• Refusal to print cartoons is to capitulate to violent extremism.

    The idea of people being killed over the contents of a cartoon sounds like something out of a dystopian sci-fi novel. However, not only is it a reality, it’s not even the first time. January and February of 2006 saw protests spread across many majority-Muslim nations over Danish cartoons which depicted the Prophet Muhammad. 200 people died during the riots, and churches and European embassies were attacked. Death threats were made against the cartoonists and they were forced into hiding.

    The response by the world’s media was flaccid. Only very few national newspapers were willing to print the cartoons in solidarity with the Danish cartoonists. The overwhelming majority of national publications shied away from the offending artwork for fear of reprisals. Self-censorship was the objective of the rioters and would-be assassins who threatened the lives of the cartoonists. By refusing to print the cartoons not only did the world’s media surrender to violence but they incentivised violence. By not printing the cartoons they may as well have printed VIOLENCE WORKS in large bold lettering on the front page, because that was the message that was sent. Free speech was abandoned and fear replaced it.

    The same mistake cannot be made again. 12 people have lost their lives during the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly French satirical magazine. Shall the media once again shirk in the face of violence and throw the tenets of free speech by the wayside? The employees of Charlie Hebdo knew what free speech is and were willing to defend it with their lives. They took the brave stance of printing the Danish cartoons in 2006. Their offices were firebombed in 2011 and their website hacked. In 2013 the editor-in-chief Stephane Charbonnier was added to Al-Qaeda’s most wanted list. Despite the danger to their lives the staff of Charlie Hebdo persevered. They responded to these threats against them, these threats agaisnt free speech, the best way they knew how: with free speech. They continued with their satirical cartoons of Muhammad undeterred; thus showing terrorists that violence would not sway them from the values of unfettered free speech. As Charbonnier said “I am not afraid of reprisals, I have no children, no wife, no car, no debt. It might sound a bit pompous, but I’d prefer to die on my feet rather than living on my knees.”

    Charbonnier hated the idea of ceding free speech in order to placate violence. It is with deep regret that he had to pay for it with his life. But how will the world’s media react, on their feet with Charbonnier and the rest of his staff or in supplication before violent extremists? Supplication was the preferred option after the Danish cartoon riots, journalistic integrity was discarded and backs were collectively turned on the cartoonists.

    Free speech is not something to be taken for granted, we stake such value in it because we know how hard it was to attain, and how rare it is in many parts of the world. Many people have died and suffered so we can enjoy it today. Many people are still dying in parts of the world in order to realise these freedoms. No more so than journalists. Hundreds of journalists worldwide are harassed, imprisoned and even killed for daring to report what they are told they cannot report. What kind of message does it to send those fighting for freedom of speech if those with it relinquish it at drop of a hat? What kind of message does it send those who use violence in order to restrict our freedoms if we let them?

    There will, of course, be the usual platitudes: media outlets will decry the attacks, but the cartoons will not be printed; respect will be shown to those who died, but the cartoons will not be printed; the importance of free speech will be emphasised, but the cartoons will not be printed.  They will say the right things but will not do the right thing. Without duplication of the cartoons accompanying the sentiment then the words are meaningless.

    charlie hebdo If journalistic ethics are to be upheld then the cartoons should be in every newspaper, every news website, and every news channel. It will send a message to terrorists that violence will not be bowed to; free speech will be fought for. Failure to print the cartoons out of fear is to betray journalism, to betray the media outlets brave enough to print the cartoons, and to betray the principles for which the Charlie Hebdo staff died for. In the face of violence and terror they continued to exercise their right to free speech and they paid for it with their lives. To respond to the murders by yielding to fear is antithetical to what they gave their lives for. The cartoons must be printed, it will show that free speech will not be surrendered in the face of violence and it will honour those that have died.

    Category: Secularism


    Article by: Humanisticus

    5 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

    • Graham Martin-Royle

      Thank you for that, it encapsulates the problem succinctly. There is no point in condemning the violence if the cartoons are not printed, all that that says is that violence succeeds and thus it promotes more violence.

    • BoyceWP

      Good job Peter. As I said over on Twitter it seems to me the more outlets that reprint the more power we take away from extremists in a very literal sense. If there are only a handful of outlets printing then surely it’s more likely one of them will be targeted. However, if most of the press outlets were to reprint, if it became the norm, then where do the extremists start? Not to say that there wouldn’t be attempts but there is safety in numbers. Spread the risk thin rather than letting a few carry it and be the obvious focus of it.

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    • I agree with you. But then I wonder, if I were working at a major news publication, would I actually be brave enough to do it? I’d like to think I would, but I’ve read real stories of people whose lives have been completely changed because they have to go into hiding and police protection. Then again, if the images are massively reprinted and everyone does it, I would suppose that the risk would lessen.

      These senseless murders have resulted in the images being seen more than ever. So I hope they realize that responding to violence will have something like a “Streisand Effect” – though that feels like too light a word to describe mass murder. Maybe we should call it “The Muhammad Effect”. So I guess in the end, I think I would want to reprint the images. I’d want to let the terrorists know that their actions will not benefit them.

      • The risk to the lives of the employees working for any publication that prints the cartoons is a consideration. However, the way I see it, any journalist worth their salt would be willing to print them. Especially since the risk is minimal. No newspaper that reprinted the Danish cartoons was attacked for example.

        When somebody becomes a journalist or works in the news industry they sign up to the ethics that goes along with it. And free speech is a tenet, if not THE tenet, of the news industry. If you are a journalist you should be willing to defend free speech even if it comes with a risk. If not, then they shouldn’t be a journalist.

        Journalists worldwide risk their lives and are killed every year because they refused to be told what could and could not say. For journalists and news agents to relinquish free speech so readily is, in my opinion, a spit in the face of journalists who have lost their lives or are imprisoned for pursuing the same freedoms we are so easily willing to surrender.

    • guerillasurgeon

      You talk as if a free speech is a thing. It has always been restricted, even in the most “free” of countries. If free speech is so important, how come Snowden has to live in Russia? I see 2 issues here. One is that some publications in the name of free speech print all sorts of crap without reacting to stories or situations or anything. Simply because they can. That might be their right, but why bother? The 2nd is that on a deeper level this has nothing to do with free speech. Terrorists and irregular forces usually want to polarise. It’s a common tactic to try to provoke an overwhelming response from the authorities, or in this case also from right-wing groups. It will increase their ability to recruit from the poor, largely indifferent Muslims that are ignored by the press and almost everyone else. We ignore this at our peril.

      • Phrases mean things. Since when has anyone considered unauthorized reproduction and publication of someone else’s intellectual property an act of free speech?

        • guerillasurgeon

          I’m pretty sure Snowden regards it is free speech. Is he not “someone” or are the only people entitled to be called someone, people who agree with you? You pretty much made my point though. There is a continuum of free speech, and it’s never entirely free. Even in the US. All we argue about is where to draw the line.

          • Make the argument, then. Under what definition of free speech does Snowden fit?

            • guerillasurgeon

              Under the argument that we should be able to say anything we want? All I was saying was that we all define free speech in different ways. If you want to define it in that way, as some do, is it just as valid as anyone else’s definition? Otherwise we shouldn’t be calling it free speech right? The words are thrown around by all sorts of people and mean all sorts of things. Some even don’t realise that it’s just a government thing. But if you want to throw the words around you should perhaps define what you mean by them.

            • I don’t think anyone is seriously arguing that all speech should be protected, to include the abolition of all intellectual property in copyrights, trademark protections, etc.

            • guerillasurgeon

              Well, actually yes there are. Some – including Corey Doctorow – are actually putting their money where their mouth is. The world got along fine before copyright, and in fact America made itself great by ignoring copyright, trademark protections et cetera.

            • Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 is known as the Copyright Clause.

              Which America are you on about?

            • guerillasurgeon

              19th. century America. There are also close to 1 billion Chinese who are having great difficulty accepting they can’t copy anything they want to. They have a tradition of doing so. And they are serious too. So I have made an argument, and I have demolished your “I don’t think” statement – where does that leave you?

            • Pretty sure American copyright laws predate the 19th century.


    • Joe G

      If one pokes emotionally unstable people then one should not be confounded when those people react violently. And if you listen to the domestic violence counselors, words can be a form of violence too. What is said about Islam can cause harm to its adherents.
      Sensible people would leave the issue alone. Provocateurs won’t.

      • ThePrussian

        Good little dhimmi.

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