09.19.12 1:10 PM ET
The Cost of Cartooning
A French satirical magazine runs some derisive cartoons of Muhammad. The last time it did so, in November, its offices were firebombed. This time, reports the New York Times:
"A Foreign Ministry spokesman said France was closing its embassies, consulates, cultural centers and schools in 20 countries on Friday as a "precautionary measure".
Those precautions seem well placed, but also unlikely to appease. The people who instigate these protests seek a very particular goal: an extension of Egyptian and Pakistani style blasphemy laws into the West.
Reacting to the publication, Essam Erian, acting head of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, told Reuters: "We reject and condemn the French cartoons that dishonor the Prophet and we condemn any action that defames the sacred according to people's beliefs."
Calling for a U.N. treaty against insulting religion, he added: "We condemn violence and say that peaceful protests are a right for everyone. I hope there will be a popular western and French reaction condemning this."
Here's the answer:
The right to ridicule religion almost defines a free society. That right can never be surrendered. And you know what? Once it is established (or - as we now must say about the right to ridicule Islam - re-established), almost nobody will want to use it. Blasphemy remains interesting only so long as it retains the power to enrage. The way to deprive blasphemy of its power is not to ban it, but to disregard it. Until that happens, however, Western governments must not allow themselves to be conscripted into acting as the local censorship police for the Egyptian state.