Show The Cartoons!

January 11, 2015

Is it alright to come out yet, to admit to being conflicted about the shootings in Paris this week? Hopefully, some of the chest beating has subsided, our free speech warriors’ call to arms. Show the cartoons! Show the cartoons!

And can I say that without hearing how I’m siding with the terrorists? War has been declared on our way of life, free speech, the very foundation upon which our democracy is built, is under dire threat. You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.

Do I really have to add to my misgivings that, of course, I condemn the killings, shocking and deplorable? The hate-filled act condemned without having to fall in line with a uniform response of bellicose outrage. Show the cartoons! Show the cartoons!

I will admit to you that I was as shocked by the glib response of Ottawa author and journalist Dan Gardner to the attack on the office and staff of Charlie Hedbo as I was the killings themselves. “Appalling that so many media outlets won’t show the Charlie Hebdo cartoons,” Gardner tweeted, “Cowardice. Capitulation. A win for terrorism.”


As if this whole conflict can be boiled down to such simple, stark terms of engagement. We’ve been attacked because they want to silence us, to limit what we can say, print and draw. They hate our freedoms. We cannot cowardly capitulate and bow down to their murderous methods. We must show no fear. We must defend our freedoms. Show the cartoons! Show the cartoons!

It reduces the killers to nothing more than blind zealots whose only intent is murder and mayhem, striking out to strike fear into all our hearts, to silence us. The Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders wrote of a “dividing line between extremism and civility, authoritarianism and democracy…drawn along this line: For lack of any coherent ideologies, many of today’s extremists are fuelled on pure demand for silent adulation and blind faith.” An enemy with nothing more than a Rodney Dangerfield grudge. I get no respect!

This way our hands are clean, you see. We’re just here, minding our business, with our freedoms and liberty. These crazy barbarians don’t like it, so they kill us. Well, we will not be intimidated. Show the cartoons! Show the cartoons!

I just think our continued diminishing of intent by this brand of radicalism only serves to prolong the struggle, limits our ability to react effectively and decisively. The same mistake we’ve continued making for over a decade now, contributing in our own way to a sense of perpetual war. They strike. We strike back. A destructive and endless feedback loop.

When 9/11 happened, the West lashed out under the same banner, They Hate Our Freedom. They want a war? We’ll give them a war.

There didn’t seem to be much official reflection about the causes of the attacks. There was little credence given to the idea that it could be anything other than a clash of civilizations, driven purely by, how did Mr. Saunders put it, ‘blind faith’. Impossible to imagine there could be geo-political calculations behind the motives of those who planned the strikes, if not those who carried it out. Start a war, maybe two or three. Set the Mideast on fire. Destabilize the region. Topple corrupt governments.

Come on. These people live in caves. The calendars on the walls stop at the 8th-century. Violent and radical extremists. They only understand violence.

And yet, here we are. Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria. Libya. Yemen. The Mideast and environs on fire. Regions destabilized, governments toppled, failed states in their place.

What if those who orchestrated the Charlie Hedbo attacks had similarly broader objectives then just silencing the blasphemers and murdering our right to free speech? What if they actually wanted more of us to publish those cartoons, to show the wider Muslim world how much we disrespect and mock their religion? See? There is a clash of civilizations. Come join us in the battle.

I’m not suggesting the cartoons shouldn’t be published. They just shouldn’t be published simply as a way of giving radical Islam the finger, as an empty gesture of our enduring freedom. To prove a point. We deal with the perpetrators of the crime. We bury the dead. We ask serious questions about why it happened without settling for easy answers. Because Free Speech!

Like much of the non-French speaking world, I imagine, I’d never heard of Charlie Hedbot before this week. I’ve taken no time to look at the various offending cartoons to be able to judge them. I happen to believe it’s beside the point. Regardless of the quality of the content, whether they’re pure satirical genius or little more than racist mean-spiritedness, the only conclusion I’m prepared to draw is that nobody should be dead because they drew or published them.

In the aftermath of the murders, Voltaire was getting quite the workout on the social media. “I do not agree with what you have to say,” he’s attributed to have said, “but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” A noble sentiment indeed. Certainly not one I’d disagree with.

But we know it’s an objective we don’t purely hold to. There are many things, words, sentiments we don’t go to the mat for because they are destructive and hateful. We won’t condone killing people who say them, and will only very rarely put them in jail or fine them for doing so.

Yet somehow it’s no holds barred when it comes to Islam, or at least, what we’ve decreed to be radical Islam. The fanatics have earned any barbs and derision we feel like hurling at them. Maybe so. As Mr. Saunders points out in his Globe piece, “Mockery travels faster than news or analysis… the instant spread of disrespectful imagery is capable of threatening entire edifices of authority overnight.” Sharpen your pens and pencils, you mockers and satirists. There is a might edifice of authority to be brought down.

As novelist Saladin Ahmed pointed out, “In an unequal world, satire that ‘mocks everyone equally’ ends up serving the powerful.” The claim that Charlie Hedbot skewered all the major Abrahamic religions equally and only followers of Islam struck back rings hollow as you look around and notice the bombs dropping on all those Muslim countries. Only in the minds of the deluded do Christianity and Judaism (or western style secularism) face a similar onslaught.

Obviously, radical Islam brings a lethal menace to those living in free and open democracies. What it also does is open up a fundamental divide in those democracies, not between free speech champions and scaredycats, willing to zip it up at the first sign of danger but between those who view such attacks as an actual existential threat to the future of our society and those, like I do, who see it as a current condition that’s resulted from actions we have taken, choices we have made in the way we’ve engaged with others at home and abroad. This is not some generational struggle like was endured against the Nazis. Our way of life only hangs in the balance if we let it not by someone snatching it away from us.

submitted by Cityslikr