France 24 reported last week that “two Muslim groups are suing the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after it published inflammatory cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. In a law suit that will revive the debate between freedom of speech and dangerous provocation, the weekly magazine’s director along with two cartoonists are accused of inciting racial hatred and defamation.”
This comes after the magazine’s September 19, 2012 edition contained numerous cartoons lampooning Muhammad – and this wasn’t the first time Charlie Hebdo had done this. In Fall 2011, the magazine announced plans to feature Muhammad as “editor-in-chief” of an upcoming issue. The initial response was threats. Hackers broke into the magazine’s website and left this message: “You keep abusing Islam’s almighty Prophet with disgusting and disgraceful cartoons using excuses of freedom of speech. Be Allah’s curse upon you!”
Then, when the issue appeared in November 2011, the publication’s offices were firebombed and destroyed. Yet Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier, was not cowed. “We no longer have a newspaper,” he said. “All our equipment has been destroyed or has melted. We cannot, today, put together a paper. But we will do everything possible to do one next week. Whatever happens, we’ll do it. There is no question of giving in.”
Charbonnier also warned of the danger of placing Islam and Muslims above criticism and even mockery: “If we can poke fun at everything in France, if we can talk about anything in France apart from Islam or the consequences of Islamism, that is annoying.”
He reiterated these positions when he published the next batch of Muhammad cartoons in September 2012: “We have the impression that it’s officially allowed for Charlie Hebdo to attack the Catholic far-right but we cannot poke fun at fundamental Islamists. It shows the climate. Everyone is driven by fear, and that is exactly what this small handful of extremists who do not represent anyone want: to make everyone afraid, to shut us all in a cave.”
Charnonnier added: “Muhammad isn’t sacred to me. I don’t blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings. I live under French law; I don’t live under Koranic law.”
Charbonnier disclaimed all responsibility for any violence that might follow his publication of the cartoons: “I’m not the one going into the streets with stones and Kalashnikovs. We’ve had 1,000 issues and only three problems, all after front pages about radical Islam.”
Nonetheless, this lawsuit has come, and that it is taken seriously anywhere and not immediately dismissed as the very definition of a frivolous lawsuit shows how much the public discourse has degenerated. It should be clear that Charlie Hebdo bears no responsibility for inciting any hatred; the only ones who do bear such responsibility are those who riot and kill over perceived insults to Islam.
They, and they alone, are responsible for their actions. This should be obvious, but it isn’t in a world gone mad. Let’s say you call me a racist, bigoted Islamophobe. I am deeply insulted. At that moment I have a huge range of options before me. I can calmly explain to you that Islamic supremacism is not a race, fighting for free speech and equality of rights for all is not bigotry, and “Islamophobia” is a manipulative concept used by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies to stifle resistance to Islamic supremacism and jihad. Or I can start yelling and calling you names. Or I can start muttering into my vodka tonic about the injustice of it all. Or I can murder you, drag your body through the streets, set fire to your embassy, and demand laws against insulting me. Or I can do any number of other things.
Which one will I choose? It’s up to me, not to you. You might have a strong hunch as to how I will react, and say to your companion, “That Spencer, he is going to come out with another windy, closely reasoned refutation of my charges that everyone will ignore,” or “That Spencer, he is going to burn down my embassy,” but you still can’t be absolutely sure what I am going to do, because I am not an automaton, I am a human being endowed with the faculty of reason, and I may always choose to react in a way that will surprise you.
Or I may not. But in any case, it is up to me. If I kill you, there is absolutely no justifiable basis on which anyone could say, “Well, he had it coming. Look how he provoked him.” My choice was my own, and only I bear responsibility for it.
But today that basic and elemental truth is lost. If Muslims rage, riot and murder for any reason, they bear no responsibility. The only ones who bear any responsibility for their raging, rioting and murdering are the non-Muslims who somehow provoked them.
So anyone who may have reacted hatefully to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons bears responsibility for his actions. Charlie Hebdo doesn’t.
That I have to take the time to explain this at all, and that it will be universally ignored, is an indication of how far we have fallen. The road is being swiftly paved for the destruction of the freedom of speech. When, in another year or so, I am safely imprisoned for daring to speak the truth and a new era of peace has dawned between the West and the Islamic world, and yet the jihad keeps coming, and the full implications of the new “hate speech” laws start to become clear in the quashing of all political dissent, don’t say you weren’t warned.
Of course, maybe none of that will happen, and the freedom of speech will suddenly sport a thousand articulate defenders who have not yet been completely demonized and marginalized out of the public square. But I don’t see them on the horizon right now.