- - Sunday, January 11, 2015


Shortly after a terrorist attack left 12 dead inside a Paris magazine called Charlie Hebdo, a meme went viral. People posted a new phrase on social media, held signs with the slogan, said it again and again and again on TV: “Je Suis Charlie” — I am Charlie.

The message was meant to show solidarity with those who died. And those who were murdered in cold blood were called “journalists,” therefore “Je Suis Charlie” supporters were saying, essentially, there but for the grace of God go I. They, too, could have been killed over freedom of expression. We are all Charlie, they said.

But it’s unclear just how many of those sudden supporters of Charlie Hebdo really knew about Charlie Hebdo.

The irreverent — the buzzword fellow journalists used was “satirical” — magazine has published dozens of cartoons mocking Muhammad, as well as religious icons. One magazine cover showed Christianity’s holy trinity engaged in a vile anal sexual threesome. In fact, that was pretty much the goal of the fringe magazine: To incite anger from those with faith — any religion; to mock those who believe.

And so it did. The magazine has been condemned by French presidents (several) and leaders of many religions worldwide. Editors of the magazine reveled in the hatred it could stir up among those with faith; and then they pointed to angry rhetoric accusingly, saying in effect, “Look, they’re as intolerant as we say!”

But the politically correct stance to take after the murders was to support the murdered “journalists” — however vile, vicious and disgusting their diatribes against religion were.

Many U.S. news organizations, while also showing solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, decided against running the cartoons in reports about the murders at the magazine. CNN President Jeff Zucker wouldn’t run them, saying “protecting and taking care of the safety of our employees around the world is more important right now.”

On Saturday, Fox News host Neil Cavuto, a solid journalist and a real nice guy, said that the Muslim terrorists in Paris were “killing journalists for doing their jobs.”

But the question that went unasked in defense of the Hebdo “journalists” was this: Is it really the job of journalists to belittle religion, to mock the faithful’s beliefs, to denigrate those the faithful deem most holy — in any religion?

Oddly, it was the Qatar-based news outlet Al-Jazeera that took exception to the meme. After the attack on Charlie Hebdo, Al-Jazeera English editor and executive producer Salah-Aldeen Khadr sent out a staffwide email.

Mr. Khadr suggested that Al-Jazeera employees ask whether the attack at Hebdo was “really an attack on ‘free speech.’”

“Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile,” he wrote in emails first reported by National Review. “Baiting extremists isn’t bravely defiant when your manner of doing so is more significant in offending millions of moderate people as well. And within a climate where violent response — however illegitimate — is a real risk, taking a goading stand on a principle virtually no one contests is worse than pointless: it’s pointlessly all about you.”

Staff reporter Mohamed Vall responded to the email: “What Charlie Hebdo did was not free speech, it was an abuse of free speech in my opinion. Go back to the cartoons and have a look at them! It’s not about what the drawing said, it was about how they said it. I condemn those heinous killings, but I’M NOT CHARLIE.”

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, was also bold enough to say he was not Charlie.

“Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated,” Mr. Donohue wrote. “But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction.”

“Those who work at this newspaper have a long and disgusting record of going way beyond the mere lampooning of public figures, and this is especially true of their depictions of religious figures. For example, they have shown nuns masturbating and popes wearing condoms. They have also shown Muhammad in pornographic poses

“What unites Muslims in their anger against Charlie Hebdo is the vulgar manner in which Muhammad has been portrayed. What they object to is being intentionally insulted over the course of many years. On this aspect, I am in total agreement with them,” Mr. Donohue wrote.

So therein lies another philosophical puzzle: Should we ridicule and demonize those of other religions simply because we can? How does that advance the cause of freedom of expression? And, quite simply, what is the point?

If Charlie Hebdo wanted to anger Muslims, it succeeded. But was there ever any higher purpose, any constructive goal, in doing so? And is that “journalism”?

Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at josephcurl@gmail.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.

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