Offensive, ain't it? But freedom of speech is hollow without the possibility of offending. "Offense" is in the eye of the beholder: one day, it's a cartoon of Muhammad. The next day, it might be denying Muhammad's standing as a prophet as a matter of Christian, Hindu, Jewish, or atheist belief.
Attempting to eradicate "offensive" material because it could hurt people's feelings results in an increasingly sensitized and fearful society, where being "offended" is suddenly a much bigger deal. It ultimately serves to shield those who are calling for the censorship from criticism -- after all, they've been the victims of something "offensive." That is the idea, under the pretext of achieving a "nicer" society (if only "for me, but not for thee"), though the ironic side effect is that ever more severe consequences accompany the possibility of causing offense. That's not very nice. (See also: Richard Landes' essay on "politeness" versus civility, posted here in August.)
Those who sought to silence Charlie Hebdo have committed a major "own goal." The magazine's staff has nothing to lose but its principles, and backing down would hand the thugs a victory, and invite more firebombings to intimidate members of the media into self-censorship.
"Charlie Hebdo front cover depicts Muslim man kissing cartoonist," by Kim Willsher for the Guardian, November 8:
Its offices have been firebombed, its website hacked, its Facebook page suspended for 24 hours and its staff targeted with death threats, so you might have thought the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo would have tried – just for a while – to avoid upsetting anyone.
Mais non! After provoking all the above with last week's special edition "guest edited" by the prophet Muhammad, entitled Charia Hebdo, which took pot-shots at radical Islam, the publication is set to raise a few more hackles with this week's edition, published on Wednesday.
On the front page of the latest edition is a drawing of a male Charlie Hebdo cartoonist passionately kissing a bearded Muslim man, under the headline: L'Amour plus fort que la haine (love is stronger than hate).
In the background of the cartoon, signed Luz, are the ashes of the magazine's offices, completely destroyed in the Molotov cocktail attack last week.
Unlike the previous edition, which featured a front page carton of the prophet and a speech bubble reading "100 lashes if you don't die of laughter", there is no suggestion that the character on the magazine cover is Muhammad.
After the firebombing, French Muslim groups who had been highly critical of Charlie Hebdo, condemned the destruction of its offices. Dalil Boubakeur head of the Paris Mosque, told journalists: "I am extremely attached to the freedom of the press, even if the press is not always tender with Muslims, Islam or the Paris Mosque".
The editor of Charlie Hebdo, Stéphane Charbonnier, said at the time: "We thought the lines had moved and maybe there would be more respect for our satirical work, our right to mock. Freedom to have a good laugh is as important as freedom of speech."
Since then, the magazine's staff have been given a temporary home in the offices of France's leading leftwing daily newspaper Libération, which has also been subject to threats from the Turkish hackers who are said to have pirated Charlie Hebdo's site.
Luz, the cartoonist, refused to condemn extremists for the attack.
"Let's be cautious. There's every reason to believe it's the work of fundamentalists, but it could just as well be the work of two drunks," he wrote afterwards.
Agence France-Presse photo.