I have been as moved as anyone else by the scenes in France, and what appears to be an admirable determination to carry on, and not to be intimidated from free and open speech in deference by horrific acts of violence. I hope they find these killers, and lock them away, forever. If there is a place for the death penalty, here is where it lies.
But I cannot help but remain skeptical that in fact the heroic determination exhibited at these mass demonstrations throughout Europe is real. That is, I am not convinced that is true that this sort of intimidation exhibited by these terrorists will fail, much as I would like it to.
I don’t mean violence always works, naturally that is not true. My fellow Arabs and Muslims who think you can actually frighten all the Jews out of Jerusalem are living a dream from which for their own sakes they need to awake. Yes Hezbollah succeeded in getting Israel out of southern Lebanon, through persistent guerilla violence. Southern Lebanon. Not Jerusalem. It’s not a damn vacation they’ve landed on, so scare them a little and they’ll pick their luggage up and go, like Iowans in Giza or something. At least try to understand Jewish history before you decide what it is you’re going to do to advance your own interests.
But in this case, in the matter of parody of the Prophet or insult to Islam, while it’s pretty to think violence doesn’t work,it seems to me it will achieve its effect. How many people are quite as willing as the Charlie Ebdo cartoonists to risk their lives parodying the Prophet Muhammad, or even talking about him, when there are so many more accessible targets that won’t get you killed? How many more will be now? Imagine you’re a cartoonist in Pittsburgh, and you’ve got a lovely wife, and two kids in school. You can draw Buddha giving Jesus a blow job and the most you’ll get is an eye roll from a religious person wondering why it is you never left middle school before they carry on with their day. (Precisely my reaction by the way). Or you can portray the Prophet frustrated that he’s so beloved by idiots as per Charlie Ebdo and end up dead, your wife a widow, your children orphans condemned to live without their father. (I actually found that cartoon pretty good, and not at all insulting of the Prophet. I imagine that greatest of men has to be frustrated by the idiots claiming to act in his name.) And even if you are so willing to risk it all, will your editor back you? If he does, will the paper let it go and risk a firebombing?
We already know the answer, we’ve seen it everywhere. The Prophet is out of bounds, and every other holy figure is not. Why? Obvious. People don’t want to die, companies don’t want to be targeted, nobody wants to be firebombed. I don’t think this changes the equation. After emotions die down, if anything, it will only lead to more caution.
It’s an ugly truth, but a nonetheless real one. Here, violence works.