Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus

Sunday January b18th, 2015



“Je ne suis pas Charlie.” ( I am not Charlie.)

Through their words or actions some prominent individuals and American institutions have either implicitly or explicitly taken that position on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, in the days since the murderous terrorist attacks in Paris. 

One of the first prominent Americans to state publicly that he was not Charlie Hebdo was David Brooks, the conservative columnist for the New York Times. Brooks is not a redneck, closet racist wrapping himself in the conservative banner- like far too many in the party that he usually supports.  I believe his views are worthy of attention. 

In a column right after the terrorist attack in Paris, Brooks made these points: -

“It is inaccurate for most of us to claim, I am Charlie Hebdo. Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in.”

“As we are mortified by the slaughter of those writers and editors in Paris, it is a good time to come up with a less hypocritical approach to our own controversial figures, provocateurs and satirists.”

“Most societies have successfully maintained standards of civility while keeping open avenues for those who are funny, uncivil and offensive”

“The massacre at Charlie Hebdo…..should remind us to be legally tolerant toward offensive voices, even as we are socially discriminating.”

One may not agree with Brooks, but it is a perfectly tenable position, and is clearly the feeling of most major American news organizations (including the newspaper he works for,) which decided not to publish the cartoons of Charlie magazine.

Is this censorship or a violation of freedom of the press? Let me answer that question this way. In 1959 the U.S. Court of Appeals lifted the obscenity ban on three classics of literature including Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the Tropic of Cancer and Fanny Hill. The court accepted the argument that these books had “redeeming social or literary value.” 

This was a very big story at the time. But I do not recall any of the major news organizations of the day subsequently reporting the juicy parts that had been responsible for the ban. It was their choice that this would not be appropriate for their audiences. Under the First Amendment, Congress may pass no law that abridges freedom of the press. But if the news media decide not to report something, one may fault their judgment but they haven’t violated any law.


I have absolutely no inside information on this, but I am fairly certain that this reluctance to identify with the actual content of Charlie Hebdo, was behind the White House decision not to have a high ranking American official present for the huge demonstration that followed the Paris attacks. I can imagine a debate in the Oval Office about the wisdom of the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, or even the attorney general (who was already in Paris) taking part in a demonstration which many Muslims would read as official American support for a publication which regularly blasphemes Islam.

I can see this being a consideration. But as the White House itself later admitted, it made the wrong call. As the leader of the free world, and the country in the vanguard of freedom of the press and freedom of expression, the United States absolutely should have been present in the front row of that huge Paris demonstration, with the highest ranking official it could muster. The U.S. Ambassador to France, just doesn’t cut it.

However, the terrorist attacks in Paris, go far beyond the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and its cartoons. The attacks represent a new level of sophistication on the part of Islamic fanatics, be they al Qaeda or the Islamic State. The terrorists chose a soft target in the heart of Paris, no doubt to punish those they consider blasphemous. But they have a broader strategic aim. They wish to provoke European countries – France, Germany and Britain in particular- into taking a harder line against their significant Muslim populations, thus making French, German and British Muslim citizens, more amenable to the siren call of Jihad or Holy War against the West.

There are already significant political forces in Europe which are very hostile to Muslims. The French Nationalist Party led by Marine Le Pen is believed to have the support of 30% of French voters. And her popularity was given a bounce when French President Francois Hollande heavy-handedly “disinvited” her from last Sunday’s demonstration. In any event, she is considered a credible candidate to win the French presidency in the next election in 2017. This would have profound consequences throughout Europe.

Le Pen is among the most prominent of a resurgence of nationalist European leaders. They blame Europe’s current economic problems on Muslims who are taking jobs from the natives and they are agitating for much tougher immigration laws along with the expulsion of Muslims they consider subversives. Partly because of immigration issues, they all seek to have the European Union disbanded and old Europe’s borders reconstituted and heavily patrolled to keep subversives out.

Such groups are growing. An anti -Muslim Nationalist German organization which sprang up in Dresden, Germany in October attracted about 500 demonstrators to its first event. Last Monday it drew more than 20,000.

In a lengthy analysis this past week, the Reuters News Agency looked at the recent, rapid growth of the new European Right. This was one of its conclusions:

“After World War Two, nationalism went into remission in Europe. Until recently, nationalist parties were largely regarded as a noisy but fringe phenomenon. The notion that they would gain public respectability - let alone wield power- seemed outlandish. No longer.”

If that is true, the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, may be only the beginning of another chapter in the West’s struggle with Islamic extremists – a struggle in terms of duration at least, that’s beginning to be reminiscent of the Cold War.

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