Murderous rampages aren't usually difficult events to judge. Sadly, both conservatives and liberals have found ways to tepidly condemn France's terror attacks, while simultaneously shoving their politically motivated diatribes into the narrative of this tragedy. For example, a recent CNN article titled "Free Speech comes with responsibilities" gives the impression that while terrorist attacks are bad, free speech should correlate with "respect":
Of course, I unequivocally support the right to free speech. Period.
...Personally, I believe in not saying something just because I want to speak, but because I want to be heard.
...Put another way, when I open my mouth, I don't want to be part of the problem, I want to be part of the solution.
In the aftermath of the heinous attacks in Paris, it's important we remember that free speech and respect can go hand-in-hand.
First, one's sensibilities or definition of "respect" shouldn't be confused for what constitutes worthwhile speech. NBC News states that Americans spend between $10 and $12 billion on pornography every year. I'm not sure if producers and consumers of pornography in the U.S. practice their First Amendment rights to be "part of the solution" to any global dilemmas. In fact, just read a New York Times piece titled Pornography Can Be Empowering to Women on Screen to get a viewpoint that states, "A voice should be given to the performers and their complex experiences."
Furthermore, free speech and "respect" have never gone "hand in hand" in American history. Thomas Jefferson once accused John Adams of possessing a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." In return, Adams referred to Jefferson as "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father." According to the Wall Street Journal, Jefferson also asked James Madison to disparage Alexander Hamilton in the following manner:
"For God's sake, my dear Sir, take up your pen, select the most striking heresies, and cut him to pieces in the face of the public."
If "the most striking heresies" were fair game for the Founding Fathers, then why have both sides of the political divide utilized Charlie Hebdo to further talking points?
You might not read it in clear and forthright prose, but certain social conservatives in the U.S. empathize, on a surreptitious level, with the terrorists who murdered twelve people in Charlie Hebdo's Paris office and seventeen people in total. From a Catholic League article titled "Muslims Are Right to Be Angry" to the National Review's "I am Not Charlie Hebdo," sympathy has come in the form doubling down on the sanctity of faith. For example, the National Review piece makes the strange assumption that vile speech automatically correlates to a death sentence:
I am not Charlie Hebdo because, well, while I can admire it, I cannot personally imagine dying for the cause of printing juvenile and occasionally borderline pornographic cartoons that mock religion (all religions, he and his colleagues insisted). I could die for my faith, I hope, and my family, certainly, but not for naked cartoons.
I'm not sure if the author knows this, but the staff of Charlie Hebdo didn't go to the office that day knowing they'd "die for the cause of printing juvenile" and "pornographic cartoons".
They were murdered.
A victim of a murder isn't aware that death is around the corner and "naked cartoons" didn't tear through human flesh and snuff out lives that horrible day in Paris. Bullets from terrorists killed the Charlie Hebdo staff, and while the National Review has never shied away from condemning terror, it speaks volumes that such a staunchly conservative publication would provide such vapid commentary on a terrorist attack.
Of course, this empathy with why the terrorists were outraged at cartoons is tied to research indicating atheism is on the rise in America and around the world. Pew Research states "The number of people who identify themselves as atheists in the United States has been rising" and over one third of Americans age 18-29 state "no religious affiliation." Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Bill Maher and others have done a number on pious Americans; what was once sacred is now fodder for comedy and denunciation.
As a result, the hyper-sensitive on both sides have gone on a passive aggressive campaign to paint the Charlie Hebdo tragedy as their own grandiose issue. One glaring example of the inability to comprehend the basics of free speech is a USA Today article that asks, "Why did France allow the tabloid to provoke Muslims?" The author ignores the fact that most Muslims are never "provoked" to commit violence and states the following inaccurate claim in a wildly naïve manner:
"Within liberal democracies, freedom of expression has curtailments, such as laws against incitement and hatred."
Apparently the author has confused yelling fire in a movie theater with insensitive cartoons. One's reaction to hurtful words doesn't define whether or not these words should be banned in "liberal democracies." Anyone can be "incited" to commit murder by a movie or song, this doesn't mean that we lock up the actors or singers.
Also, freedom of expression has nothing to do with laws curtailing "incitement and hatred." Even today, the KKK exists in America and according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, "there are between 5,000 and 8,000 Klan members, split among dozens of different - and often warring - organizations that use the Klan name." KKK rallies and neo-Nazi rallies still take place, so American democracy allows for all kinds of hateful, bigoted, and racist forms of expression.
Echoing other socially conservative writers, a bizarre piece in the New York Times titled "I Am Not Charlie Hebdo" makes wild assumptions about how "healthy" societies work, states categorically that what the author considers worthwhile speech is indeed worthwhile speech, and even highlights a "teachable moment" from the death of innocent human beings:
So this might be a teachable moment.
...Fortunately, social manners are more malleable and supple than laws and codes. Most societies have successfully maintained standards of civility and respect while keeping open avenues for those who are funny, uncivil and offensive. ... In most societies, there's the adults' table and there's the kids' table.
...Healthy societies, in other words, don't suppress speech, but they do grant different standing to different sorts of people.
...And it should remind us to be legally tolerant toward offensive voices, even as we are socially discriminating.
First, how must all Americans, in aggregate, "socially discriminate" between offensive and non-offensive speech? There's over 316 million Americans in this country and not all of them are named David Brooks. One American's "kid's table" is another American's "adult's table," which is why Anne Coulter is a bestselling author and Rush Limbaugh (a conservative shock jock) has the power to make or break Republican politicians. It's also why Howard Stern makes $100 million on the radio.
On the other end of the political divide, articles in publications with a liberal bent have made roughly the same type of tepid, disingenuous commentary on France's worst terror attack in 50 years. Canadalandshow.com published its own "I am Not Charlie Hebdo," while the Maroon Colony found creative ways to link "White Privilege" and "White supremacy" to the terrorist rampage:
But I'm not Charlie though...
Because to put those experiences and Charlie Hebdo into context, these are some of the images and "freedom of speech" that's being defended...
From the commentary I've seen from people of color, the attacks are not about freedom of speech but extreme measures taken in the face of continued humiliation and White privilege and White supremacy in the degradation of people of color. As Asghar Bukari wrote about Charlie Hebdo, "White people don't like to admit it, but those cartoons upheld their prejudice, their racism, their political supremacy, and cut it how you will -- images like that upheld a political order built on discrimination."
It's not a "controversy." It's racist.
Sorry, but when judgment on a massacre entails the words "freedom of speech" in quotation marks and "commentary I've seen from people of color," as if someone's mere observation should be equated with fact, the arguments presented might be based more on bias than a Stanford study indicating that all people of color view the tragedy in one way. Also, just like social conservatives with their penchant to categorize who's at the "kid's table," this author knows categorically what is and isn't racist. Therefore, apparently The Economist is racist for standing by the slain cartoonists and stating, "To supress their cartoons now, to suppress the work they lost their lives for, is to kill them all over again."
For many liberals, there's no nuance or room for interpretation; satire deemed "racist" must be racist, even if The Atlantic publishes an article titled Charlie Hebdo and the Right to Be Offended, offering other viewpoints on satire:
As a satirist who focuses on the Middle East, I've bumped up against my share of boundaries...
Given that I often deal with the issue of jihadism in my satire, the Charlie Hebdo attack highlighted the dangers that my colleagues and I face when we mock extremists.
In my own experience, I encounter more concern about my writing and drawings being offensive from Westerners than from fellow Arabs (I'm Lebanese and based in London)...
Instead, we should reassert the rights of satirical magazines and radical preachers alike to express their views, and the freedom of anyone and everyone to challenge them.
While a satirist of Middle Eastern heritage believes that mocking extremists is part of free speech, even if it offends liberals, conservatives, and extremists, not everyone understands the meaning of satire. Sadly, others are content to write one sentence condemning the tragedy and then opine about their definition of art.
Writers on both sides of the political spectrum should evolve to the point where everyone can say "Je suis Charlie, Je suis Ahmed" and lament the loss of life in a terror attack without simultaneously defending their political viewpoints. We didn't react this way on 9/11 and we shouldn't have reacted this way after France's tragedy. Then again, those are my sensibilities speaking, so express your thoughts without fear of dangerous repercussions. It's a free country, go ahead and use someone else's tragedy to bolster your view of the world. But just remember that if you offend someone and they attack you, others might find reasons to agree with why your form of expression was racist, lewd, obscene, childish, part of a "White supremacist" plot, against God, causes violence or just didn't sit well in their perfect and supremely disingenuous prerogative.
Don't worry, though, they'll grudgingly add one or two sentences about how much they detest murderous rampages.