Religious fanatics from the world's disparate faiths may not be able to agree on much, but when it comes to blasphemy they roar with one booming censorious voice. The gods, they say, will not be mocked. Yet for all their heavenly omnipotence, the deities must invariably rely on incompetent mortals to defend their dignity and thin skin against the slings and arrows of ridicule.
It was only hours after the barbaric assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Wednesday when we heard from the anti-blasphemy faction consisting in part of Catholic League President Bill Donohue and radical London imam Anjem Choudary. Donohue, the perpetually outraged puritanical curmudgeon, took to his organization's website to author the most equivocating "defense" of free speech imaginable. Declaring, "Muslims are right to be angry," Donohue writes, "Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned." He goes on to say, "But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction."
Whether he realizes it or not, Donohue's position is one of total deference. By claiming that certain speech mustn't be tolerated because many Muslims might find it offensive, he is inviting those umbrage-takers to set the parameters of acceptable discourse and expression. While may Donohue think he knows where the "objective" line is between appropriate and offensive speech, his view leaves him with no recourse in the event Muslims wish to stifle speech that Donohue does not believe should be offensive to them. This is the problem with humoring would-be censors: We are left entirely at the mercy of their caprice. Give them an inch, and they will take a light-year.
Donohue then goes on to sully the murdered editor of Charlie Hebdo:
"Stephane Charbonnier, the paper’s publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death. In 2012, when asked why he insults Muslims, he said, “Muhammad isn’t sacred to me.” Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive. Muhammad isn’t sacred to me, either, but it would never occur to me to deliberately insult Muslims by trashing him."
Donohue is wrong. Charbonnier undoubtedly understood "the role he played" (an absurd phrasing) in his killing. After receiving death threats for publishing anti-Islamic cartoons in 2012, Charbonnier said, "I'd rather die standing than live on my knees." No doubt one of the last things to cross his mind was that the bastards had finally gotten him.
A similar victim-blaming op-ed surfaced in USA Today, whose editors inexplicably decided to introduce radical London cleric Anjem Choudary to the American mainstream. A notorious figure in the U.K., Choudary failed at secular life, having flunked out of medical school in the 1990s due to excessive partying. He then retreated into the protective refuge of Islam where he would no longer be tempted by the siren song of alcohol, not to mention constrained by reality.
"In an increasingly unstable and insecure world," Choudary writes in his ham-handed editorial, "the potential consequences of insulting the Messenger Muhammad are known to Muslims and non-Muslims alike."
Choudary is as transparent a coward as they come. Elsewhere, he has spoken of the glory of the coming global caliphate, praised ISIS, and refused to condemn terror attacks and beheadings. He has associated with murderers but always ensures he has enough plausible deniability to avoid prosecution. You will never see him join ISIS or any jihadist movement for the plain fact that unlike most Islamic militants, he is afraid to die and enjoys the life that the West has furnished him.
After noting that many Muslims "will take the law into their own hands" to defend the "honor of the Prophet," and also that even in secular countries, "freedom of expression has curtailments, such as laws against incitement and hatred," Choudary asks,
"So why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the sanctity of its citizens at risk?"
Here, Choudary wants it both ways because eventually he wants it one way: sharia. Laws proscribing speech that could incite hatred and violence exist to protect the would-be targets of such speech. They do not exist to prevent the hysterical violence that might be visited upon those who exercise speech. Nor should they.
Choudary concludes, "It is time that the sanctity of a Prophet revered by up to one-quarter of the world's population was protected."
It's curious that a servant of the all-powerful Allah would have to resort to pleading for a secular remedy to the "problem" of blasphemy. If Allah and Muhammad want their "sanctity" to be "protected," let them do it themselves, and spare us the impotent editorials about how the fragile sensitivities of your dubious religious worldview were offended once again.