Crumley Blames the Victim


Bruce Crumley of Time Magazine gets it completely wrong when he blames Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper that published a satire on Islam, for the fact that their offices were firebombed by reactionary Muslims. He begins:

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?

Where do I even start? I’ve been a staunch critic of Islamophobia in the United States and in Europe, but this has nothing to do with that at all. Islamophobia is highlighted by two things: The irrational, paranoid fear of a Muslim takeover of Western nations, which simply isn’t going to happen, and the desire to violate the rights of Muslims to practice their religion as long as they do not harm other people. Neither of those things is present in this situation. What this newspaper did was satirize reactionary Islam, something that badly needs satirizing because satire is a powerful form of criticism.

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.”

No, it isn’t an attack on democracy, but it sure as hell is an attack on liberty — and that’s far more important. I wonder, does Crumley have the same response to the satirizing of other religions? If Scientologists got angry enough at the South Park creators to burn down their offices rather than try to infiltrate them and dig up dirt on them, would Crumley be complaining about the “majority sections” of society baiting them into a violent reaction? If Christians responded to the writing of a satirical book akin to The Satanic Verses by bombing the author’s home, would he be saying that he feels no sympathy for him because he had dared to offend those who are violent? If so, he’s got a seriously bizarre view of who is to blame here.

Yet rather than issuing warnings to be careful about what one asks for, the arson prompted political leaders and pundits across the board to denounce the arson as an attack on freedom of speech, liberty of expression, and other rights central to French and other Western societies.

As well they should. Any sane person should join them, as many mainstream Muslims have done. It’s one thing to criticize the newspaper for not being funny; it’s quite another to say that they had it coming.

Editors, staff, fans, and apologists of Charlie Hebdo have repeatedly pointed out that the paper’s take-no-prisoners humor spares no religion, political party, or social group from its questionable humor. They’ve also tended to defend the publication during controversy as a kind of gut check of free society: a media certain to anger, infuriate, and offend just about everybody at some point or another. As such, Charlie Hebdo has cultivated its insolence proudly as a kind of public duty—pushing the limits of freedom of speech, come what may. But that seems more self-indulgent and willfully injurious when it amounts to defending the right to scream “fire” in an increasingly over-heated theater.

Has the metaphor about shouting fire in a crowded theater ever been applicable when it is invoked? It wasn’t even remotely relevant the first time it was used by Oliver Wendell Holmes in Schenck v United States and it certainly isn’t relevant here. The people who react by firebombing have full control of their actions. They alone are to blame for those actions.

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.

And how does one do that without making religion immune to satire and criticism? Why are religious ideas chosen for special treatment out of all the kinds of ideas that exist, other than because some people are willing to kill over such criticism? All ideas are open to criticism. And those who think they can kill people who dare to criticize their ideas are certifiably insane. The very last thing any society should do is allow their insanity to hold liberty hostage out of fear.

Comments

  1. Aquaria says

    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.

    No, Crumley, the Islamophobic moronis…YOU.

    That’s what you don’t get.

  2. had3 says

    I wonder if Crumley agrees that women should cover their hair to avoid tempting men. Afterall, women know that they may be raped if they’re too alluring and it’s only common decency for them to be modest about their appearance.

  3. Abby Normal says

    So if a reactionary libertarian firebombs Time’s offices in response to Crumley’s childishly naive and offensive article, he would consider himself to blame? Somehow I doubt it.

  4. fastlane says

    Abby Normal beat me to it…

    I was beginning to take a dislike to Crumley’s article, and it really kinda feels like he’s taunting me, practically baiting some into firebombing the Time’s offices….

    I wonder if he might have a change of heart?

  5. Cliff Hendroval says

    Almost all the comments disagree with him, although there are a large subset that anything that upsets Muslims is good because Islam is eeeevilll.

  6. lofgren says

    Has the metaphor about shouting fire in a crowded theater ever been applicable when it is invoked?

    I’m working hard here to figure out how Crumley thought it might be applicable in this situation. He seems to believe that a literal fire, in the form of arson, is absolutely imminent in the theater, and that, somehow, calling that out is actually going to start the fire, like people should not scream fire lest they accidentally conjure it. Is fire like Voldemort? Anyway I’m pretty sure it is not in the spirit of the original metaphor to suggest that the cry of fire is some kind of pyromancer’s spell rather than an attempt to trigger panic under false pretenses.

  7. slc1 says

    If Christians responded to the writing of a satirical book akin to The Satanic Verses by bombing the author’s home, would he be saying that he feels no sympathy for him because he had dared to offend those who are violent?

    For example, would this view also apply to a Christian who bombed a motion picture theater that had the temerity to show the motion picture, “The Last Temptation of Christ?”

  8. ci50158 says

    This is the kind of guy that would say “If she didn’t want to get raped, she shouldn’t have been dressed so sexy.”

  9. says

    But he’d say “Of course rape is deplorable and should be condemned, but….” And it’s the “but” that cancels out everything before it.

  10. Aquaria says

    Just like, “I’m not a racist, but…”

    @Aquaria – I assumed moranis was the Latin name for the species …

    :::Snicker:::

    Sometimes typos can turn out funny for reasons other than the typist’s ineptitude, I suppose.

  11. Brain Hertz says

    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…

    This is incorrect; the arson attack occurred before the edition was published. That is, the arsonists hadn’t actually seen the issue at the time the attack took place. They weren’t responding to any specifics, just the fact that somebody had dared to criticize their religion in some unknown way.

  12. lofgren says

    This is incorrect; the arson attack occurred before the edition was published.

    Man, that makes it even harder to parse the theater metaphor. So basically, you should not talk about or mention possibly shouting something that could potentially cause a panic, even if that thing is true, because you might potentially inspire somebody else to preemptively create exactly the appropriate situation for saying what you were considering saying anyway. Or something.

  13. says

    ‘This is incorrect; the arson attack occurred before the edition was published. That is, the arsonists hadn’t actually seen the issue at the time the attack took place.”

    Which could mean, among other things, that the firebombing was done for some other reason and not by teh moooslims. Uh-oh, I see a conspiracy theory here.

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