Speaking truth to terror
In the wake of the acts of assassination and terror directed by Islamic extremists against the editor and cartoonists at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, a number of media news outlets, including CNN, Fox Cable, the Associated Press, MSNBC, ABC, the British-based Jewish Chronicle and The New York Times, have elected not to show or republish the satirical images of Muhammad and other Muslims that appear to have prompted the violence. Many of the overlords of these outlets have based their decisions on the need to protect their news personnel from retaliation on the part of extremists. There is another way to describe these decisions: appeasement.
When reporters, editors and media bosses praise the courage of those who were killed for drawing and printing the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo but simultaneously buckle under to the terrorism that prompted the Paris massacre, they are hedging their bets, sacrificing solidarity with the principle of freedom of expression for the sake of their own safety. They have not hesitated — and rightly so — to broadcast and print the recent spate of cartoons drawn in tribute to the murdered staff of Charlie Hebdo, etchings that movingly attest to the motto of free people that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” At the same time, however, the appeasers in charge of many of the major media outlets have chosen to fear the sword more than stand by the pen in their going dark regarding the satirical cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo. I am not an artist, but if I were, I would immediately draw a cartoon that illustrates the hypocrisy of much of media.
Some of the controversial covers from Charlie Hebdo.
That the satire of Islam, and indeed other religions, depicted in the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo are offensive to some people of faith is frankly beside the point. What is on point is the principle that terrorism and all forms of violent intimidation of the press are never justified, regardless of the content of what is printed or broadcast by the news media. Like many Zionists and Jews, I am offended on an almost daily basis by what I consider biased reporting on Israel. I apply my anger to the writing of op-eds, letters to the editor, Facebook and Twitter posts, and speeches to protest what I believe are bad journalism and stupid commentary. I also take a lot of antacids. What I never do, what I would never do, is use or advocate violence as a means of chilling free expression. In a democracy built and defended by brave men and women committed to unfettered freedom, there is no excuse for appeasing those who espouse limited liberty and censorship of the press. Being offended is part of being alive. What matters is how, once offended, a person responds. For those who are very well paid to report and comment on the news, cowardice is not a justifiable option. Such cowardice dishonors the memory of those murdered in Paris.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), with which I have been proudly affiliated for over 20 years, routinely publishes a collection of the vilest anti-Semitic cartoons that appear in the media, especially in Europe and the Middle East. These cartoons, which tend to justify terrorism against Jews, Israel and its supporters, are hurtful to me, ADL, many other Jews and decent people of all faiths. Nevertheless, ADL reprints these cartoons in an effort to educate the public about the evils of anti-Semitism and religious bigotry. ADL understands that publishing truth to terror, however painful, is the best way to accurately depict those whose intolerance often breeds violence. ADL’s wisdom and courage should serve to shame those media sources that have chosen to appease those who react to freedom of expression with homicidal rage. (These views are mine. I do not write on behalf of ADL or any other group.)
Some news outlets, like the Huffington Post, the Washington Post and the Daily Beast, have reprinted the relevant, satirical cartoons from Charlie Hebdo. They deserve high praise for their courage. As for myself, I am proud to have written this piece and have my name affixed to it. I am an American, a Jew, a Zionist and a resident of Los Angeles. To those who would respond to my op-ed with violence, I say: Come get me, you bastards.
Bruce J. Einhorn is a former federal judge, an adjunct professor of law at Pepperdine University, and a Jewish communal and human rights activist.