The Urgency Of Blasphemy

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 8 2015 @ 8:34pm

In the wake of the terror attack on Charlie Hebdo, Douthat stands up for blasphemy:

[T]he kind of blasphemy that Charlie Hebdo engaged in had deadly consequences, as everyone knew it could … and that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good. If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more.

Again, liberalism doesn’t depend on everyone offending everyone else all the time, and it’s okay to prefer a society where offense for its own sake is limited rather than pervasive. But when offenses are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed.

Saletan refuses to pretend that the hyper-sensitivity to religious mockery that motivated this attack isn’t specific to Islam:

Islamic moderates who protest these caricatures are undercut by Islamic radicals. Charlie Hebdo insults all religions. Its current issue mockingly questions the existence of Jesus. But Christians haven’t responded with bullets.

Three years ago, after Charlie Hebdo’s office was bombed, its editorial director, Stéphane Charbonnier, pointed out that the magazine was “provocative on many subjects. It just so happens that every time we deal with radical Islam … we get indignant or violent reactions.”

Now Charbonnier is dead. The problem isn’t just the violence. It’s the celebration from other quarters of the Muslim world. On social media, there are comments celebrating Wednesday’s “blessed” attack and telling the killers, “You pleased our hearts.” There are congratulations to the terrorists for shouting “God is great” and striking “a paper known for its abuse of Islam.”

But Sarah Harvard stresses that Islamic doctrine doesn’t actually condone killing those who create offensive images of the prophet:

So what does Islam say about depictions that are not in a positive light? Islam’s most poignant instance of aniconism came when the Prophet Mohammed returned to the city of Mecca in 630 AD. After years fleeing from persecution, Mohammed and his followers had marched back to Mecca to rid idol worshiping from the holy city. According to the critically acclaimed book Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, upon entering the most sacred point in Islam’s most sacred mosque, Mohammed destroyed all the pagan idols and paintings that were sacrilegious to Islam. (He specifically guarded images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.) Mohammed didn’t seek out the creators of the images or sentence those responsible for the idols and sacrilegious depictions to death.

Historically, Razib Khan argues, the Islamic radicals’ views of blasphemy are far closer to the norm than our modern, somewhat radical attitudes toward free speech in the US:

[T]he behavior of Islamic radicals is definitely not beyond comprehension. Rather, it is totally explicable, and in many societies and times would be entirely normal and healthy behavior. Attacking the religion of the folk is understood to be synonymous with attacking the folk. That is why Thomas Jefferson had to elucidate his views on religion in the first place, they did not come naturally to people in the 18th century. They had to be inculcated over generations. Even if Islamic radicals in the West prey upon the marginalized, they reflect ancient and primal methods of social outrage and sanction. What you see here is the reality of living in a multicultural world where there is no a harmony of values and norms, and free movement of individuals who don’t necessarily subscribe to the social viewpoints of the lands in which they settle.

To Michael Brendan Dougherty, the incident illustrates how modern secularism is not only a Western idea, but a Christian one:

We used to say of comedians, “He can make that joke because he’s Jewish.” In this respect, the Western world’s comfort with attacking Christianity is an inadvertent admission that Christianity is “our” religion. And so it elicits from us none of the respect, deference, or fear we give to strangers. Viewed this way, secularism looks less like universal principle than a moral and theological critique derived from Christian sources and pitched back at Christian authorities.

The great irony of Islam’s continued clashes with the Western way of life — whether its widespread riots over a YouTube video or the murderous actions of a crazed minority— is that it has revealed, to the surprise of everyone but Pope Emeritus Benedict, that modern secularism is a kind of epiphenomenon of Christendom.