Time‘s Paris Bureau Chief: Charlie Hebdo Mohammed-Cover Issue “Outrageous, Unacceptable, [and] Condemnable”

The post is here; here’s the introduction and conclusion:

Okay, so can we finally stop with the idiotic, divisive, and destructive efforts by “majority sections” of Western nations to bait Muslim members with petulant, futile demonstrations that “they” aren’t going to tell “us” what can and can’t be done in free societies? Because not only are such Islamophobic antics futile and childish, but they also openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy in the name of common good. What common good is served by creating more division and anger, and by tempting belligerent reaction?

The difficulty in answering that question is also what’s making it hard to have much sympathy for the French satirical newspaper firebombed this morning, after it published another stupid and totally unnecessary edition mocking Islam. The Wednesday morning arson attack destroyed the Paris editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo after the paper published an issue certain to enrage hard-core Islamists (and offend average Muslims) with articles and “funny” cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed — depictions forbidden in Islam to boot. Predictably, the strike unleashed a torrent of unqualified condemnation from French politicians, many of whom called the burning of the notoriously impertinent paper as “an attack on democracy by its enemies.” …

It’s obvious free societies cannot simply give in to hysterical demands made by members of any beyond-the-pale group. And it’s just as clear that intimidation and violence must be condemned and combated for whatever reason they’re committed — especially if their goal is to undermine freedoms and liberties of open societies. But it’s just evident members of those same free societies have to exercise a minimum of intelligence, calculation, civility and decency in practicing their rights and liberties — and that isn’t happening when a newspaper decides to mock an entire faith on the logic that it can claim to make a politically noble statement by gratuitously pissing people off.

Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile. Baiting extremists isn’t bravely defiant when your manner of doing so is more significant in offending millions of moderate people as well. And within a climate where violent response — however illegitimate — is a real risk, taking a goading stand on a principle virtually no one contests is worse than pointless: it’s pointlessly all about you.

So, yeah, the violence inflicted upon Charlie Hebdo was outrageous, unacceptable, condemnable, and illegal. But apart from the “illegal” bit, Charlie Hebdo’s current edition is all of the above, too.

As readers of the blog might gather, I don’t adhere to this view, for many reasons. (If the view were simply that the magazine’s criticism of Islam was substance-free or unfair in particular ways, and the view was actually supported by the facts, I’d certainly be quite open to such an argument; but the argument’s talk of how the issue is “outrageous, unacceptable, [and] condemnable” strikes me as going far beyond simply that.) Just to give three of the reasons: (1) Of course lots of people — both in majority Muslim countries and in European countries — do “contest[]” the “principle” that people should be legally free to mock what they please, including religions and religious leaders. Reasserting rights that are questioned is often important to protecting them in the future, especially when adhering to demands for “civility” could be reasonably perceived as actually bowing to threats of violence or litigation. (2) Religious ideologies, like other ideologies, sometimes merit mockery, notwithstanding the fact that the mockery may offend the religions’ members. (3) When a religion claims to put off limits all depictions of its key figure, and supposedly insulting discussions of that figure, that’s a pretty broad swath of commentary that it tries to deny the rest of us in the name of “civility.”

But in any event I thought I’d pass along the column for our readers to look at and evaluate for themselves. Thanks to Ken Braithwaite for the pointer.