From my sole window to the world of the French people, an old high school friend who was in the US as the daughter of a expat, but who returned back to France to finish high school and has been there ever since (via facebook):
Et voilà, une brêche dans le mur : l’auto-censure. D’est donc bien la France, LE pays de la LIBERTE , pas les USA. Défendons là ! Pas de brêche, pas d’aito-censure dans la presse et dans noyre quotidien. Nous nous devons de continuer à soutenir Charlie Hebdo pour son irréverrence, son insoumission, ses blasphèmes, ses bites volantes et ses railleries…
Even if you don’t read French, the word “auto-censure” you can pretty well understand as “self-censorship” — she is sharing an article from Slate.fr reporting on the New York Times’ statement that it wasn’t going to reprint the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, in order to avoid upsetting their Muslim readers. And, if my French isn’t too rusty, she says, in effect, that this proves that it is France, not the U.S., that is standing up for liberty, and (in a follow-up comment) remembering its heritage from the French Revolution itself. And a friend replies by sharing an article from lefigaro.fr, pushing back on the “I am Charlie” meme:
Si «nous sommes Charlie», tous les journaux de France et d’Europe devraient s’empresser de reproduire les dessins qui ont condamné à mort les journalistes de Charlie Hebdo. Le feront-ils? Probablement pas.
Which translates, roughly, as
If “we are Charlie,” all the papers in France and Europe ought to print the drawings which condemned the Charlie Hebdo journalists to death. Will they? Probably not.
So I wanted to flag this “sample size of one” that the French see themselves as defenders of liberty, and of secularism.
But also —
Is it really this simple? Is it an equation of “refusal to publish Mohammed cartoons = acquiescing to unjustified extremist demands” really correct?
Imagine that the Islamists got their panties in a wad about pornography, and attacked Hustler (does Hustler still exist?) and Larry Flynt. No one would think that it was necessary to the cause of free speech for major American dailies to start publishing porn, or even “page 3 girls” or even selected images that the Islamists had specifically complained about – and if they did so, everyone would think it’s perfectly normal to black out the naughty bits.
So what’s the difference?
Obviously, in the one case, it’s a violation of community standards generally, and the free choice of the publisher, and in the other, it’s a specifically religious tenet. But that seems like an incomplete explanation — so at this point, as they said in my old actuarial math textbooks, this is “left as an exercise to the reader.”