There’s a perfectly good reason not to republish the cartoons that has nothing to do with cowardice or caution. I refuse to post them because I think they’re racist and offensive. I can support your right to publish something, and still condemn what you publish.
This crime in Paris does not suspend my political or ethical judgment, or persuade me that scatologically smearing a marginal minority’s identity and beliefs is a reasonable thing to do.
This is a very good point — right up till the killing starts. At that moment, the cartoon ceases merely to mean what it explicitly and literally means and takes on the extra implicit meanings of support for freedom of speech and solidarity with those who exercise it. Obviously.
(And let's just get this out of the way at the start: I'm not going to publish cartoons of Mohammed on this blog because I am frightened of violent reprisals. I hope I would be brave enough to publish them if I were single. But I'm not, and, during the Kerfuffle, I had people tracking down my family and harassing them, including poking around my back garden. If reporters can do that, so can Salafists. If it were just me, I'd risk it, but I won't risk my kids. Anyway.)
Oddly, this peer pressure seems to gear up exclusively where Islam’s involved. When a racist bombed a chapter of a US civil rights organization this week, the media didn’t insist I give to the NAACP in solidarity. When a rabid Islamophobic rightist killed 77 Norwegians in 2011, most of them at a political party’s youth camp, I didn’t notice many #IAmNorway hashtags, or impassioned calls to join the Norwegian Labor Party.
Well. Have the NAACP stopped doing what they do? Have Americans responded to the bombing by ceasing their support for civil rights? Have non-racist Americans started being racist because the bomber wants them to? Nope. Did the AUF respond to Breivik's killing spree by disbanding? Did Norwegians respond by abandoning the Labour Party? Have sane non-racist Norwegians started being racist and embracing batshit conspiracy theories because Breivik wanted them to? Nope. Have most Western media outlets responded to the Paris shootings — and previous violent intimidations — by refusing to publish the cartoons, just as the killers want them to? Why, yes, so they have. It seems to me that that is a rather crucial distinction.
So, maybe there have been some other cases, cases where the intimidated have responded to their non-Muslim intimidators by doing exactly what they don't want them to do? Funny you should ask.
On Thursday the 11th of July 2002, Peter Tatchell, George Melly, and a crowd of like-minded lovers of freedom stood on the steps of St Martins-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square and read out James Kirkup's poem The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name, which says that Jesus was gay. Then they challenged the police and the DPP to prosecute them for blasphemy. And that protest is the reason why blasphemy is no longer illegal in England & Wales.
So my response to those who think they shouldn't publish cartoons of Mohammed because they're offensive is to ask these two questions.
Firstly, do you think Peter Tatchell really believes that Jesus was gay?
Secondly, does that even matter?
The reason we have freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and universal suffrage in the UK is not that we sat around and waited to be given them. It is that some brave men and women quite deliberately set out to do precisely what they were told not to. I don't see that it matters whether the people telling us what not to do are intimidating us with threats of prosecution or threats of murder. Either way, we should salute those who piss them off.