Pulling Our Punches in Paris and Beyond

The circulation numbers for the first issue of Charlie Hebdo since the Paris massacre have reached 7 million, according to news reports -- which means the next group of jihadists will have to buy a helluva lot more ski masks.

I wouldn't put it past them, though. Jihadists hate leaving a job unfinished. And now that 7 million people have a cartoon image of the prophet Mohammed resting on their coffee tables and toilet tanks, they have a lot more work to do.

You see, the jihadists' aim wasn't to kill Charlie Hebdo, though they tried their hardest. It was to kill the idea of satire itself. And to make the Enlightenment collateral damage.

That is why it was so excruciating to listen to the comfortable commentators in the West, ready to non-defend to the non-death your right to some free speech.

My favorite argument of theirs? That satire should always "punch up, not down."

Okay. Let's stipulate the point.

Who is more "up" than the arms dealers in Belgium who allegedly supplied the terrorists with military grade assault rifles?

Who is more "up" than the wealthy, well-connected sponsors of terror in Yemen and Somalia and -- let's be honest -- anywhere in the world you can mail a check?

And who is more "up" than al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which publicly took credit for the massacre?

AQAP leader Harith al-Nadhari, a Sunni Arab cleric, said:

"Some French were not polite with the prophets. That was the reason why a few of the believers, who loved Allah and his prophet and loved martyrdom, went to them to teach them how to behave and how to be polite with the prophets and to teach them that the freedom of expression has limits and boundaries."

A real Oliver Wendell Holmes, that one. Although he would probably have no problem with shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. Or firebombing a crowded theater.

Now let's turn to the West. Who said the following?

"...Strong emotions have been awakened in many Muslim countries. Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?"

That was the "up" French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, pre-attack, blasting the editors of Charlie Hebdo for an earlier cartoon drawing of Mohammed. Rough translation: "You're asking for it!"

And which world leader said this:

"The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam."

That was no Sunni cleric. That was our own President Barack Obama, speaking before the United Nations, saying perhaps the Sunniest words ever said by an American president.

Credit where it's due, though. He was prescient. Charb, Cabu and 10 friends have no future anymore.

Wait, I hear the sirens of the "Kontext Kops" blaring that I yanked President Obama's quote out of context. Fair enough. The rest of his statement:

"But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied. Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims and Shia pilgrims."

Rough translation: "The future does not belong to those who slander Islam, Christianity, or Judaism." Much better.

At least President Obama knows his audience. A number of U.N. member nations have severe anti-blasphemy laws; some reformers have even been sentenced to death.

Recently, a blogger in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, which he has already begun to receive. The Saudi government has generously postponed the next round until he heals. He probably advocated women driving, the fiend.

Where does the U.N. itself stand? Well, up until 2011 it regularly passed "defamation of religion" resolutions calling for the criminalization of blasphemy. The resolution has been shelved -- for now.

Tell me again why Charlie Hebdo was wrong to make a joke about "100 lashes"?

Then there's the biggest world leader of all: the Pope.

"One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people's faith, one cannot make fun of faith," said Pope Francis. Neil deGrasse Tyson, call your office.

The Pope also said, incongruously, that someone who called his mother a bad name could expect a "punch in the nose."

So mom should be off-limits. But a radical imam?

Charlie Hebdo has little to apologize for. It follows in a long and distinguished Western tradition of satire. Voltaire, a Frenchman, was jailed in the Bastille for attacking powerful political and religious figures. Jonathan Swift called for cannibalizing poor children, which is a lot meaner than illustrating a prophet. And Thomas Nast was attacked by the corrupt "Boss" Tweed for his drawings: "My constituents don't know how to read, but they can't help seeing them damned pictures!"

And so it goes.

The proper response to the Charlie Hebdo murders is not to jail "blasphemers" of any persuasion, whether they hold a pen or a microphone.

It's not to demand that peaceful Muslims condemn their own kind or be shunned. Do we ask Caucasian college students in America to "check their white privilege"? (Okay, bad example).

And it's not to pull our punches. Ever.

We must call out the violent extremists and their backers wherever they are, whether slaughtering children in Nigeria or burning churches in Niger or bombing an NAACP headquarters in Colorado.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. knew this. He did not use bigotry or intolerance to get his way. Instead he provoked the bigoted and the intolerant into confrontations that would shock the public conscience and raise public consciousness.

That's exactly what Charlie Hebdo does.

Charlie Hebdo is not anti-Islam. It's anti-idiot.

Looks like we're going to need a lot more issues.