In truth perhaps I was not “Charlie”. After all, I wasn’t a religion-attacking atheist. Truth to tell, in the story of Charlie Hebdo, many left out that the cartoon magazine was something that we might call a ‘liberal rag’. It was often offensive and frequently unfunny with attacks on religion, and it didn’t limit its criticism to Islam, actually attacking Christianity more. Some even believed it anti-Semitic. Deliberately, purposely provocative.
And yet, even though I was none of those things, I was ‘Charlie’. Not because I agreed with any of it. But precisely because I didn’t. Because even the provocative offensive speech by assholes, to paraphrase Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, is protected. Especially the provocative speech, the minority speech, that which offends, that which many may not like. Because the government doesn’t have the right to shut down offensive speech for being offensive and neither do terrorists with AK-47s. You do not have the right to kill over a cartoon.
Much of the world seemed to agree, leaders linking arms in Paris, being Charlie. Media in the U.S was also generally sympathetic, many pieces running “Je Suis Charlie” in headers.
Yet here we are today, a few months later. A similar situation, where Americans exercise their First Amendment right to draw “offensive” cartoons of Muhammad. Yet where are the crowds of media saying “Je Suis Garland”? Where are the crowds of media condemning the attack on free speech? Where are the crowds of media, highlighting even just the fact that this was immediately apparent ISIS-endorsed attack on the United States?
Instead, what we have is some, like NY Times reporter Rukmini Callamachi and even McClatchy News, in scary fashion, asking when is ‘provocative speech’ ‘too much’ and attacking the people who held the event in Garland, more than calling out the terrorists.
McClatchy even discusses whether ‘charges’ should be brought against the organizers of the Garland event.
So why the difference here for media? Because the group was one they didn’t like in a state for which they didn’t care with a better result than Paris because of, well, guns?
And where has the Federal government’s response been to an ISIS-claimed attack on American soil? President Obama hasn’t even mentioned it. The press secretary made a fairly perfunctory comment about ‘violence’ not being the proper response to expression even if offensive. One might have thought he was speaking of a video, rather than an Islamist terror attack on the United States. Again, no mention of ISIS, Islamists or terrorism. Meanwhile the President has managed to go on Letterman, to golf and to attend Democratic fundraisers.
I don’t know if I would agree with everything Mr. Goldberg writes, but I would defend his right to say it, even if he were provocative. Vox calls the Garland event “hate speech”. I think much of what Vox says is hate speech. Who gets to decide? I have multiple options to object to the content by protest and by pen, that is the benefit of being an American. As Mr. Goldberg notes, Iran has a Holocaust cartoon contest every year, basically catering to Holocaust deniers. Are they attacked? No, they are laughed at, they are belittled.
Either we are all in or we are not. Either we believe in what we say we do, or we do not. But if we do not, if we allow “offense” or political difference to limit that protected speech, if we start to suggest as some of these writers do, what speech should or should not be ‘allowed’, we move down the slippery slope to the rule of the mob, to the rule of the despot. In an ever-growing media state, where already, even the slightest offense is often seized on and may result in the prevailing view hounding a person from his/her job for differing, this is a frightening thought.