Quotes of the day

According to a story by CNNers Brian Stelter and Tom Kludt, Zucker opened an editorial meeting this morning with the following message: “‘Journalistically, every bone says we want to use and should use’ the cartoons, Zucker said. But ‘as managers, protecting and taking care of the safety of our employees around the world is more important right now.’”

Which amounts to an admission that fear of terrorism is driving CNN’s editorial decisions

Yet his capitulation to fear doesn’t withstand scrutiny on any level. As to the suggestion that somehow self-censoring the Charlie Hebdo drawings protects Zucker’s foreign correspondents, consider what little provocation brings deadly consequences: The Islamic State terror group beheaded an aid worker; it beheaded freelance journalists. Those incidents served as a warning that any journalist — any Westerner — who falls into the hands of the enemy is in extreme danger overseas. CNN’s front-liners were at risk before the Charlie Hebdo affair, and they’ll be at risk after the Charlie Hebdo affair, without regard to how CNN treats the magazine’s controversial drawings. For that matter, people sitting in their offices in Paris are obviously at risk now, too.


In a world where Muslim extremists weren’t killing people for such things, I’d be against publishing such material (not as matter of law, but of editorial judgment). But we don’t live in that world. And the slaughter in Paris only makes that more of a reality.
Whereas last week, running satirical pictures of Mohammed largely made sense only as a matter of opinion journalism, it is now a requirement of news reporting — because those images are central to the story. Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor of Charlie Hebdo, and his colleagues were murdered because they ran those pictures. It’s understandable that news outlets wouldn’t want to invite similar attacks by printing or broadcasting those images. But by refusing to do so, they send a message: “We’re afraid of you.”

That’s an unequivocal win for the terrorists.

But when outlets do run the images, the radicals get to say, “See, look at their disrespect for Islam and the prophet. There can be no compromise with these infidels.”

That’s a win for the terrorists, too.


Beyond all of that, the publish-or-not issue is a controversy only an intellectual could talk himself into. There’s been talk, both before the Hebdo attacks and since, that the cartoons were “silly provocations” (this was Le Figaro’s pre-attack judgment) and that other similar satires were just so much “oil on the fire” (this was what French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said, also prior to the attack).

The implication is that, yes, we have a right to be offensive, but let’s not be offensive this time, maybe just this once, because — and this is the part that’s usually not said out loud — this particular group of satire targets is more than unusually violent and nuts and struggles more even than the average fundamentalist on the sense of humor front.

That point of view is a gross and shameful capitulation. I’m against easing back on the offensive cartoons “just this once” for the same reason I don’t believe in fighting al-Qaeda by “temporarily” tossing out habeas corpus and committing acts of torture: you lose in advance when you give up your culture.

Free speech is a crucial part of who we are. If we give it up because a vocal minority in a different culture disagrees — a minority, incidentally that believes we had things figured better in the seventh century — then we don’t deserve free speech at all. And yes, it sucks that we have to risk bloodshed and destruction over a cartoon, but that’s what’s on the line here, our way of life.


[Charlie Hebdo’s] work featuring Mohammed could be sophomoric and racist. Not all of it; a cover image of the prophet about to be beheaded by a witless ISIS thug was trenchant commentary on how little Islamic radicalism has to do with the religion itself. But often, the cartoonists simply rendered Islam’s founder as a hook-nosed wretch straight out of Edward Said’s nightmares, seemingly for no purpose beyond antagonizing Muslims who, rightly or wrongly, believe that depicting Mohammed at all is blasphemous…

Free speech allows us to say hateful, idiotic things without being punished by the government. But embracing that right means that we need to acknowledge when work is hateful or idiotic, and can’t be defended on its own terms. We need to recognize, as Vox’s Matt Yglesias argues today, that standing up for magazines like Charlie Hebdo is a “regrettable” necessity, in part because it provides cover for anti-Muslim backlash. “Blasphemous, mocking images cause pain in marginalized communities,” he writes. “The elevation of such images to a point of high principle will increase the burdens on those minority groups.” And the more those groups are mistreated, the more angry radicals we can expect to see.

So what should we do? We have to condemn obvious racism as loudly as we defend the right to engage in it. We have to point out when an “edgy” cartoon is just a crappy Islamophobic jab. We shouldn’t pretend that every magazine cover with a picture of Mohammed is a second coming of The Satanic Verses. Making those distinctions isn’t going to placate the sorts of militants who are already apt to tote a machine gun into a magazine office. But it is a way to show good faith to the rest of a marginalized community, to show that free speech isn’t just about mocking their religion.





Do liberals actually believe in the right to offend? Their attitude seems to me to be ambivalent at best. And this equivocation was apparent within hours of the attack, when news outlets censored or refused to publish the images for which the Charlie Hebdo editors were killed. Classifying satire or opinion as “hate speech” subject to regulation is not an aberration. It is commonplace.

Indeed, the outpouring of support for free speech in the aftermath of the Paris attack coincides with, and partially obscures, the degradation of speech rights in the West. Commencement last year was marked by universities revoking appearances by speakers Condoleezza Rice and Ayaan Hirsi Ali for no other reason than that mobs disagreed with the speakers’ points of view. I do not recall liberals rallying behind Condi and Hirsi Ali then.

Nor do I recall liberals standing up for the critics of global warming and evolutionary theory, of same-sex marriage and trans rights and women in combat, of riots in Ferguson and of Obama’s decision to amnesty millions of illegal immigrants. On the contrary: To dissent from the politically correct and conventional and fashionable is to invite rebuke, disdain, expulsion from polite society, to court the label of Islamophobe or denier or bigot or cisnormative or misogynist or racist or carrier of privilege and irredeemable micro-aggressor. For the right to offend to have any meaning, however, it cannot be limited to theistic religions. You must have the right to offend secular humanists, too.


Today’s threats to free speech are more likely to come from “social justice warriors” on the left who say they are defending the feelings of those deemed to be crushed under the weight of supposedly systemic racism and sexism. The movement is most evident on college campuses. Twenty years ago, the ACLU inveighed against the rise of campus speech “codes or policies prohibiting speech that offends any group based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.” Whatever the intention, the ACLU argued (and still does), such rules end up policing and punishing thought, which should be anathema anywhere but especially at a university. As the student rights group (FIRE) documents on an appallingly regular basis, the ease with which colleges infringe on expression and association is unceasing.

More recently, under the guise of protecting victims of sexual assault, the federal government tied higher education funding to creating on-campus legal proceedings that stripped defendants of due process rights. The silencing of defendants’ rights under federal guidelines is so egregious that even the overwhelmingly progressive faculty of Harvard Law School called the government’s actions beyond the pale. Then there’s the move toward “trigger warnings,” mandatory announcements that reading and discussing material such as The Great Gatsby may cause post-traumatic stress disorders, and the creation of a whole new range of offensive and thus actionable speech called “micro-aggressions.”

The atmosphere on campuses has gotten repressive enough that comedian Chris Rock no longer plays colleges. Citing examples such as University of California at Berkeley students trying to bar an appearance by Bill Maher because of his anti-Muslim jokes, Rock told New York that he “stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative… Not in their political views—not like they’re voting Republican—but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody… You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.”…

Yes, today we are all Charlie Hebdo, and that’s a great thing. But it’s tomorrow—and the day after tomorrow—that really matters.


Americans may laud Charlie Hebdo for being brave enough to publish cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, but, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali is invited to campus, there are often calls to deny her a podium.

So this might be a teachable moment. As we are mortified by the slaughter of those writers and editors in Paris, it’s a good time to come up with a less hypocritical approach to our own controversial figures, provocateurs and satirists…

Healthy societies, in other words, don’t suppress speech, but they do grant different standing to different sorts of people. Wise and considerate scholars are heard with high respect. Satirists are heard with bemused semirespect. Racists and anti-Semites are heard through a filter of opprobrium and disrespect. People who want to be heard attentively have to earn it through their conduct.

The massacre at Charlie Hebdo should be an occasion to end speech codes. And it should remind us to be legally tolerant toward offensive voices, even as we are socially discriminating.


“He lived without fear, but he knew he would die,” Jeannette Bougrab, 41, told French TV station BMFTV of Stephane Charbonnier — aka “Charb.” “He never had children because he knew he was going to die.”…

“[Charbonnier] died standing,” Bougrab added. “He died, executed with his comrades, as he would say.”


France is not finished with this threat and so I want to call on you for vigilance, unity, and mobilization.”