Following the butchery at the Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo, we are in the middle of another blizzard of post-facto hash-tag bravery.
All over the Internet there are whole mobs holding up little signs: "I am Charlie Hebdo," "We are Charlie Hebdo." The idea, I presume, is to broadcast their commitment to the Western idea of freedom of speech and the press. Let's put it plainly: The solidarity would have been a lot more impressive, more persuasive, some time before this week's mass butchery.
Indeed, at our universities, newspapers and broadcasters, we have seen an ever-shrinking defence of free speech, a timid reluctance to take on those who claim special privilege to shut down those they simply don't like. The great institutions of the West, the press and the universities, have been at best complicit and at worst cowardly when it comes up to defending freedom of speech — not from threats of Islamist fanatics with guns, but in much less demanding circumstances.
Where was this "we" when a video critical of Islam was mendaciously identified as the "cause" of the terror attack on Benghazi? Where was "we" when Hillary Clinton went on Pakistani television to declaim against this "reprehensible" video and revile its maker, and at the Benghazi victims' funerals said: "We've seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with." Where was "we" when the filmmaker was arrested, while to this day the butchers of Benghazi roam the Earth unmolested?
Where is this We of the Hash-tags when whole swathes of the press, and some political leaders, refuse to call acts that are plainly terroristic by their proper name? Can those who refuse to say the word "terrorism" after a terrorist act now claim they are Charlie Hebdo?
And where was We of the Hashtags when President Obama made the inexplicable declaration at the United Nations that "the future does not belong to those who slander the Prophet"? More than anything else, that sounds like a fulsome statement of accord with those who denounce cartoons and videos and editorials about the "Prophet," who riot after he is "traduced" by someone in the West. There is no "We are Charlie Hebdo" in that statement. There is surrender instead.
And what about our prophets, of the Enlightenment and democracy, who made free speech the core of our lives and politics? We are notoriously timid in defending them, and almost tumid with the desire to speak up for those who despise them. Why do we wallow in some shallow hollow of factitious guilt, moaning over our failings to "understand" after 9/11, after Mumbai, after London, after Ottawa, after Paris this week, rather than laying the guilt on the real perpetrators and the ideology that fires them?
Our universities bleat about inquiry and free speech, but they are feeble and craven, caving in to protesters and special interests, pleading "sensitivity" and the "wish not to offend" any time some topic or speaker threatens to "hurt" the professionally agitated on campus. Where was "we" when a band of fatuous progressives protested former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice giving a convocation address at Rutgers University? She worked for Bush, so free speech be dammed.
Where was We of the Hash-tags when Ann Coulter was pre-emptively cautioned about what she could or should say by officials at the University of Ottawa? Where was "we" when Ayaan Hirsi Ali was humiliated and an honourary degree invitation revoked after campus activists at Brandeis University — faculty and students — protested? Brandeis mounted a defence of free speech that would have Patrick Henry drooling with envy: "[Ali] is a compelling public figure and advocate for women's rights. ... That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University's core values." A Presidential Medal of Freedom for that wonderful "that said."
There are more examples closer to home: Christie Blatchford howled from the stage at the University of Waterloo, a pro-life speaker at Saint Mary's University in Halifax met with the feverish chant of "No hate speech in our school!" — and the administration, of course, shutting down the talk.
In the domain of the laugh-generators of late night TV, Christ gets a pie in the face every 10 minutes while Mohammed is awarded the incense of silence.
I could continue for a week. This part of the world has a sack full of pieties when it comes to free speech, but its own actions, and frequently its own words, put the lie to all of them. Bowing to ruthless protest has become a habit. Labelling speech some people simply do not wish to hear as "hate speech" succeeds in silencing it. In matters big and small, on issues from global warming to abortion, there is collusion — we call it political correctness — over what should not be said, what cannot be said.
It's worth adding too that there is no such fastidiousness when it comes to images rebuking, mocking, insulting or demeaning any of the symbols — the cross, the host, the mass — of the Christian faith. The North American media and so-called comedy shows make a tiresome habit of slandering or crudely defaming the majority faith of the North American continent, all the while lying — yes lying — that they are equal opportunity offenders.
In the domain of the laugh-generators of late night TV, Christ gets a pie in the face every 10 minutes while Mohammed is awarded the incense of silence, becomes "he whose name must not be spoken." Jon Stewart is not Charlie Hebdo. He is that wonderful self-contradiction, a "safe-target" satirist. Bush jokes are the coward's idea of humour.
All of which makes this hash-tag war, all the We are Charlie Hebdo manifestations, so very, very hollow. If we will not speak for free speech when it is shut down by special interests, protesters of the politically correct, on campuses and in newspapers, we manifest that we are not serious about free speech. There is no "we" after the killings. There are very few worthy of that claim … and, alas, under the shout of allahu akbar, 12 of them are now quite dead.
Rex Murphy, "We are not Charlie Hebdo." National Post (January 10, 2015).
Reprinted with permission of the National Post.
Rex Murphy was host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup, a nation wide call-in show, for 21 years before stepping down in September 2015. Murphy is a frequent presence on the various branches of the CBC. He has regular commentary segments entitled "Point of View" on The National, the CBC's flagship nightly news program. See Rex's TV commentaries. In addition, he writes book reviews, commentaries, and a weekly column for the National Post. He is the author of Canada and Other Matters of Opinion and Points of View.Copyright © 2015 National Post
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