The Guardian is prompt with the “but we must guard against the understandable temptation to be provocative in the publication of these cartoons” crap. Defend free speech, it cries. But don’t be provocative about it.
Great advice, were it not for the fact that that’s exactly what these shooters are saying. Hugh Muir writes:
We are in perilous territory. Slaughter as political protest cannot be defended. Free speech as legal and moral pre-requisites in a free society must be defended. But there are also other obligations to be laid upon those who wish to live in peaceful, reasonably harmonious societies. Even after Paris, even after Denmark, we must guard against the understandable temptation to be provocative in the publication of these cartoons if the sole objective is to establish that we can do so. With rights to free speech come responsibilities.
Why? Why must we? It seems to me the very opposite is true. Publishing them because we can seems to me to be exactly what we should be doing. We should be doing that in solidarity with the people who can’t any more because they’ve been killed, and with the people who still can and do, while under threat – such as Lars Vilks and everyone at Charlie Hebdo and Kurt Westergaard and Author of Jesus and Mo and Tim Minchin and everyone. We should be doing that precisely to establish that we can. That’s a good reason to do it. We need to demonstrate that trying to silence people who make fun of religion fails to silence them because it prompts the rest of us to make fun of religion ALL THE MORE.
That seems to me the moral approach, but there is a practical issue here too. There is no negotiating with men with guns. If progress is to come, it will be via dialogue with the millions of faithful Muslims who would never think to murder but also abhor publication of these cartoons.
It hasn’t been shown that there are such millions. I don’t believe there are such millions. In any case, whether there are or not, people’s unreasonable abhorrences and taboos must not be imposed on all the world. Note I said unreasonable abhorrences and taboos. I don’t think newspapers should fill their pages with photos of shit and vomit and infected wounds and mangled corpses. But if any human institution needs to be wide open to criticism and mockery, it’s religion. Hugh Muir couldn’t be more wrong.