Opinion: The Right Not to Offend

Manhunt intensifies after Charlie Hebdo terrorist suspects rob gas station
Santa Monica, CA

I don’t much feel like re-posting the Muhammad cartoons for which Charlie Hebdo became famous. It’s not a matter of fear, or political correctness. A decade ago, I was living in the heart of the Muslim community in Cape Town, writing articles against fundamentalism and in defense of the U.S. and Israel even while I enjoyed breaking Ramadan fasts with friends and neighbors. I did so at some considerable risk to my personal safety. I was lucky to meet religious Muslims who wanted nothing to do with violence–and it is precisely because of those relationships that I choose not to offend, even while standing with Charlie Hebdo.

We are treating this crisis as if it is about freedom of expression, and in most ways that is true. Ultimately, however, it is also about sharia law–and treating the attack as if it is only about whether and how far people have the right to offend may cast the terrorists as an aggrieved party, when they should properly be seen as the aggressors.

Put simply, depicting Muhammad–especially in a mocking way–is punishable by death in Islam. The assassins who attacked Charlie Hebdo were enforcing that law–flouting the laws of France about the press and about murder itself, but carrying out sharia law, in its strictest interpretation.

So it is not just that radical Islamists reject free expression. It is the fact that they want to replace the laws of their host society with sharia–and their first targets are often Muslim.

Imam Ajnem Choudary was refreshingly honest about that in his remarks to Sean Hannity and elsewhere. He points out that the West, too, restricts free expression in certain circumstances. He wants to extend those circumstances to cases in which Muhammad is insulted. He is not just saying that Muslims are so sensitive to such insults that they cannot help but be incited to violence. He is saying the West should help enforce sharia‘s rules.

If that sounds crazy, consider that the Obama administration has actually co-sponsored an international resolution restricting free speech rights in order to accommodate sharia laws on blasphemy.

Certainly, deliberately insulting Muslims by reprinting cartoons is one way of expressing defiance against such appeasement. Yet doing so may also poison the well of dialogue with those religious Muslims who do not wish to impose sharia on anyone.

There are other ways to show solidarity with the victims and outrage against the terrorists, and I do not that think all of those who refrain from reprinting the cartoons are acting out of fear.

Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.

Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak