s freedom. I did choose the front-page image for this post, though.)

Yet, there seemed to be a remarkable lack of revenge killings from Christians or Jews over CH’s insults to their beliefs. Their satirical takes on Mohammed and Islam certainly didn’t exceed that level of blasphemy, and yet it’s only the criticism of Islam that Barber calls “stupid.” The implication here is that it’s only stupid to poke fun at Islam, and then only because Muslim extremists will kill people who do so … which actually validates the criticisms and ridicule of Charlie Hebdo.

Even more shockingly, Barber’s concern isn’t that Islamist extremists are committing mass murders against journalists and critics in France, but that the politics in France might shift to those who oppose the multi-culturalism that pretends there are no differences between Islam and the West:

In France 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 forms part of the electoral appeal of a party that topped the polls in May in France’s European Parliament elections.

Er, no. The next question is to find the perpetrators. The question after that is to find whomever may have provided assistance to them. The next question after that is to deal with the radicalization of those in France and provide enough disincentive to make sure that they think twice about mass murder, especially aimed at freedom of speech. Barber busies himself with blathering about the legacy of the French colonial period in North Africa, which is interesting in an academic sense but is mainly intellectual masturbation in relation to the present threat.

If that’s all that France’s other leaders offer in the face of this massacre, then French citizens may indeed pay a little more attention to Le Pen and her National Front. The vapid “not all Muslims” multiculturalism that has become the knee-jerk response of apologists and hand-wringers won’t keep cutting it for very much longer, there or here. Blaming cartoonists for their own massacre will make that process move more quickly.

Update: A spokesperson from the Financial Times politely e-mails to point out that Barber is a columnist and not the official editorial voice of the publication. I’ve clarified that in the headline and the lead paragraph. Their lead editorial took a much different point of view:

In any democratic society, there should always be room for a civilised debate about taste and propriety when it comes to the mockery of any religious faith. But what cannot be challenged is the fundamental right of all citizens to express themselves freely within the law. In an age marked by growth in religious belief and the increasing politicisation of faith, all religion must be open to opinion, analysis and lampoonery.

In the last quarter century there have been many attempts to use intimidation to silence satire and dissent. The Iranian regime set the precedent when it issued a fatwa against the author Salman Rushdie in response to his book The Satanic Verses. North Korea has just used cyber violence to prevent the distribution of an unflattering film about its leader Kim Jong Un.

Now we have the appalling spectacle in Paris. The response of the free world to this must be unwavering. Charlie Hebdo may be a very different publication to our own, but the courage of its journalists — and their right to publish — cannot be placed in doubt. A free press is worth nothing if its practitioners do not feel free to speak.

Indeed. Kudos to them for this position.


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It is a reminder that our 1st Amendment rights are still unique in the world and other countries do not share our appreciation of freedom.

I hope FT fires this mutt. He doesn’t deserve a platform. Let him set up a soapbox outside a mosque and preach to the choir.


Will you still submit your work to FT Ed? Just curious. Because this type of spinelessness does not rate your efforts.

Difficultas_Est_Imperium on January 7, 2015 at 2:11 PM

Why wouldn’t he? This was one idiotic columnist, not the publisher.

Adjoran on January 7, 2015 at 4:33 PM

You want Perfect, then ask Him. Really ask. You don’t get it from any book. Words are clumsy things.

fadetogray on January 7, 2015 at 3:22 PM

Your perspective takes textual criticism to new level. Pardon me if I prefer to put my trust in the Bible rather than whatever hunger pangs or brain tumors are talking to you inside your head. We talk to God through prayer. That’s not how he talks to us.

Immolate on January 7, 2015 at 4:37 PM

That Charlie Hebdo slut had it coming.

Eddie Baby on January 7, 2015 at 4:40 PM

oscarwilde on January 7, 2015 at 2:59 PM

Yes, I know that is what most Christians say, and it is one of several reasons I do not consider myself a Christian.

You are wrong about this, Oscar, and if you would pray deeply enough for understanding, you would realize it. People who are martyred fighting against Satan are among God’s most cherished. These people were all volunteers who knew they were putting their lives in grave danger opposing a demonic evil (though they might have flinched at using the word ‘demonic’ and perhaps even ‘evil’).

BTW, they did come to the Father through Jesus. You just don’t understand how that works. But there are other passages in the Bible that get it more clearly wrong.

The Book is not Perfect. Saying it is Perfect blasphemes against God.

You want Perfect, then ask Him. Really ask. You don’t get it from any book. Words are clumsy things.

fadetogray on January 7, 2015 at 3:22 PM

You are directly contradicting Jesus Christ, you may want to believe what you are spouting, but your wish for it to be so does not make it so.

There is a way that seems right unto a man, but it’s ends are death. What you assert is nothing short of pure fantasy. Fantasy I might add created by none other than the father of all lies.

oscarwilde on January 7, 2015 at 5:16 PM

Financial Times columnist: Charlie Hebdo kinda asked for it, y’know.

Would he say the same thing if some offended Christians did the same to Andres Serrano and everyone associated with creating and displaying his work of ‘art’?

farsighted on January 7, 2015 at 6:27 PM

The Media INCITES this kind of Murder with a Language of “pish-tosh” and “snark” or “sarcasm” in response to TRULY EVIL DEEDS – while taking the people who FIGHT evil to Woodshed-Stick-Driving Task for even the SLIGHTEST act that they find distasteful…..

…..gee – you might even see that attitude in Posts here…..

…..The MEDIA needs to be Tried and PUNISHED for this Behavior – it’s LOOOONG Overdue, and it won’t happen……..any sooner than John Boehner will STOP Retaliating Against CONSERVATIVES!

williamg on January 7, 2015 at 9:28 PM

…..for example – look at the headline for this post…

williamg on January 7, 2015 at 9:35 PM

….for an Example of A Proper and APPROPRIATE Headline – see the Link Below:

williamg on January 7, 2015 at 10:07 PM

…….”ahem” is a bad word to start with after a mass-murder based on a religious belief…..

…….I can think of some good ones……a lot of them begin with “F”……

williamg on January 7, 2015 at 10:08 PM

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.

Good God. This is exactly condoning the murderers, it precisely suggests that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion.

applebutter on January 8, 2015 at 11:07 AM

Trying to rationalize their own cowardice…

Partly, but also trying to rationalize their own bigotry as well.

Pardon me if I prefer to put my trust in the Bible rather than whatever hunger pangs or brain tumors are talking to you inside your head. We talk to God through prayer. That’s not how he talks to us.

I’m not sure how this differs from saying, “I talk to God… I don’t listen to Him.”

You believe that the Bible is the word of God, but do you not concede that those words were written down by humans, every bit as fallible as you are? You can argue that they were divinely inspired, that God spoke to them directly…. okay, but what makes God any more or less likely to speak to them than to you?

I have no problem with reading the Bible and taking the lessons therein on board…. but if your acceptance of them is so complete that your brain doesn’t question any aspect of the subject at all anymore, that rather begs the question of why God bothered to give you one in the first place. Stipulating that your understanding of the word of God is the most important thing there can ever be in your life, if your brain isn’t to be used for that purpose, what is it for?

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect, has intended us to forego their use.

Personally I consider it possible, even likely, that at least some of the Bible is fiction. But I do not think that invalidates it, either. After all, the same person who gave English the word “fable” also gave us “sour grapes” and “crying wolf,” which everybody knows are accurate descriptors of real-life situations.

If I stipulate the existence of God in the first place, I find it impossible not to concede that He was at least as smart as Aesop.

GrumpyOldFart on January 8, 2015 at 11:21 AM

My only thought is, if you are going to make cartoons that piss off the crazies, you and everyone in your newspaper should be armed to the teeth with guns and armor. I wish they had been able to fight these Muslim bastards back with both Ink & lead.

portlandon on January 7, 2015 at 2:11 PM

At the very least, hire some kind of security guards.
Put surveillance cameras at the doors.
Something to show they were expecting trouble.
If they weren’t expecting trouble, then they really were stupid.

AesopFan on January 8, 2015 at 1:50 PM

Hitchens is greatly missed.

When Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses in 1988, he did so in the hope of forwarding a discussion that was already opening in the Muslim world, between extreme Quranic literalists and those who hoped that the text could be interpreted. We know what his own reward was, and we sometimes forget that the fatwa was directed not just against him but against “all those involved in its publication,” which led to the murder of the book’s Japanese translator and the near-deaths of another translator and one publisher. 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.

AesopFan on January 8, 2015 at 1:52 PM