Religion of peace firebombs a paper for satire

November 9, 2011 • 8:17 am

The offices of a French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, were firebombed last week one day after it announced an issue making fun of Islam, including cartoons of Mohamed, a mock title (“Charia Hebdo”) and the naming of the prophet as a “co-editor” of the issue.

To their credit, French prime minister Fillon and a Muslim leader condemned the attack without qualification:

“Freedom of expression is an inalienable right in our democracy and all attacks on the freedom of the press must be condemned with the greatest firmness. No cause can justify such an act of violence,” he said in a statement.

The head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Mohammed Moussaoui, also condemned the attack.

But of course some journalists couldn’t let it be; they had to condemn the magazine for instigating predictable violence through satire.  These include Bruce Crumley of Time Magazine. Although he makes the gratuitous condemnation of violence, he ends by condemning the magazine:

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.

This seems like doublethink to me. Given the tendency of some Muslims to respond with violence to even the most unpredictable “provocation” (like naming a teddy bear “Mohamed,” which, of course, is the name of many Arab men), Crumley would advise self-restraint for the mildest criticism of Islam. And, after all, isn’t that what he says we should avoid—”giving in to hysterical demands made by members of any beyond-the-pale group”?

But, thank Ceiling Cat, James Circhick at Britain’s Index on Censorship sets things straight. (Note that the current title of the Time article is “Firebombed French paper is no free speech martyr.”)

The original title of Crumley’s piece, still viewable in the website URL, was “Firebombed French Paper: A Victim of Islam, Or Its Own Obnoxious Islamaphobia?” If a reader, so offended by Crumley’s excuse-making for theocratic nutcases, bombs TIME’s Paris Bureau, would that make Crumley a “victim” of his own obnoxious cowardice? If there was ever cause to deport someone from the Republic of Letters it would be Crumley’s article, for in it he committed treason against his trade by showing himself to be a man eager to rat out his fellow writers and sell them down the river in a heartbeat.

Though he fashions himself a bold truth-teller, Crumley’s justification of violent extremism isn’t new. It’s just the latest iteration of a tired excuse for terrorism, expressed by everyone from Noam Chomsky to Ron Paul, which is that the victims of terrorism have it coming. What made Crumley’s entry into the genre singularly poisonous, and what I believe elicited the widespread disgust from journalists of all political stripes, is that it was written by a working journalist, not an academic, politician, or anti-“Islamophobia” activist.

Crumley is a discredit to his profession.  Maybe the satire was obnoxious but, let’s face it, there’s a lot of bad things about Islam, just as there are a lot of bad things about Catholicism. The difference is that offended Muslims bomb and kill, while offended Catholics usually just fulminate, often through Bill Donohue of The Catholic league.  So it’s okay to make fun of Catholics, but if you go after Islam, you get what you deserve.

What this means, of course, is that the bullying tactics of Islam—not just the extremists, but the “millions of moderate people” who enable them by failing to speak up—is the one thing that makes it unacceptable to criticize Islam but perfectly all right to criticize the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, or Chief Rabbi Sacks.  And if we stop criticizing only Islam because of those threats, the Muslim bullies win, and it becomes off limits to go after that one brand of religion.

Nobody has the right not to be offended. The remedy for this thuggery is not the silence of the press, but more mockery.  People like Crumley should find another line of work.

60 thoughts on “Religion of peace firebombs a paper for satire

  1. Same story as the Danish cartoon scandal; this time let us hope that the major anglophone media dare to reprint the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in elementary solidarity.

    These Muslims aren’t just bullies, they are criminals and should be caught, tried and sentenced as the thugs they are.

    1. And once found guilty, imprisoned for the term of their sentence, and then, on release, deported to an Islamic country.

      It they love the religion so much, and obviously hate their adopted country, then why should the adopted country support their extremist views?

      And if, as some would say, these criminals will be tortured or abused in said Islamic country, then they should have thought about that little fact *before* breaking the law.

      Other opinions are available of course. But they are wrong! 😉


      1. Why should Joe Random Islamic Country want them or accept them? They’re a problem for the country of their citizenship, and unless they choose to renounce the citizenship that is theirs of right (oh, sorry, bad word there ; particularly with “inalienable” nearby), then they are and remain the problem of the country of citizenship.
        It’s very appealing to have a problem go “away” ; I hear the idea a lot about various polluting chemicals and other problems – “Let’s send it `away`!” What a wonderfully seductive idea. Where is “away”?

    1. The examples of anti-abortion violence in the USA don’t even come close to the sheer level of destruction and hatred spewing from Muslim groups throughout the world. Comparing these two things is simply ridiculous and shows that you either don’t know what you’re talking about, or are trying to be an apologist for Islam for some strange reason.

  2. 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.

    Damn right its about me, Crumly. Its about my right to speak without being attacked. How is that in any way pointless?

    If you think a comic is goading, or infantile, or unnecessarily rude, or whatever, there’s two perfectly good responses. One: ridicule it. Use more speech to fight bad speech. Two: don’t buy it. We don’t need violence to kill off the odious ideas, the marketplace is perfectly capable of doing that all by itself.

    In fact, its well past time that people recognize that violence is most often used to exclude popular ideas or keep unpopular ideas in the marketplace when no one would really want them (without coercion). If you think that violence is being used to punish unpopular ideas, you have no real idea what’s going on.

  3. Let’s be thankful that some people are willing to risk their lives by publicly criticising and ridiculing Islam.

  4. Sorry, but James Circhick hardly sets it straight. Ron Paul has never suggested that terrorists have attacked the US or anywhere else because of what anyone has said. Ron Paul has been abundantly clear that terrorists have attacked the US because the US is in Muslim countries, bombing, shooting, killing and maiming the people living in those countries, and has been supporting vicious regimes like the Saudis, and Saddam, and the other gulf states, not to mention putting the Shah in power over 50 years ago. James Circhick is either a liar or a moron.

    1. I agree with Mr. White.

      I don’t know Ron Paul’s record, but I have
      read a lot of Chomsky. Nowhere does Chomksy attempt to “excuse terrorism” or suggest that
      victims of terrorism “had it coming”. Circhick is liar or a moron to make that outrageous comment.

      1. I also totally agree. Chomsky bashing with blatant lies (I am also not familiar with Ron Paul) is commonly used by intelectuals probably as an easy way to show-off.
        [Curiously, Phillipe Val, a former editor of Charlie Hebdo was almost a nutter case in this respect – his intelectual dishonesty in criticizing Chomsky just made me stop buying an otherwise quite good magazine.]

  5. lol. Well maybe Allah is very sensitive and has a very fragile ego. He might not be able to handle people making fun of him.

    Could be because he’s a young God. He’s still in kindergarten. So like what Prof. Colquhoun alluded to, maybe in a few hundred years Allah will learn how to play with the other Gods up in heaven.

    1. Jealousy is not an Islam-specific problem. Yahweh has it too – it’s right there in the first commandment. And I imagine numerous other deities have put it in their holy books also.

      Jealousy is one of those traits that theologically makes no sense for an omni-everything God to have…but it makes perfect sense if you entertain the alternative hypothesis that religion is used by human priests to gather and hold political power. God shouldn’t care if you don’t worship him, but they will care if your offerings are going elsewhere.

      1. lol. Yeah it’s very strange why an all powerful entity would be so jealous.

        I wonder what the extent of this jealousy is.

        What if people started worshipping a piece of rock……oh wait they do that already…lol….do you think he throws a hissy fit up in heaven from his jealousy of a piece of black rock? lol.

  6. During an interview that told the chief publisher of Charlie Hebdo that he knew he would scandalize people, he replied: “And me, am I not scandalized but all the absurdities that are said in the churches, synagogues and mosquee?”
    Sure, they are the first offenders.

  7. One of the best Christopher Hitchens episodes on youtube was when he was interviewed while Islamic nut cases torched the world over Danish cartoons. A must watch for Hitch fans. I hope he has the strength to take on Time/Crumley.

    This is Hitchens at his finest

  8. Of course, it was a very very small minority of extremely religious people who carried out the attack.

    You should never judge a religion by the behaviour of a tiny minority of its adherents, except when a tiny minority do good works.

    You can judge it then. There is no problem there.

  9. thank you for finally covering this! i have been amazed at the complete lack of coverage of this act of terrorism outside of europe. it is important to recognize this as an act of anti-free speach terrorism, rather than an act of extra-judicial justice like the turkish hackers claims. Charlie Hebdo pokes fun at all religions and all of politics, not just islam. no one is immune to their satire. andif you don like it, dont read it.

  10. By the way, has anybody noticed the habit of some sources of referring to the extremely religious the wrong way around – as ‘religious extremists’?

    When did that start to catch on?

    1. Because, of course, they religious people who just happen to be extremists as well, not people who are extremists about their religion. Saying something like that might make people uncomfortable.

    1. “They published it again with a vengeance!”

      More power to them. If you wish to send an e-mail of solidarity in French to “Charb”, the Charlie Hebdo, editor, here it is in French; just sign your name after the phrase, “Veuillez recevoir etc…”

      Charlie Hebdo,

      Je vous envoie une petite solidarité du monde anglophone après l’attentat contre votre journal. Je vois que vous avez republié les dessins animés du Prophète et je vous soutiens dans la bataille pour la liberté de la presse et de la libre parole.

      Bon courage.

      Veuillez recevoir etc…

      His e-mail address is:

      The English translation is:

      Charlie Hebdo,

      I send you a little solidarity from the English-speaking world after the attack against your newspaper. I see that you have republished the cartoons of the Prophet and I support you in your battle for a free press and free speech.

      More power to you.

      Yours etc…

      1. Don’t say “dessins animés” as it means animated cartoon (as in, on TV), only say “dessins”.

        And don’t say “libre parole”, say “liberté d’expression” (freedom of expressing yourself).

  11. Thank you, Jerry, for addressing this. I was disturbed to hear of the firebombing of Hebdo, but I was not aware of the idiocy of Time and Crumley. Islam is a danger to all of us, in my view, and the need to criticise and deride Islam is as great or perhaps greater than the same need to do criticise and deride Christianity. It is depressing to hear of the stupidities of Time and Crumley. Where do they get off trying to justify the use of firebombs for any purpose, let alone for criticism of a religion? This is truly worrying. If we cannot criticise, we will be the victims of this still medieval view of the world. Time to tell Muslims to grow up. (And yes, I know, it doesn’t apply to all Muslims, but it’s the few who are dangerous, and it is the many who must speak loudly and with action against this religious childishness and brutality. My fear is that the moderate Muslims are bullied into silence, as Crumley wants to do to the rest of us.)

  12. Crumley is employed by the same magazine that published the dreadful ‘Is America Islamophobic?’ cover. He fits perfectly into their enlightened view of free speech.

    1. Yes, I am not surprised that Time published this article, it is consistent with their overall lack of balance and blame the victim tendency.

  13. “We all can agree that rape is a horrible crime that is not justifiable in a civil society. There is no excuse for violence, especially sexual violence, and it not only harms the victim, but the perpetrator and society in general. But in this specific case, what was this woman thinking? She was wearing a knee length skirt, walking alone at 2 am in a bad neighborhood. What did she think was going to happen?

    See what I did? Rape is wrong, but really everyone is at fault. I should be held accountable for physical actions people take against me for something that I have a right to do that doesn’t physically harm anyone.

    Hey idiot. Speech, even base/idiotic/mean-spirited/etc speech =/= violence. It’s not justification for violence. If someone hurts your feelings, you don’t get to escalate it.

    *gouges eyes out with spoons*

    1. Your defensiveness is childish because nobody contests your right to wear a skirt, only your right to wear a skirt without being raped.

      Am I doing is right, Crumley?

  14. I have to agree with Sam Harris. In today’s world the most violent religion is islam. Other don’t even come close

    1. Yes indeed. This is so blindingly obvious and yet there are still far too many people who either deny it or draw false equivalencies (e.g. comment 2. above for the latter.)

    2. All of the US presidents who have sent our military off to do battle with various Arabs, Persians and Pashtuns have been self-professed Christians. The Pentagon is rife with wild-eyed Christian fanatics holding General’s rank. And the US military has killed about 2 orders of magnitude more of them than they have of Americans. So while it’s true the average redneck Christian in the street doesn’t riot when he hears someone exclaim, “Jesus Fucking Christ” or some other such thing, in terms of numbers killed and bombs exploded, Chistians make the Muslims look like kindergarten teachers.

      1. That’s a much better response than pointing to abortion clinic attacks.

        Esp. if you consider the possible motive of distracting the US populace with nationalism while gutting the economy.

  15. More mockery indeed! How about every world wide newspaper and news network pick a day in the future, and every one of them just revel a rendering of Mohamed. Hell, put in a drawing of JC with it just for kicks. That will make it a equal opportunity offensive commentary. Maybe just maybe, these religious thugs will realize the futility of their violent prone censorship attempts and start living in the 21st century. One could wish can’t they. This calls for a cartoon.

  16. As long as an organisation is acting within the laws of the host country it has every right to expect fellow citizens to ALSO behave within the law of that country. There is NO legal act that justifies a response of this kind. Religious organisations have EVERY right to respond using the free speech that they themselves so frequently criticise

  17. the bullying tactics of Islam … The remedy for this thuggery is not the silence of the press, but more mockery.

    What is extremely poignant, at least to me, is that this is exactly how dictatorial bullies always have reacted to satire.

    And it is so stupid. They could adopt the satirical remedy themselves, there is plenty to mock about free speech and its defects (say, some nations suppressing specific parts), it seems like democracy to be merely the best option among inferior ones.

    Or go after the method itself, because the “vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings” [Wikipedia] of over-the-top satire are many indeed so should be open to satire.

  18. Free speech is the sole protection against the bullying leading to blasphemy laws. The less free speech the more bullying one gets. A very slippery slope. Many would be critics of Islam dare not criticise it for fear of violence or for fear of being accused of islamophobia.

  19. Criticism and mockery are characteristics and necessities of free societies. Arab uprisings are fighting for this right. People are dying for it. How can anyone condemn the right to criticize tyrants and mock prejudice? Religion has no special or divine right not to be criticized.

  20. I think a little more background is warranted here. I’ve read the Charlie Hebdo issue, just like every other issue in the last 14 years or so. The cartoonists and writers were not just “mocking” Islam and its prophet. In fact, the whole point of “Charia Hebdo” was to make fun of the claim made by the new regimes in Tunisia and Lybia, following the Arab uprisings earlier this year, that they would enforce sharia law, albeit a “gentle” sharia law (by contrast to “hard” sharia law: i.e. charia molle vs. charia dure). And so, many jokes in the journal were of the type “here’s what happens under hard sharia… and here’s what happens under gentle sharia”). Also a very joyful prophet Mohamed appears every now and then to comment on current issues. All is really rather light-hearted and clearly pokes fun at the hypocrisy of extremists. There is even a comparison with Catholic extremists, who happened to be picketing a theatrical play featuring a picture of Jesus in Paris at the same time (and who, interestingly enough, were supported by a handful of islamists…). Mr Crumley has clearly NOT READ the satirical journal he is writing about. There’s nothing “obnoxious” or even remotely “offensive” to muslims in this issue, unless of course, one considers that ALL muslims are extremists and want to enforce sharia law (gentle or hard). Ironically enough, this seems to be what those who criticize Charlie Hebdo actually think.

  21. The magazine kept their humour in its first edition after the fire:

    Note that the polemic cover was not particularly shocking (type ‘Charia Hebdo’ in google images). Basically it was sold as a special edition with Mahomet as guest editor (name of the magazine changed to Charia Hebdo), and a muslim saying ‘100 leashes if you don’t die of laughter’. But it is a sin to depict the prophet…

    Their critique of religions is widespread – check the cover of issue 983:
    (all religions down the drain)

    For info – this magazine is satirical in its drawings, but the articles (analysis, reports, whistle-blowing…) are serious.

  22. The French Council of the Muslim Faith that criticised this attack is the same council that had taken the same magazine to court for having re-published the Danish cartoons a few years ago…


  23. James Circhick at Britain’s Index on Censorship: It’s just the latest iteration of a tired excuse for terrorism, expressed by everyone from Noam Chomsky to Ron Paul, which is that the victims of terrorism have it coming.

    Hm. Is this really comparable? It is one thing to become violent because somebody made fun of your religion, but unless I am mistaken, what Chomsky and Paul referred to was people becoming violent because somebody had meddled in their country’s politics, supported Israel, upheld local tyrants or even bombed and invaded. No matter where Chirchick’s sympathies in those conflicts lie or whether he is a complete pacifist who considers all violence whatsoever completely unacceptable, can we at least agree that those are not really free speech issues?

  24. Jerry, seeing that Charlie Hebdo has a blog chez WordPress since their website was hacked, perhaps you’ll want to link it to your post:

    We also must salute the journalistic solidarity of the French daily Libération: They immediately offered quarters and infrastructure to their bombed-out colleagues. Chapeau!

    In a separate development, Dominique Sopo, the president of SOS Racisme, the human-rights watchdog that acts as a shield for immigrants, most of them from muslim North Africa, issued a statement to AFP. SOS Racisme has not always been absolutely unambiguous in their condemnation of fundie terrorism, but this time, their president was spot-on:

    The right to blasphemy, in a democracy, is an absolute right.

    (En français:
    «Le droit au blasphème est en démocratie un droit absolu.»)

  25. Pardon me beginning with the obvious:

    Almost all here of course agree that free speech is a most fundamental property of any decent 21st century society, and they therefore support Hebdo entirely. Often the critics would like to simultaneously support free speech, yet condemn to some extent this satire as inappropriately offensive to large numbers. And therefore they seem to be against Hebdo. It can be difficult to tell whether they really are opposed to such satire or not. In fact, had the article been directed ‘against’ some organization whose views deserve it intellectually, but which is effectively innocuous, then I might sympathize. It is hard to think of an example, but maybe satirizing the horse-and-buggy religionists (well known in Pennsylvania) might be an example. One could perhaps agree that satire here is dopey, and even counterproductive, say in a local newspaper in such an area.

    But a point not emphasized enough is the following. Even if it really is a very tiny minority of Muslims having these violent proclivities, are we not ‘offending’ exactly those people upon whom the main onus lies to marginalize and largely disarm these idiots, people who have apparently mostly failed in this, whether they tried or not (which is not all that clear). I hardly think that caving in to the religious nutters is the way to get the unfortunately deluded religious ‘go-along get-alongs’ to at least take seriously their duty to help root out the scum from their ranks.
    So the people who preach against giving offence to so-called mainstream muslims are simply wrong here, however big the offence might seem to be.

    And please don’t argue: ‘Well, the offence was given before, not after, the nutters wreaked their violence.’ This is an ongoing situation,
    clearly not restricted to this one satirical publication.

    1. “are we not ‘offending’ exactly those people upon whom the main onus lies to marginalize and largely disarm these idiots, people who have apparently mostly failed in this, whether they tried or not (which is not all that clear).”
      I would argue that it IS clear. The mainstream muslim community accept no responsibility for the actions of the extremists – no more than mainstream christians take responsibility for the Westboro baptists.
      If the mainstream muslim community gets upset about the sort of satire that is used against all other religious and secular targets then this is itself problematic. Trying to act like they have a point, and that Islam deserves protection that other religions do not, is exactly the wrong thing to do.

  26. “If there was ever cause to deport someone from the Republic of Letters it would be Crumley’s article, for in it he committed treason against his trade by showing himself to be a man eager to rat out his fellow writers and sell them down the river in a heartbeat.”

    While Circhick has Crumley pegged about right, he’ll be lucky if he hasn’t incited the mixed-metaphor extremists to wrath. He has at least four of the buggers fighting for space in the quoted sentence (the first of which he mangles: You can’t commit treason against a “trade” when your home country is the “Republic of Letters.” And “deportation” for punishment? Execution is standard for high treason; imprisonment or fine, for low treason and other lèse majesté.) The rest of his sentence is a rush of rats and rivers scrambling to be heard over that telltale heartbeat.

  27. “taking a goading stand on a principle virtually no one contests ”

    *pinch nose bridge, groan*


    I’m offended. Now he’s responsible for killing himself. Yay, brain?

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