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Are we all really Charlie Hebdo?

Charlie Hebdo literally took a bullet yesterday for every working reporter, every working journalist, and everyone who reads, watches, or listens to their work.

Islamist terrorists, yelling “Allahu Akhbar” and “We have avenged the prophet!” shot their way into the offices of the French satirical weekly and murdered at least 12 people.

{mosads}This wasn’t Charlie Hebdo’s first encounter with Islamist violence, nor was it unexpected.  In 2011, Islamists bombed the newspaper’s offices for printing cartoons mocking Islam in general and Muhammad in particular.  Threats had been issued, and one of the newspaper’s last published cartoons taunted the terrorists for lack of follow-through.  Two of those killed were policemen assigned to guard the place.

As of this writing, one killer has himself been killed, the other two captured.

The murders silenced a once loud, boisterous voice.  But such attacks are also carried out pour encourages les autres, “to encourage the others,” and if the past is prologue, there is real risk that they will be successful.

Tony Barber, in a column for the Financial Times, has what I fear will become the establishment response, carefully not condoning the murders, but accusing Charlie Hebdo of “editorial foolishness.”  “…some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo and Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims, but are actually just being stupid.”

That last is a reference to perhaps the most famous capitulation to the Islamo-fascists, the Muhammad Cartoons.  Protests and riots around the world erupted in 2005, ostensibly spurred on by the Danish paper’s publication of satirical cartoons of Muhammad.  Meanwhile, the American media engaged in vigorous debate as to whether or not it was possible to cover riots over cartoons without actually showing the cartoons themselves.  Most decided that it was, indeed, possible, and we may be forgiven for believing there was a certain amount of duress in reaching that conclusion.

Fear ran right through the journalists and into academia.  When Yale University Press decided to publish a scholarly forum on the cartoons, the volume didn’t even print the cartoons, the original source material for the controversy.

Most of the flagship media will publish some high words about the value of freedom of the press, and then go right on not offending people who hold a gun to their heads.

Our alleged satirists, the Jon Stewarts and Stephen Colberts, will do a couple of mournful, serious minutes having it both ways, sympathizing with the victims, patting themselves on the back for the importance of their work and their courage for carrying it out, and then go right back to verbally knifing anyone who takes the actual threat seriously.

There was a time when we understood what was at stake.  The fearful editor and wrecked printing press were staples of Hollywood westerns for decades, but this sort of thing happens in real life here, on occasion.

In the run-up to the Civil War, abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy made plenty of enemies on St. Louis with his anti-slavery newspaper, so much so that they destroyed his printing press three times and ran him off, across the river to the free state of Illinois.

The fourth time, they crossed the river, threw the press in the river, killed Lovejoy, and burned his warehouse.

I doubt those at the Washington Post, New York Times, or Yale University Press teach or retell that story today by implying that Lovejoy would have been better-advised to tone it down because deeply held and easily bruised feelings were at stake.

Charlie Hebdo literally took a bullet yesterday for every working reporter, every working journalist, and everyone who reads, watches, or listens to their work.

We have a choice.  We can pose and talk to ourselves about the importance of tolerance.

Or every publication – including this one – can print something from Charlie Hebdo.

Sharf is a contributor to Watchdog Arena – Colorado a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.


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