Charlie Hebdo Massacre

Should Muhammad-Depicting Cartoonists Be Executed or Merely Imprisoned?

Pick a position in the Charlie Hebdo debate.


Charlie Hebdo

According to The New York Times, the new, post-massacre issue of Charlie Hebdo has "reignited the debate pitting free speech against religious sensitivities that has embroiled Europe since 12 people were killed during an attack on [the paper's] Paris offices by Muslim extremists a week ago." As near as I can tell, these are the four main positions in that debate:

1. No one should be murdered over cartoons, which Charlie Hebdo's staff had a right to draw and publish, no matter how offensive they might be to some people.

2. No one should be murdered over cartoons, but those guys at Charlie Hebdo were kinda asking for it. What did they think would happen if they kept gratuitously attacking Muslim sensibilities?

3. No one should be murdered over cartoons, but they should go to jail if those cartoons insult Islam.

4. People who publish cartoons that insult Islam deserve the death penalty, so killing them is not murder. 

While taking Position No. 1, I have encountered various people who take Position No. 2, and last week Anthony Fisher offered a nice sampling. Position No. 3 is exemplified by Elsa Ray, spokeswoman for the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, who told the Times, "The freedom of expression may be guaranteed by the French Constitution, but there is a limit when it goes too far and turns into hatred and stigmatization." Ray is referring to laws that criminalize insults, defamation, and incitement to hatred or discrimination based on religion and various other criteria.

The Times also quotes an advocate of Position No. 4:

A preacher, Anjem Choudary, the former leader of a radical group that was banned in Britain, was quoted by a British newspaper, The Independent, as saying that the image was "an act of war" that would be punishable by death if judged in a Shariah court….

"If freedom of expression can be sacrificed for criminalizing incitement and hatred, why not for insulting the Prophet of Allah?" Mr. Choudary wrote last week on Twitter on the same day as the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, during which the attackers indicated they were avenging Muhammad for the newspaper's insults.

How big a gap is there between Ray's position and Choudary's? Both believe that Islam-insulting cartoons are intolerable and should be punished. They disagree about the appropriate penalty, and possibly also about the propriety of vigilante action to impose the penalty when the government fails to do so.

Choudary couches his argument in terms that should be familiar to supporters of bans on hate speech, and he asks a good question: "If freedom of expression can be sacrificed for criminalizing incitement and hatred, why not for insulting the Prophet of Allah?" The Times notes that "Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the National Assembly on Tuesday that 'blasphemy' was not in French law and never would be." That is technically true: Religious insults are part of a broader class that includes insults based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, and disability. Furthermore, the victims are not Allah and his prophet but their followers. But if the upshot is that someone goes to jail for drawing a picture of Muhammad, a ban on religious insults in practice looks a lot like a ban on blasphemy.

Then again, no one has actually been imprisoned (or fined) in France for publishing Muhammad cartoons. The 2006 case against Charlie Hebdo failed because a judge decided that two of the three cartoons at issue targeted fundamentalists, as opposed to Muslims in general, while the third was reprinted in the context of covering a controversy, meaning that the requisite intent to insult was missing. An appeals court concluded that none of the cartoons was an attack on Muslims per se. A blasphemy ban probably would not draw such fine distinctions.

Choudary argues that the French government's tolerance of the Muhammad cartoons, together with its crackdown on the comedian Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala, betrays a double standard: It is OK to insult Muslims but not Jews. Prime Minister Valls perceives a "fundamental difference" between Charlie Hebdo's cartoonists and Dieudonné, who has gotten into legal trouble over anti-Semitic comments and was arrested today for expressing sympathy with Amedy Coulibaly, the terrorist who murdered four people at a kosher market in Paris last week. "I feel like Charlie Coulibaly," Dieudonné said on Facebook. Like Valls, I see a difference here, but it is not one that should matter under the law.

Charging the government with making such judgments not only violates freedom of speech but invites enmity among people who take a different view. Many Muslims who who may not agree with Choudary that Muhammad-depicting cartoonists should be killed nevertheless resent what they perceive as unequal treatment of different ethnic groups. As Matt Welch observes, this sort of divisiveness is another cost of trying to police offensive words and images.


NEXT: Crime to conduct same-sex or polygamous marriage ceremony?

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  1. OT (but not really): Muslim call to prayer to sound at Duke University…../14353003/

    1. From the chapel, where the relevant official is called Sapp.

    2. Because they would totally let another group blast their shit through the campus like that.

      1. I find this a silly thing to get outraged by. I imagine the motivation behind it is incredibly stupid and mealy-mouthed, but it can’t possibly be that big of a deal.

        1. Yes it is. It is a big deal for no other reason than they would never extend such treatment to any other religion. It is flat out favorable treatment.

          1. Meh. What other religion has an equivalent? I would put forth that the noon and 6:00 chimes many Christian churches ring is close to an equivalent. Does Duke currently allow that? Does anyone know for sure? Has anyone even thought of that?

            Does Judaism have an equivalent?

            Can we think of others? I mean, it’s a silly thing even on those grounds to object to. Who fucking cares what a chapel/church pumps through their loudspeakers?

    3. Duke sucks. Some of us have known it for years.

      1. I guess I should be thankful they wait-listed me.

        1. I should be thankful I didn’t get that Lacrosse scholarship to Duke.

    4. Bet they wouldn’t allow Christian hymns to be blasted at the same volume from their chapel, though.

      1. Especially if some group of radical Christians had just recently committed multiple murder in the name of their religion.

    5. “The collective Muslim community is truly grateful and excited about Duke’s intentionality toward religious and cultural diversity.”

      HA. All religious and cultural groups that are at least moderately hostile to western civilization are to be welcomed. All others must sign a letter of recognition of their own inferiority and promise to check their privilege at the door.

    6. Don’t care.

  2. Executed or Imprisoned? Can we give them a nice dinner with two bottles of wine?

  3. There can be only #1

    1. But don’t step in #2!


  4. No one should be murdered over cartoons, but those guys at Charlie Hebdo were kinda asking for it.

    I mentioned before that this thinking puts on the attackers the mentality of a mindless animal. They, as a group, can be understood in their reacting to a stimulus.

    1. Hell, I’ve even seen some variants on #2 expressed here.

      1. There’s something very wrong with you if you feel others should be forced to follow the rules of a faith they don’t have. It’s many levels of moronic.

        1. That’s a very good point.

        2. Thank you Fisty! That is a terrific way of putting that.

      2. In reality, it was probably inevitable that Charlie Hebdo would suffer from tweaking a bunch of humorless, dickless, brain-dead ragheads that truly believe in killing people that don’t respect their fantasy.

        And while I didn’t actually like most of the covers that brought this event on, I have the deepest respect for these guys for doing it over and over again given the likelihood of this outcome.

        Legally, ethically, and morally Option 1 is the only acceptable answer.

        1. I must now run off to a 4 hour meeting. Feel free to pillory me in my absence.

          1. Eh, I agree with everything you wrote. The Hebdo cover didn’t exactly impress me with its wit or anything, and the reality of what was bound to happen was fairly easy to anticipate.

            This is somewhat different from Ken Schultz-style freak-outs about Islamophobia and so on in response to noting this fact pattern, or unequivocal defenses of this right.

          2. HR finally caught up with you, and you’re off to 4 hours of sensitivity training right?

            You can tell us.

    2. And then the people who advocate this position don’t have to think about why the perpetrators are doing what they’re doing. They just get to go “stop baiting the bear” and can shut down their brain after that. It’s the lazy, not wanting to have to think answer.

      1. It also allows them to tell people they hate anyway to shut up and lets them benefit from the effect of the violence without actually doing it or supporting it. The people who say that wanted Hebdo censored. Thanks to the terrorists they get the result they want. And by saying that, they get to benefit from the effect the murders have on others without supporting it.

    3. There’s also a subset of #2 that expresses outrage at the suggestion that women be careful about drinking heavily at parties as a precaution against rape, ’cause that’s “blaming the victim”.

      For many on the left, the details about things like rape and murder are secondary to the “power” narrative. Any means to the end of “power redistribution” are acceptable.

  5. “Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the National Assembly on Tuesday that ‘blasphemy’ was not in French law and never would be.”

    Unless you blaspheme against the belief that all beliefs are equal and worthy of respect. That’s just sacrilegious, after all, and there’s no sense questioning it.

  6. If most of the adherents to Radical Islam were straight white men, is there any doubt that the NYT would be wall-to-wall Charlie Hedbo cartoons for at least a month?

    1. Well, some Muslim extremists *are* straight white men.

      1. Hey, maybe the Times can use that angle!

        1. By Krugman’s beard! I think you’re onto something. That’s a fresh take the subscribers will love. Maybe a sunday mag feature.

      2. You would be correct if you left off the ‘straight’.

    2. Sometimes I have to wonder if the left’s predilection towards defending Islamists isn’t entirely based on the fact that it’s adherents aren’t typically white males.

    3. When did Arabs and Persians stop being white?

      1. OK – I admit I can answer my own question: 2003

  7. Since all laws are ultimately backed up by the death penalty (if the enforcee resists enough), positions 2-4 are ethically identical.

    1. excuse me 3 and 4. #2 is similar to yelling ni**er in certain neighborhoods, you SHOULD be able to do it, but sensible non-suicidal people probably won’t.

      1. “Nipper”? You mean calling them drinkers?

  8. I don’t see much difference between counseling people to be careful about whom they insult and counseling them to pay taxes or pay off racketeers because otherwise bad things could happen to them. It doesn’t mean you support terror, taxation, the Mafia, etc. to remark that somebody’s doing such things led to such bad results.

    Also, how does saying you feel like Charlie Coulibaly insult anybody? Anybody who’s reviled could say they feel like Coulibaly. Is it insulting to acknowledge that you’ve made enemies? If you say you feel like Charlie Coulibaly, that must mean everybody hates you.

    1. For example, what did people say when they jailed Irwin Schiff? Or George Hansen? Andrew Melechinski? Jim Lewis? You might’ve thought them brave, but not smart.

    2. That is a great analogy Robert.

  9. C’mon, I think Choudary is trotted out by a joking press for a periodic “let’s kick the retard” session.

  10. “The 2006 case against Charlie Hebdo failed because a judge decided that two of the three cartoons at issue targeted fundamentalists, as opposed to Muslims in general,”

    So it’s ok to insult some religionists for their religious beliefs, but not others. That’s so much better.

    Just half a chromosome away from chimpanzees, and it shows.

    1. They insult fundamentalist radicals for missing the point of their own religion. That is different from insulting them for their religious beliefs – it is insulting them for their stupidity and hypocrisy.

  11. Which goes to show that Progressives are less rational, or honest, than Choudary.

    Actually, I’d say less honest and less rational.

  12. If freedom of expression can be sacrificed for criminalizing incitement and hatred, why not for insulting the Prophet of Allah?

    Name the fallacy.

  13. I just got paid USD 6784 working off my laptop this month. And if you think that’s cool, my divorced friend has twin toddlers and made over USD 9k her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less. This is what I do

  14. Who the hell is this Amen Chowderhead goi? Sounds like he is an advocate for a violent, divisive, oppressive totalitarianism. You know, if this fucker was a Christian, he wouldn’t be allowed in polite society, much less invited onto TV. I’d be ashamed if he were an American. Not that there aren’t Americans who think like he does, but they generally aren’t part of, again, what I would call “polite society”.

  15. 1 and 2 aren’t necessarily different groups when you recognize that most people who view this as Islamists being Islamists don’t say that the satirists were “kind of asking for it.” That’s a cute rhetorical flourish that Jacob’s adopted from rape culture activists, who use it to strawman anyone who says that women should carry a weapon, travel in groups, or otherwise take precautions against being an easy target for criminals. It’s utopia or bust for some people.

    If you want to satirize Islam, go ahead, but you should take steps to defend yourself against macho idiots who vow vengeance for your insults. In this case, France’s gun control laws prevented the lefties at CH from even having the option of defending themselves in a reasonable way, as reality is presumably optional in gay Paris.

    1. ^^ I think that is the rational take on it. No, that girl didn’t deserve to be raped. No, she wasn’t “asking for it”, but there were precautions that might have made a difference, had she adopted them. This is no way makes her responsible for what happened.

  16. No one should be murdered over cartoons raped over sexy clothing, but those guys at Charlie Hebdo women at the dance club were kinda asking for it. What did they think would happen if they kept gratuitously attacking Muslim sensibilities flashing side-boob at horny young males?

    How’s that fit?

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