Twitter is bursting with expressions of solidarity for Charlie Hebdo. But, laced within is a disturbing trend. Young people, in an attempt to be progressive, are trying to see both sides of the issue.
Generally, there are two sides to an issue that are, if not equally valid, equally worthy of at least a chin scratch. The world is not black-and-white. We know this.
The crux of the issue here is whether or not it is ever acceptable to kill someone because what he or she says offends you.
There is a charge by progressive, smart, young people that says condemning the men who murdered the 12 victims in France outright as “evil” is stifling any conversation as to why they did what they did. They say it’s simplistic.
They say we must be progressive; we must understand their motives, and we must think long and hard about whether their anger was, in any way, understandable, even if we don’t agree with them. This is what progressive thought is all about, and I’m 99 percent onboard.
But, then, they go on; they say that because someone was upset enough to kill, we should take the potential reasoning as to why seriously and take steps to protect ourselves — in our speech — so as to not provoke violence.
They say things like, “It’s silly that they didn’t expect a backlash — there’s always a risk. We should look at why they’re being violent. We should look at Islamophobia, unjust wars and forced westernization.”
This, I believe, is unacceptable and screams of blackmail. Though our goal may be cultural understanding, if we alter our speech in any way because we fear someone may get so offended that he or she may feel the need to kill us, we are submitting to terms outlined in a ransom note.
We are acquiescing to a threat while simultaneously pretending it’s a gesture of sensitivity.
We do, actually, know why they did it, and it’s not because of Islamophobia or cultural oppression. There have been, of course, moments when an uprising has transpired for similar reasons. But, that’s not the discussion at hand.
The reason for the attack on Charlie Hebdo was repeated and repeated and repeated. The very same magazine was firebombed before this incident, and for the same reason: Charlie Hebdo depicted and mocked something the gunmen found to be sacred.
We all understand why -- it’s very clear why. The point is this “why” is not acceptable.
There is a restlessness of the issue at the hearts of people who wrestle with the urge to give every perspective equal time.
As Sam Harris once said of the White House in response to the “Innocence of Muslims” embassy fiasco, these people “[disavow] the offending speech while claiming to protect free speech in principle. It may seem a small detail, given the heat of the moment — but so is a quivering lip.”
There are smart people saying things like, “Well, no one should be silenced per se… but maybe they should have been more sensitive.”
The blackmail is there, under a very thin layer of implication: “Look, we’re making you a great offer. All you have to do is be a little more 'sensitive' and you won’t have to look over your shoulder for men with guns.” No. A thousand times, no.
Let’s state this clearly: If someone believes it is okay to kill another because of a cartoon, -- an opinion, for that matter -- that person is wrong. The same goes for a book. Or a sentence.
These are in two completely non-overlapping categories at play: speech and violence. Even if you believe there is speech that deserves punishment or reprisal, actions from these categories should never cross over their boundaries. Speech should be responded to with more speech — that’s all there is to it.
If the opinion of another upsets you so much that you feel an unquenchable rage, your response should be to pen the most scathing, bile and vitriol-filled letter of protest imaginable.
You should make cartoons of your own, blasting those who dared offend you. You should gather other writers and artists, create a magazine of your own, put it on the offending artists’ doorsteps and say, “Look, here, this is what we think of you. How dare you.”
But, for people to say it is somehow understandable that, in place of that kind of response, these people got bullets and blood — that the violent offense simply comes with the territory of being a cartoonist — is not a middle ground that deserves our time.
Remember, I’m not talking about Islam, the Quran or any other book, faith or general ideology. I’m talking about one, specific idea -- the idea that the penalty for openly mocking a person or a figure or an ideology can ever be death.
The moment you pick up a gun instead of a pen, you have lost the argument. You will win the war of flesh, surely. But, that thing you care about — the idea you defended — is lost. You lose the war of ideas when you stop using ideas as your artillery. Your idea is exposed as weak because it required an armed guard to defend it.
Let us, sadly, use that old, clichéd benchmark of indefensible evil: In the same way it really was okay to condemn the bad ideas of Nazism, it really is okay to condemn the bad idea of sacred cows and violent reprisal. It is not anti-progress, racist, ethnocentric or anything else to make this claim definitively.
To young people whose intentions are often simply to avoid repeating the tragic missteps or perspectives of our parents’ parents throughout history, this is not the time to look for such nuance. It is a good thing to try and understand those who would do you violence.
And, there are places where pure empathy is important. We should look harder at our wars, foreign policy, leaders, personal prejudices, heteronormativity, bigotry, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, tribalism and racism. These are issues that contain nuance and require open and rigorous discourse and empathy.
But, balanced discourse is exactly what is at stake here.
If free speech succumbs to blackmail, these other dominos will fall, as well, because there will be a subset of the population that cannot speak. We need not muddy these specific waters to make them seem deep. We need not try to look for a defensible position on the side of those who killed the Charlie Hebdo employees and police officials.
It is a fallacy that just because there are two sides to an issue, both sides are equally valid.
If, as Jon Stewart said, we are on “team civilization,” we can say the side that picks up guns and kills people in response to a cartoon is wrong, no matter what or whom the cartoon depicts.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Elite Daily.