Stand Up for Rights, but Also for Decency

Ok, I may piss some people off here, but here goes.

First let me say that it is, and should be, illegal to kill people for exercising free speech. Or to throw them in jail. Or to fine them. That’s pretty much what freedom of speech is. Any time you are tempted to say I’m saying something different than this, please refer back to this and revisit your assessment.  Remember that one of the marks of intelligence is the ability to hold two conflicting concepts in your mind without your head exploding.

Catholic League’s Bill Donohue wrote a piece titled “Muslims are right to be angry” and in it suggested that Charlie Hebro editor Stephane Charbonnier “didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death”.

First (and here’s where people will get pissed at me) … he’s right. Wherever else I may disagree with Donohue, he’s right on this. I saw some of the cartoons. Decent people shouldn’t have published several of those. They were at least as bad “P*ss Christ”.  As much as I agree that Islam is the common denominator in the overwhelming majority of world terrorism and there is probably a cause-effect relationship here – there are nonetheless at least tens of millions of decent people on the planet who profess to be Muslims whether the Islamist hardliners agree or not.

Second, (Donohue is wrong on this) I have no doubt that Stephane Charbonnier, at the moment of his death, understood exactly the role he played in his own tragic death.

Did it take balls to publish the cartoons? Absolutely. Taking balls to do it doesn’t mean it’s cool, though.  Should he have been killed for it? Absolutely not.

Did he do anything wrong?

Well if by wrong you mean “against the law”, obviously — no. But what Donohue was saying is actually something we need to talk about more in this country in the wider context of what are our cultural standards (which are not the same as legal standards). In other words, was there a violation of standards of decency for which we can legitimately criticize them? Sure there are. Though maybe we should wait until the bodies are cold, at least.

There are things that are wrong that are not against the law.  That is a necessary fact in a free society.  That’s because we don’t all agree on everything that is right or wrong.  But we do form a general consensus on some things, and we make laws accordingly, presumably subject to Constitutional constraints.

Charlie Hebro has a proud reputation for pretty much eschewing any decency at all toward any group. To the extent that they don’t appear to avoid offending any one group, in a backhanded way, is certainly more commendable than playing favorites. But I wouldn’t hold the magazine up as any example of how I want people to view Western Civilization. They certainly don’t represent me or my views, and if I don’t lodge my criticism (also my free speech right, and perhaps duty in cases like this), I’m saying “I’m cool with it”. I’m not.  I find that general brand of satire low and disgusting.

Should he have avoided publishing the more offensive cartoons in order to avoid being killed?  No.  He should have avoided it because it was in extremely poor taste.

As I recall, the point of publishing cartoons depicting Allah was in response to the Sharia prohibition against representing Allah in any graphic form. Defiance of this demand would have been served by any graphic depicting Allah from sitting there being quiet to wielding a sword or even depicting him engaging in something consistent with Islam but inconsistent with well accepted standards of Western civilization.

Several of the cartoons went well beyond any of this.

Now … had the magazine stuck to the less outrageous cartoons, would the editors and cartoonists be alive today? Maybe, maybe not. But regardless, if you really wanted to underscore how ridiculous that particular Islamic law/belief is – it would have done a much better job.

So a TV host who I like and respect, but who I think ultimately got Donohue wrong — asked Donohue, “where do you draw the line”?

The answer depends on the context. Since everyone’s lines are somewhat different, we don’t draw a legal line. If we do draw a legal line, it establishes a precedent by which people can use the coercive force of government to suppress ideas it doesn’t like by declaring them obscene.

On the other hand, Donohue’s counterpoint was missed by my TV host friend — and he didn’t seem to be able to articulate it quite well enough to cut through the fog of duality (what should be allowed by government and what we think decent people should or shouldn’t do). They are two different things. It’s really the whole point of the entire First Amendment.

The answer, if you’re looking for one rooted in Christianity, is The Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

“Well they have no respect for our sensibilities!”

That’s not a valid excuse to abandon our standards of decency. If you don’t want P*ss Christ, don’t do An*al Allah. It’s not edgy or cool (I’m sure that Charlie Hebro had no issues with P*ss Christ, either, but if you did, you should also have a problem with An*l Allah). Now of course we defend your RIGHT to publish what you want to – which means we won’t use the coercive force of government to admonish you for it. But it doesn’t put you above criticism from the rest of us, and we are perfectly free to apply whatever (legal) social pressure we like to marginalize you if we don’t like it.

No, you should not be legally required to self-censor. Yes, you should self-censor according to your standards of decency, and you should be prepared to take your verbal and social lumps if they aren’t up to the standards of your community.

Were Christians right to be outraged over P*ss Christ? Absolutely. Are Muslims right to be outraged over An*l Allah? Of course. And for the same reasons.

Would Christians be justified in killing over it? No. Are Muslims justified in killing over it? No there, as well.

That being said, it is perfectly legitimate to criticize religions. Well-known atheist Richard Dawkins put it very succinctly a couple of days ago:

“No, all religions are NOT equally violent. Some have never been violent, some gave it up centuries ago. One religion conspicuously didn’t.”

That’s the way to do it. An*l Allah is not. As my wife would say, it’s rude, crude, and socially unacceptable.

And much as I’m not generally a fan of Bill Maher, we do agree on this:

“Condemning attack is not enuf: unless U strongly endorse the right of anyone to make fun of any religion/prophet, U r not a moderate Muslim”

But endorsing your right to do something and criticizing what you did are not mutually exclusive.

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About philmon

Part mountain junkie, part decent amateur photographer, part survivalist, part not-so-decent amateur musician, part sysadmin. Husband, step-dad, grandpa, and music freak who digs mechanical clocks, barometers, and Gil Elvgren pinups. Studied Meteorolgy & Computer Science. And the U.S. Constitution.

16 thoughts on “Stand Up for Rights, but Also for Decency

  1. Robert Mitchell Jr.

    One big part of the problem is, the people you are trying to talk to did want “Piss Christ”. They gloried in it, taught classes about it, sold prints and displayed them in their home. So your “Golden Rule” doesn’t work. In fact, it is counterproductive, because the moment you announce that, while not making it illegal, you want (Fill in your blank) treated with respect, the “Taboo Hunters” are going to take a big, steaming dump on it, and get tax dollars to do it. It has only gotten worse as they try to distract themselves from their self-censorship on “Islamic” issues.

    At this point, alas, your post is rather like the English Pacifists during WWII. Perhaps a good idea, so much the wrong time and place to push it, and objectively helping the Enemies of Civilization.

  2. philmon Post author

    The taboo hunters are free to take a steaming dump on it. They should not get tax dollars to do it.

    And I am free to tell them how full of crap they are, and express that opinion.

    There’s lots of things tax dollars pay for that they shouldn’t.

    I do not see your point at all about this being anything like English Pacifists during WWII.

    1. Robert Mitchell Jr.

      The people who are murdering to silence speech are not going to be moved by your argument. The people who adored “Piss Christ” are not going to be moved by your argument. So, to the extent that your argument does move people, the tangible, visible effect is to reward violence, that “Free Speech” is trumped by a gun. This aids the Enemies of Civilization, just like the English Pacifists aided the NAZIs in WWII.

      “They should not get tax dollars to do it”? Ah, there’s the rub. They do, and have been for years. But you didn’t care enough to stop them (Heck, even notice what they were doing) until the explosions happened. You have failed your “Golden Rule”, unless your message is “nothing is sacred or to be treated with respect, unless you are willing to murder. Then we’ll listen to you.”. Pretty sure that’s not what you mean to say………

  3. philmon Post author

    And actually, no — the people I’m trying to talk to are NOT the people who did want “P*ss Christ”, gloried in it, taught classes about it, sold prints and displayed them in their home.

    The people I’m trying to talk to are my allies whom I would like to stay on the higher road.

    I *know* the people who wanted P*ss Christ” will never listen to me.

    1. Robert Mitchell Jr.

      Right. You want the Friends of Civilization to leave the field, to “Respect” Islam, knowing that this will leave no one on the board who will speak for Civilization. Not the boomers, not the sad degraded creatures who adore “Piss Christ”…….

  4. philmon Post author


    I want the Friends of Civilization to call a spade a spade. I want them to show respect for human beings, not for Islam itself. I don’t want them to leave the field at all.

    When our soldiers fight wars, I expect them not to rape, enslave, or purposely kill people who are clearly civilians along the way, and if they do it I am willing to criticize THOSE SOLDIERS who engage in it.

    This is not even remotely the same as wanting my army to leave the battlefield.

    There are rules of conduct, even in war. To the extent that this particular enemy doesn’t live up to our rules, I am willing to allow that we take steps to avoid their exploiting our own rules to their advantage. But that only goes so far.

    1. Robert Mitchell Jr.

      There is a time and a place. If you had had this fight when “Piss Christ” was presented to the pubic, you would be right. Alas, doing so now is objectively on the side of the Barbarians.

      (And “The Rules of War”? What a bad example. Those were mutually agreed to, with the understanding that violations would be met in kind, or worse. The failure to do so in this war is one of the reasons it has gone so long, and been so brutal to civilians….. Again, you argue to disarm in the face of our foes…….)

  5. philmon Post author

    “The Rules of War”? What a bad example. Those were mutually agreed to ”

    I addressed that fact. The point is those rules were not arbitrary, they were based on common values, ironic as that might sound in war. Which means we have some (moral values) which we don’t completely dismiss just because we’re at war.

    If you kill my mother, it is not ok for me to go kill your mother in retaliation, whether or not we agreed ahead of time that we wouldn’t do it and reserved the right to “retaliate in kind”. In large part because your mother was not a party to any of this in the first place.

    It’s almost as though you don’t *want* to see where I’m coming from, and are determined to conclude that I support what I’ve explicitly, clearly, and repeatedly stated that I do not.

    I’m not talking about the people who wanted P*ss Christ. And I’m not talking about the terrorists who killed the editors and cartoonists. I’m talking about you and me and decency toward our fellow man.

    1. Robert Mitchell Jr.

      Ah, “Shared values”. That is the problem. We do not share values. So, you have created a “Heads you win, Tails we lose” scenario. No. Until such time as we can have, (by persuasion or, more likely, Force), “Shared values”, it is Total War……

  6. philmon Post author

    “If you had had this fight when “Piss Christ” was presented to the pub[l]ic, you would be right.”

    Not sure what you mean by this. There was a fight. I thought P*ss Christ was outrageously low and crude, and especially upsetting because taxpayer money supported it.

    Which didn’t justify going out and killing anybody, but nobody called for it and nobody did.

    I think An*l Allah and obscene cartoons like it are low and crude. I don’t think it justifies going out and killing anybody. But lots of Muslims called for it, and somebody did.

    I don’t think this reflects well on Islam.

    But I am consistent in my distaste for such things.

    1. Robert Mitchell Jr.

      Yes. We lost the “Piss Christ” fight. So, we can treat Islam like we would Christianity, and “start dipping crosses”. We could treat Christianity like we would Islam, and punish and exile those who profane the sacred.

      But what you are arguing for, to treat Islam, and only Islam as sacred, is to surrender to the Barbarians. See George Orwell……

  7. philmon Post author

    “They should not get tax dollars to do it”? Ah, there’s the rub. They do, and have been for years. But you didn’t care enough to stop them (Heck, even notice what they were doing) until the explosions happened. You have failed your “Golden Rule”, unless your message is “nothing is sacred or to be treated with respect, unless you are willing to murder. Then we’ll listen to you.”. Pretty sure that’s not what you mean to say………

    Dude … seriously. I only have one vote to stop them, and you can bet I use it to vote against things like this. I’m not sure how you got the idea that I didn’t know taxpayer dollars supported it (I did) or that I didn’t care. It’s like you’ve read nothing I’ve written, ever – if you think that. You apparently have no clue who I am or what my worldview is at all if you can derive that from what I’ve said.

    Of course, I didn’t know about it in 1987 and I didn’t start blogging until 2003, but it HAS come up in a few of my posts:

    You’re absolutely right that I did not mean to say “nothing is sacred or to be treated with respect, unless you are willing to murder. Then we’ll listen to you.” Which of course is backed up by the fact that I SAID NOTHING OF THE SORT.

    I have to wonder if you’re even reading what I’m saying if you came up with that.

    I am not talking about their behavior at all. I’m talking about ours (not the liberal left’s, not the terrorists or their sympathizers … US. WE are responsible for our behavior).

    I’m not talking about holding ourselves to their standards. I’m talking about holding ourselves to ours.

  8. Robert Mitchell Jr.

    Ah, the neuron has has fired. I think what we are arguing over is what, exactly, our standards are. Does “Do unto others as will be done until you” imply any responsibility on our part? I think it does. When someone doesn’t live up to our standards, we must act, even if the action is War. Far as I can tell, you don’t believe that. You have “standards”, but don’t wish to do anything that would maintain them…..

    (I confess a certain curiosity. Which of the Ten Commandments (You know, our actual Standards) is being violated when insulting pictures are drawn?)

  9. philmon Post author

    I really can’t believe that you have even attempted a thoughtful reading of my post, Robert. You are so far off the mark, it’s frankly baffling.

  10. philmon Post author

    “When someone doesn’t live up to our standards, we must act, even if the action is War.”

    Yeah. See, I think our right to keep and bear arms (which, incidentally, isn’t in the 10 Commandments, I really have no idea where you were going with that) should be protected — even in France. Yes, I think the French Police should have been armed, and the publisher and cartoonists should have been allowed to, and exercised the right, to carry.

    And when those bastards started firing on the building (if they had the nuts to do it knowing the people they encountered would actually be armed), the Police and/or the would-be victims should have wasted them. Absolutely.

    I backed the Iraq and Afghan wars. It isn’t that I don’t think we should fight.

    How we fight does reflect on us, though.

  11. Severian


    I like your piece.

    One of the main problems I see with all of this is that many people, mostly on the left but not a few on the right, lose sight of the fact that it’s a continuum. Think of those leftists who publish articles about throwing “Global Warming Deniers” in prison. Had Charlie Hebdo published a caricature of Michael Mann getting intimate with a hockey stick, and had Greenpeace shot up their offices because of it, on what grounds could such people possibly object?

    My standard would be: Utility. What purpose does this act of expression serve? If provocation is the only point, well… you’ve done it, all right. Mission accomplished. I would not censor this, and I certainly wouldn’t say the editors deserved to be killed, but we can hardly be surprised by someone getting offended by something designed to be offensive.

    And this, ultimately, is the main problem with making “feelings” the standard. To say “I’m not surprised that people were offended by something designed to offend” is NOT the same thing as saying “and therefore the editors deserved to be shot.” Just as saying “Charlie Hebdo had every legal right to publish what they did” is NOT the same thing as saying “and I have no problem with those cartoons whatsoever.”

    A halfway rational society — one that examined the content of statements — would be able to see that. But then again, a halfway rational society wouldn’t have controversies like this in the first place. The self-esteem cult — pwecious widdle feewings uber alles — has reduced our whole society to the level of Pavlov’s dogs.

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