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Equating Prudence with Cowardice

eye on the news

Equating Prudence with Cowardice

France must continue to mock, bait, and needle its Muslims. January 7, 2015

How long would it take for a Western journalist to blame the Charlie Hebdo murders on French colonialism and journalistic insensitivity to the feelings of Muslims? Not nearly as long, I suspected, as it would take a journalist in the Muslim world to blame them on the legacy of Mohammed and Islam.

And I was right. It took less than four hours for an associate editor of the Financial Times, Tony Barber, to post a piece on the website of his august publication blaming the journalists and cartoonists of the satirical French magazine (and the two policemen as well?) for their own deaths. Here is what he originally wrote and posted, though he later edited out the final clause:

[Charlie Hebdo] has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling French Muslims . . . [This] is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo . . . which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims, but are actually just being stupid.

According to this perverted logic, if the relatives of the 12 murdered men were now to storm into the offices of the Financial Times and shoot 12 staff members because of the considerable provocation offered by Tony Barber, it will prove only that Barber had just been stupid.

There is, of course, a relevant difference between the two cases: when he wrote his disgraceful little article, Barber knew perfectly well that the relatives of the murdered men would not behave in this fashion, and that therefore he was not “just being stupid.” Hence, he equates prudence with cowardice, a sure way to encourage (though not perhaps to provoke, in his sense of the word) more such attacks.

Barber’s implicit recognition that some people react differently to provocation is not flattering to those whom he wishes to exculpate, in so far as it implies that they are childishly unable to accept the kind of mockery that is perfectly normal in a free country. In his first paragraph, he writes that the attack on Charlie Hebdo will “not surprise anyone familiar with the rising tensions among France’s 5 million or more Muslim citizens and the poisonous legacy of French colonialism in North Africa.” In other words, France had it coming, though it offers a far better life to its 5 million Muslims than they would be likely to find anywhere in the Muslim world, including in their countries of descent. The Muslims owe nothing, no loyalty, to France.

Such thinking is by no means unique to journalists for the Financial Times. Edwy Plenel, a former editor of Le Monde, published a book late last year called Pour les Musulmans (For the Muslims), which resolutely refuses to acknowledge that a problem exists with Muslims, other than that they have been treated badly—though France seems to have accommodated immigrants from around the world without similar tensions.

Barber ends with a rhetorical flourish at odds with the rest of his piece. “The murders in Paris throw down a challenge to French politicians and citizens to stand up for the republic’s core values and defeat political violence without succumbing to the siren songs of the far right.” Here, I can only agree. The French must, in true Voltairean fashion, defend to the death the right of their satirists to mock, bait, and needle Muslims, in France and elsewhere.

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