Under the title “The Abuse of Satire,” The Atlantic posted the text of remarks Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau delivered recently at Long Island University upon receiving an award. In his address, the satirist spoke about the “red line” that satire must not cross; as an example of such a transgression he cited Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon assault on the sacred cows of Islam – an assault that resulted in the murder of the French magazine’s staff. In faulting them, Trudeau was essentially blaming the victims and absolving their Islamic butchers.
“I, and most of my colleagues,” he said, “have spent a lot of time discussing red lines since the tragedy in Paris.” Apparently that discussion didn’t result in the use of clear, honest language to describe the attack at the Hebdo offices, which was not an act-of-God tragedy like a tsunami; it was a massacre for which Islamic terrorists were solely responsible.
In any case, as background Trudeau mentioned the example of the Muhammad cartoon controversy that began eight years ago in Denmark, when Muslim provocateurs took an obscure collection of satirical cartoons that were unflattering to Islam and used them to inflame outrage throughout the Muslim world, resulting in worldwide riots and the deaths of dozens. Trudeau saw those cartoons as intentionally and needlessly provocative. He criticized the “free speech absolutists,” who defended the cartoonists, for rejecting judgment and common sense, and the cartoons themselves for serving no positive social end.
Similarly, Trudeau claimed, Hebdo “succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest.” This is a common argument from the left – that criticism or ridicule of Islam drives the “moderates” into the arms of the fundamentalists. The left never bothers to ask itself why the “moderates” themselves don’t rise up en masse to defy the “tiny minority” of fundamentalists who have supposedly hijacked their religion, or why “moderates” would, under any circumstances, ally themselves with medieval butchers whose goal is the elimination of western civilization.
As a Christian, it would never occur to me to respond to attacks on Christianity (which are legion) by enlisting in the Lord’s Resistance Army or joining the Westboro Baptist Church (both of which, in any case, are satanic perversions of Christianity that no church authority sanctions – unlike the case with Islamic radicals).
Trudeau noted that satire is supposed to afflict the comfortable, to “punch upward” against authority. It’s “the little guy against the powerful.” But “ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it's just mean”:
By attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died.
This is shamefully misleading. The staff of Charlie Hebdo did not die violent deaths because they ridiculed the helpless “non-privileged”; they died because, unlike all but a few cartoonists and satirists, they refused to be cowed by fanatical savages that wield an ever-increasing degree of power in the civilized world.
Muslims are a minority in the West but they are not non-privileged, powerless, or disenfranchised. They are accorded the same rights and opportunities as everyone else; they are actively supported and protected by the guardians of PC multiculturalism in government, academia, and the media; and their increasing demands for special consideration are almost always granted. To whatever extent they are not integrated into western culture, it is because the fundamentalists among them actively reject assimilation and seek instead to establish a parallel culture.
“It’s not easy figuring out where the red line is for satire anymore,” declared Trudeau. “But it’s always worth asking this question: Is anyone, anyone at all, laughing? If not, maybe you crossed it.” But in Hebdo’s case the purpose was not so much to make people laugh as to stand up for free speech in defiance of a rising tide of violent Islamic hatred and intolerance. The fact that the satirical jabs drew gunfire in response was a good, if terrible, indication that the satirists were directly over the target.
But “what free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge,” Trudeau continued, “is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged… At some point free expression absolutism becomes… its own kind of fanaticism.”
How predictable that a leftist considers the defense of free speech fanatical, but he will not apply that label to the butchers of Paris. And he has set up a straw man here: the defenders of free speech never said that offense must be given, or that the target of offense has no right to be offended. They assert only that no one has the right to shut down free speech by claiming offense, much less to go on a killing rampage in revenge for it.
“As Jon Stewart said in the aftermath of the killings, comedy in a free society shouldn’t take courage,” Trudeau says. But today it does, because we are under assault from barbaric ideologues who don’t find anything funny but the screams of dying Christians, and whose response to ridicule and criticism is murder. The proper response of the citizens of a free society is to stand with the satirist, not stand over his grave wagging a finger and blaming him for his own murder. That is the way of cowards and appeasers.
The real “bitter harvest,” as Trudeau puts it, is a Western culture weakened from within by irresponsible Islamic immigration and by cultural jihad, and victimized by jihadist violence. Yes, the Charlie Hebdo murders were a bitter harvest, but they stemmed not from the magazine’s satire but from the seeds of multiculturalist tolerance planted by progressives like Trudeau.
(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 4/23/15)