The Week in Review.
As the Arab Spring is moving into its second, rather messy and somewhat disconcerting phase in certain countries, it figures that we would get another cartoon flareup. The firebombing of the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo is yet another low point in the ongoing and increasingly polarized discourse surrounding free speech and religious iconoclasm today. In this post-Danish cartoons landscape, the despicably violent response of the anonymous firebombers naturally tends to get all the attention, but it is also the easiest part of the event to deal with, in that it can be condemned outright.
The real question, as I see it, is why Charlie Hebdo figured it was a good idea once more to trot out the “likeness” of Muhammad. I found Luz’ cover, showing the prophet threatening a hundred lashes to whoever didn’t find it funny, worth a chuckle, but what purpose did it really serve? Why, exactly, did we need this piece of satire? The extra-legal power exercised by Islamic extremists deserves to be mocked and condemned, but it is also something most of us can easily agree to despise (stay safe Charlie!). It seems to me, however, that the blunt instrument of depicting the prophet merely further encourages these maniacs, while broadcasting once again that the beliefs of millions of non-violent Muslims is apparently not worthy of respect here in the West.
Satire has no prerogative to be constructive, but free speech is such a potent idea that ceding it to this kind of bullying is unfortunate. Yes, we are entitled to insult whatever belief we like, religious or otherwise — and that is how it should be (good on Libération to open their offices to Charlie) — but it would reflect well on our principles if we also employed them to speak out against the general coarsening of what was once civilized discourse.
Oh, yes, links: