The deaths at the magazine prompted waves of soul-searching about free speech, and whether cartoons that deliberately set out to offend are worth defending – especially when they sought to mock and satirize a religion and a figure that so many hold dear.
That kind of claim prompts such thoughts. Yes, many hold their religion dear; yes, many hold particular figures – however long-dead – in their religion dear. Is that a reason to treat the religions and the figures as taboo? It can’t be, because that very holding dear is one of the mechanisms that keeps people in thrall to the religions and the figures. The thrall is a bad thrall. It could be a good thrall, in a different world – it could be one that motivates people to be more kind and generous and loving, and nothing else ever. But it isn’t. The thrall motivates people to feel rage at people who aren’t in thrall, for a start. It even motivates people to feel rage at people who are in thrall to a slightly different version of the figure, or a “wrong” descendant of the figure, or a different way of paying homage to the figure. We have to challenge the thrall.
Even the Pope weighed in that month, as he flew from Sri Lanka to the Philippines.
On the plane travelling with him, we watched transfixed as he responded to a journalist’s question about whether there were any limits to free speech.
Despite stating clearly and at some length that nobody should be murdered over what they thought or drew or wrote, Pope Francis had no doubt that there were limits.
Swinging his arm to demonstrate, he made clear that if his friend insulted what was most dear to him – his mother, for example – that friend could expect a punch.
It was not what many liberal fans of the Pontiff had expected.
Well that was silly of them, because the institution the pontiff is at the top of is in no way a liberal institution. Someone who climbs to the top of an illiberal institution is not very likely to be liberal, because the institution doesn’t reward liberality.
[T]his has been a testing week for those who care passionately about that debate, creating strange bedfellows in defence of free speech – or rather, the right to offend.
It even united the initiator of the controversial “draw the Prophet Mohammed” cartoon contest in Texas, where two gunmen were shot dead after opening fire on a security guard, with the rather more left-wing supporters of PEN, an organization that campaigns for freedom of speech for authors, writers and cartoonists wherever they may live and work.
No, it didn’t, really. We’re not united. Pamela Geller is what the addled protesters think Charlie Hebdo is. The protesters are wrong.
Before the 9/11 attacks, it is hard to imagine Texas having a “draw the Prophet Mohammed” contest.
And while few in the US will have much sympathy with the would-be killers, many ordinary people – religious or not – will be looking on in despair.
Because what is becoming clear is that the fundamentalism of this new generation of radical Islamists risks provoking an extreme reaction from some of those espousing the cause of unlimited freedom and liberty.
The danger is that tolerance and respect for our differences – and for each other – could be the loser; the very principles that many came to America and Europe to enjoy and uphold.
There are differences and then there are differences. Not all differences should be respected. The Texas shooters – and the Paris ones – were different; we don’t have to respect that difference.