The only thing more destructive of democracy than censorship is self-censorship, more destructive ultimately than two brainwashed jihadists with machine guns. In fact, while the murders of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and their police protectors (one a Muslim) is an attack on free expression, the killers seemed more intent on punishing those who had insulted Muhammad than making a statement about press freedom – although it’s hard to imagine in whose holy book their act would constitute “an eye for an eye.” The result, when the civic squares have emptied and the symbolic pens put down, will be a greater public commitment to free speech and an increase in small acts of self-censorship.
With censorship, at least, you know who your enemy is, even if you feel powerless to fight it. For the press, censorship comes in many guises. The worst is that of governments, and almost the first act of any totalitarian regime is to shut down the independent media. But it is more ubiquitous: threats to pull advertising; political demagoguery; a rock through the window.
But the threat of murder makes us pull our punches. Do I really need to write that?
“[W]e don’t want to publish hate speech or spectacles that offend, provoke or intimidate or anything that desecrates religious symbols or angers people along religious or ethnic lines," an AP executive told The Washington Post.
That’s a broad brush.
Charlie Hebdo is publishing next Wednesday. Not its usual run of 60,000, but one million copies. That’s commitment.