- Such a subject has permanent pertinence in a Blog like this one. But its implications are far more wide-reaching than the insignificant, infinitesimal impact of a blasphemous blog of which relatively few people have heard, let alone consult. The faithful, lucky (!) ones who have and do, deserve a brief reflection on the freedom even to blaspheme – lest we forget January 7, 2015, and the double massacre in Paris that put four million people on the streets in mourning and outrage on January 11. “Charlie Hebdo” has survived – but so have Al Qaida, Daech and the sleeping terrorists in our midst (and traveling on our trains …). Should we allow them to continue to be provoked, with the risks that involves ? It may be instructive to look back at the immediate reactions nine months ago, notably in the U.S., where freedom of expression is the corner-stone of the First Amendment, but also where many consider religion off-limits to caricature.
- As in France itself, the great danger across the pond is the knee-jerk reaction of suspicion, if not condemnation, of all Muslims as potential terrorists. Few Americans would be tempted to globally condemn Christians because of the crimes of extremist anti-abortionists. Churches are not victims of arson and Christians are not mugged when an abortion-clinic or an abortionist is attacked by Christian fanatics. Mosques and Muslims are far more vulnerable after 9/11 and January 7.
- However, some of the U.S. media and their spokespersons did not dilute their rejection of the Islamic assassinations in Paris with a “Yes, but …”. “The New Yorker’s” first page illustration of the Eiffel Tower become a cartoonist’s sharpened red pencil, its base in a sea of blood, was the most striking example of unreserved American condemnation of the French pogroms. Barach Obama’s highly unusual visit of condolence to the Washington French Embassy (in which I once conducted a seminar !) and his thrice-repeated expression of heart-felt sympathy for “our oldest ally” with which it is, in matters of security, interdependent, may not entirely excuse his absence in Paris on January 11, but it reaffirmed a solidarity far stronger than the French-bashing dear to some Rednecks.
- On the other hand, “The New York Times” found the Charlie Hebdo cartoons “needlessly insulting”. One professional cartoonist from Michigan “judging them as generously as possible”, found them “incredibly racist”. While the magazine underlined the fact that America does not have the tradition of anti-clericalism as does France, another wrote that “freedom of expression” is in our guts”. A special “Committee on Freedom of Expression” charter published by the University of Chicago asserted that this freedom “cannot be suppressed, under the pretext that the ideas presented by some are perceived by some, even by the majority, as insulting, imprudent, immoral or ill-advised”.
- We should be careful in making sweeping generalizations based on the U.S.’s Bush-era supernationalism, xenophobia and rampant fundamentalism – although even Obama is inclined sometimes to a “Yes, but …”, as when in 2012 he said before the United Nations that “the future does not belong to those who calumniate the Prophet of Islam”. It is to be hoped that on both sides of the Atlantic liberty of expression remains a shared, absolute,inviolable value. Inch Allah !
P.S. The information on which this post is based is from “L’Obs”, Numéro Spécial, 2619.