Reuters’s John Lloyd does exactly what I hoped that journalists would not do in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre: tip-toeing around the issue that Islam extremism represents. In Unintelligent, but constitutionally protected, Lloyd quotes the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius:
freedom of expression must not be infringed … but is it pertinent, is it intelligent, in this context to pour oil on the fire. The answer is no.
Unfortunately, ‘is it intelligent’ is not the important question to ask here.
[…] the publication of a series of cartoons of Mohammad in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, showed Mohammad in various nude poses. Whatever their quality, they do not just make waves – they make deaths. We can no longer pretend otherwise. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses taught us too much.
The aftermath of Rushdie’s book did indeed teach us a lot, but in a very different way than Lloyd means. Lloyd, so it appears, thinks that since provoking retribution is unwise if you want to stay alive, it is also unintelligent under any circumstances to make any waves. In short: you should not speak up if your life is in danger.
LLoyd quotes Stephane Charbonnie, publishing director of Charlie Hebdo on why they publish controversial content, and then comments:
In Charbonnier’s argument, radical Islamists are special only because they threaten random violence, as well as targeted violence against those who don’t consider them special.
That is an astute observation, and it would have been a great article had Lloyd agreed and left it at that. Unfortunately, he believes that somehow all media must always restraint themselves as to not provoke. Quoting Onora O’Neill he continues:
“freedom of the press does not require a licence to deceive”, she writes. Where there is clear deception, or worse, clear provocation, the media also acquire a license to kill.
Except that Charlie Hebdo is not doing the killing, they were being killed. This notion that the media is responsible for death is completely wrong – it’s like saying that you ‘force the kidnappers to kill your son if you don’t give in to their demands’. No, Charlie Hebdo is intentionally provoking the bully that is Islamist Extremism. The problem is not the provocation – it’s the bully .
In the past years, the press, and much of the establishment, have bent over backwards to appease this bully. Is that intelligent? Appeasement always encourages and emboldens the bully.
After Rushdie, we cannot say we don’t know the costs of provocation. Was it intelligent to rack them up again?
Let me be blunt: This is the reasoning of a coward. Rushdie paid a high price, and instead of rushing to his defense, people have started to appease the Islamists.
We know enough about our societies to understand that the margins contribute much, sometimes most, to our freedoms. The […] cartoon publishers are not in line with these groups. They’re not fighting for a great cause. They’re sticking it to the radical Islamists, and watching them howl.
Lloyd couldn’t be more wrong. The cartoon publishers are fighting for a higher cause – and they stood very, very alone. It’s disappointing that Lloyd does not see this: the islamists are the ones who are dealing out violence to those who speak up. The press has censored itself in the past – it was why the original Mohammed cartoons were published in the first place! The press is afraid of the bully, and regularly hands over their proverbial lunch money in exchange for not being beaten up. Charlie Hebdo, on the other hand, has gone out of its way to ridicule the bully.
So you may ask if it is intelligent to provoke the bully. No, not unless you want to get injured. But that is not the pertinent question.
Much, much more important is this question:
Is it necessary?
The artists at Charlie Hebdo have paid with their lives to us show just how much it is.