A man walked into a French church and began knifing people to death while screaming, “Allahu akbar!” The crack squad over at The Associated Press produced the headline: “Terrorism suspected.”
“Offensive Charlie Hebdo cartoon pushes Turkey-France tensions into overdrive,” says the NBC headline. Is that really true? Did offensive cartoons do that? Mightn’t it have been something else?
Because the world is full of offensive cartoons. Christians and Jews see offensive images all the time, but France is not convulsed by Christian or Jewish terrorism. Buddhists do not much appreciate the appropriation of the Buddha’s image as an interior-decorating motif, but this has resulted mainly in criticism and protest, not in a massacre at the Buddha Bar in Paris. Sikh men are subjected to unwanted attention — from curiosity to hostility — because of their beards and turbans, but there are no memorials to the victims of Sikh mass-murder attacks in New York City or Washington, because there have been none. Members of the Hare Krishna sect were for years practically stock characters in American comedy. In return, they have inflicted nothing worse on the world than a few questionable vegetarian recipes.
The Turkish dictator, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is outraged by his being lampooned in Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine whose staff was massacred (12 dead, 11 more injured) by two outraged Muslim brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi. (Terrorism suspected.) Abdoullakh Anzorov was outraged by such images, too: Earlier this month, the Chechen immigrant to France beheaded teacher Samuel Paty in retaliation for his having shown those images during a class on freedom of speech. (Terrorism suspected.) Are the cartoons the root cause of this?
Of course not.
There were no cartoons behind the massacre of Jewish athletes and a German police officer at the Munich Olympics. There wasn’t a cartoon behind the massacre at a Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem — seven children and one pregnant woman among the dead. It wasn’t a cartoon, or even an obscure Internet video, that led to the American deaths in Benghazi. Or consider the Nairobi hotel massacre, the Jolo bombings in the Philippines, the Sri Lanka Easter bombings, the Lyon bakery bombing, the Abu Sayyaf shooting attack in the Philippines, the London Bridge attack, the massacre of Sikhs in Kabul — all of which happened in 2019 and 2020, and none of which required so much as a sketch.
So no, the problem is not Charlie Hebdo. The problem is Recep Tayyip Erdogan and others like him. And in “others like him,” I include Jack Dorsey.
After the 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre, all the good people came together in a grand display of free-speech piety. Twitter added a pro-Charlie Hebdo banner to its French site. That lasted a little while. By 2018, Twitter was blocking the accounts of Charlie Hebdo staffers for displaying Charlie Hebdo images.
“Je suis Charlie!” they said. Sommes-nous toujours Charlie?
Erdogan may or may not be a religiously sensitive man. My guess is that he is not. But in any case, he is politically compelled to respond to the religious sensitivities of his constituents, whose demands are often illiberal and sometimes fanatical. Twitter is not a hive of Islamic radicalism, but it can be bullied into responding to “Islamophobia” with the kind of censorship Erdogan demands. The thing about terrorism is: It works. And it works especially well when it is connected to social pressures of nonviolent character, a kind of cultural good-cop/bad-cop routine.
That is why in a similar (though obviously not identical) way, both Twitter and Facebook were easily buffaloed into trying to suppress the New York Post’s reporting on Hunter Biden’s corrupt business dealings. Why? Because The Post’s story did not meet Twitter’s high standards of journalistic excellence?
Terrorism works, and so does pressure. Revenge works. Everybody in Silicon Valley has witnessed the Democrats’ campaign of retribution against Facebook for its alleged role in helping Donald Trump beat Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016. Do you think we would have had all those hearings if Herself had won? No, we’d still have Barack Obama and Joe Biden mocking Republicans for identifying Russia as a principal opponent and competitor on the world stage. If Tucker Carlson were whispering darkly about Russian plots behind every political opponent, he’d be treated as the second coming of Tailgunner Joe.
A lot of people talk a good game on free speech. But when there is pressure, they reveal themselves. Some fold in the face of violence or the threat of violence. Some fold in the face of financial loss. Some fold in the face of mere social discomfort. Twitter and Facebook respond to Democratic sensibilities for the same basic reason they — and like-minded cowards in the media, the universities, the HR departments, etc. — respond to other kinds of pressure, including the pressure to censor Charlie Hebdo and other purveyors of unpopular thoughts and images: They may value free speech and freedom of the press, but not as much as they value their social position, an idol to which they will sacrifice many precious things, from principles to honesty to a bit of revenue.
Today, it’s “I am Charlie!” Tomorrow, it’s “Charlie who?”
Kevin D. Williamson is the roving correspondent for National Review and the author of “The Smallest Minority: Independent Thinking in an Age of Mob Politics.”
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