A Comment on Charlie Hebdo

Let’s start with an uncontroversial claim: Charlie Hebdo (CH) is a low-class, often thoughtless, publication which any decent society should have shut down a long time ago. The failure of French society, now long broken away from its Catholic roots, to suppress the paper does not in any way, shape, or form take away from the tragedy of Muslim terrorists murdering ten CH employees and three police officers, along with the wounding many others. Hopefully the perpetrators will be apprehended, though some are skeptical on that point. Catholics are rightly mourning and praying for the victims and their families, and Pope Francis, in his care for the salvation of souls, has set the example of praying for the terrorists as well so “that the Lord might change their hearts.” The Lord invoked here is not Allah, but the one God in Three Persons, the Most Holy Trinity whose revelation at the Son of God’s Baptism in the Jordan was so beautifully celebrated yesterday by a number of Eastern Christians. Allah, as any faithful Muslim will tell you, had no son. That makes sense, for Allah is no god.

I raise what was once an uncontested point among Catholics in order to remind some of my brothers and sisters in Christ that there was nothing inherently blasphemous in CH’s various negative depictions of “the Prophet” Muhammad or the Islamic religion. If CH deserves to be shut down (and it does), it is because of its numerous acts of blasphemy against God and His Holy Church. Of course, there may be other good reasons to curtail CH’s falsely sacrosanct right to “free expression.” Public order, especially in a country with the largest Muslim population in Europe, might call for putting a clamp on inflammatory speech, especially when such speech is devoid of artistic and/or intellectual merit. (Determining merit, I admit, is sometimes a fraught task, though not, as American courts of law would have it, impossible.) However, that responsibility fell to French officials and they failed. CH, for its part, was simply “playing by the rules” of a secular-liberal society, and not a single cartoon or story it ran in any way, shape, or form justifies yesterday’s appalling violence.

That hasn’t stopped some from trying, or at least coming up to the line of victim blaming. Matthew Schmitz, writing over at the First Things web-log, observes a couple of instances of this happening online. Shame on them. Shame on Schmitz, too, for suggesting that “[o]ur principles will be tested in defense of unsympathetic victims” if by “our principles” he means “Catholic principles.” For there is no principle, that is to say there is no right, to commit blasphemy, which is exactly what CH did in those instances when it tastelessly mocked Christianity. “Our principles,” that is to say, “Catholic principles” do not uphold the right of CH or any other publication to print whatever it feels like, either. Defending the “unsympathetic victims” of the CH attack is defending their right to not have their lives arbitrarily taken away by murderers in service to a false religion, not their “right” to “free speech.” On the other hand, perhaps Schmitz takes “our principles” to mean American secular-liberal principles; in that case his statement makes more sense, though it is not unproblematic. More thought surely should be put to whether such “principles” warrant any favor from Christians, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.