I have a piece in the magazine this week on the disgraceful behaviour of Hillary Clinton and other US officials in the latest round of cartoon wars. During the last week the US Secretary of State turned into a film critic, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – head of the most powerful and expensive military in history – relegated himself to a telephone-salesman offering up his country’s founding principles at a knock-down price, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney decided that his job included condemning the work of amateur directors. But it gets worse. The same Jay Carney has now decided that his remit extends to commenting on what French journalists should or should not publish.
Last year the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was fire-bombed when it ran a picture some Muslims did not like. But the Paris-based publication has shown it has more commitment to the principles of free speech than anyone in the US government by running another edition with the same. And what does the spokesman for the head of the free world have to say?
‘We have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this,’ said Carney. Really? Only ‘questions’? And would those ‘questions’ by any chance be ones that could result in the answer that Charlie Hebdo should not have published? Or is Carney willing to be persuaded that the French magazine is right?
At least the White House’s man had the decency to add that ‘it is not in any way justification for violence’, but he then added, ‘We don’t question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it.’
I know that there are some people who wonder why these things aggravate some of us so much. So let me be clear. Until very recently, in America and Britain, we lived in countries where we had the freedom to comment on, criticise and discuss ideas. These included ones we did not believe in, including Islam. But over the last two decades the rules have changed.
You can criticise ideas which involve, say, Christianity or Mormonism. But if you think it is possible to point out certain historical facts about Islam or comment on the religion in a way that is even mildly questioning, then a different rule applies. The White House spokesperson does not ‘question’ the judgement of journalists who criticise Catholicism. He does not describe as ‘reprehensible’ a Broadway musical which satirises the founding of the Mormon religion. He does not criticise people who put excerpts from the films of Mel Brooks on YouTube. And nor does he call the reams of violent films pumped out from America as ‘disgusting’. Only a feeble internet film or a French cartoon gets that treatment – and the reason is obvious.
The response of many people to all of this is to say that we must defend Charlie Hebdo because it is to do with ‘freedom’. That is true. But it is also about the flip side of that. To go the route Carney and Clinton and co would take us is not simply to go down a road where we are no longer free. It is to go down a road where we are no longer free for a very particular reason: because we have chosen to submit ourselves to Islamic law.Tags: Charlie Hebdo, Freedom of speech, Hillary Clinton, Islam, Islamism, Jay Carney