My response to the many people who are essentially advocating “self-censorship” in response to the Charlie Hebdo killings is that while generally speaking it is indeed polite to refrain from crude attacks on people’s religious beliefs, politeness can never be demanded at the point of a gun. The cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were not polite. They believed in blasphemy as a positive good. Even in my country where blasphemy against the fundamentalist Christian faith is punished (usually informally but often very harshly and sometimes quite violently), there’s still an absolute right to publish. Murdering these artists and threatening any who blaspheme against Islam destroys that right.
I personally was not a fan of Charlie Hebdo. Over the years, I’ve seen a number of their covers, mostly because Arun Kapil frequently posted the most controversial ones on his website. I bought an issue last year, thumbed through it and didn’t enjoy it. I have written about some of the covers and I’ve been critical of them for being pointlessly offensive. What’s different now is that Islamists have murdered these cartoonists and threatened journalists and others who offend against their vision of Islam.
All of the covers dealing with religion were offensive. Some of those mocking Islam were gratuitously offensive. But many others, while equally offensive, made extremely valid points through satire and were effective in ways that a mere article could never be. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Blasphmy is integral to satire. It is simply impossible to satirize a person without giving offense. It is impossible to satirize a religion or a religious leader without blaspheming.
It therefore seems clear to me that it a response to threats of murder against blasphemy that does not include more blasphemy in defiance of the threats is no defense at all. What matters is the right to publish blasphemy. If it exists only in the abstract and with the tacit understanding that the right won’t ever be exercised, then it really doesn’t exist at all and we will be living in a society in which the Islamists are in charge.