Mailvox: Did Charlie Hebdo have it coming?

MB asks a pertinent question:

Although it may appear to be like pouring salt on a wound, it occurs to me (and also from your POV) that the people at Charlie Hebdo were quite a bit involved in their own demise (which I do not celebrate or condone).

Just as the nations of the West can’t help but reap what they have sown, so too, the satirists at CH never seemed to accept the consequences of their actions and weren’t prepared to defend themselves very well. They attacked religions in the most vulgar terms (from what I’ve read) and thought it rather a lark. Although their offices were firebombed, they promised to continue to poke jihadis in the eye. But it appears they blithely thought giving offense to seriously nasty people should be inconsequential given their own finely ordered sense of c’est la vie and “can’t you take a joke?”

Back in 1981, I once attended a show in a small comedy club in San Francisco near the Haight. A very small young comedian who I thought was quite funny did some sort of riff that an older man in the audience was offended by and made it known. The comic tried to play it for a joke, but in this tiny venue (30- 40 people at best), the offended gentleman stood up and made it known he was going to kick the punk comic’s ass. He was a large man who looked like he could do it. All of a sudden, things, the comic, didn’t seem so funny as he tried to find a way to defuse the situation humorously, and it didn’t work.

The comedian feigned mock fear, for example, but the angry man was not impressed or deflected and made to approach the small, low stage. The fear in the comedian’s eye’s was not simulated. Members of the audience prevailed upon the the angry man to relinquish his complaints and let it pass, but the damage had been done. The event was no longer any fun.

Like Bill Maher et al, Charlie Hebdo felt it could attack other people’s most cherished beliefs with impunity, and their targets should simply take it in the spirit of ‘damn you if what we say offends your pathetically stupid sensibility’. It is horrific what happened in Paris, but should we wonder about those who sow literary contempt and reap violent physical contempt?

Charlie Hebdo was a self-conscious standard-bearer for secular France. Unlike most secular standard-bearers, unlike today’s SJWs, the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo actually stood by their professed principles of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and disrespect for the sanctity of sacred cows. They were true Voltaireans; I don’t know enough about them to know if they were consistent or not (we know they attacked Christian symbols as well as Muslim symbols, but did they refrain from attacking Jewish and secular ones?) but they were certainly more consistent and catholic in their satires than the average Western secularist who heaps contempt on Christianity and Western tradition while remaining dead silent about Islam, Judaism, and the various shibboleths of political correctness.

Amused by him or not, the jester who enjoys immunity from the king has long been a feature of Western civilization. Charlie Hebdo was one such jester. I didn’t find their cartoons to be amusing, or of any artistic value, but then, I am not French. More importantly, they were acting under the long-respected Western principle of jester’s immunity, and by doing so in the expectation of continued immunity, they were upholding Western civilization in their own way.

Now, I had begun writing this post with the intention of saying that Charlie Hebdo should have taken more responsibility for its actions, and taken better defensive precautions, and therefore it was negligent in that regard, but in the course of thinking through that argument, I find that it is fundamentally flawed. The jester is neither knight nor king. It is not his job to defend himself, but rather, it is the responsibility of the warriors of the society whose hypocrisies and inconsistencies he criticizes to defend him.

So, my answer is no, Charlie Hebdo did not have it coming. It is the responsibility of the king and his knights to defend their jester, even though they are the primary target of his jests. (Of course, it also behooves the jester to listen to his king when he is warned that he has gone too far in offending the king; at the end of the day, he serves at the king’s pleasure. His immunity is not total.) And moreover, any party that insists it possesses a king’s veto over the king’s jester is a usurping party that presents a direct challenge to the king’s lawful authority and therefore must be expelled from the kingdom.

In fact, through their deaths, the men of Charlie Hebdo have fulfilled their traditional jester’s role of warning the king that his policies are false and harmful. Had they focused instead on defending themselves, they would not have been able to do so. Now it is time for the king and his knights to fulfill their traditional roles and address the active threat to the kingdom.

UPDATE: at least two people killed after shooting at kosher grocery in eastern Paris in which at least five were taken hostage