In fact, in a line of thinking best articulated by New York Times columnist and CNN contributor Ross Douthat, the violent reaction to Charlie Hebdo’s offensive cartoons not only justifies but also somehow demands that we not only continue but also ramp up that offense as a form of protest. “If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said,” wrote Douthat. In other words, the violent reaction to something offensive not only retroactively justifies the offense in the first place but valorizes its rationale going forward?
Some have indeed argued that because some radical Islamists resort to violence it justifies not only broad offenses and smears of the entire religion but also thinking of such smears against Islam as different from those directed at Judaism or Christianity. This ignores, for example, mass murderer Anders Breivik, who left a 1,500 page manifesto proclaiming himself “100% a Christian” and advancing his vision of a “monocultural Christian Europe.”
In 2011, Breivik killed 77 people in Norway. Does that attack justify blasphemy against Christianity and make it incumbent on all of us to increase such blasphemy as a form of protest? The likely response — that violence inspired by Christianity or Judaism is somehow an exception while violence inspired by Islam is a rule –i s merely a way of justifying in hindsight and in perpetuity smears against a group one has already decided to hate.