Free speech, even that which dissents, ridicules, offends, irritates and affronts, is part of the world in which we live. That part of the world extends from the USA and Canada, through the UK, to most of mainland Europe, and to Australasia. It means websites and blogs that say what they like, about whom they like, and when they like. It means the National Inquirer and Private Eye. And it means Charlie Hebdo.
That freedom of speech has no exceptions, and nor should it have. So politicians, celebrities, pundits, business folk, and yes, those involved in organised religion are all fair game. Those who ran Charlie Hebdo, many of whom were brutally murdered earlier today by heavily armed gunmen who, as I type, are still at large in Paris, knew this, and satirised without fear or favour. This made them enemies.
Issues such as the one retitled “Charia Hebdo”, with the claim that Muhammed was the editor-in-chief, and a cover proclaiming “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing”, and its follow-up showing a man in Islamic dress and a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist kissing, captioned “Love is stronger than hate”, would have offended some followers of The Prophet. But the magazine did not only satirise Islam.
The Church of Rome got it in the neck too, as did slebs like Michael Jackson, the latter being a particularly bad tasting example of the genre. A front cover titled “Intouchables 2”, depicting an invalid Muslim being pushed in his wheelchair by an orthodox Jew, caused uproar. And someone, somewhere, decreed that there would be a deadly attack on those who published Charlie Hebdo.
The magazine’s offices had previously been firebombed: this did not stop the free and frequent satirising of whatever targets were deemed worthy of it. So now has come mass murder, with reports suggesting that those involved claimed to be “al Qaeda in Yemen”. They are alleged to have said that The Prophet had been avenged. Nothing can be further from the truth. The action will have exactly the opposite effect.
Prejudice against Muslims will increase. Mosques will be targeted, as will those of all ages wearing anything that may be considered Islamic dress. The morons who feed off sneering at Islam - we won’t be pitching any names - will sneer yet louder. And worst of all, those fleeing the horrors of the Middle East will find it so much more difficult to make new lives for themselves in Europe. Some vengeance.