Glenn Hauman: Why You Damn Well Better Be Charlie Hedbo
Sadly, I’ve started seeing the backlash. You probably have too. A lot of people are being contrarian and saying “I’m Not Charlie Hedbo” in response to this week’s shootings. The most prominent example is David Brooks in the New York Times, but I’m beginning to see similar comments from people I actually respect.
To which my response will be muted, because I’d rather not make this into a not-safe-for-work rant.
If you’re an advocate for free speech, you don’t always get the luxury of advocating pretty things that you approve of. You know – the nice stuff. Freedom of expression is not just limited to Michelangelo’s David and the pope who insisted loincloths be painted onto the Sistine Chapel. Sometimes you end up defending the words of pornographers. Or Nazis. Or Islamic fundamentalists. Or even Republicans.
And it’s the same with comics.
You don’t just get to defend Watchmen, Doonesbury, and Mad magazine. It’s not all Elektra: Assassin, Love & Rockets, Ms. Tree, Elfquest, and those issues where Green Arrow’s sidekick does drugs. If you’re committed to free speech, you have to defend Zap Comics and Mike Diana and Omaha The Cat Dancer and Howard Cruse and Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend and Swamp Thing meeting Jesus.
And yes, that means defending Charlie Helbo when they publish cartoons that tick some people off.
To say that the creators at Charlie Hedbo had it coming beggars belief. They courted controversy, they offended people. But they certainly didn’t commit capital offenses, and neither did the civilians caught in the crossfire, nor did the Muslim police officer who was shot doing his job to serve and protect the citizens of Paris. It’s bad enough when censorship is done with a marker, it’s horrific when done with a bullet.
The correct response to offensive speech is more speech, hopefully better speech, and perhaps even better behavior. And defending the right to speak of those who speak out even when they offend you, as you would want them to defend your right to speak when you offend them. Criticize their speech, but don’t censor it.
Because as we all know, the worst part of censorship is