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Now is not the time to give up our rights of free speech

Cartoonist Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier stands in front of a wall featuring covers of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, based in Paris. Charbonnier was one of 12 people today allegedly murdered by Islamic extremists.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Attacks on journalists by religious extremists, particularly by followers of radical Islam, appear to be rising, as the world reels from the shocking massacre today of 12 people, many of them writers and cartoonists for the satirical French tabloid Charlie Hebdo.

So far, the wires are reporting that the masked gunmen were seeking to kill all associated with insulting the Prophet Muhammad via their amusing and offensive cartoons and stories. 

Beyond that, this newspaper was notorious for taking the piss out of fanatical religious zealots of all stripes. They took their right to publish anything and everything they wanted to levels not normally seen in the normally timid Western press. After all, look at Denmark's Jyllands-Posten, after the Muhammad cartoon ran in 2005, or Muslim critic and filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands, murdered on the street by those wanting to silence him for blaspheming the Prophet.

And Charlie Hebdo was firebombed in 2011 after publishing mocking cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. In this latest, murderous rampage, witnesses say the military-style “attackers” yelled “We have avenged the prophet.”

Three suspects are being sought by the French authorities and the president, Francois Hollande, has declared it an act of “terrorism.” This is a big loss for freedom of speech and freedom of expression. As Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier stated, after cartooning yet another “offensive” cartoon: “I am not afraid of retaliation. I have no kids, no wife, no car, no credit. It perhaps sounds a bit pompous, but I prefer to die standing than living on my knees.”

And so the Twitter hashtag #JeSuisCharlie is making the rounds right now. But, as Reason magazine asks, are we more brave or as brave as Charlie Hebdo? Some characterize the cartoons and depictions as racist. That could certainly be understood. But, as I noted earlier, Charlie Hebdo was an equal opportunity offender. All religions and pompous political jackasses were in the sights of Charlie Hebdo’s devil-may-care crew.

As we noted earlier today, many news outlets were timid when it came to defending author Salman Rushdie’s freedom to write The Satanic Verses, a novel that earned him a fatwa (death sentence) by the Iranian Ayatollah in 1989.

Commenting today on the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, Salman Rushdie had this to say at English PEN:Religion, a medieval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”

At the same time, our unabashed condemnation of what took place in Paris today does not mean we here at Red Dirt Report are going to line up with the inevitable statist backlash against Muslims, as we recently witnessed here in Oklahoma in the wake of the beheading of a woman in Moore by an Islamic convert. The intolerant John Bennetts of the Sooner State will be patting themselves on the back and saying “Told ya so.” And on the national stage, the far-right reactionaries will be licking their chops and beating the war drums and demanding to turn the Middle East into a glass parking lot.

These are bad, bad days for journalists and for journalism. Newspapers are shutting down. Editors are more cautious than ever. Reporters seem to have targets on their backs (Hatfield, Hastings, Webb, Breitbart, etc.), particularly those that stand up to powerful institutions, be they religious, military or otherwise. Turkey is returning to an Ottoman-esque time before Ataturk’s republic was established. Freedom of speech is in more danger than has been in a long time. Hate groups and anti-immigrant movements are on the rise. Islamophobia is a serious problem here and abroad.

As The New York Times notes, this attack in Paris is a “dangerous moment” for Europe. And in secular France, the clash between the West and the Muslim world is clearly coming to a head. Indeed, these are very dangerous times. 

What will happen next, no one really knows. What we can say, however, is stand ever-so-fervently in the First Amendment's corner and never give an inch.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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