Actions speak louder than words, goes the well-worn maxim. Let's now prove it wrong.
Today in France, the murderous actions of two terrorists that took 12 innocent lives have provoked an outpouring of words. Words of grief, words of anger, words about the importance of free expression and words condemning senseless violence.
Before today, I'd honestly never heard of the publication Charlie Hebdo. I doubt most Americans had heard of it either. But now I do know of it -- now we all know of it -- and we must take up and engage in the same type of speech -- satire and parody, mind you -- that lead to the deaths in France.
In the United States, where we have a First Amendment, the remedy for speech with which we disagree or find offensive is not censorship. The remedy, instead, is counterspeech -- to add more speech to the marketplace of ideas.
In the United States, parody and satire are protected. The U.S. Supreme Court made that clear in 1988 in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell when it protected pornographer Larry Flynt's right to make fun of the Reverend Jerry Falwell. Flynt famously suggested that Falwell, who was the head of the Moral Majority, got drunk before preaching and that he lost his virginity to his mother in a fly-infested outhouse. In safeguarding this speech, a unanimous court openly acknowledged:
The appeal of the political cartoon or caricature is often based on exploitation of unfortunate physical traits or politically embarrassing events -- an exploitation often calculated to injure the feelings of the subject of the portrayal. The art of the cartoonist is often not reasoned or evenhanded, but slashing and one-sided.
But Court added that "the fact that society may find speech offensive is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it. Indeed, if it is the speaker's opinion that gives offense, that consequence is a reason for according it constitutional protection."
The problem, of course, is that when it comes to the killers in France, we are not dealing with rational human beings who value the freedom of speech. Instead, we are dealing with religious zealots who are blinded by their hollow, horrific and horrible ideals. Their belief is to, quite literally, shoot the messenger.
But here's the point the terrorists don't understand: words and images don't easily disappear in the Internet era. Kill one publisher, another will step forward. Or least let's hope they do.
Already on the Internet, we are seeing people post the very same images that led to the deaths in France. Good for those people -- they are making a stand through words and images! It may not be politically correct to do so, but it essentially amounts to giving a massive metaphorical finger -- digitus impudicus -- to the terrorists. So be it. They deserve that and far worse, but we must use words and images -- not violent actions -- to mete out that punishment.