Mass murder against journalists and cartoonists for the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo must be a challenge for stronger support of freedom of the press and far more free expression. At the same time, it’s crucial to be wary of exploitation of this horror as a pretext for scapegoating all Muslims.
A free press has too often become a hollow claim by Western countries as part of the argument that we have total superiority to most of the world. The U.S. President Obama has pursued more whistle-blowers than any other American president—including journalists such as the New York Times’ James Risen. Corporations increasingly control what news we have access to and most media is still too cowardly to show the cartoons used to justify murdering Charlie Hebdo artists and writers. The French satirical magazine had few “sacred cows” and took pot shots at all religions. Ironically, one of the cartoons—which should be widely published—exposed how these fundamentalists harm their own religion: a black masked jihadist with a knife at the throat of the magazines’ depiction of the prophet Mohamed, who is saying “I’m the Prophet, you idiot!”
The murderers did not call the cartoons of the prophet Mohamed ‘racist”—they called the cartoons blasphemous–a medieval crime. (The prophet Mohamed is not supposed to ever be visually depicted.) To take this seriously one would have to decide it’s perfectly acceptable because Orthodox Jews don’t eat pork, then, that meat should be banned for all. Or that because the Catholic Church calls all contraceptives a sin, then, birth control should be illegal. In modern democracies, religious rules, sins, taboos are not enforced by the State. That’s what makes modern, pluralistic societies possible. Religion can not be above critique, any more than politics or other ideologies.
Already some would use the Charlie Hebdo mass murder to reinforce more wars against Muslim countries in the Middle East—when, there needs to be far more peace negotiations and less weapons in the region. The bravest thing that the American press could do would be to challenge this knee-jerk militarism, Islamaphobia and cowardice when it comes to controversial subjects in the media. If far more news media had published these satirical cartoons, it’s likely that Charlie Hebdo would not have been targeted. But, they stood alone. While we still have a relatively free Internet, I urge people to go to Vox.com, see the Charlie Hebdo cartoons for yourself and then, share them widely. That’s a fitting tribute to those murdered–not more war.
Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis-based journalist, winner of the Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism and produce/host of “Catalyst:politics & culture” on KFAI Radio.