Vive Charlie is a new weekly online satire magazine in tribute to Charlie Hebdo. I contributed this article to their latest issue, which you can see in full here:
Je Suis Charlie? Really? Let’s see.
On May 3 in Garland, Texas, Pamela Geller and I are hosting a Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest, featuring Muslim images of Muhammad dating back to the Middle Ages, plus some of the recent cartoon images of Muhammad that have been blamed for riots and murders in Muslim countries. At that event, we’ll announce the winner of our $10,000 contest for a new cartoon of the Muslim prophet, and unveil that cartoon and other notable Contest entries.
On January 7, 2015, Islamic jihad gunmen murdered twelve people in the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. One of the jihad murderers in Paris shouted, “We have avenged the prophet Muhammad.” In response, people all over the West, including many journalists, adopted the slogan “Je Suis Charlie,” standing in solidarity with the victims and in defense of the freedom of speech.
Words, however, are easy. Backing them up with actions was tougher, as was vividly illustrated when many of those who were loudly proclaiming “Je suis Charlie” did not follow up their declarations of solidarity by republishing the Charlie Hebdo Muhammad cartoons, or any others. Instead, they retreated into an uncomfortable silence, cowed by the deaths in Paris into submitting to the Sharia blasphemy laws that the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were murdered for violating.
They weren’t alone. Most of the mainstream media outlets of what used to be called the “Free World” readily censored themselves, in accord with Barack Obama’s words several weeks after the Charlie Hebdo massacre: “And if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults — and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks.”
This sounds expansive and open-minded, but only to those who do not stop to consider the implications of Obama’s words. No one is interested in gratuitously insulting Muslims or any other group. The problem is that when a group can claim to be insulted in order to silence another group, the foundations of a free society are shaken. Which group is going to be protected from insult? And is that group not a protected class, sheltered from the criticism to which everyone else is subject?
Barack Obama’s sly attacks on the freedom of speech insult me, but I would be the last person to call for restrictions upon his ability to air them. “Insult” is in the eye of the beholder — or more precisely, in the eye of those who make such determinations. The powerful can decide to silence the powerless by classifying their views as “insulting” and “hate speech.” The Founding Fathers knew that the freedom of speech was an essential safeguard against tyranny: the ability to dissent, freely and publicly and without fear of imprisonment or other reprisal, is a cornerstone of any genuine republic. If some ideas cannot be heard and are proscribed from above, the ones in control are tyrants, however benevolent they may be.
Now, as twelve people have been gunned down by Islamic jihadists in Paris, instead of defenses of the freedom of speech and explanations of why it is important, we have had more self-censorship from the Western media. Charlie Hebdo has been blamed for being needlessly provocative as the media has lined up to submit to Sharia blasphemy laws, refraining from saying or doing anything that Muslims would find offensive — including, of course, honest discussion about how Islamic jihadists use Islamic texts and teachings to justify things like the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
This is the time to say, “Enough.” As Pamela Geller says, “They’re just cartoons.” Indeed. The idea that anyone would murder someone over them is as absurd as it is evil. The related idea that free people must cower before this violent intimidation is a recipe for the death of free society itself.
This is the time to say, We are going to stand for the freedom of speech. The capacity to be offended and not respond with violence is essential to a pluralistic society, and the freedom of speech itself is our foremost protection against tyranny that would do whatever it willed and crush all dissent.
That’s why our Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest is so important: it is a blow for civilization against savagery, and a stand for pluralism and tolerance against violent thuggery. Will you stand with us? It is time for all free people to stand, or free speech will be lost, and when it is lost, all will be lost. Submit? I’d rather die, on my feet.
Get tickets to our Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest here.