On Wednesday, USA Today took the lamentable step of providing a counterpoint to the commonly accepted view that it is wrong to slaughter people charged with the subjectively defined offense of maligning Islam. In an op-ed by radical British cleric Anjem Choudary, the reader was warned of the consequences of his or her blasphemy.
Choudary said that it was obvious even before the deadly attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris that Muslims will “take the law into their own hands” if their religion’s prophet is slandered, and he blamed French authorities for putting their citizens at risk by allowing them this dangerous freedom.
“[W]hy in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the sanctity of its citizens at risk?” Choudary asked.
It appears an unlikely coalition of the censorious is forming across religious boundaries. Choudary found an improbable ally in Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, who expressed solidarity with those who believe those who were murdered in Paris on Wednesday had it coming.
“Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned,” Donohue wrote just hours after the slaughter of 12 journalists, cartoonists, police, and average French citizens. “But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction.”
Those who work at this newspaper have a long and disgusting record of going way beyond the mere lampooning of public figures, and this is especially true of their depictions of religious figures. For example, they have shown nuns masturbating and popes wearing condoms. They have also shown Muhammad in pornographic poses.
While some Muslims today object to any depiction of the Prophet, others do not. Moreover, visual representations of him are not proscribed by the Koran. What unites Muslims in their anger against Charlie Hebdo is the vulgar manner in which Muhammad has been portrayed. What they object to is being intentionally insulted over the course of many years. On this aspect, I am in total agreement with them.
Stephane Charbonnier, the paper’s publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death. In 2012, when asked why he insults Muslims, he said, “Muhammad isn’t sacred to me.” Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive. Muhammad isn’t sacred to me, either, but it would never occur to me to deliberately insult Muslims by trashing him.
As if brazenly blaming Charbonnier for his own murder by Islamist radicals was not offensive enough, Donohue has the temerity to quote James Madison at the close of his justification for religious violence.
“Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuses of power,” Donohue quoted Madison, who wrote these words in Federalist 63. Madison was talking about the U.S. Senate which, at the time, was a body of appointed officials and not one responsible to the will of the electorate. He warned that such a condition could eventually transform that body into a “tyrannical aristocracy,” an outcome thwarted by the 17th Amendment. But Donohue freely and dishonestly twisted its meaning and removed it from context so as to suggest that the ideological godfather of this Republic would be perfectly comfortable with retributory religious murder. How positively grotesque.
The weakness of these and other arguments in favor of censorship are self-evident. Some claim that they want to avoid offending the fragile sensibilities of religious fanatics. Others suggest that needlessly provoking the unstable is tantamount to suicide. “When activists need a pretext to justify their violence, they always find it,” the late Charbonnier told Le Monde. You cannot appease the radicals.
This also demonstrates why those news outlets that have determined not to show the “offensive” cartoons cited by the Charlie Hebdo attackers are the impetus for their bloody actions are fools. The fanatics will not judge them noble for this display of cowardice. The New York Times will not be spared by the Islamist radical even while he seeks to destroy the Gomorrah in which the paper operates. Appeasement is timidity operating under the pretense of caution. The Choudarys and the Donohues of the world are as dangerous, if not as criminal as Charlie Hebdo’s attackers. They cannot be appeased.