He said this on Friday, 48 hours before last night’s attempted reprise of the Paris massacre in Dallas. This can’t be repeated enough: This guy is famous and his colleagues are dead only because the entirety of western media refuses to spread the risk of attack by publishing cartoons of Mohammed themselves. They painted the bullseye on Charlie Hebdo for jihadis by their refusal. And more often than not, they can’t muster the dignified contrition needed to admit that’s what they’ve done. Instead they congratulate themselves on being extorted into silence by dressing it up as “sensitivity” to Muslims.
I wonder if that’s not what’s driving the backlash among the literati to PEN’s decision to give Charlie Hebdo an award. There may be some vestigial feeling of shame here that they’ve placed the full weight of their profession’s duty to defend western free speech from jihadi intimidation on one goofy left-wing French satirical magazine. One way to cope with the guilt from having wronged someone is to convince yourself that the one you’ve wronged is worthy of being despised. Having abandoned Charlie Hebdo to its fate, maybe it eases these turds’ collective conscience to tell themselves now that the magazine is irredeemably racist, a tool of the privileged against poor Muslims. The jihadis can’t be excused for the massacre but maybe Joyce Carol Oates can be excused, in her own mind at least, for not rushing to help such a noxious publication shoulder the load for civilization.
The film critic said it’s important for journalists and ordinary citizens not to self-censor and, staking an absolutist position, said: “We don’t negotiate. There’s either freedom of speech or there is not.”
But Biard said the magazine, which printed nearly 8 million copies of its first post-massacre edition – up from its usual 60,000 – cannot continue its bold exercise of free expression alone, and warned Western journalists they risk emboldening jihadis by avoiding sensitive topics, such as depicting Muhammad, and marginalizing those who do.
Many publications, he said, “turned their back” on Charlie Hebdo by questioning the appropriateness of pillorying religious fanatics.
“The press suffer a lack of courage in this matter,” he said. “We don’t want to be a symbol any longer. … We can’t be the only ones to stand up for these values.”
How would the literati split on Charlie Hebdo if it was a right-wing satirical mag? PEN has refused to back down to liberal dissenters who say the magazine’s unworthy of an award but that’s made relatively easy by the fact that CH is itself unabashedly left. Charb, its murdered former editor, described it a few years ago as left-wing, secularist, and atheist in orientation; even the “racist” cartoons are better understood as absurdist satires on racist perspectives. There’s a clash of values in the PEN debate — free speech in the right to draw Mohammed versus protecting the disenfranchised by discouraging mockery of them — but that debate is between two values the left claims for itself. What if instead the cartoons of Mohammed were intended not just to vindicate free speech under threat but to mock Mohammed sincerely as a contemptible figure and the religion he founded as dangerous, a la the Pam Geller event last night? Would PEN still want to give Charlie Hebdo an award? It should. Defending the right to blaspheme is an increasingly lonely, dangerous business, whatever the motives. But would it?
For what it’s worth, by the way, I’m glad Charlie Hebdo seems to be getting out of the Mohammed trade. If our press corps is going to bow to jihadi extortion, it’s probably better in the long run if there are no mainstream outliers whatsoever. When there’s an outlier, like CH, people can delude themselves that there’s not as much intimidation as they think, that the images they’re curious about are still publicly available, albeit in an obscure French weekly that operates as a sort of samizdat, and therefore there’s not really a crisis of free speech in the west. Let’s eliminate the outlier and face the crisis directly. No more excuses.