Response to one of Bill Vallicella's "Observations on Free Speech"
Appearances are Deceiving
In a blog post titled "Observations on Free Speech" (January 28, 2015), my friend Bill Vallicella makes the following observation:
5. One who defends the right to free speech by identifying with adolescent porno-punks and nihilists of the Charlie Hebdo ilk only succeeds in advertising the fact that he doesn't understand why this right is accorded the status of a right.I am one of those who identified myself with Charlie Hebdo (CH) - "Je suis Charlie" - so I suppose I need to clarify my position.
First, I was identifying with CH on its legal right to publish images of Muhammad, not its natural right to do so. The magazine's legal right to depict images of Muhammad was threatened by murderous Islamists bent on restricting freedom of expression by terrorizing free people from depicting Muhammad in any way whatsoever.
Second, I grant that the images of Muhammad appearing in CH are offensive, but are they pornographic? I have not seen those images, so I am accepting the reports of others and assuming that the images are offensive. But pornography is defined as "the depiction of sexual behavior that is intended to arouse sexual excitement in its audience," and that doesn't seem to be the case with CH, so far as I can judge from what others say about the CH images.
Third, the Islamists' target was not limited to CH. Rather than being narrowly focused like an assassin's attack, the concentric circles of the Islamists' target were far more encompassing than that, circumscribing so many of us within their circumferences as to terrorize potentially everyone into submitting to shariah's prohibition against depicting Muhammad's image in any way. In that sense, we were all already 'Charlie.' By standing up and saying "Je suis Charlie," I was showing my recognition that the terrorists also have the rest of us in their scope and would therefore see our defiance against their terror.
Fourth, this was an extreme situation - people had been brutally murdered for images they had drawn. Ordinarily, I would not identify myself with cartoonists of the sort who work at CH, but under the extreme circumstances, I did so to oppose terrorism and defend free speech.
My position, I suppose, is a pragmatic one of the sort that arises in political action. I am against Islamists. Their violence against free speech as practiced by CH makes no distinctions among the various sorts of images that might be drawn to depict Muhammad. Any depiction at all warrants the death penalty for the artist. Allow me to cite here one of Bill's earlier blog entries, in which he wrote: "In reaction to the murderous attack by Muslim terrorists on Charbonnier and Co. at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, many have jumped on the 'I am Charlie' bandwagon. It is quite understandable." I don't know if Bill meant any of the points I have raised in his use of the term "understandable," but I hope I have made my choice understood.