My friend Walter Olson has an essay in Time magazine about the barbaric murder at the office of satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. He rightly points out that blasphemy is now the primary front on which the battles over free speech are fought.
If you defend freedom of speech today, realize that “blasphemy” is its front line, in Paris and the world.
There is no middle ground, no soft compromise available to keep everyone happy–not after the murders at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Either we resolve to defend the liberty of all who write, draw, type, and think–not just even when they deny the truth of a religion or poke fun at it, but especiallythen–or that liberty will endure only at the sufferance of fanatical Islamists in our midst. And this dark moment for the cause of intellectual freedom will be followed by many more.
Can anyone who has paid attention truly say they were surprised by the Paris attack? The French satirical magazine had long been high on a list of presumed Islamist targets. In 2011—to world outrage that was transient, at best—fanatics firebombed its offices over its printing of cartoons. Nor was that anything new. In 2006, the Danish cartoonists of Jyllands-Posten had to go into hiding for the same category of offense, as had author Salman Rushdie before them…That fear has been felt in the United States as well. Yale’s university press, in publishing a book on the Muhammad cartoons controversy, chose to omit printing the cartoons themselves, on the grounds that doing so “ran a serious risk of instigating violence.” (The late Christopher Hitchens brilliantly assailed the press for its lack of courage.)
I think this is one reason why blogging is so important. A media corporation with physical offices is a relatively easy target for such violence, but thousands of bloggers working from home can publish harsh criticism of Islam and cartoons making fun of Islam with virtually no risk (at least in the United States). That’s why I republished the Danish Mohammed cartoons on my old blog at ScienceBlogs. It’s also why Freethought Blogs exists, at least in part.
When National Geographic took over ScienceBlogs, they immediately began talking about “standards and practices” and I asked the VP of NatGeo who was in charge of the project what they would not allow us to write. He immediately mentioned those cartoons, saying that NatGeo is in some 98 countries and is very sensitive about offending other cultures and they wouldn’t allow those cartoons on the site. I immediately told him that was a deal breaker and began making plans to start my own network.