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

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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Stephen Moore 12:00 AM | February 22, 2024