DeWayne Wickham at USA Today says Charlie Hebdo has gone too far with the “all is forgiven” cover. Right; forgiveness is going way too far. So extreme much fanatical.
Charlie Hebdo has gone too far.
In its first publication following the Jan. 7 attack on its Paris office, in which two Muslim gunmen massacred 12 people, the once little-known French satirical news weekly crossed the line that separates free speech from toxic talk.
Toxic talk? Portraying a Mohammed who cares is toxic talk? Portraying a Mohammed who is saddened by what three of his more hateful followers did is toxic talk? How does that work, exactly? How is it toxic to offer a Mo who doesn’t rejoice at piles of fresh corpses but instead weeps at them?
Charlie Hebdo‘s latest depiction of the prophet Mohammed — a repeat of the very action that is thought to have sparked the murderous attack on its office — predictably has given rise to widespread violence in nations with large Muslim populations.
Ok that’s a two-parter. First, apparently the idea is “how dare they repeat the very action that is thought to have sparked the murderous attack on its office?” So the idea is that they did a very wicked thing in again doing something they and we and everyone have every right to do. That’s like saying it’s very wicked to do something a Mafia enforcer has told you, with menaces, not to do. We are allowed to draw images of Mohammed. We are allowed to draw images of Mohammed, Jesus, god, Shiva, Vishnu, Buddha, Athena, Loki – any god, any prophet, any cleric, any godling, angel, demon, hymn-singer, anyone we like. People are not allowed to kill us for doing that, and they are not allowed to threaten us with violence for doing that.
Second, the utter nonsense about predictability and “given rise to” and blaming the victims for that. This isn’t plate tectonics; people can choose not to engage in violence because someone drew a cartoon; we can’t decide what we’re allowed to do based on predictions about unreasonable and unlawful violent responses to what we do.
While the Obama administration condemned these deadly attacks, it probably wasn’t surprised. Two years ago, then-press secretary Jay Carney questioned the judgment of Charlie Hebdo‘s editors when they published an offensive depiction of Mohammed. That came a year after the newspaper’s office was firebombed when it tauntingly named Mohammed its guest editor. That portrayal came with a caption that read: “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing.”
Then-press secretary Jay Carney was wrong. Obama was wrong when he said the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. DeWayne Wickham is wrong.
Ten people have been killed during protests in Niger, a former French colony. Other anti-French riots have erupted from North Africa to Asia. In reaction to all of this, Pope Francis has said of the magazine, “You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
The French, of course, are no more bound to accept the findings of the bishop of Rome than they are to be guided by the Supreme Court’s rulings on our Constitution’s free speech guarantee. But given the possible ripple effects of Charlie Hebdo‘s mistreatment of Islam’s most sacred religious figure, at least people in this country should understand the limits America’s highest court has placed on free speech.
That is just flagrantly saying “Surrender to the threats. Give up. Let the murderers have their veto.”
In 1919, the Supreme Court ruled speech that presents a “clear and present danger” is not protected by the First Amendment. Crying “fire” in a quiet, uninhabited place is one thing, the court said. But “the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”
Twenty-two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that forms of expression that “inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” are fighting words that are not protected by the First Amendment.
If Charlie Hebdo‘s irreverent portrayal of Mohammed before the Jan. 7 attack wasn’t thought to constitute fighting words, or a clear and present danger, there should be no doubt now that the newspaper’s continued mocking of the Islamic prophet incites violence. And it pushes Charlie Hebdo‘s free speech claim beyond the limits of the endurable.
Triumph for the late Kouachi brothers. Next there will be a violently enforced veto on blunt criticism of Islam, then maybe Catholicists will get in on the act – the possibilities are endless.