This is simply breathtaking for its grotesqueness. A French newspaper practices freedom of the press, printing some satire directed toward Islam; the paper is subsequently firebombed by religious fanatics; and Bruce Crumley, Time magazine’s bureau chief in Paris, castigates the newspaper for exercising poor editorial judgment:
[It’s] hard to have much sympathy for the French satirical newspaper firebombed this morning, after it published another stupid and totally unnecessary edition mocking Islam. The Wednesday morning arson attack destroyed the Paris editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo after the paper published an issue certain to enrage hard-core Islamists. … Sorry for your loss, Charlie, and there’s no justification of such an illegitimate response to your current edition. But do you still think the price you paid for printing an offensive, shameful, and singularly humor-deficient parody on the logic of “because we can” was so worthwhile? If so, good luck with those charcoal drawings your pages will now be featuring.
Bruce Crumley’s cowardice and gloating here is stomach turning. And his ire directed toward the magazine doesn’t stop there: he even condemns Charlie Hebdo for the sin of being (gasp!) insolent:
Charlie Hebdo has cultivated its insolence proudly as a kind of public duty—pushing the limits of freedom of speech, come what may. But that seems more self-indulgent and willfully injurious when it amounts to defending the right to scream “fire” in an increasingly over-heated theater.
But what else is insolence but to talk back to an authority figure in a manner inconsistent with his or her approval or sensibility? Insolence is directness and a form of irony—a way of puncturing bubbles of rectitude—and directness and irony are central to freedom of speech and the press. It’s hard for me to believe that the person who heads Time’s office in Paris doesn’t get that, and can’t find it in himself to stand up for the human (and liberating) right to be insolent.
Voltaire was insolent. If a fanatic had followed Voltaire to England and cut him down with a meat cleaver on a London street for writing Candide, would the lesson have been that Voltaire should have known better than to write the offensive stuff he did? Should Voltaire have toned his writings down before publishing them?
And what about the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters and the Tea Partiers? They’re direct and insolent, too. If someone firebombed the organizing offices for one of these groups, would Bruce Crumley write that it was hard to have sympathy for them?
Charlie Hebdo injured no one. The writers at that magazine printed words and images. That’s all. They communicated their views of Islam. They believe it’s a ridiculous religion and broadcast that belief to others.
This is not screaming fire in a crowded theatre. It’s speech. Every adult has the human right, if he or she is so inclined, to say that religion—including the religion of Islam and its prophet Muhammad—is ridiculous and to tell others exactly why they think that. Adults can read things, or ignore what is written. But it’s not a human right to be protected from offense, or to stop others from writing and speaking. The fire in this crowded theatre was a literal one, and set by criminals who meant to intimidate non-Muslims away from the full exercise of their rights to speech and publication.
I’d like to add one other thing: Charlie Hebdo devoted editions of its paper to Islam precisely because, after the “Arab spring,” Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt appear headed for Sharia-style theocratic cultural and legal lockdown. That means that if you’re a free-thinker, a gay person, a non-Muslim, or a woman living in any of these countries, it’s going to suck to be you for a very long time.
So, where is Bruce Crumley’s outrage about that? And, as for having an honest conversation concerning the besieged Christian minority in Egypt (9% of Egypt’s population), let’s not even go there. You can bet Bruce Crumley certainly won’t be. He’s obviously an apologist for Herderianism, especially of the ummah variety. He thinks it’s okay to let group sensibilities, however dull and ignorant, override the Promethean gestures of intelligent and dissenting individuals.
What turns an American journalist living in Paris into such a sheep? May the ghost of Mark Twain visit Bruce Crumley in his sleep.