Two recent events—the spectacle of Garry Trudeau, the Doonesbury creator, attacking a group of murdered cartoonists for offending his sensibilities, and the protest organized by a group of bien-pensant writers against the PEN American Center for planning to honor those cartoonists tonight in New York—have brought the Charlie Hebdo controversy back to public consciousness. So has the failed attack Sunday in Texas on a group of anti-Islam militants staging a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest, though, unlike Charlie Hebdo, the organization that sponsored the Texas event is run by an actual anti-Muslim extremist who, I'm proud to say, is a personal nemesis of mine.
Much has already been written about both the Trudeau and PEN controversies. I particularly recommend David Frum on Trudeau, and Katha Pollitt and Matt Welch on PEN, as well as this fine op-ed by Andrew Solomon and Suzanne Nossel, the president and executive director, respectively, of the PEN American Center. These represent only a handful of the many dozens of writers who have risen in defense of free speech, and of Charlie Hebdo’s right to lampoon religion.
I’m not going to rehearse the various defenses of Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish what some people consider to be blasphemous cartoons and columns. Suffice it to say that I’m a free-speech absolutist; I would have defended the right of neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, and I also believe that European laws banning the expression of Holocaust denial are wrong and counterproductive. I don’t like Nazis—there’s an understatement—and I don’t like Holocaust denial; and also, as a God-botherer—to use a term of derision directed at me with annoying frequency by my late friend Christopher Hitchens—I don’t like blasphemy either. But my belief in free speech trumps my distaste for blasphemy, and in any case, my conception of God is large, and I can’t imagine He gives a shit about cartoons.