Increasingly, I’m running across the view that true opposition to the Charlie Hebdo attack, and true dedication to free speech, requires reprinting the Muhammad cartoons that got the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists (and others) killed. A corollary of this view is that if you don’t reprint them, the terrorists will win, and those who don’t reprint them are contributing to their “victory.” Here’s a crystal clear version of the view, from the combox of BHL (via Mark Friedman):
By murder, these terrorists are attempting to shrink the moral space available to everyone else. They are trying to place certain ideas off limits. There is only one effective way to reclaim this space, and it is not just to condemn and punish them, and to express our love and solidarity with the victims. No, the only way is to repeat and amplify the original message; in other words to republish on a wider scale the cartoons that mock and insult Muhammad. Every publication that claims to care about free expression should do this. Otherwise, whatever we do to these particular terrorists, they have won.
I don’t buy it. Here’s my response (I’ve rephrased one sentence, but retained the same basic meaning):
How does it expand moral space to demand that everyone either reprint the cartoons or be regarded as giving aid and comfort to terrorism? That sounds more like trapping everyone in a false dichotomy: it’s either your idiosyncratic preferences or else being regarded as a terrorist-sympathizer.
If I just happen not to like the Muhammad cartoons, but explicitly come out against the terrorists and in favor of free speech, your view implies that I have to reprint them against my own aesthetic judgments–or else I’m helping the terrorists win. As far as you’re concerned, no matter what someone says, no one can sincerely be in favor of free speech unless he or she reprints the cartoons. That demand doesn’t “expand” anything but the license to poison the well.
If someone shot Jeff Koons on religio-aesthetic grounds, would I be obliged to festoon my blog with his artwork? At that point, I’d hope that someone might shoot me, on grounds of mercy.
If a modern-day Julius Streicher came into existence, then got shot for publishing a modern-day version of Der Sturmer, would we all then have to reprint this?
I think pluralism implies that we get to choose our own way of defending free speech, as long as it’s a genuine and sincere way of doing so.
In that “genuine and sincere” spirit, I wanted to draw attention to a comment on my earlier post, by PoT’s own Derrick Abdul-Hakim:
The attack on Wednesday marked a threshold for me, a day signifying a point of no return. Wednesday’s attack had the hallmarks of a neatly scripted horror film. But it was no horror film. It was violence in real time. The attack wasn’t just an attack on a magazine or its sacrilegious protocols to defame and mock. It was a coldly calculated attack on liberty itself. Whatever happens next, going forward after Wednesday will require us to rethink some of our conclusions and come to terms with a few hard truths. By “us” I don’t mean those of us in North America, Europe, or Australia. I mean Muslims. I can’t speak for every Muslim, but I’m sure I’m not alone in my reflective mood.
Going forward we must bear some degree of accountability. I don’t mean we should collectively bear responsibility for what happened. No Muslim apart from the thugs who carried out the heinous act ought to take responsibility for it. However, at some point we have to admit there are those within our vast communities who believe it is morally acceptable to resort to tribal rage in the name of grievance, those who sanctify it, and those who are utterly complacent about it. We’ve used the grievance trump card for decades now. It’s time to man/woman up and place blame where blame is due. Non-Muslims now have grievances against us.
We also must come to terms with the reality that there are those within our midst who believe there is scriptural warrant for aggression. They’re not a fringe, microscopic minority. They exist in every corner of the Muslim world. Referencing statistics about how the majority of us are serene and law abiding is at best evasive. In addition to that we must also call out those who justify or advocate for violence, and call them out loudly and unequivocally. Sure, it’ll be a cosmic struggle, one that in some quarters will be taken as an act akin to treason. It’ll result in communal libel, slander, accusations of all sorts, etc. But we’re also aggressive promoters of local and global jihad (struggle). And if jihad is a virtue worthy of its honorific status then weaselling out of doing what’s right is no excuse. It’s time to put our money where our jihad-filled mouths are.
Lastly, we ought to cut ties with non-Muslim enablers who attempt exonerate the violent ones among us from accountability by placing blame on “external causes” or explanatorily epiphenomenal notions like “extremism”. The Nicholas Kristofs of the world who believe they can commentate on Muslim affairs without reference to agency do us more harm than good.
I doubt half of this will be met. Nonetheless, let my thoughts here serve as a piece of electronic evidence that there’s at least one Muslim who refuses to bury his head in the sand.
Jazak’allah. One of these days, we’ll have to hash out the “Allah” part of that, but for now, I’ll just stick with the jazak.
PS, a nice post on Charlie Hebdo, with illuminating historical perspective, by Tim Sandefur at Freespace (ht: Carrie-Ann Biondi).
PS 3, February 7, 2015: A very useful piece in The New York Times on the authoritarian double standards of French laicite.