Now that the nightmare in Copenhagen is over, the commentary is rolling in, and as always, some of it is enragingly eager to adopt the point of view of the murderous theocrats at the expense of their targets.
Take the BBC’s Malcolm Brabant in Copenhagen for instance, summing up the day after a gunman shot up a conference on blasphemy.
It was always a case of not if but when. What’s surprising is that it has taken this long for Denmark to be scarred by a fatal terror attack.
In September it will be 10 years since the Jyllands Posten newspaper inflamed the Muslim world with the publication of 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, including one of him with a bomb in his turban.
Notice the sly placing of the blame, the lazy ascription of causality – saying the Jyllands Posten newspaper inflamed the Muslim world rather than saying the Muslim world decided to fly into a rage at Jyllands Posten. The BBC does that regularly – claims that Salman Rushdie or Kurt Westergaard or whoever the criminal is this time “provoked” or “angered” or “set off” the latest installment of fury, thus implying they’d done something wrong by writing a novel or drawing a cartoon.
But that’s not even all there is to it: Brabant’s version is not even what happened. It’s not true that Jyllands Posten inflamed the Muslim world with the publication of 12 cartoons of Mo.
The “Muslim world” was not inflamed by the publication of the cartoons. It wasn’t until a group of Danish imams went on a trip around the Middle East to “raise awareness” of the cartoons, including three that the imams added to spice things up, that the tinder started to smolder.
So even the day after a violent attack on unarmed people at a conference, the BBC’s correspondent sees fit to insinuate some of the blame onto a newspaper for publishing twelve anodyne cartoons.
Or take Hugh Muir in the Guardian. He starts well; he describes the very outrage I felt at the sense of possibilities being shut down by endless violence:
… six weeks after the Charlie Hebdo atrocities, we may be lurching towards a new normal. The sudden, massively violent, militaristic attack on intellectual discourse, the involvement of hard to track assailants: in Paris a small, tight group; in Denmark – it appears – a lone-wolf attacker. There will be multiple repercussions and an even greater need for robust and visible security whenever discussions of this sort occur. That can only degrade the quality and diversity of those debates, and yet it is vital that those discussions continue to occur with all parties free to attend and free to speak their minds.
Exactly. There will have to be more security, and that will make everything much less free and open, and that’s a bad outcome. Well said. But it turns out he didn’t mean it the way I mean it. After the bold assertion comes the cringe.
We are in perilous territory. Slaughter as political protest cannot be defended. Free speech as legal and moral pre-requisites in a free society must be defended. But there are also other obligations to be laid upon those who wish to live in peaceful, reasonably harmonious societies. Even after Paris, even after Denmark, we must guard against the understandable temptation to be provocative in the publication of these cartoons if the sole objective is to establish that we can do so. With rights to free speech come responsibilities.
No. That is exactly what we must not do. To do that would be to do the very thing the men with guns are trying to force us to do: bow to their rules and proscriptions, and write our columns and draw our cartoons within the lines that they set out for us. To do what Hugh Muir says we must do would be to take the very orders the murderers are trying to enforce on us.
No. Publishing the cartoons to establish that we can is exactly what we should be doing. We should be throwing them around like confetti, posting them on Facebook and Twitter, handing them around at coffee shops, to establish that we can. That’s the whole point.
I wouldn’t say that about every kind of cartoon or writing I can think of. I wouldn’t say it about racist cartoons, or anti-Semitic ones, or anti-immigrant ones, or gay-bashing ones.
I don’t consider this an issue of pure contentless free speech, I consider it one of free speech on this particular subject. It’s not that I’m defending free speech while agreeing that the cartoons are unfortunate; it’s that I’m defending free speech while arguing with all the ferocity I can muster that religion must be wide-open to criticism and mockery, because it is religion. Of all human institutions, religions make the most profound and far-reaching claims on human beings, and for that reason we absolutely have to be able to reply to those claims and, if we choose, resist them.
See you at the drawing board.
• The top AP/Michael Probst photo is of a sign placed with floral tributes near the cultural club where one person was killed in Copenhagen, Denmark. The alleged shooter was later killed by police who believe he also shot another person at a synagogue. The man suspected of killing the two people was identified in several Danish media outlets on Sunday as Omar El-Hussein, below.