Freedom of expression, without the expression

Here one would have been tempted to ask the imam when the right time would have been for Charlie Hebdo to publish its cartoons, but the interviewer did not. “But let them not deceive themselves,” the imam continued. “It is for them now to accept their part in the material damage that will be caused, and in every building burnt, every person attacked or killed, their responsibility will be involved.” This is surely an odd way of looking at the situation, accepting as it does the logic of the blackmailer or the intimidator: either you do as we say, or we will be violent.

Or perhaps the imam thinks of his more violently inclined coreligionists in the way that the Roman aristocrats thought of the plebs in Julius Caesar: “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things,” which is to say, as mere material objects that don’t think or decide but merely react as water to wind or rocks to gravity.

If a Republican physically attacked a Democrat, or a Democrat a Republican, after one said something with which the other strongly disagreed, would it be any defense for the attacker to say, “He knew perfectly well that I detested his views”? Freedom of expression requires not so much the exercise of self-control in what is said as its exercise in reaction to what is said. I can hardly look at a book these days without taking offense at something that it contains, but if I smash a window in annoyance, the blame is only mine—even if the author knows perfectly well that what he wrote will offend many such as I.