By Anne Norton
The massacres at the offices of Charlie Hebdo by Cherif and Saïd Kouachi and at a kosher supermarket by Amedy Coulibaly are grievous wrongs. People around the world grieve with the French for the loss of their people and their peace.
We mourn the artists and editors at Charlie Hebdo, the people preparing for shabbos at the HyperCacher, and the policewoman killed in the line of duty. We should also honor Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim officer who died guarding Charlie Hebdo.
But we needn't say "I am Charlie." First, because we don't need to make Charlie Hebdo's bigotry our own. Second, because we are selective about the speech we protect.
Charlie Hebdo is a willfully scurrilous journal, reveling in pornographic blasphemies and scatological insult. It belongs to a long, and sometimes honorable, tradition. The great claim of satire is that it punctures pretensions and brings the powerful down to earth. But Charlie Hebdo's attacks on Muslims didn't mock the powerful; they mocked a religious minority still not entirely welcome in France, one that is subject to assaults on their mosques and cemeteries, and to discrimination in the law.
Charlie Hebdo has been defended as an equal-opportunity offender. Mocking religion in a largely secular culture is hardly a heroic stance for atheist leftists to take, but not all religions were mocked equally. The cartoons directed at religious Muslims are more offensive than the others. They often feature a leering, lustful Muhammad, complete with a hook nose straight out of the 1930s.
Look for yourselves: The cartoons are all over the Web. They are endlessly reproduced, and yet it is never enough. If a newspaper decides it would rather not reproduce that kind of bigotry, it's accused of cowardice. Some believe that every news outlet should show the cartoons, not just once but again and again. By this logic, offending Muslims is not just a right; it becomes an obligation.
This is not about freedom of speech. Charlie Hebdo had the right to publish what it did. We have the right to refuse it. No newspaper, no blog, no person should be blackmailed into bigotry.
The demands don't end with reproducing the cartoons. Muslims are required to denounce the murders and terrorism. Once is not enough; they have to do it over and over, only to find that no one remembers they did it at all. Muslims from Paris, Cairo, Cologne, Washington; individuals and organizations, states and religious leaders, have all denounced the Paris attacks. Yet the demand for denunciations has not stopped.
This is not freedom of speech. This is telling people what they have to say - and that others will determine when they've said enough. No one should be treated that way.
France is casting itself as a defender of free speech, yet censorship continues there. The Paris prosecutor's office is investigating comedian Dieudonné M'bala M'bala for "defending terrorism" after his Facebook post, "I feel like Charlie Coulibaly." Dieudonné is a black man, like Coulibaly, and like Charlie Hebdo he has been condemned for being offensive. His posting offered an opportunity for France to face the hard political issues of race, its colonial legacy, and the alienation of those only partially included. But Dieudonné, apparently, is not Charlie Hebdo. He is not entitled to free speech.
Nor can the West claim to be the civilization that seizes the pen rather than the sword. In our policies toward the Muslim world, we have not, as a recent cartoon argued, been raining pens on armed men. We have been raining bombs.
We should have the courage we claim. Put down the sword and take up the pen. That sword hasn't been working for us.