Before the marches stop and the uproar dies down I want put a few words in on the goings on in France and how the wider culture has responded. First, we need to understand the nature of our enemy. So many of us scratch our heads and ask, “Why?” Why do terrorists commit such terrible acts of violence? The answer nobody seems to grasp is that the Muslims believe they are fighting for something real. We have lost this concept in our postmodern era. Relativism is so pervasive that acting as if something is worth killing (and dying) for makes no sense whatsoever. Beliefs are simply adornments, political positions, or “stances.” All are subject to change, however, because as soon as any real kind of pressure is applied to change or abandon these beliefs they evaporate into simple silence or a “personal evolution” on the issue. Of course, some Christians in the West have stood up for their beliefs at great personal cost (look at the public firing of several CEO’s for example). But for the most part our culture is characterized by its ambivalence on just about everything.
Now, before I get into what I’m about to say next I want the record to be clear. Murder is always wrong. I was so upset by what happened in France that I’ve seriously thought about organizing something at school to show solidarity with our French brothers. Gimme some french fries in exchange for those freedom fries and would somebody hang the Tricolour from the Capitol building already. Count me as someone who was glad the terrorists were killed in the stand-off. And with that I’ve already broken one of my own personal rules: say what you believe without qualification. But alas, in these days we sometimes have to, so here goes.
There is something weirdly perverse in all the rhetoric we’ve seen in the last few days. What I mean is that two extremes are arguing as if they were the only things to be considered. On one side people are arguing that freedom of expression is so sacred that defending obscenity is the essence of what free speech is all about. On the other side radical Muslims (one could say consistent Muslims) believe their religion is so sacred that killing in the name of the prophet is a moral obligation. Before you object that I am engaging in moral equivalency let me stop you and say there is none. Believing in the right to publish obscenity and believing you must kill to achieve shari’ah law are qualitatively different. But they are qualitatively different wrongs.
The content at Charlie Hebdo magazine was obscene. It not only targeted Islam, but all religions in attempt to satirize and degrade them. You may believe that this is an essential right, the essence of free speech, and go on drawing your cartoons. But what you cannot do is believe there is no inherent cost in doing so, and I’m not talking about the risk that comes from masked gunmen. The cost is moral clarity and stability. When a society believes in defending the profane above all else it has utterly lost any moral defensibility. At that point the gates of Western Civilization are no more effective than the Maginot Line, and the clamor of ugly passions that was once kept outside can hardly be contained once they are within. If you thought that last crack was a little insensitive, I’d remind you that most of the moral confusion of our age has come from Europe, and namely France at that. This is not to say that anyone deserved what happened. Absolutely and unequivocally not. What I am saying is that the secular view, adopted and embraced by a secular Europe, is unequipped to give an answer as to why angry Muslims should not commit heinous murders in the name of Mohammed.
Limits on free speech may seem antithetical to the notion of freedom of expression, but paradoxically they support the right to think and speak. If you want to say religion is stupid, fine. If you want to go a step further and say religion is harmful, fine. I would defend your right to do so. But we should all agree that there is a line one should not cross. The institution of laws that establish those lines creates moral clarity. The rule of law is more than just something that keeps our more base instincts in check, it shapes culture. Some things should be sacred, and that sanctity should be a value expressed not only around the dinner table, but on our streets, in our institutions, and in the press. If you disagree with me, fine, but realize you have actually given Western Civilization away. It is surrendered because if there is nothing worth protecting, if there is only the profane and nothing sacred, then we are simply sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Let us stand for something today and say, “Vive la France!” with all our might.