Charlie Hebdo: Free Speech and its Enemies



Jamie Palmer, Thursday, 5 February 2015


Reflections on the Right to Blaspheme

One of the most pernicious arguments advanced to persuade us that the murdered staff of Charlie Hebdo were unworthy martyrs to free expression - or even deserving of much in the way of sympathy - has been the notion that they were the victimisers of a persecuted minority:


But the question needs to be asked: were the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo really satirists, if by satire is meant the deployment of humour, ridicule, sarcasm and irony in order to achieve moral reform? Well, when the issue came up of the Danish cartoons I observed that the test I apply to something to see whether it truly is satire derives from HL Mencken's definition of good journalism: it should "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted". The trouble with a lot of so-called "satire" directed against religiously-motivated extremists is that it's not clear who it's afflicting, or who it's comforting. 

My objections to this argument, formulated here by the author Will Self in an article for Vice magazine, are great and numerous. For a start, I would have thought it self-evident than anyone who thinks it acceptable to answer cartoons by murdering cartoonists is in pressing need of moral reform, thereby invalidating Self's objection by his own lights.

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