They finally went too far for the apologists. Not even militant Islam’s sympathizers, who are too often willing to absolve violent Islamists of acts which they would never condone in anyone else, appear to see any rationale for the brutal attack on a Parisian satirical magazine. The bloody terrorist attack left 12 dead, including two police officers and the magazine’s editor-in-chief.
It is not the first time this magazine has been targeted by Islamist fanatics. In November, 2011, the offices of that French weekly were firebombed after it performed the silly stunt of naming the Prophet Mohammed as it’s “editor-in-chief.” The magazine further poked at the bear by announcing it would rename itself “Sharia Hebdo.”
The magazine knew they were entering into dangerous waters, and they forged ahead anyway. The paper has a long history of following in the courageous footsteps of a Dutch cartoonist who set the Islamic world alight when he depicted the Prophet, itself a blasphemous act for Muslims, with a suicide bomb on his head. When this magazine reprinted those cartoons, it was taken to court for “insulting” Islam.
In 2012, the paper sparked international incidents with its failure to observe proper intimidation. The Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt called on French authorities to take action against the paper for publishing cartoons designed to insult hypersensitive Islamic radicals. “If the case of [the controversial publication of topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge by another publication] is a matter of privacy, then the cartoons are an insult to a whole people,” said the head of the Muslim Brotherhood party in Egypt at the time. “The beliefs of others must be respected.” France was forced to close schools and shutter embassies in majority Muslim nations as a result of this paper’s provocative drawings.
Even the White House felt the need to criticize the wisdom of Charlie Hebdo’s provocative cartoons. “We don’t question the right of something like this to be published, we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it,” said then White House Press Sec. Jay Carney in 2012, though he noted that no cartoon justifies a violent response.
While some of the publication’s provocative cover art is often sexually suggestive, most of the cartoons that have set the world on fire and inspired bloodshed are relatively tame. “Love is stronger than hate,” read the caption on one cartoon in which Mohammed is depicted kissing a male cartoonist. “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter,” said the paper’s false EIC, the Prophet Mohammed, on a cover. Charlie Hebdo’s editor died for these offenses against Islamist propriety.
Yes, the terrorist have gone too far today, but some felt that the earlier violence against Hebdo was perfectly justified.
“[N]ot only are such Islamophobic antics futile and childish, but they also openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy in the name of common good,” read a 2011 column from Time Magazine’s Paris bureau chief, Bruce Crumley.
That’s right. According to one of their colleagues in the business of print, the magazine was just asking for violence with their taunts.
“Predictably, the strike unleashed a torrent of unqualified condemnation from French politicians, many of whom called the burning of the notoriously impertinent paper as ‘an attack on democracy by its enemies,’” He scoffed. “We, by contrast, have another reaction to the firebombing: Sorry for your loss, Charlie, and there’s no justification of such an illegitimate response to your current edition. But do you still think the price you paid for printing an offensive, shameful, and singularly humor-deficient parody on the logic of ‘because we can’ was so worthwhile? If so, good luck with those charcoal drawings your pages will now be featuring.”
It reads like a letter penned by a prisoner of war who has finally succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome.
Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile. Baiting extremists isn’t bravely defiant when your manner of doing so is more significant in offending millions of moderate people as well. And within a climate where violent response—however illegitimate—is a real risk, taking a goading stand on a principle virtually no one contests is worse than pointless: it’s pointlessly all about you.
So, yeah, the violence inflicted upon Charlie Hebdo was outrageous, unacceptable, condemnable, and illegal. But apart from the “illegal” bit, Charlie Hebdo’s current edition is all of the above, too.
One gets the impression from his professed lack of “sympathy” that Crumley might have wished that the free expression in which this paper engaged was as illegal as the violence which he went out of his way to excuse.
Fortunately for civilization, Crumley’s cowardly condemnation of Western values was not echoed by even his friends on the left. The editors at the left-leaning French paper Le Monde called the cartoons “in bad taste, even disgusting,” but not as disgusting as causing injury to others over a cartoon.
This is absolute madness. For too long, apologists have excused violence as a response to cartoons or obscure YouTube sendups featuring the figures sacred to the Islamic religion. If it is not excused, it is at least understood. “I don’t feel as though I’m killing someone with a pen,” editor and cartoonist Stéphane Charbonnier, who is among the seriously injured, said of his paper’s cartoons. “I’m not putting lives at risk. When activists need a pretext to justify their violence, they always find it.”
The apologists of Islamist violence would do well to keep that in mind as they flail in the self-flagellating effort to demonstrate for their would-be murderers that they, and not their offending associates, should be spared.
Update: Charbonnier is now listed among those killed in this attack.
UPDATE: The Financial Times has determined that the editors and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were just inviting thier own murders by provoking the unstable.
A good catch via Politico’s Dylan Byers.
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. [Emphasis added]
Cowardice masquerading as prudence.
Update (Ed): A apokesperson from the Financial Times politely e-mails to point out that Barber is a columnist and not the official editorial voice of the publication. Both Noah and I didn’t make that very clear, so I’ve updated both posts. I’ve also included an excerpt of their lead editorial, which made a much different argument.