Free Expression would be 'Unbearable' (Le Soir,
rather side with the white knights who have the courage to brave dangerous
extremists capable of setting their editorial offices ablaze. ... we would
rather join with those who assert 'this is our country, and here, we write what
we want to write about Islam, because our secular traditions prevail. We will
not lie down in cowardice before religious zealots.'"
Should we compromise on a fundamental element of our
democracy, free expression? This is the question raised by the publication of
cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed in Charlie
Hebdo [French satirical newspaper].
The idea is unbearable. So we would rather side with the white
knights who have the courage to brave dangerous extremists capable of setting their
editorial offices ablaze. We would like to loudly proclaim the inviolable right
of newspapers to publish opinions and illustrations in keeping with both their roles
and whimsies. For that matter, we would rather join with those who assert “this
is our country, and here, we write what we want to write about Islam, because
our secular traditions prevail. We will not lie down in cowardice before religious
But isn’t this a bit overly-simplistic? Let’s be clear.
The publication of these cartoons wasn't meant to serve any noble intention. It wasn’t about
delivering analysis or opinion on Islam to be accompanied by humorous illustrations.
Neither was it to thumb our nose at religious fundamentalists who question the
foundation of our secular democracies. The decision to publish these cartoons
was driven by all accounts to provoke a violent reaction. (Let’s hope it wasn’t
driven by the profit motive!)
Within the context of the seismic reaction triggered by
the American anti-Islamic film, this [publishing the inflammatory cartoons] was
an act of grave irresponsibility, which is likely to cause a good deal of grief
- if not even deaths.
Unfortunately, the satirical weekly has proven nothing by
acting this way. It is feared that it will bring unnecessary demonstrations by a
handful of galvanized Allah followers capable of blind and murderous
retaliation. And not publishing such cartoons would have done nothing to call
into question our own principles.
By wrapping itself in virtue, Charlie Hebdo has not served the freedom
of expression, but has used it to stir up a firestorm.
The damage is done. How can we now appeal to reason? How
can we prevent more deaths? How do we explain to Muslims that true democrats don't
wish to voluntarily offend by publishing insulting cartoons or distributing a
ridiculous film? The vast majority of Muslims have no wish to challenge our
principles of free expression and right to satire. Such a thing would be
futile. On both sides, there are belligerents who benefit from turning a deaf
ear to calls for appeasement.