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Crumley was quick to point out that this wasn’t Charlie Hebdo’s first anti-Muslim offense. In 2007 it reprinted the Danish Muhammed cartoons. Crumley makes it clear he’s not crazy about those cartoons either, for they, too, were “intended” to “produc[e] outrage.” He rejects the claim that the cartoons were an effort to stand up for free speech, for “that right no longer needs to be proved” – even though a couple of sentences later he acknowledges that Charlie Hebdo was taken to court for running the cartoons, hardly an example of a society in which the right to freedom of speech is as securely established as Crumley would suggest. Crumley described Charlie Hebdo as exacerbating “very real Islamophobic attitudes spreading throughout” French society, attitudes that have left Muslims “feeling stigmatized and singled out for discriminatory treatment.”
There ensued the obligatory couple of sentences in which the author grudgingly admits that “intimidation and violence must be condemned and combated for whatever reason they’re committed.” But it was followed hard upon by the now all too familiar insistence that “members of…free societies have to exercise a minimum of intelligence, calculation, civility and decency in practicing their rights and liberties.” Crumley elaborated:
Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile. Baiting extremists isn’t bravely defiant when your manner of doing so is more significant in offending millions of moderate people as well. And within a climate where violent response—however illegitimate—is a real risk, taking a goading stand on a principle virtually no one contests is worse than pointless: it’s pointlessly all about you.
In his final paragraph Crumley spelled out the point he’d essentially been making all along: that the Islam issue of Charlie Hebdo is morally equivalent to the firebombing of the magazine’s offices:
So, yeah, the violence inflicted upon Charlie Hebdo was outrageous, unacceptable, condemnable, and illegal. But apart from the “illegal” bit, Charlie Hebdo‘s current edition is all of the above, too.
The title of Crumley’s piece was “Firebombed French Paper Is No Free-Speech Martyr.” But that wasn’t its original title. As the URL indicates, it was originally entitled “Firebombed French Paper a Victim of Islamists or Its Own Obnoxious Islamophobia?” – an explicit affirmation that, in the view of Bruce Crumley, Charlie Hebdo, indeed, had it coming, as (presumably) does anyone who dares to joke about the religion of peace.
Reading Crumley’s quite fantastical screed, I was reminded of something that British comedian Rowan Atkinson (“Mr. Bean”) wrote in a letter to the London Times ten years ago, in response to proposed British laws against inciting religious hatred. “Having spent a substantial part of my career parodying religious figures from my own Christian background,” Atkinson wrote, “I am aghast at the notion that it could, in effect, be made illegal to imply ridicule of a religion or to lampoon religious figures.” If you tell a bad joke, Atkinson went on, “you should be ridiculed and reviled. [But] the idea that you could be prosecuted for [it] is quite fantastic.” Let alone, one might add, firebombed.
The heartening thing about Crumley’s article is that it occasioned dozens of readers comments which made it clear that sanity and courage do still exist in some parts of the Western world, if not at Time.
* “Either freedom of speech covers unpopular, outrageous speech or it is nothing.”
* “If the KKK had firebombed a magazine that lampooned Southern racists, would that be the fault of the impudent magazine writers?”
* “Let me get this right–whenever I take offense at a newspaper, magazine, radio or television program, etc. etc.–I now have carte blanche to firebomb their headquarters? Does the writer then agree that Comedy Central has something coming to it due to South Park? Jon Stewart? HBO and Bill Maher? Come to think of it, Time magazine has been quite annoying lately. Hmmm. . . . .”
* “Why don’t you publish an editorial about how women who wear short skirts are asking for rape while you’re at it?”
* “Free speech means free speech. Period. You don’t get to be the arbiter of who is speaking acceptably and who isn’t. Who the hell are you?”
* “Mr Crumley very clearly holds Muslims to a lower standard than virtually every other group of people on earth – had this been about a Christian extremist group burning some parody magazine’s offices for drawing Jesus, we all know that this article would not have been written….He is, in effect, saying something like ‘we can’t expect these barbarians to behave like rational people, and should curtail freedoms that are the basis of our nation out of fear of setting them off.’”
* “I get it. We can have freedom of expression as long as we do not exercise it.”
* “Let me get this straight. You can ridicule and stigmatize whoever you want except those who will react violently? Aren’t you just giving license to these kinds of reactions and legitimizing them?”
Apropos of Crumley’s insistence that “members of…free societies have to exercise a minimum of intelligence, calculation, civility and decency in practicing their rights and liberties,” one reader asked, quite reasonably:
And if they don’t[,] what? They deserve violence? The government should shut them down and impose these speech codes on them? Both of these?
Be clear, state what you’re trying so hard not to say. Make your call for either fascist government control of speech, or violence as discourse…or try to explain why you’re making both these claims and backing off them multiple times in this article.
The problem with Crumley’s piece, of course, is that he is not just some isolated jerk. There is a reason why somebody like him has secured a position as Paris editor for a world-famous newsweekly (even if it is one, as many readers pointed out, that in recent years has lost most of its luster as well as most of its subscribers). Crumley has a job with Time because he’s drunk the cultural-elite Kool-Aid and is dutifully spitting it back out in our faces. He’s embraced the post-9/11 Western establishment dogma about Islam and freedom of expression and has made it thoroughly clear that he is not prepared to breathe a single unorthodox word. What he is serving up in his disgraceful article – which is utterly, breathtakingly bereft of even the slightest understanding of the West’s Enlightenment heritage or of his own obligation, as citizen and writer and responsible adult, to defend that heritage – is nothing less than a perfect example of pure, unadulterated appeasement, a readiness to place limits on the very freedom of speech that allows him to spew his nonsense in order to placate a very specific minority who are prepared to respond to certain exercises of free speech with violence and mayhem. It is, alas, no surprise, in 2011, to see such moral bankruptcy on display in a publication like Time, but to continue to come across articles like this year after year, when it is so increasingly obvious where all of this cravenness and cowardice is leading us, is still deeply depressing.
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