[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner]
A French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, was firebombed yesterday after the publication made a joke about the Prophet Muhammad. Bruce Crumley, Time Magazine's Paris Bureau Chief, has this to say about the incident:
Predictably, the strike unleashed a torrent of unqualified condemnation from French politicians, many of whom called the burning of the notoriously impertinent paper as “an attack on democracy by its enemies.” We, by contrast, have another reaction to the firebombing: Sorry for your loss, Charlie, and there's no justification of such an illegitimate response to your current edition. But do you still think the price you paid for printing an offensive, shameful, and singularly humor-deficient parody on the logic of “because we can” was so worthwhile? If so, good luck with those charcoal drawings your pages will now be featuring.
Crumley doesn't say who "we" consists of, but he himself admits to not having much sympathy for the newspaper, and closes with the following thought:
Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile. Baiting extremists isn't bravely defiant when your manner of doing so is more significant in offending millions of moderate people as well. And within a climate where violent response—however illegitimate—is a real risk, taking a goading stand on a principle virtually no one contests is worse than pointless: it's pointlessly all about you. So, yeah, the violence inflicted upon Charlie Hebdo was outrageous, unacceptable, condemnable, and illegal. But apart from the “illegal” bit, Charlie Hebdo's current edition is all of the above, too.
I wonder whether Crumley has the same attitude to, say, art about the Virgin Mary that Christians find offensive. My guess would be no--he would have much less sympathy. But it's a helpful window into his thinking to know that he views the actions of the newspaper and the actions of the firebomber as basically congruent (even if one is illegal).