Thoughts on the response to the Charlie Hebdo shootings

I am going to try to remember and state all interesting thoughts that came up in recent Facebook discussions about this.


A friend raised the suspicion that many people who publish further Muhammad cartoons in response to the shootings do so to spite Muslim terrorism-sympathisers (and other finger waggers), not to support free speech.
I think the distinction between these two possible motivations for deliberate offensiveness is important.


Another distinction that I’ve found useful to emphasise is that between “not restricting our speech in response to the shootings”, and “engaging in *more* deliberate blashpemy in respose to the shootings”. There can be some temptation to engage in Motte-and-Bailey flip flopping when defending the latter of those two things.


I have not seen a good defense of the idea that deliberate blasphemy can be expected to have net positive results. I have seen statements of plausible scenarios in which it has net positive results. But it’s very easy to counter those with at least equally plausible scenarios in which it has net negative results. What makes many people so confident that net positive results are much more probable?


I wrote a FB post asking whether Bryan Caplan’s defense of appeasement applies to blasphemy-hating terrorists. His answer: Yep.


Most people who call the authors of deliberately offensive cartoons heroes for exercising their right to free speech in the face of credible threats also support migration restrictions, coercive funding of unnecessary, counterproductive, and/or immoral government programs, compulsory education, food and drug regulations, import tariffs, labour market regulations, bans on polygamy and incest, etc etc. In short, most of them support many freedom-restricting credible threats of violence.

Is this inconsistent? I think not.

For one thing, most of them believe in political authority* and oppose vigilantism. Extremely few of them would support vigilante terrorism as a way of policing any of those things they want restricted.

Also, I think it’s simply a matter of them supporting some violence in response to things they consider immoral, and opposing violence in response to things they don’t consider immoral. And as it happens, they don’t consider blasphemy immoral (at least not to the point of warranting any violence), whereas they do consider those other things immoral.

This still seems useful to point out, however: “Many people genuinely believe that it is immoral to draw the prophet Muhammad, and even though they know or should know that many others genuinely disagree,  they support some violence in response to such drawings.  You also believe that some things are immoral, and even though you know that many others genuinely disagree,  you support some violence in response to those things. How analogous are the two cases? Should you, too, rethink your support for violent responses?”


Externalities of deliberate provocation of terrorists: uninvolved bystanders killed or injured, tax payer funded body guards, property damage. Further arguments for appeasement.


I’ve seen many “Islam is a religion of X” statements.  I think it’s very unclear what such statements might even mean. But so long as X is considered virtuous (religion of peace, religion of love, …), they are commonly accepted without argument or explanation. I admit that this bugs me. I think those statements generally have no merit.


A great, provocative thought experiment someone posted on their FB: What would the response have been if the terrorists had targeted Pegida instead of Charlie Hebdo?


I’ve felt pretty sad contemplating the contrast between how much importance has been given to this “attack on free speech” and the attention given to other things that I consider so much more important, like ongoing attacks on freedom of migration. I think it is very sad, but that I’ve been feeling sad about it now indicates that I hadn’t quite recognised some things about commonly misplaced moral outrage yet.


*i.e. that agents of governments have the right to coerce their citizens, and that citizens have the duty to obey agents of their government

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