charlie hebdoSomething important and fundamental has been lost in conflicting responses to the terrorist attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The official western response has been absolute identification with the magazine (“I am Charlie Hebdo”), while all too many Islamic groups have even openly refused to condemn this act of radical Islamic terrorism. The Obama Administration, for its part, has acted as if France was hit by some kind of inexplicable natural disaster requiring a hug, but no analysis or meaningful response whatsoever. What has been lost? Recognition of why the killings were wrong. Again, one would think the answer rather obvious, but barbaric mass murder has been lost in ideology, and this is a dangerous thing.

The standard response has been that the killings were an attack on free speech; the only reasonable, moral course is to trumpet and expand free speech to its ultimate ends protecting it at all costs. Charlie Hebdo’s editor has captured the general tenor of this argument, calling on people to stand up for “secularism.” Even conservative pundits have told religious folk (including Christians and Jews) to “get used to” highly public, even official acts of blasphemy against their religions. The only other response, we are told, is murderous. Pope Francis’ seemingly clumsy comments questioning whether free speech is absolute were greeted with a combination of shock and contempt.

News flash: what was wrong with the act of terrorism against Charlie Hebdo was not its “message” of opposition to blasphemy but its very character; it was a barbaric act of mass murder. One may, in fact, be disgusted by much of what is foisted upon people of faith in our secular media and still recognize that censorship is a bad idea and murder is evil. Indeed, only such a combination of civilized reactions can serve as a basis for civil discourse in a free society. The other choices lead to ethno-religious violence and/or anti-religious oppression.

A nexus of the problem can, as always, be found at that bastion of conventional no-thinking, the New York Times. That newspaper’s decision to censor the Charlie Hebdo drawings on grounds of “religious sensitivity”—after decades of gleefully reprinting hyper blasphemous images, including a picture of a crucifix in a jar of urine—has been labeled what it clearly is: hypocritical cowardice in the face of a clear and present danger of radical Islamic violence. Again, however, the criticism focuses solely on the failure to be even more aggressive about the exercise of free speech. The answer, apparently, is to publish ever more blasphemous pictures and writings, be ever more aggressive in ridiculing people’s religious faith, and, especially in France, be ever more repressive in passing and enforcing laws banning all (including Christian and Jewish) expressions of faith in the public square. This may be more even-handed than what one finds in Muslim countries where Christianity is essentially illegal, or in the plans of the “multicultural” Obama Administration and its pseudo-intellectual allies who would further suppress Christian images and promote Islamic ones, but it hardly is the making of world peace, let alone any healthy society of ordered liberty.

Part of the problem may simply be an all-or-nothing attitude naturally resulting from such a horrendous, barbaric set of acts. But public policy should not be based on anger, or even cloying phrases from a James Taylor song, as in Secretary of State John Kerry’s belated visit to France. Rather, we need to make it clear to ourselves what it is that is being condemned and even how much. The greatest evil, here, clearly is mass murder—whatever its justification. Also evil (I use the term advisedly) is giving aid and comfort to those who would commit such acts, including on grounds of feeling insulted or even defiled. Civilized nations and civilized people simply do not act in this way and those, who find in their religion justification for such acts, condemn their religion as well as themselves.

However, once we clearly recognize such evils for what they are, our job is not done. We do not have carte blanche to see in any form of opposition to any exercise of “free speech” the makings of repression and mass murder. It is not, in fact, morally wrong to be insulted when someone insults you. For too long our “secular” elites have felt free to ridicule religious people as much and as viciously as they choose in the name of freedom. And Christians and Jews (and the vast majority of Muslims) have looked on peacefully, or at most grumbled at the intentional insults. What the New York Times has shown is that only fear, real fear of violence, will lessen its commitment mocking people of faith. It is, to say the least, unwise to restrict opposition to anti-religious insults to terrorism. France’s “middle ground,”—including, as it does, rather draconian hate speech codes—simply adds repression to the volatile mix.

What, then, ought we to do? Obviously, terrorists should be hunted down and punished as quickly and severely as possible within the law. At the same time, however, and as part of a policy of restoring our proper, historical understanding of free speech and the role of religion in public life, we need to demand more of our newspapers and magazines. Civility must be the core of public discourse. This leaves no room for any draconian code of censorship, let alone terrorist violence. But it is time for people of all faiths and secularists, who value civil discourse, to agree that intentional insults, like those becoming all too common in our culture, should not be condoned or reproduced in the mainstream media.

For too long, now, Christians in particular have allowed their voices to be stifled and their faiths to be mocked. It is time that we demand of our lamestream media that it consign blasphemy and anti-religious ridicule to the marginal world of religion-haters where it belongs, refusing on grounds of principle, rather than fear, to reproduce what is clearly intended as an insult.

Thankfully, much of the answer here lies within the power of ordinary Americans. I noticed at the end of the Seattle Seahawks’ victory in the National Football Conference championship game that the network actually showed what normally is ignored—the many players joining in prayers of thanks after the game. And the Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback, Russell Wilson, made a point of thanking God repeatedly, including after others tried their best to “secularize” the moment with vapid atmospherics. Mr. Wilson would not have needed to make any such point fifty years ago. He probably could not have done it fifteen years ago, but more and more Christians in particular have been pushing back against the media’s “secularizing” of our culture in recent years. We all should stand up like Russell Wilson—including by complaining to newspapers and magazines that continue ridiculing our faith. Such tactics certainly are open to Muslims, who deserve the same respect in this area as Christians, even as any who would commit violence in the name of God deserve condemnation in this life and the next.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
"All comments are subject to moderation. We welcome the comments of those who disagree, but not those who are disagreeable."
11 replies to this post
  1. Thank you. Team A, Hebdo, ran cartoons of the Virgin Mary having sex, and the Father and Son copulating, so they peddled blasphemy for fame and profit. They got the fame from Team B, who wanted to die to avenge blasphemy – and did. Each got what he wanted, apart from the innocent hostages.

  2. Though the title and one line about not taking an all-or-nothing approach were promising, the rest of the article was disappointing. Starting with the ambiguous statement that there were not enough Muslim groups condemning the attack when quite a few already including Hamas condemned the attack (see

    But in talking against an all-or-nothing approach and yet reducing the wrongness of the Charlie Hebdo attack to being murder, there is a mixed message. And it is ironically done out of a religious defensiveness. In addition, while talking about Charlie Hebdo and its work, little is said about the context of the attack such as that provided by Western Imperialism. That we seem not to question the claim that it was blasphemous cartoons alone which motivated the attack. Does anyone really think that it was merely a couple of cartoons that triggered the attack? And here we should note that understanding the context and reasons for the attack is not the same as justifying the attack.

    In addition, little is said about past and current Western attacks on media–attacks such as those that took place during the Iraq War or the ones Israel conducts against the Palestinian media making the West’s concern for free speech rather hypocritical.

    Finally, is pushing back against the ‘secularization’ of our culture the solution to the attacks on Christianity here? Such is rather ambiguous because we need to know whether pushing back includes a restoration of Christian privilege in society or that Christianity, having been marginalized according to us, needs to vie for an equal share in society with others. We might want to consider that many current criticisms from the media of Christianity may be because of the results that past Christian privilege has forced on society.

  3. My reaction to those who were suddenly “Outraged” over the killing of this cartoonist is – where have you been for the past 13 years (i.e., since 9/11)? Where have they been? Lecturing the rest of us about “Islamophobia”, resisting even the most modest proposals of profiling at airports, and generally howling like monkeys over any perceived American “Atrocity” while utterly ignoring the many real atrocities of Islamic terrorism. It’s only now, when one of their own is killed, that they seem to realize that Islamic terrorism is real and not just something dreamed up by George W Bush and Dick Cheney.

  4. ” Does anyone really think that it was merely a couple of cartoons that triggered the attack? ”

    Um, actually, YES. This sort of thing isn’t exactly new. Everyone knows the firestorm that occurred a few years ago when a Danish magazine published similar cartoons. Denmark, as far as I know, has not been engaging in imperialism in the Middle East or anywhere else. Or Salman Rushdie, put under death sentence by the late Ayatollah simply for writing a book. Rushdie is of Indian descent and thus can hardly be accused of representing Western Imperialism, either. This “Blame everything on Western Imperialism” trope is, much like a dog turd, getting older and smellier each day.

    • 1. The United States had absolutely zero bad relations with the Muslim world until it started to support Israeli terrorism and violence against the defenceless Palestinian population, which resorted to terror in response to Israel’s F-16s

      2. Each and every excursion on the part of “The West” into the Middle East has been an unmitigated FAILURE. From Iran in the 1980s to Iraq to Afghanistan to the “Arab Spring” to the killing of Qaddafi to our incompetence in Syria to our drones killing people at weddings in Pakistan it has been one violent mess on our part after another. Is there any reason the Muslims should not be supremely frustrated and angry at Western actions?

      3. We have created the beasts we now purport do fight. Our support of the Taliban in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s spawned Al Qaeda. Our support of Husseiin in the 1980s against the Iranians gave us the dreaded Saddam–against whom no war was necessary and you know it. Our support of the Syrian “rebels” gave birth to ISIS and our support of radicals in Libya has gave us a dead ambassador and then-secretary of state Hilary Clinton laughing all the way to the next presidential campaign.

      4. When we were busy trying to prod Putin into war over a downed Malaysian airplane (say, what happened to that?) Israel was off on one of its most atrocious incursions into the Palestinian territories and I did not see Americans deploring the terrorism of that good friend of ours. “Now you are us” said Ariel Sharon after the 9-11 attacks–that said it all.

      And what about those attacks in which cocaine addled goons and flunkies from flight school managed to bypass the most important military defense system in the world. Oh, but that would make me a conspiracy theorist–i.e. any one who questions what the gubment tells them.

      Americans need to wake the heck up and start looking at the source origiin of this Islamic terrorism against us which we (I am American) NEVER had against us for most of the life of this country. We are in there fighting the wars of our good friend and ally, and it is all part of our slow demise on the world stage. By the way, Cheney and Bush belong in jail.

      • If the Palestinians can’t beat Israel on the battlefield, this doesn’t give them the right to try to do by terror. Israel has been foolish in building settlements, but it is the Palestinians who are the overwhelming problem in the peace process. It is the Palestinians who are offered almost all they claim and turn it down. It is the Palestinians who use terrorism routinely.

        It was Hamas who triggered the recent conflict and Israel acted as it had to do to conduct a robust defence, given the circumstances on the ground and the behaviour of Hamas. The only alternative to the causalities, except for Hamas not provoking a conflict or Hamas not hiding amongst civilians, was Israel not properly defend itself against rockets raining down on it. No nation would accept that alternative.

        You are correct about much of the other problems caused by Western meddling, however.

        • Spoken straight out of the MSM handbook. And “Western meddling” is a very genteel way of putting it, is it not.

          This meme that the Palestinians “turn down everything they are offered” is the most resounding lie of all. What they have ever been offered are disconnected lots and plots of land, nothing contiguous, nothing resembling any kind of state or even a territory, nor one fully their own–militarily, infrastructurally administratively, or otherwise.

          Also, one cannot say such things like “Hamas started it”–(in reference to the horrible onslaught that began around the time of the Malaysian jetliner) at this point because the cycle of violence is so deep. It is Israel that has reacted with such disgusting terror–blowing up all the women and children as can be said of the Muslims, and yet they are hardly ever called out on it–not to any lasting effect

          Read the alternative press, even the Leftish ones–they can be quite good on the Middle East. Read Hanan Ashwari, an articulate Ph D historian and one of the best voices on the Palestinian side.

          The difference between Benjamin Netanyahu and the leaders of Hamas or any of the other groups is that Netanyahu speaks better English and wears better ties. Ever ready for his close-up, and the sheep just bleat with joy.

          • The Palestinians were offered 98% of what they claimed by Olmert and turned it down. The Palestinians are the major obstacle to peace. If you mean, by contiguous territory, Gaza linked up with the West Bank, they weren’t necessarily offered this, but then why should they be? They certainly were offered almost all of the current West Bank and all of Gaza, however. The PA leadership simply doesn’t wish to talk peace in good faith, because they fear the popular backlash and the response of Hamas. And Hamas is simply a foul terrorist group that doesn’t even recognise Israel’s right to exist.

            Where is the evidence that Israel, in general, didn’t do all it could to avoid civilian causalities? Israel has a right to conduct a robust defence, which in the circumstances, due to the conditions on the ground in Gaza and the tactics of Hamas, will lead to a high civilian death toll. You, like many anti-Israel folks, are ignoring the actual circumstances. To deny them the right to a robust self-defence is hypocritical. No other nation would put up with rockets raining down on it.

            Curtis Day,

            The occupied territories are stateless lands taken by Israel when it was attacked by its neighbours. Israel has a right to rule them, to keep itself safe, until such time as a proper peace settlement is made.

            I do agree about the settlements. Israel is wrong to build settlements and to attempt to annex the Golan Heights. But it is still the Palestinians who are by far the biggest obstacle to peace.

        • To wessexman,
          The inability of the Palestinians to beat Israel on the battlefield does not give Israel the right to rule over the them. To say otherwise is to support the rule of force over the rule of law.

          And when you look into the details, you will find that it is the horrendous conditions in which Israel forces on the Palestinians along with the continual theft of Palestinian land that is the real reason for the lack of peace in that part of the Middle East.

    • Eric,
      So in other words, the present and historical context of Western Imperialism and exploitation of Middle East countries did not play a role in the anger and motivation of the attackers? It was only the cartoons that caused their anger and triggered their attacks? And btw, wasn’t Shock and Awe simply an example of Western Terrorism?

  5. If you’re saying that we have to outlaw some speech because it’s insensitive, Mr. Frohen, then I disagree. Charlie Hepdo was infantile and repulsive, but who am I to declare something off limits to speech. I am offended by many atheists in how they portray Christianity. If I had dictatorial power should I have the right to silence them? As a Christian I think Islam is a false religion, and therefore since it stems from Mohhamed’s supposed visions, I could claim that he is a liar. (Besides a warmonger and pedophile, but that’s a different issue.) So should I be silenced? Let people speak their mind, and if it offends, so what? Get thick skin or stay out of free countries. As the Muslim mayor of the Dutch city of Rotterdam told them, “if you don’t like freedom, for heaven’s sake pack your bags and leave.” And may I say he used a nice four letter word in a different sentence that had nice effect.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: