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Responding to murderous bullies

The media can defeat the Islamists’ terrorising threat tofree speech by themselves

17 January 2015

9:00 AM

17 January 2015

9:00 AM

The Paris terrorists who murdered in the name of their religion opted to attack people who draw cartoons. They didn’t blow up an army base. They didn’t kill a President or Prime Minister or some top government official. They took issue with the old saw that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’, or in this case than a collection of semi-automatic guns. They killed while shrieking that ‘God is great’.

Of course if one’s God really is that powerful and great one assumes that He can look after Himself. An omnipotent Being can presumably deal with a half dozen cartoonists who irk Him by banishing them to an eternity of hell, or have them endlessly roll boulders up hills for all time, or no doubt come up with torments only an omniscient Being can properly dream up. An all-powerful God doesn’t need His most fanatical human devotees to spray gunfire around with unrestrained fanaticism.

But put that anomaly aside. Here’s a more pertinent question. ‘What is the best way to deal with murderous religious fanatics who attack the press?’ Thirty years ago, before Salmon Rushdie, I dare say the answer would have been obvious. If some journalist or cartoonist is butchered for what he or she wrote or drew, then every other major publication will immediately circle the wagons and publish the same thing for a few days to give it even more exposure. Newspapers that would never normally consider running some cartoon, perhaps because it is pretty offensive, do so simply because that is how one deals with murderous thugs.

This is the theory that the best way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them and raise the stakes through the roof. This is the theory to which I subscribe. I went to a pretty tough Canadian state high school and you soon learned that appeasing bullies was a bad mistake. Give an inch and they’ll be back wanting a mile. Better by far to stand your ground and make them pay as big a cost as you could.

Imagine what would have followed after the murders in Denmark a while back if every major Western newspaper had run those Danish cartoons for two days. Every single newspaper, simply to protect free speech. Are the fanatics going to blow up every newspaper in the West? Or kill every editor? No chance. And imagine further that the newspapers make it clear that if it happens again they’ll run the offending material twice as long next time. And twice as long as that the time after that.

It soon becomes clear even to murderous religious fanatics that what they’re doing is counter-productive.

Alas, instead we in the West respond with hand-wringing and maybe with pixillated versions of the offending cartoons that make it impossible to see what was drawn and so, in essence, deliver exactly what the fanatics want. We have lost our cultural confidence.

Now part of the reason for this is plain. The threat of physical violence works. It scares people into doing what you want. And who ever doubted that, save for a few other-worldly types in the Obama administration who claim not just that water-boarding is morally wrong but also that it doesn’t ever work. Really? It produces no reliable information? So the mob just chops off fingers for the heck of it, because ‘you never get reliable information under the threat of force’ or whatever the inane liberal piety of the day happens to be.

Of course the key here is fear, and of course fear often gets results. Let’s be honest about it. Myriad comedians inhabit the Ultimo ABC world, and other networks, regularly making fun of Catholics because they know that no Catholics are going to come and behead them. They know that as sure as day. Yet those same comedians overwhelmingly show the highest deference to Islam because there they know nothing of the sort. In other words your typical ‘cutting edge, inner city lefty comedian’ is a coward.

I don’t blame them for the fear. I blame them for the hypocrisy. By all means poke fun at religion if you want. But if you choose to do so, don’t exempt an obvious target.

Meanwhile, it’s about time that the press in the West rediscovered its nerve. Editors and publishers, call around and organise a policy that cartoons or articles that you would never dream of publishing will automatically be published, by all of you, the minute one of its authors is murdered in the name of silencing views that offend some religious fanatic. And then do it. Heck, even the ABC might consider jettisoning its usual politically correct appendages and doing so. For its own long-term sake it’s the best protection for freedom of thought and freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

What I’m saying is that the press can fix this itself. If it acts together. If it multiplies the coverage by publishing things that murderous thugs are trying to suppress. They’ll soon learn that they’re better off leaving some small French publication with a subscriber base of only tens of thousands well enough alone.

To be perfectly blunt, the overwhelming preponderance of people in the West have views that look pretty similar compared to what you see in the Middle East and other places. Put Tony Abbott and Bob Brown on a spectrum and their differences are minute compared to what some radical imam thinks about the role of women, or same sex marriage, or freedom itself.

So one might think that newspapers and the press in the West might come together to stand up to speech-suppressing religious fanatics. Or maybe not. Thus far the press has been something less than brave.

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  • Howe Synnott

    Here’s another perspective.
    Imagine working as a prophet – pounding the
    pavement and handing out pamphlets, trying to flog your god’s word; poor sods.

    No-one listens – people are looking at their iPhones or too scared to be near
    some weird person talking about ‘god’; it’s a struggle. 

    Now, some gods are
    hard taskmasters – and your wage is on the ‘never never’; it’s promises and
    “she’ll be right in the future mate”. 

Yeah, sure; stuff that – I want my pay
    now, you miserable all powerful being.

    It’s a bloody cartel.

 All the gods getting
    together and cornering the salvation and Heaven market. It leaves little room
    for any ‘start up’ religions or ‘god-come-lately’ deities.

    I’m not impressed –
    Choice would like to hear about this select bunch of miracle makers and eternal
    life purveyors.

    The naïve proselytising prophets are simply trying to save
    souls and make the world a better place – but every fruitcake with a grievance,
    an alternative god or a different vision wants to shout them down and snatch
    Life can be hell for prophets.
    Other voices are competing: 

“No, no – my god is better”; “I’m
    offering a better Heaven and death benefits”.
    Talk about an aggravation and
    testing one’s prophetly patience.

    Form a Prophets Union – “what do we
    want”; better conditions and less promises – fewer gods of vengeance and
    more gods with happy faces. 

    Who would put up with such crappy jobs – where
    are the Fair Work inspectors when you need them?

    To add insult to injury, no
    insurance company would be silly enough to offer you a policy – for personal
    injury, unexpected death or income protection.

    I tell you, this prophet
    business is going to the dogs.