Islam is not exempt from satire
When I heard that four cartoonists and eight others who worked for the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, were killed in a terrorist attack on Tuesday I was saddened but more than anything, I was outraged. I am outraged! The paper was targeted due to its satirical take on Islam and Muhammad. We talk a lot about bullying these days, but we don’t talk enough about Islamofascist bullying that goes on all the time. And if moderate Islamic voices are countering this bullying, they’re not speaking loud enough.
Remember back in 1989, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for British author Salmon Rushdie’s assassination after Rushdie published a novel, “The Satanic Verses,” that rubbed the Islamofascists the wrong way? That was a quarter of a century ago and the fatwa is still in effect.
In 2004, Dutch filmmaker, Theo Van Gogh, who made a short film called Submission, which criticized the treatment of women in some Islamic countries, was assassinated as he bicycled to work. His assailant shot him multiple times and then tried to decapitate him.
On September 30, 2005, Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 editorial cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad and the Islamic world lost their shit. There were demonstrations and rioting throughout the Islamic world and hundreds of people may have lost their lives as a result of it.
The cartoon conflagration so perplexed me that I planned on drawing my own cartoons of Muhammad in lieu of my usual weekly newspaper column. I’m fairly skilled when it comes to drawing and thought I could come up with some clever, amusing cartoons to show my support and solidarity with all who believe in freedom of expression. But I never drew the cartoons because I wasn’t sure my editor would run them. And to be honest, I was concerned about blowback, not to me, but to the paper.
But violent Islamofascists continued to be bedeviled by Western free speech. In 2007, Swedish artist Lars Vilks drew a series of unflattering pictures of Mohammad. Dozens of Muslim countries protested. ISIS offered $100,000 to anyone who killed Vilks and would increase it to $150,000 if Vilks were slaughtered like a lamb. In 2010, several people in Ireland and one in the United States were arrested for plotting to kill Vilks.
When a provocative Florida pastor burned the Koran in 2011, demonstrations around the world resulted in property damage and deaths.
And finally, in 2012, a trailer for the film “Innocence of Muslims” was uploaded to YouTube that depicts Muhammad as a buffoon and pedophile. The explosion of anger in Muslim countries around the word resulted in numerous injuries and reportedly over 50 deaths, including playing a role in the Benghazi incident.
In some of these countries, the people aren’t aware of what free speech is. So when they hear that something blasphemous came from Sweden then they assume the Swedish government has okayed it. Or the American government or whomever. The idea of allowing people to say provocative, insulting and even blasphemous things without punishment is something they’re wholly unfamiliar with. After the Vilks controversy, Swedish government officials met with 22 Muslim nations to explain the situation.
We can’t live in a world where a foreign government or assassins or hackers limit our freedom of expression.
This is about the future of democracy and free speech. Ever since 9/11, western governments have at least tried to be respectful of Islam. The West has screwed that up by Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and drone strikes but western leaders continue to repeat the mantra that Islam is a religion of peace and we’re not at war with Islam. That’s an important message.
But what is equally important is a message about who we are and what we stand for. And in our democracies, we embrace freedom of expression.
Is Florida Pastor Terry Jones helping by burning Korans? No. Is the jackass who made that inflammatory YouTube trailer on Muhammad being deliberately provocative? Hell, yes. But this is a value that we can’t compromise on. We allow the offensive. I once saw a talk show where a white supremacist sat on stage wearing a T-shirt depicting Martin Luther King Jr. in an assassin’s crosshairs with the tagline: “Our dream came true.” It was offensive as hell, but that loser has the right to wear that offensive T-shirt in this country. We’re free to mock our leaders. We’re free to mock religions. After all, in America, we even allow a disgusting whackjob religious sect to protest funerals of our dead soldiers. If that doesn’t show our commitment to freedom of expression, nothing will.
When Muslims hit the streets protesting a cartoon or Koran burning or whatever, more power to you. Protest. Yell. Scream. Write angry letters. Make documentaries. Write books. Burn our flag if you must. Use your voice to argue your point of view. That’s what freedom of expression is all about.
But you don’t get to rape, beat up, blow up and/or assassinate. That’s not how it works.
Freedom of expression lives on. Already, cartoonists are busy cartooning, picking up where their slain French brethren left off. I have no doubt there are more twisted psycho killers out there ready to kill people they disagree with. But those misguided malcontents and those who back them are going to eventually realize what every assassin eventually realizes.
You can’t kill an idea.