Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Shut Up She Explained

A remarkably obtuse letter appearing in today's Wall Street Journal --

The terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine has horrified the world with its brutality. We in America treasure our freedom of expression, but we also believe that you don’t scream fire in a crowded theater. The deliberate provocation by Charlie Hebdo at this time of world-wide terrorism wasn’t the wisest move, as this tragedy shows. The magazine’s infantile humor in insulting everybody and everything may appeal to the French, but fortunately our press knows that inflaming Islamic murderers for fun can threaten the safety of the community.
Carla Wallach
Greenwich, Conn.

"Deliberate provocation"? Charlie Hebdo treats all religions with the same degree of disdain. Only Islamists were "provoked". By all means, let's reward violent retribution for mockery. Let's ridicule all peaceful religions and ideologies but not Islam. When Christians begin shooting up editorial offices we'll stop mocking them.
The writer laments the "infantile" nature of Charlie Hebdo's satire. As if it's the (perceived) lack of seriousness that stokes Islamists' murderous impulses. Ayaan Hirsi Ali's denunciations of Islam are not "infantile" but they still attract death threats. She believes it necessary to speak up against female genital mutilation (and other assorted horrific, uncivilized practices). Does the writer believe Hirsi Ali's "wisest move" should be to censor herself to protect the "safety of the community"? Even if she isn't doing it "for fun"? (Wallach assumes that Charlie Hebdo's motivation is "fun" rather than exposing what it considers an absurd and dangerous ideology).
The overused "scream fire in a crowded theater" analogy is particularly laughable. Absent an actual fire, it is dangerous to do this because the target audience may reasonably react to an imminent life-threatening situation by initiating a tragic stampede for the exits. Satire or other critical commentary threatens no physical harm to its intended audience whatsoever, imminent or otherwise. The offended party can choose to ignore the insult or respond in kind, with the use of language. Those that respond with violence deserve neither sympathy nor justification.
The problem is not us, it's them. 

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