It's so very easy to defend the freedom of speech of those we agree with. It requires no particular courage or intellectual rigour. And so all those who are critical of newspapers, like this one, that have chosen not to publish the more inflammatory cartoons of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo are having a terrific little time right now. They have nothing on the line as they gleefully accuse the media of heinous shortcomings in the emotional aftermath of the murders of most of Charlie Hebdo's senior editorial masthead.
Newspapers and TV stations – and, somehow by extension, their reporters – are called cowardly because they won't print or broadcast images they consider offensive. They are labelled appeasers on the grounds they are buckling under to rioters in the Islamic world who protest the publication of images considered blasphemous. "Terrorism works," say the critics who believe the sole reason an outlet would refuse to publish an offensive Charlie Hebdo cartoon is out of fear of retaliation.
How incredibly easy. How crass and pompous.
There are 12 people dead in Paris, murdered because the editors and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo stuck to their editorial guns. They printed what was their right to print, even though many wished they didn't. The government of France at one point tried to get them to tone down their provocations. But after the offices of Charlie Hebdo were firebombed by Islamist extremists in 2011, the government gave the magazine police protection. The government supported the right of Charlie Hebdo to publish what it wanted, even though it disagreed with the content. That was courage. That took intelligence.
What doesn't require courage or intelligence is demanding proof of one's solidarity with the victims of the Paris massacre by reprinting their most offensive material. The right of Charlie Hebdo, and all the Charlie Hebdos of the world, to publish provocative, offensive, satirical cartoons must be backed without reservation. But so too must the right of other publications to make different choices – namely to defend Charlie Hebdo without embracing and endorsing everything the satirical newspaper ever did, or holding its work up as canon.
The Globe and Mail, along with The New York Times, the CBC and many other media outlets, last week chose not to reprint Charlie Hebdo's deliberately provocative cartoons. We made the same decision in 2006 after a Danish magazine was threatened by extremists for publishing cartoons depicting Mohammed as a terrorist. Both decisions were made in accordance with the newspaper's beliefs and values. Charlie Hebdo's editors lived by their values, and died for them. If there is a better way to honour them than by doing the same thing, we don't know what it is.