I prefer to die standing up than live on my knees.
- Stephane Charbonnier, ex(ecuted)-Editor, Charlie HebdoMr. Garton Ash is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books. His latest is titled Defying the Assassins Veto (NYRB Feb. 19, 2015 / Volume LXII, Number 3). On the Charlie Hebdo massacre, as a purported defense of free expression, commentary on the news coverage of the massacre.
It is a most strange piece. Absurd even. Non-sequiturs abound, the self-congratulatory tone soon becomes odious, contains a truly strange proposal for an internet site for offensive images. One is tempted to simply ignore it or just add it to some weekly Noted With Disdain column. But Mr. Garton Ash is, as the late and at least sometime great Christopher Hitchens claims, one of "our liberal intellectuals". And he writes in the NYRB after all.
The column begins not so badly, if somewhat anodyne:
The massacre of Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris on January 7 was an attempt to impose the assassin’s veto. Where the heckler’s veto says merely “I will shout you down,” the assassin’s version is “dare to express that and we will kill you.”Nothing to disagree about there. The very next paragraph however goes off the deep end and starts with
Currently, this threat comes mainly from Islamist killers, but the Italian mafia use it too.and goes on to talk of "Buddhists, nationalists, or mafiosi" killing people or threatening to kill people to stop the expression of certain views. Perhaps news of mafiosi and Buddhists firebombing of cartoonists offices has gone unreported or at least unnoticed by those of us who inhabit the real world.
The next paragraph tells us
Working out how to defeat the assassin’s veto is one of the great challenges of our time. Among the many questions that arise is whether or not to republish images at which fanatics have chosen to take such violent offense that they murder those who made them. Was there an editor in the West who did not agonize over the republication question in the hours and days after the massacre?Its only for cowardly milksop pseudo-liberals of Mr. Garton Ash's ilk and that of his great and good friend Mr. Dean Baquet the executive editor of the New York Times that this is challenging. For the rest of of us mere mortals the answer is crystal clear: Publish the images or be damned and deservedly perish. If freedom of expression is to mean anything, it must include the right to offend. Instead of bemoaning that "you are not likely to see The Book of Muhammad coming to a theater near you anytime soon" why not act to bring it about? When the revolution comes Mr. Garton Ash and Mr. Dean Baquet will, I fervently hope, be the first against the wall.
Next we come to the unctuous self-congratulation. The great and good Mr. Garton Ash, right away "on the morning after the attack"
wrote an appeal for a week of solidarity in which a broad range of European newspapers, broadcasters, and bloggers would republish carefully selected cartoon covers from Charlie Hebdo—by no means just those of Muhammad—with a commentary explaining why they were doing so.Why do the images need to be "carefully selected" by the mealy-mouthed Mr. Garton Ash, Mr. Baquet and their kind? Surely the unwashed can make up their own minds. What if Charlie Hebdo had simply been the French Hustler or a bondage magazine for Neo-Nazis put out by Marine Le Pen? What if the only religious target of Charlie Hebdo had been Mohammed and Islam alone?
Mr. Garton Ash's "very particular, no-holds-barred French genre of caricature practiced by Charlie Hebdo" is truly hilarious. The French and other Europeans have a particularly constricted view of free speech. If Skokie were in France the Illinois Nazis couldn't even exist, let alone be permitted to march through it. Let us all now take a moment to piss on the absurd notion of a country of fashion critics that mandates a dress code for Muslim women as a bastion of free speech. Its no holds barred on Muslims and Islam but god forbid one should dare take on the Jews. The irony of some of the worlds worst dictators, autocrats, and committed suppressors of free speech marching at the funeral for the Charlie Hebdo victims escapes the French and the obtuse Mr. Garton Ash. Then again what is one to expect from a nation of Jerry Lewis lovers who have pretensions to being arbiters of art and taste and their willing asslicks like Mr. Garton Ash?
If the NYRB were not intellectual and moral cowards we might see articles by Salman Rushdie or Ayaan Hirsi Ali in their pages in response to the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. We have Mr. Garton Ash on record on Ms. Ali: "It’s no disrespect to Ms. Ali to suggest that if she had been short, squat, and squinting, her story and views might not be so closely attended to." presumably for her free and frank remarks on the barbarities of Islam. So don't hold your breath.