France's turn?

The US may no longer command the full attention of angry Muslims marching in the streets, thanks to a satirical newspaper in France and its decision to publish cartoons featuring Mohammed.  Charlie Hebdo offered its latest issue earlier today, and France has reacted by clamping down on protest and closing some of its embassies, consulates, and schools (via JWF):

France has temporarily closed its embassies and schools in 20 countries after a satirical magazine in Paris published insulting cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, a move it fears will add “fuel to the fire” of global tensions over an anti-Islam film.

“We have indeed decided as a precautionary measure to close our premises, embassies, consulates, cultural centers and schools,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters.

It’s not as if the magazine doesn’t know what it’s doing; their offices got firebombed almost a year ago after publishing cartoons ridiculing Islam. CH’s cartoons are fully intended to provoke this time as well.  NBC describes the front-page cartoon, which mocks the violence from Muslim radicals by portraying Mohammed as a sick old man in a wheelchair:

The front page cartoon had the figure in a wheelchair saying “You mustn’t mock” under the headline “Untouchable 2”, a reference to a hugely popular French movie about a paralyzed rich white man and his black assistant.

Will France stand up for free speech and the right to criticize groups that engage in violence?  So far, the hints aren’t terribly encouraging:

The prime minister said freedom of expression is guaranteed in France, but cautioned that it “should be exercised with responsibility and respect.”

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius defended freedom of expression, but warned thatCharlie Hebdo could be throwing “oil on the fire” and said it’s up to courts to decide whether the magazine went too far.

“Freedom of expression can be limited by court decisions. If there is a case of overstepping, it’s up to individuals or groups to bring it to the courts, which will say whether the law … was respected,” he said after a Cabinet meeting.

Abdallah Zekri, President of the Paris-Based Anti-Islamophobia Observatory, said his group is considering filing a lawsuit but no decision has been made. “People want to create trouble in France,” he told AP. “Charlie Hebdo wants to make money on the backs of Muslims.”

As Allahpundit wrote last night, this basically means that any group that responds violently to speech wins the right to dictate to everyone else what the limit of that speech will be.  That isn’t freedom, nor is it free speech; it’s living within the dictates of a violent mob.  France has different laws governing freedom of expression than we do, of course, but suggesting that courts will censor people in order to prevent violence by theiropponents is a very large leap toward living under siege.

Interestingly, federal courts in the US have a different view — at least for now (via Pamela Geller):

As violent and sometimes deadly protests consume much of the Muslim world in response to an American-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad, New Yorkers will soon encounter another potentially inflammatory rendering of Islam: an advertisement in the transit system that reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.”

It concludes with the words, “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad,” wedged between two Stars of David.

After rejecting the ads initially, then losing a federal court ruling on First Amendment grounds, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said on Tuesday that the ads were expected to appear next week at 10 subway stations.

“Our hands are tied,” Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the authority, said when asked about the timing of the ad.

In July, Judge Paul A. Engelmayer of Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled that the authority had violated the First Amendment rights of the group that sought to place the ad, the American Freedom Defense Initiative. The authority had cited the ad’s “demeaning” language in barring its placement.

Inflammatory?  Perhaps, but after watching the repeated paroxysms of rage resulting from any critical speech about Islam over the last several years, it’s difficult to dispute the central thesis that at some level this is a conflict between civilization and its opposite.  Freedom of speech is intended to solidify civilization, allowing for discourse to replace gunfire as the means to which one’s values prevail.  If we allow gunfire to determine the limits of speech as imposed by those who consider us their enemy, then civilization a chimera, an illusion that covers up a totalitarian reality.

That’s easy to forget in the heat of the moment.  It’s our duty to remember what’s at stake, however, before it’s lost entirely.