(1) It was indeed absurd and cynical how Western governments (and their MENA allies including the KSA) have exploited the CH massacre for empty lip service to free speech. However, this is a common phenomenon which is not limited to CH. We see it anytime when the political agenda allows it: from Raif over Pussy Riot to Liu Xiaobo. This does not mean that those people do not deserve to be honored or are some kind of neoliberal US-imperialist fifth column. Or to inverse the argument: the fact that Edward Snowden is now best friends with Putin – not due to the latter’s universal commitment to free speech but for obvious political reasons – doesn’t mean that Snowden should be accused of enabling Russian, neo-Stalinist nationalism and conservatism.
(2) “By choosing to honor Charlie Hebdo, the victim of Islamic radicals, rather than any of the many worthy dissidents they could have chosen, people like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, truly courageous people whose actions and words have placed them at odds with the powerful western nations of the world”. Since Furst likes to speak about narratives, I will provide a counter-narrative: What happened to CH doesn’t really involve American white liberals; however, it involves many progressive people in Muslim majority countries and the Muslim diaspora who are increasingly silenced, marginalized and endangered by the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. This is the reason why – while the white liberal American press tried to play white guilt Olympics – there generally was a lot of solidarity from the left-wing and liberal press in the MENA region, which realized that what happened to CH is also currently happening to them (Zineb El Rhazoui wrote interesting things about this topic and the fact that CH allowed francophone MENA authors to publish things which they could not publish in their home countries). By bringing in Assange and Snowden in contrast, the American liberal tries to make everything about them and their struggles again.
I might go out on a limb, but I think that what we see in the whole CH debate is almost hegemonic white guilt: the American white liberal press holds a lot of power when it comes to influencing the international sociopolitical discourse. And by pushing an almost totalitarian narrative of white guilt – a narrative which vastly overstates the West’s power in today’s geopolitical constellation, which denies the agency of non-Western actors, which essentializes universal social problems (e.g. the role of women in society) to the West and romanticizes non-Western cultures (= a variety of orientalism which tends to be ignored) – it basically suffocates social dissent from the Global South.