This time, the French have put the British and Americans to shame. From the outset of the crisis over the Danish caricatures, they have vigorously defended the right of free expression, unlike the British and Americans, whose pretence that they “understand” Muslim outrage has fooled no one and given the fanatics the (correct) impression of weakness and lack of conviction—and thus encouraged them.
Two French satirical weeklies with Voltairean aplomb, Le Canard Enchaîné and Charlie Hebdo, have published a series of cartoons mocking the Islamists and their beliefs as they deserve, with a courage and frankness almost entirely missing from the British and American media.
Charlie Hebdo’s front page, for example, has Muhammad, grimacing with his hands over his eyes, saying: “It’s hard being loved by all these idiots.” On the next page, Muhammad looks at the Danish cartoons and says, “It’s the first time the Danes have made me laugh.”
Muhammad appears on the top left-hand corner of the first page of Le Canard Enchaîné with a rubber stamp, which he uses to certify several cartoons throughout the paper as Satanic. One of these cartoons has Muhammad under the caption “The Pencil: Weapon of Mass Destruction?” sitting at a desk, trying to draw a human figure, but managing only a childish stick man. “If only I knew how to draw,” he says.
On the inside pages, other Satanic cartoons have Hamlet declaiming, “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark” with the caption “Hamlet to enter Islamist repertoire?” and a picture of the Little Mermaid of Copenhagen, draped in a black Islamic costume with only the eyes showing, with the caption “The Islamists give a new look to the Little Mermaid.” (The verb in the caption, relouquer, brings to mind reluquer, which means to ogle—doubtless a deliberate play on words.)
A Muslim association tried in the French courts to have Charlie Hebdo banned, but the courts firmly rejected the request, and the edition sold out quickly. The two papers have inflicted a humiliation on the Islamists, in the best possible way, by exposing their intellectual nullity to withering scorn. No one can accuse the two papers, either, of racism, xenophobia, or any of the other crimes of lèse-PC, since they criticize and mock everyone (who deserves it) without fear or favor.
The French have emerged in this crisis as far stauncher and more fearless and unapologetic defenders of freedom than the Americans or the British. In this instance, they have stuck to an important principle without calculation of immediate interest or even short-term consequences. They find the equivocations of the Anglo-Saxons strange, spineless, and reprehensible, and in this instance they are absolutely right.