I still look in vain for an article in the New York Times—or any of the liberal media—explaining why Islam, among all religions, consistently inspires terrorism, including the two incidents that just occurred in France. But there are plenty of articles explaining why France is to blame. (One of the readers analogized this to blaming a rape victim for having too many drinks.)
I believe the recent NYT article below fits into the second genre; it explains why the French attitudes towards the Charlie Hebdo Islam-mocking cartoons could promote Muslim offense and terrorism. I again emphasize that I don’t for a minute think that all French Muslims are terrorists or approve of terrorism, nor that many haven’t integrated into French society.
Still, there’s something about Islam that promotes terrorism, and isn’t present in the other Abrahamic faiths to nearly as strong a degree. The media ignores that, because, after all, it could be seen as Islamophobic, and also expose other newspapers to attack. It’s left up to people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who then gets demonized as an “Islamophobe”) to explain why Islam inspires offense and murder, and to work out ways that the religion could be “defanged.” (Her latest book, Heretic, is a game try at this, but, I think, a futile one.)
Read for yourself by clicking on the screenshot.
To be fair, the article does mention French reactions that are a) extreme and b) truly “Islamophobic”—reactions that are bigoted and unnecessary. One is the French far right, most notably the National Rally political party headed by Marine Le Pen. It’s clear that the party isn’t just against Islam, but is xenophobic and would be happy if there were no Muslims in France. Another example that unnecessarily stirs up hatred is this:
But French officials have not only defended the right to republish the cartoons, some have gone further — including regional leaders who announced that a booklet including those images would be handed out to high school students as a commitment “to defend the values of the Republic.”
This seems unnecessary to me, as you can simply state what is considered offensive by some groups (though legal) without showing the images. And if the booklet has images only of Muhammad, well, that’s sheer bigotry: a singling out of Muslims for disapprobation.
While the French are strongly tied (rightly so) to their principle of laïcité (secularism; separation of church and state), there’s nothing wrong with the government announcing, after the killings, that it deplores the killers, that Charlie Hebdo has the right to publish what it wants, and yet add that it holds all Muslim citizens as French, equal under the law to anyone else. It needn’t say that it deplores “Islamophobic” cartoons, for that’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed if the French want to preserve secularism (the government would then have to say it deplores all cartoons that mock religion or anything else held “sacred”).
Now the piece above is a news piece, but there are several statements in it that seem muddled or even critical of the French free-speech policy. Here are a few:
In the tortured 14-year history of the cartoons in France, the response to the images there has undergone a profound transformation. Once denounced by the head of state for provoking and disrespecting Muslims, and later held at a cautious distance by other officials, the same drawings are today fully embraced across the political establishment — often conflated with France’s commitment to freedom of expression.
The caricatures have put France at a dangerous impasse, widening its divide with Muslim nations and leaving many French Muslims feeling alienated. To Muslims outside France, and some inside, the cartoons are simply provocative and gratuitous insults leveled at their faith. One drawing depicts the Prophet Muhammad carrying a bomb in his turban.
I disagree that the head of state should denounce the cartoons for disrespecting Muslims—not if that head refrains from similar denunciations about mockery of other faiths. You simply can’t single out Muslims as the one religion to be defended. That gives them a special “victim” status, hence violating laïcité. I’m not sure what the article means by “fully embraced across the political establishment”, but I doubt that it’s true. Surely not all French politicians embrace the Charlie Hebdo cartoons! But they should all defend to the death the right of the magazine to publish them. As for exactly how this faux “embrace” gets conflated with “commitment to freedom of expression”, this is unclear.
But the second paragraph above is telling. Yes, some Muslims feel the cartoons are insulting. But in fact the cartoon showing Muhammad with a bomb in his turban was not a Charlie Hebdo cartoon, as implied in the article, but was in fact a Danish cartoon—one of the ones published by the Jyllands-Posten in 2005. This is an unforgivable error on the part of the NYT.
More important, those cartoons, as well as the ones published by Charlie Hebdo, have always been mockery of Islam, not Muslims. And their publication is legal in France. So long as they convey the malfeasance of religion, Islam in particular, I don’t find them beyond the pale. The one with the bomb in Muhammad’s turban is a perfect expression of the violence and oppression inherent in Islam.
But some do find these cartoons beyond the pale:
In 2015, the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the killing of a dozen people — including cartoonists and columnists — led to mass mobilization in Paris under the banner of “Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie.”
Representatives from Muslim countries like Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan and Qatar joined that march against terrorism and for freedom of speech. But all of these countries have in recent days criticized the republication of the caricatures, arguing that they offended Muslims.
The editors at Charlie Hebdo republished the same cartoons to mark the start of a long-awaited trial of alleged accomplices in the 2015 attack, saying they were affirming France’s democracy.
. . . . “The publication and the republication are not the same thing,” said Anne Giudicelli, a French expert on the Arab world who has worked for the French foreign ministry. “The republication by Charlie Hebdo is seen as an obstinate will to continue humiliating. That’s what is different from 2015. Now there is the sense that France has a problem with Islam whereas, in 2015, France was the victim of terrorists.”
Humiliating what, exactly? The republication is Charlie Hebdo standing by its right to satirize religion, even as the attackers who killed 12 people—9 of them employees of Charlie Hebdo—go on trial after a five-year wait. And, in fact, France has had a problem with Islam since at least 1982, when Muslim terrorists shot up a Jewish restaurant in the Marais, killing 6. Ms. Giudicelli is muddled here.
A few more NYT statements that seem to justify Islamic terroism:
French secularism holds dear the right to criticize all religions — though not believers. The line is often difficult to draw, and has left many Muslims feeling personally insulted with the publication of caricatures of Muhammad.
Maybe the line is difficult to draw, but not in the case of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. The fact is that many Muslims don’t want there to be a line—they want attacks on their faith to be seen as attacks on Muslims themselves. One of these is quoted in the Times article:
Mohammed Moussaoui, the president of the French Council of Muslim Faith, said that there should be limits to offensive satire when it comes to religious beliefs. Limiting the publication of cartoons of Muhammad avoids fueling extremism, he said.
“I don’t think this is the right way to explain freedom of expression to children,” Mr. Moussaoui said of the caricatures in an interview with France Info. “The duty of brotherhood imposes on all to renounce some rights.”
In a subsequent statement, Mr. Moussaoui said that his suggestion to “renounce some rights” had been clumsy. But he added: “If freedom of expression gives the right to be satirical or humorous, we can understand that cartoons putting a prophet who is fundamental to millions of believers in suggestive and degrading postures cannot fall within this right.”
Excuse me? Moussaoui is trying to carve out here an exception for Islam, exactly what many Muslims want. And he’s badly muddled as well: if you have a right to be satirical or humorous, how does mocking a beloved prophet violate that right, Mr. Moussaoui?
I’ve talked before about the difficulty we sometimes encounter separating a believer from their belief: of mocking Islam while not demonizing those who embrace some of its most odious tenets. But all you need do is keep criticizing bad ideas, not people, and ensuring that Muslims in France are treated the same as everyone else. Above all, you cannot out of cowardice exempt Islam from mockery while allowing satire towards everything else. In one of the few sensible statements in the article, a professor defends freedom of speech:
Pierre-Henri Tavoillot, a philosopher and expert on laïcité at the Sorbonne University, said that the conflict over the caricatures has led France into “a trap.”
“In fact, they have become symbols and that turns the situation into a conflict,’’ he said. “But it’s a conflict that in my opinion is inevitable: if French laïcité gives up on this point, it will have to give up on all the others.”
He added, “If we abandon caricatures, for a French person, we’re abandoning freedom of expression, the possibility of criticizing religions.”
What irks me most of all is that there are other articles in the NYT criticizing the French government for exacerbating Muslim anger (here’s another, a exercise in op-ed apologetics), but none—not one—either explaining to readers why Islam prompts this kind of offense and consequent violent reactions, and not a single editorial—not one—condemning the Islamist killings and explaining why the excesses of Islam need to be reined in. Now I may have missed these pieces, but a Google search hasn’t revealed them. And if the Times has indeed failed to produce an editor-wide op-ed condemning the killings and laying them at the feet of religion, then the paper’s behavior is more shameful than ever.