Islamists firebombed a satirical newspaper in France named Charlie Hebdo. Time magazine, on its “Global Spin” blog, uncorked outrage – against the newspaper. Time’s Paris bureau chief Bruce Crumley blamed the “insolent” newspaper for the bombing. The headline was “Firebombed French Paper Is No Free Speech Martyr.” Ace of Spades says the URL suggests the original title may have been even worse: "Firebombed French Paper: A Victim of Islam, Or Its Own Obnoxious Islamaphobia?"
Don’t try telling Crumley that an omnidirectional print equivalent of South Park defines free speech: “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.”
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?
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.”
We, by contrast, have another reaction to the firebombing: Sorry for your loss, Charlie, and there's no justification of such an illegitimate response to your current edition. But do you still think the price you paid for printing an offensive, shameful, and singularly humor-deficient parody on the logic of “because we can” was so worthwhile?
Crumley tries to bow to the necessity for free speech, but keeps creeping back around to condemning the mockery of Islam:
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.
Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile. Baiting extremists isn't bravely defiant when your manner of doing so is more significant in offending millions of moderate people as well. And within a climate where violent response—however illegitimate—is a real risk, taking a goading stand on a principle virtually no one contests is worse than pointless: it's pointlessly all about you.
As for "mocking an entire faith" gratuitously, every Catholic could ask Bruce Crumley: have you ever read Time magazine? Start with Tim Padgett comparing Catholic bishops to Southern segregationists. If Crumley hates the "lame" Mohammed cartoons from the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, how about the bigoted look of the "pilfering priests" art in Time magazine? That was a Tim Padgett story, too.