Is Tolerance a One-Way Street?

Gatestoe Institute, by Douglas Murray, January 16, 2017

  • When just about every other magazine in the free world fails to uphold the values of free speech and the right to caricature and offend, who could expect a group of cartoonists and writers who have already paid such a high price to keep holding the line of such freedoms single-handed?
  • Most of the people who said they cared about the right to say what they wanted when they wanted, were willing to walk the walk — to walk through Paris with a pencil in the air. Or they were willing to talk the talk, proclaiming “Je Suis Charlie.” But almost no one really meant it.
  • If President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel had really believed in standing up for freedom of expression, then instead of walking arm-in-arm through Paris together with such an inappropriate figure as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, they would have held up covers of Charlie Hebdo and said: “This is what a free society looks like and this is what we back: everyone, political leaders, gods, prophets, the lot can be satirised, and if you do not like it then you should hop off to whatever unenlightened hell-hole you dream of.”
  • The entire world press has internalised what happened at Charlie Hebdo and instead of standing united, has decided never to risk something like that ever happening to them again.
  • For the last two years, we have learned for certain that any such tolerance is a one-way street. This new submission to Islamist terrorism is possibly why, in 2016, when an athlete with no involvement in politics, religion or satire was caught doing something that might have been seen as less than fully respectful of Islam, there was no one around to defend him.

The 7th of this month marked two years to the day since two gunmen walked into the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris and murdered twelve people. This period also therefore marks the second anniversary of the period of about an hour during which much of the free world proclaimed itself to be “Charlie” and attempted, by walking through the street, standing for moments of silence or re-tweeting the hashtag “Je Suis Charlie” to show the whole world that freedom cannot be suppressed and that the pen is mightier than the Kalashnikov.

So two years on is a good time to take stock of the situation. How did that go? Did all those “Je Suis” statements amount to anything more than a blip on the Twitter-sphere? Anyone trying to answer such a question might start by looking at the condition of the journal everyone was so concerned about. How has it fared in the two years since most of its senior editorial staff were gunned down by the blasphemy police?

A Paris rally on January 11, 2015, after the Charlie Hebdo attack, featuring “Je Suis Charlie” signs. (Image source: Olivier Ortelpa/Wikimedia Commons)

Not well, if a test of the magazine’s wellbeing is whether it would be willing to repeat the “crime” for which it was attacked. Six months after the slaughter, in July 2015, the new editor of the publication, Laurent Sourisseau, announced that Charlie Hebdo would no longer publish depictions of the Prophet of Islam. Charlie Hebdo had, he said, “done its job” and “defended the right to caricature.” It had published more Muhammad cartoons in the issue immediately after the mass murder at their offices and since. But, he said, they did not need to keep on doing so. Few people could have berated him and his colleagues for such a decision. When just about every other magazine in the free world fails to uphold the values of free speech and the right to caricature and offend, who could expect a group of cartoonists and writers who have already paid such a high price to keep holding the line of such freedoms single-handed?

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