Let’s talk terrorism for a moment. I’ve seen various media outlets taken to task for not showing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons mocking Islam that we assume served as a source of motivation for yesterday’s attacks in Paris.
“You’re letting the terrorists win!”
“Freedom of expression! Blargh!”
My question is why should the news show the cartoons? Obviously, if the public can be better informed by seeing the cartoons and you fail to display them out of fear of violence, your self-censorship weakens freedom of expression.
But not showing the cartoons strikes me as a defensible editorial decision. Do the specifics of the cartoons matter to the public’s understanding of the story? If you know they mock Islam, you’ve got the whole story. I think we can safely assume that no matter how offensive the cartoons might be, no civilized person would look at them and say, “Wow. Those cartoonists totally had it coming.”
Authors and artists often offend to make a point. But I don’t feel comfortable when people act like they don’t just have a right to offend, we have a moral responsibility to do so. Just last month, some audiences sang the national anthem before watching a mediocre to terrible Seth Rogen movie. As far as stands for freedom go, I’m a lot more impressed when middle schoolers pass out free copies of banned books.
There should be a conversation regarding the right to express ideas that offend and the responsible use of that right. But it should be separate from the events in Paris. The men who attacked Charlie Hebdo are murderous lunatics. They would still be murderous lunatics without the cartoons. Let’s not act like all the other murderous lunatics will pack it in if we keep putting the cartoons out there.