Charlie Hebdo Massacre

Ron Paul: The Notion That Charlie Hebdo Was Attacked Over Free Speech Is 'fantasy'

To make room for blowback arguments, some libertarians and progressives are denying that slaughtering a newsroom is a free-speech issue


“I put blame on bad policy that we don't fully understand, and we don't understand what they're doing because the people who are objecting to the foreign policy that we pursue, they do it from a different perspective,” Paul added. “They see us as attacking them, and killing innocent people, so yes, they, they have—this doesn't justify, so don't put those words in my mouth—it doesn't justify, but it explains it.” |||

Ron Paul has a column out titled "Lessons from Paris," in which he urges readers to consider the Charlie Hebdo massacre as an act of "blowback" against imperial French and American foreign policy, a case he has been making about the attack from the beginning. While it might seem counter-intuitive that repeated assaults on an anti-war, anti-militarist, anti-Bush, anti-torture, anti-Gitmo, pro-Palestinian-statehood, pro-immigration cartoon newspaper from a country that bitterly opposed the Iraq War were caused in part by Franco/American misadventures in the Muslim world, the argument in its best form is that a history of western interventionism has created a larger pool of potential terrorists, and that therefore we should not be surprised when those terrorists bite back. 

The less persuasive form of the argument, as with Ron Paul here and a number of libertarian and progressive commentators this week, seeks to create room for the more abstracted blowback analysis by flatly denying that the direct free-speech explanation has validity. Example:

The mainstream media immediately decided that the shooting was an attack on free speech.  Many in the US preferred this version of "they hate us because we are free," which is the claim that President Bush made after 9/11.  They expressed solidarity with the French and vowed to fight for free speech.  But have these people not noticed that the First Amendment is routinely violated by the US government? President Barack Obama has used the Espionage Act more than all previous administrations combined to silence and imprison whistleblowers.  Where are the protests?  Where are protesters demanding the release of John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on the CIA use of waterboarding and other torture? The whistleblower went to prison while the torturers will not be prosecuted. No protests.

They prefer to believe the fantasy that they attack us because they hate our freedoms, or that they cannot stand our free speech.

Bolding mine. It is indeed true that President Barack Obama has been lousy on free speech, something we have covered extensively in these pages (along with the Espionage Act, John Kiriakou, and whistleblowers writ large). And it's also true that that lousiness has zero bearing on whether repeated Islamic-fundamentalist attacks on the single most prominent fundamentalist-tweaking newspaper in the Western world can be considered an attack on free speech. Charlie Hebdo editors mocked fundamentalists knowing that they could be attacked for it; they were then sued, firebombed, sued again, fatwa'd, and finally massacred by Muslims who complained specifically about that mockery. Yet it's somehow a "fantasy" to conclude that "they cannot stand our free speech"? That does not pass the giggle test.

Paul is hardly alone in shoving aside the free speech issue to make room for a competing theory. Four more examples after the jump:

Chris Hedges, Truthdig:

The terrorist attack in France that took place at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo was not about free speech….It was a harbinger of an emerging dystopia where the wretched of the earth, deprived of resources to survive, devoid of hope, brutally controlled, belittled and mocked by the privileged who live in the splendor and indolence of the industrial West, lash out in nihilistic fury.

Note: The Charlie Hebdo killers were born and raised in France.

Becky Akers,

If you insult a man's mother, repeatedly and aggressively, should you be either surprised or outraged when the guy takes a swing at you? Has the vengeful son violated your "freedom of speech" or "freedom of expression"? Or have you simply suffered the consequences of your boorish behavior?

Likewise, if you publish years' worth of insults against a major religious figure, have the followers of that religion violated your "freedom of speech" or "freedom of expression" when they react to your deliberate provocation? Shouldn't adults, particularly world-weary ones who claim a jaundiced sophistication, understand that victims of relentless mockery and verbal abuse will almost always react?

Naturally, I do not condone murdering journalists and graphic artists. But let us be very clear that these killings have nothing to do with freedom of speech or expression, regardless of how much Our Rulers and France's try to cast them that way. Governments are the only ones who can restrict either freedom[.]

Asghar Bughari, Medium:

This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech?—?It Was About War

Diane Johnstone, Counterpunch (in a piece republished by the Ron Paul Institute):

Charlie Hebdo was not in reality a model of freedom of speech.  It has ended up, like so much of the "human rights left", defending U.S.-led wars against "dictators".

Note: Johnstone names no such wars. 

Reason on Charlie Hebdo here. I interviewed Ron Paul about foreign policy in our January issue.