Murder in Paris, cont’d

Time magazine invited me to write an opinion piece on yesterday’s lethal Islamist attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie-Hebdo. (earlier here). Excerpt:

If you defend freedom of speech today, realize that “blasphemy” is its front line, in Paris and the world. …

Most of the prestige Western press dodged the running of the [Danish Mohammed] cartoons, and beneath the talk of sensitivity was often simple fear. As journalist Josh Barro noted today on Twitter, “Islamists have by and large succeeded in intimidating western media out of publishing images of Muhammad.” …

[On the modern European rise of laws against “defamation of religion” and related offenses]: One way we can honor Charb, Cabu, Wolinski, Tignous, and the others who were killed Wednesday is by lifting legal constraints on what their successors tomorrow can draw and write.

Also recommended, this thoughtful Ross Douthat column on blasphemy and religious offense. Douthat is not enthusiastic about blasphemy generally, but makes an exception for instances where it is done in defiance of grave dangers. “If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said … it’s precisely the violence that justifies the inflammatory content. … if publishing something might get you slaughtered and you publish it anyway, by definition you *are* striking a blow for freedom, and that’s precisely the context when you need your fellow citizens to set aside their squeamishness and rise to your defense.”

“So many of Charb’s fellow journalists have long been aware of these threats, and have said nothing,” writes Mark Hemingway in the Weekly Standard. Jytte Klausen, author of a book on the Danish cartoon episode, in Time: “Over the past five years, [the editors of Charlie-Hebdo] have been left alone standing in defense of press freedom.” And Alex Massie at The Spectator:

[The 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie] was a test too many people failed back then. We have learned a lot since then but in many ways we have also learned nothing at all.

In 2012, Rushdie wondered if any publisher would have the courage to endorse The Satanic Verses if it were written then. To ask the question was to sense the depressing answer. They would not.

As for the present day, CNN, NYT, AP, NBC, ABC, the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, and the CBC, will *not* be running Charlie-Hebdo cartoons, though a number of American publications did so, including Daily Beast, Vox, and Bloomberg. No UK paper on Thursday morning runs the cartoons on its cover — though the Berliner-Zeitung in Germany publishes a full spread of them.

23 cartoonists respond [BuzzFeed]. Claire Berlinski’s firsthand account of the attack scene, and Charb’s now-famous “die standing” vow. Andrew Stuttaford at Secular Right on whether anything will now change in Europe’s slow constriction of free speech: he fears not (& Hans Bader, CEI).


  • […] They say they want free expression, but they refuse to take any personal risk for it.  Let Charlie Hebdo take the risk. Let the people at Charlie Hebdo die.  They will weap over their deaths, but they won’t show the courage to stand up against the murders.  Who? […]

  • The NYT did, kinda, sorta, though clearly not in the way many would advocate:

  • The images in that NYT piece fall far short of the “could it get us killed?” test that many lesser news orgs passed. I’ve been active today on Twitter on this topic (@walterolson) but will not try to post all the links here, but here is one from the CJR on how many digital outlets have been willing to run the cartoons, while legacy/old media outlets mostly have not:

  • […] to our friend Walter Olson at “CNN, NYT, AP, NBC, ABC, the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, and the CBC, […]

  • The images in that NYT piece fall far short of the “could it get us killed?”

    1. That is why I qualified my comment.

    2. More importantly, in attempting to answer that question, you are trying to use logical thought. Those that commit these types of crimes do not think the way you and I do. To some, our very existence as non-Muslim (and in addition, not their particular flavor of Muslim) marks us for death as infidels. We see this with regularity in fundamentalist- based bombings in Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen.

    Did the NYT take a risk? Not by my standard or yours, but by the standards of some extremists?

  • The President of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, has a different take on why the cartoons were not run or seen in the mainstream media:

    The cartoonists, and all those associated with Charlie Hebdo, are no champions of freedom. Quite the opposite: their obscene portrayal of religious figures—so shocking that not a single TV station or mainstream newspaper would show them—represents an abuse of freedom.


    In my opinion, that’s an “interesting” (although totally irrational) reading of the decisions the media made.

  • […] Blog, on efforts to repeal Canada’s not-entirely-in-disuse blasphemy law; earlier here and here. And from Ireland, an urgent reason to repeal its own law of this sort: Muslim leader vows to […]

  • […] Murder in Paris, cont’d […]