The cover of this week's Charlie Hebdo (right) shows Mohammed shedding a tear and holding up a "Je suis Charlie" sign under the headline "Tout est pardonnĂ©" - all is forgiven. The illustration is unclear: Is Mohammed forgiving the secular leftie blasphemers? Or are the secular lefties forgiving Mohammed and his murderous believers? The Commentator devotes an editorial to the subject, and finds it "a strange cover" symbolic of "western confusion". On the other hand, Paul Berman in The Tablet thinks "uncertainty lends majesty". On the other other hand, over at Ace of Spades, they think Charlie's staff are mocking hashtag solidarity and "vomiting on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends".
When skilled persons who have never shied away from clarity produce a work whose meaning is unclear, then it is reasonable to assume the unclearness is itself the meaning. The surviving staff at Charlie Hebdo have undergone a week of surreal hellishness, in which their senior colleagues have been murdered for publishing images of Mohammed, and the world is professing its solidarity and egging them on to prove that nothing has changed. In other words, they're expected to produce new images of Mohammed, which may well get them murdered, too.
Meanwhile, no one else is even re-publishing the old Mohammed images, even as your basic Exhibit A in a news story - ie, this is why these guys were killed.
On the night of the attack, I was on Fox News with Megyn Kelly and said:
Yes, they were very brave. This was the only publication that was willing to publish the Muhammad â€” the Danish Muhammad cartoons in 2006 because they decided to stand by those Danish cartoonists. I'm proud to have written for the only Canadian magazine to publish those Muhammad cartoons. And it's because The New York Times didn't and because Le Monde in Paris didn't, and the London Times didn't and all the other great newspapers of the world didn't - only Charlie Hebdo and my magazine in Canada and a few others did. But they were forced to bear a burden that should have been more widely dispersed...
I amplified the point the following day on The Hugh Hewitt Show:
These guys are dead because back in 2005, these Danish cartoons were published in an obscure Jutland newspaper, and a bunch of fanatics went bananas and started killing people over them. So a couple of publications on the planet, including mine in Canada, and Charlie Hebdo in Paris, published these cartoons... Le Monde didn't, and the Times of London didn't, and the New York Times didn't, and nobody else did. And as a result, these fellows in Charlie Hebdo became the focus of murderous rage. If we'd all just published them on the front page and said "If you want to kill us, you go to hell, you can't just kill a couple of obscure Danes, you're going to have to kill us all", we wouldn't have this problem. But because nobody did that, these Parisian guys are dead.
Ten years on, the mainstream media had a chance to play this one differently - and, with 12 corpses at Charlie Hebdo, and another dead police officer the following day, and four Jews slaughtered at a kosher grocery store on the day after that, they had more than enough justification to assert their right to apply traditional journalistic values. But they chose not to, absurdly pixelating the images as if Mohammed has entered the witness protection program (to reprise the joke I did a decade ago), or cutting away when a Charlie Hebdo staffer attempted to hold up the magazine. Whether or not the pen is mightier than the sword, the White-Out brush isn't - and that's all the pen side is willing to pick up. As Andrew Stiles put it:
Journalists: These French journalists are so brave!
Readers: What did they do? Can I see?
Journalists: It's our policy not to show you.
So if you want to see for yourself a critical element of the biggest news story of the last week, you can't go to CNN or The New York Times or the CBC or The Daily Telegraph, you have to seek out obscure websites like SteynOnline.
So, for all the viral hashtags and Helen Mirren wearing a pencil brooch to the Golden Globes and George Clooney declaring "Je suis Charlie", what's left of the staff at Charlie Hebdo nevertheless got the message: You're still on your own. We'll send you a supportive Tweet, but that's it. Murderous-rage-wise, we'd rather you remained the focus. Hey, but we're all really looking forward to next week's controversial cover!
I prefer the fellows who just state upfront that Charlie Hebdo was asking for it to Dame Helen and untold millions all waving pencils, and none of 'em with any lead in 'em. Imagine being at the editorial meeting with the empty chairs, and understanding, even as millions around the world profess to be your new best friend, that you're still the lonesomest guy in town.
They did a Mohammed cover because they had to. But it certainly has an uncharacteristic passivity. And it feels like one for the road.
~On that first night, with Megyn Kelly, I said:
I see all these teary candlelit vigils and everyone suddenly claiming to be for freedom of speech. I think a consequence of this is a lot of people will retreat even further into self-censorship.
What would you call the last week? Never mind Mohammed, Oxford University Press has instructed its children's authors not to mention pigs, sausages or any other pork-related words - and then compounded its cravenness by lying about who it's caving in to, claiming that it wants to "avoid offending Jews and Muslims", as if any British Jew has ever complained about Piglet or a piggy bank. Still, the desire to "avoid offending Jews and Muslims" has a certain ring to it, doesn't it? Especially in that order. If it catches on, maybe they can drop the "...and Muslims" bit entirely:
CUSTOMER: I'll have a bacon butty, please.
PROPRIETOR: Sorry, mate, we don't do 'em no more. To avoid offending Jews.
CUSTOMER: Bloody Yids.
PROPRIETOR: Yeah, but what can you do?
At the Golden Globes, George Clooney said the Charlie Hebdo supporters had "marched in support of the idea that we will not walk in fear" - or was it "walked in support of the idea that we will not march in fear"? But what happens when millions of people are "walking in fear" and don't even know it? That's to say, they aren't aware that a giant apparatus of lies is being insidiously constructed all around them. Oxford University Press is lying in its attempt to blame the Jews for its literary porcophobia. But you can walk quite a long way before you discern that fear: Maybe years from now, you'll be sitting around and someone will wonder why they never did a sequel to Babe, or how come you never see Porky Pig anymore? Th-th-th-th-th-that's all, folks!
How about the Euro-elite's sudden commitment to free speech? How's that working out?
France ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech...
So much for that. Most of the European heads of governments parading through Paris on Sunday in support of Charlie Hebdo - including Hollande, Merkel and Cameron - preside over thought-crime regimes ever more comfortable in policing the opinions of the citizenry.
I wrote a whole book on this subject, called Lights Out: Islam, Free Speech And The Twilight Of The West, and I'm happy to send you a personally autographed copy for the Oxford University Press editor or EU hate-speech commissar in your family. In the prologue, I put it this way:
Muslim lobby groups throughout the west are now using the pieties of political correctness to enforce a universal submission to Islam's self-evaluation. And their multiculti enablers seem happy to string along: Australian publishers decline novels on certain, ah, sensitive subjects; British editors insist forthcoming books are vacuumed of anything likely to attract the eye of wealthy Saudis who happen to have a flat in Mayfair. These are the books we will never read, the plays we will never see, the movies that will never be made...
The lamps are going out all over the world - one distributor, one publisher, one silenced novelist, one cartoonist in hiding, one sued radio host, one murdered film director at a time.
But it's more total than that. The Islamic enforcers will lead to a world where nothing is possible but dishonest art, which by definition cannot be art at all. And even the shallowest multiplex piffle will be lying to us:
A few years ago, director Roland Emmerich made 2012, a hit disaster movie in which human civilisation was suddenly destroyed by earthquakes and super volcanoes.
As is mandatory for such films, the destruction of world landmarks was depicted. Many of the enormous monuments erected in the name of religion featured in the destruction. This was, according to the director, a reflection of his opposition to "organised religion".
And so the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro was shown to roll down Mt Corcovado. The Sistine Chapel collapsed on to a group of red-hatted cardinals at prayer. St Peter's Basilica crumbled with the pope in its balcony and the falling masonry crushing thousands of the gathered faithful below.
Notably, however, no Islamic holy site was destroyed on screen. In an interview, Emmerich said that he wanted to show the destruction of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, but was talked out of it because of potential reprisals.
Pace George Clooney, no one will require you to "walk in fear", not yet. But you'll walk in non-fear to the movie theatre, and buy the Halal-compliant non-bacon butty and once in a while it'll occur to you that more and more areas in life don't seem even to be mentioned in public anymore. And then you'll sit back and enjoy latest the big-budget evasion.
~For a while, nothing much will change. American TV won't show the Charlie Hebdo cover out of sensitivity to its Muslim viewers, but it will show an act of analingus featuring NBC anchor Brian Williams' daughter. [CORRECTED FROM EARLIER MISAPPREHENSION] That's also insensitive to Muslim viewers, but no one has yet blown up the cast of "Girls", so enjoy it while you can:
According to cast member Alex Karpovsky, there's a sexual revolution evolving this year, and this episode may be a representation of what to expect in the future of television.
"Maybe that's one of the cliffs or peaks that we need to begin to incorporate into our societal representation of this revolution, specifically in television. This could be the year of the anus," he said.
Indeed. It may be harder to get Hollande and Merkel and certainly Mahmoud Abbas to parade through the streets for it, but I would say that 2015 is more likely to be the Year of the Anus than the year of free speech.
Spread the word: #JeSuisUnAnus!
~I happen to be in London today, enjoying the charms of BBC news coverage, but I'm looking forward to being back in my hometown later this month for my first appearance in Toronto in a couple of years. I'll be live in conversation with Heather Reisman at the Manulife Centre branch of Indigo at the corner of Bay and Bloor at 7pm on January 28th. Admission is free, but first come, first served. More details here.