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Dhimmitude and Cowardice at Time
by Bruce Bawer
November 2 marked the seventh anniversary of Theo van Gogh's murder by a pious young Muslim on an Amsterdam street. One of the memorable aspects of that history-making slaughter was the largely despicable way in which the media in the Netherlands and around the world covered it. Many of the accounts of van Gogh's butchering, which was motivated by his short film, Submission, about the plight of women under Islam, hinted – or even stated directly – that van Gogh had been asking for it. He had gone too far. He had insulted Islam and offended Muslims. What, after all, asked one editorial after another, had he expected when he made Submission? He should have known what he was getting into. Freedom of expression was one thing, but giving needless offense to a billion and a half members of a religion? That was just plain over the line. Not sensible. Not prudent. Yes, van Gogh was – in his own country, at least – a famous contrarian, an iconoclast, accustomed to going after sacred cows across the political and cultural spectrum with all the gusto and irreverence he could muster. But to make a film that he had to know would outrage devout Muslims and put him in danger of being killed? Well, that was just stupid. Almost parenthetically, many of the editorialists acknowledged that there was no excuse for the murder. But their hearts weren't in this rote qualification. They were out to condemn not the murderer, but the victim, who, in their eyes, has brought it all on himself.
Cut to November 2, 2011. The Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly, are totally destroyed by a firebombing. The motive seems clear. The magazine's newest issue, in response to the electoral victory of an Islamic party in the Tunisian elections, trains its mockery on Islam. There are cartoons, jokes, parody articles. The premise of the issue, dubbed Sharia Hebdo, is that its guest editor is the Prophet Muhammed himself. Like van Gogh, Charlie Hebdo practices equal-opportunity parody, and over the years has cracked its share of jokes at the expense of Christians, Jews, and pretty much everybody else. But also as in the case of van Gogh, it is apparently Charlie Hebdo's lack of reverence toward Islam that made it a target of violence.
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