Yesterday, Islamist militants attacked the Paris offices of left-wing satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people, including the paper’s editor and four of its cartoonists. The gunmen were almost certainly motivated by the paper’s publication of cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad, and they were heard to shout “Allahu Akbar” and “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.”
This is the second time the newspaper’s offices have been attacked. In November 2011, the paper’s offices were firebombed and its website hacked after it published the above special issue (featuring Muhammad as guest editor).
Despite the tremendous losses it has suffered, the newspaper has announced that it will still be publishing next week’s issue, with a print run of one million copies (much larger than its normal run of 60,000). It doesn’t look like Charlie Hebdo will disappear quietly into obscurity as the terrorists must have wished.
It should be clear that this attack is not only an attack on Charlie Hebdo and its employees. It is an attack on freedom of speech, and–specifically–on our freedom to satirize religious figures. It is not enough to condemn the loss of life, if one truly wants to “Stand with Charlie”, one must appreciate the freedoms that are being threatened.
We cannot let a bunch of thugs acting in the name of religion take away our freedom to mock, to criticize, and, yes, even to denigrate revered historical figures. If the price we pay for freedom of speech is that we must endure violence and threats of violence from a bunch of semi-literate barbarians, then so be it.
Even if Al-Qaeda kills every cartoonist in the West, they will have succeeded only in demonstrating how insecure their faith really is. A religion that cannot stand of its own accord–that needs to be defended against every insult by angry men with guns and knives–is a religion of wimps and cowards. If Muhammad is really the mighty prophet they say he is, he wouldn’t be bothered by some stupid cartoons.
These Islamic terrorists will never win as long as we don’t let them. For every cartoonist they kill, we should publish 10,000 cartoons of Muhammad being sodomized. For every building they bomb, we should release 10 fake movie trailers parodying the life of Muhammad.
When they attack us with guns and bombs, we will strike back with words. And we will win, because the pen (or the keyboard) is mightier than the sword. Every bomb and machine gun in the Middle East cannot put an end to religious satire. The combined might of Al Qaeda and ISIS cannot stop cartoons of Muhammad from being published. Only our western governments can do that.
But we must not let them. We must not be silenced by fear, nor by a desire to “keep the peace” and “not offend anyone.” No one has the right to not be offended, no matter how much artillery they have. That’s what this ultimately comes down to: the right to offend.
Many people in the world, particularly in the Middle East, believe that causing offense should be illegal, even punishable by death. These people believe that it is morally acceptable to kill someone because that person has offended them. We saw this belief in action yesterday in Paris.
It is precisely because so many people in the world hold these views that we cannot let ourselves be intimidated into self-censorship. Once we start pixelating Muhammad’s ass, we might as well give the terrorists keys to our offices.
But we must not be intimidated; we must not be afraid. We must resolve to continue to defend freedom of speech from Islamists and others who would take it away. We must continue to satirize and offend,
even if especially if threatened or attacked.