On January 7th, three Islamist gunmen entered the offices of a French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, leaving 12 people dead and injuring many others, all because they published cartoons that some Muslims find offensive.
Charlie Hebdo is a strongly left-wing, antireligious publication. Their modus operandi seems to be to criticize society in a way that stirs up trouble, putting Catholicism and right-wingers in their sights in addition to Islam. Perhaps similarly to Charlie Hebdo, I have a satirical twitter account called @Salondotcom. I used it to poke fun at academic Adam Kotsko, who tweeted the following (later deleted), in an attempt to rationalize this tragedy:
I deleted the tweet right after about a hundred others retweeted it because he earnestly asked me to, and wishing ill on people who disagree with us is self-defeating. Only later did I see the reason he renounced it: Adam had mistakenly thought that Charlie Hebdo was his ideological enemy.
It seems like he’s saying that it would have been OK if it was evil right-wingers that lost their lives. I’m referencing him here not to cause him pain, but because it’s a crystal clear example of progressive schizophrenia. Doesn’t responding to a terrorist attack with “well, the terrorists have a point” count as harmful speech? If not, then just what the hell does?
This use of violence to silence “offensive” speech is structurally identical to hate speech laws, the only difference is that it was vigilantes that executed “justice” this time. I’m not calling supporters of hate speech laws insensitive and I’m not saying that they support terrorism. I am saying that their goals are identical to those of the men in who committed this atrocity. Those goals are to suppress “offensive” or “harmful” or “hateful” speech through coercion and government action is inherently coercive. Progressives seem to only want to make this violent suppression more systematic through the use of the legal system.
We live in a civilization that values free expression, but it’s becoming increasingly hard to avoid the elephant in the room: a lot of the world doesn’t share these kinds of values. In fact, it looks like goals of the United Nations are firmly in line with the goals of the terrorists. In 2013, a UN Committee stated that stopping hate speeched “topped their agenda.” That’s exactly why the United Nations is such a farce of an institution: it imposes top-down diktats on some cultures that come from the perspective of other cultures with fundamentally irreconcilable values.
The multicultural growing pains in Europe have made it clear that cultural relativism doesn’t make any sense. If all culture are equally valid, then what about cultures that don’t share that very claim? It’s practically tautological: tolerance and pluralism are Western values, and if we hold them to be better than violent suppression, then it is logical to conclude that we hold the Western culture, which is friendly to such values, to be better than cultures that are hostile to it.
That’s why it shouldn’t be a shameful thing to say that Western society is better than Islamic society. We welcome different views, even if we disagree with them, and even if they are expressed in a crude manner. Our civilization gave birth to the concept of rights itself, and that’s something to be proud of.
The right to free speech is the right for people to say exactly what you don’t want to hear. The team at Charlie Hebdo said exactly what wicked madmen didn’t want to hear, and now they are gone. This is an environment of fear that is absolutely unacceptable, whether it’s terrorists or politicians creating it.
In the end, the anti-free speech left won a victory. Instead of being afraid of jail time, people wanting to express ideas in a crude or controversial manner now live in fear of being torn apart by pieces of lead moving at 2,000 feet per second. Expect a lot less of that kind of speech, particularly in France. Hate-free, progressive society, here we come!