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”?
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.