There’s been a lot of back and forth on this since the Charlie Hebdo attack, and now Pope Francis has chimed in:
Pope Francis suggested there are limits to freedom of expression, saying in response to the Charlie Hebdo terror attack that “one cannot make fun of faith” and that anyone who throws insults can expect a “punch.”
The pontiff said that both freedom of faith and freedom of speech were fundamental human rights and that “every religion has its dignity.”
“One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith,” he said. “There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity … in freedom of expression there are limits.”
The pope was speaking to reporters on a plane as he flew from Sri Lanka to the Philippines on his tour of Asia…
Over at Ace, they are little disappointed about this. Allahpundit is also not too pleased. I’ve seen over the past week plenty of comments from conservative and libertarian people who are really not thinking this thing through. To be sure, there is the understandable desire to defend against Islamists who, after all, will kill us no matter what we do – but just because we’re dealing with people like that doesn’t mean we have no responsibility for our own actions. Too many people are getting themselves into the position that unless we applaud the most vile expressions, we are letting the terrorists win. There’s a word for that – but I won’t use it, because it is vulgar and might cause offense…and because I’m someone making failing, weak efforts at being a Christian gentleman, I try not to be offensive.
I’m five feet, seven inches tall. I weigh about 175 pounds. I’m not exactly of the body-builder sort. Now, suppose I had a neighbor who is six feet, six inches tall; weighs about 280 and bench presses cars. I take a dislike to this neighbor because he’s a jerk – and I express my views about him by drawing insulting pictures of him and posting them on a board out in front of my house. Now, to be sure, my gigantic neighbor – who is a jerk, as I said – should still take my insults in stride. There is no actual justification for him to pound me into a pulp because I drew unflattering pictures of him. On the other hand, if I did get pounded into a pulp, how many of you would be thinking – at least – that I shouldn’t have been writing checks my body can’t cash? Even if you called the police to have the man arrested and were willing to testify against him in court because, still, he shouldn’t have pounded me, wouldn’t any reasonable person say that I had played a role in bringing on the pounding? There are plenty of ways I can deal with a jerk – including if really pressed to it, fighting. But if I’m going to fight, then I’d better be ready to fight. If I’m not prepared to actually fight, then maybe I should seek other means of redress? Thinking is a very important part of deciding what to do.
In our definition of free speech there is no license to print whatever you want. You might have heard the word “libel” from time to time. Also, the famous “you can’t shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” exception is well known. Even in good, old, First Amendment USA, there is no absolute right to say what one pleases. We have these reasonable restrictions on free speech because they are, well, reasonable. Of course, this still allows a very wide latitude for people to write things – and in the United States, we tend to have the widest latitude in the world. And this is a good thing – a thing I would die in the last ditch to defend. There was nothing legally wrong in what Charlie Hebdo printed. No reasonable person in the United States – or even in France, for that matter – would want Charlie Hebdo shut down over the offensive cartoons. Furthermore, no reasonable person would assert a right of the offended party to do violence against Charlie Hebdo for their offensive cartoons. There is no justification for what happened – and if it had happened in the United States and the perpetrators were caught and brought to trial, I would be only too pleased to pronounce a guilty verdict against them in court…nor would I shed tears if the perpetrators wound up killed by the police, as the French perpetrators ultimately did. But with all those caveats, I still have to say – as unpopular as it might be – that Charlie Hedbo did play a role in bringing on the attack. And they played that role without having made any provision for repelling an attack. I’m guessing because they never imagined that there would be such an attack – or, perhaps, they thought that the French government, which has been slack as all European governments, would protect them?
Choose your battles: that is an old saw; but none the less wise for having been used often. People who have read my stuff over the years know that I’m on board with fighting Islamist terrorists. In fact, I’m in favor of much more vigorous war than we’re doing – and even much more vigorous war than President Bush engaged in. I’m incensed on a regular basis at the crimes of the Islamists – especially, these days, the horrific massacres of Christians. I’d like us to really take the fight to the enemy. But I’m not going to sit here and just write nasty things about Muslims and think I’m doing something against Islamist terrorism. It might make a person feel good – though I really can’t imagine why – to do such things, but I don’t see any point in it. All it does is take our eye off the ball and, additionally, provide additional recruiting tools for the very people we want destroyed. We are, indeed, supposed to be better than the enemy – true, we should be physically stronger and better able to apply force against them, but we should also be more just, more merciful and more respectful of their innate, human dignity. Better. You see?
We’re doing it all wrong, in my view. Obama and the liberals are wrong in that they believe that Muslims are the offended party and if we’ll just show forbearance, they’ll quit. Plenty of conservatives are wrong in that they believe if we just give brag and insult and drop bombs, they’ll quit. Other people are a combination of these things. Me? I want to win the war. I want Islamism destroyed. To do that will take intelligence, foresight, courage and a fine and sensitive touch with the great mass of the Muslim people.
Of course, our real handicap is that far too many people in the West – and probably a majority; especially in Europe – don’t really believe in anything. They don’t believe in honesty. Don’t believe in decency. Don’t believe in self-sacrifice. All they want is their creature comforts and a life free from responsibility – and they’ll bury their heads as deep in the sand as necessary to live like that. We’re easy pickings for people like the Islamists – I am the person entirely unsurprised when Western people volunteer to join them. People, if they are not utterly craven, want to believe. We in the West offer nothing to believe in – just more gadgets and more moral disintegration. Those in the West who do have good beliefs are ridiculed, and absurdly compared to the terrorists, as well. A kid who has been taught to believe in nothing worthy – who, indeed, has been told that worthy beliefs are flat out wrong – and who has been fed a steady diet of nonsense is especially prone to fall for the first charlatan who comes along.
The Islamists offer something to believe in, and a lot of people go for it – and that we know it is stupid and destructive doesn’t alter our position or our peril. The Islamists are not the first people to sucker large numbers into doing evil, while thinking they are doing good. Ultimately, we won’t win this war unless we start to believe in something superior to the Islamists. We’d better figure out real quick who we are and what we believe. Defending a vulgar, little paper like Charlie Hebdo won’t do the trick – in fact, it is our celebration of such that is at the heart of our problem. It is a sign of strength if we tolerate such things in our midst, it is suicide if we praise such things…and while a collection of liberals apparently had a long held feeling of hate towards Charlie Hedbo, that was more a function of cowardice than a desire for standards of decency…we know this because the only thing liberals didn’t like about Charlie Hedbo was that it insulted Islam. This is just a species of “please cut my throat last” cowardice. If we were a people who condemned Charlie Hebdo for all its insults – you know, including the insults against Jews and Christians – while never making a move to suppress it, then we would be morally healthy, and better able to fight and win against Islamists. But that would also be a people who condemned 80%+ of what is in popular culture these days.
I’m getting a little long in the tooth at age 50. No one in their right mind is going to place me on the battlefield – but I assure one and all that I am ready to defend Judeo-Christian, Western civilization. I’m not so willing to die to defend the right of adolescent jerks to insult people. Do you see the difference? I’ll fight and die for “We hold these truths to be self evident…” and “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”, but I’m not really pleased at the thought of dying so that the next vulgar little reality series can be broadcast on television. In fact, no one is willing to die for that. The Islamists have their dogmas they are willing to fight and die for – what dogmas are we willing to fight and die for? And if we do have some people believing in dogmas worth fighting for, are there enough of them?
Ultimately, there are limits – because there have to be. The limits are necessary for us to have civilization. You can’t have it all. You can either hold to rigid standards of conduct or you can be destroyed by people who hold to rigid standards of conduct. Those are your choices, boiled down. Among the rigid standards of conduct in our civilization is a cautious courtesy of speech – an unwillingness to cause needless offense. Gracious, there are enough things to offend us all just in day to day living – we don’t need to add to it. Yes, at times we must take the course of King St. Louis – when someone is insanely persistent in demanding death and destruction, we must drive a sword through him as far as it will go. But good King St. Louis also would never have dreamed of just insulting people for the fun of it – and he was a Crusader, my friends; a more devoted enemy of Islamic aggression you will not find in the annals of history.
I really do love this country of ours – warts and all. I really do think that in secular terms, we offer the best that humanity has to offer. I do think our nation worth defending. But it is worth defending only if we live up to the standards upon which it was founded. Look through the Declaration and the Constitution and you’ll see it shot through from start to finish with decency. Even when Jefferson condemned George III before the bar of history, he didn’t offer insult. No one reading that sublime document could conclude other than that the king was in the wrong, and right and justice were on our side. Jefferson offered truth, well written to appeal to the better angels of human nature. Contrast it to the cowardly tripe of modern liberals, or the school-yard insults hurled by some. We’re better than that. At all events, we had better be better – because if we aren’t better than the enemy, we won’t beat him.