So now it’s the French who are frantically closing their embassies, worried about violent mobs enraged after the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published cartoons, some of them pornographic, mocking the Prophet Muhammad.
France’s official response has been more restrained than last week’s raft of apologies from the U.S. government after violence blamed on the incendiary video “Innocence of Muslims” swept across the Middle East, leading to attacks at U.S. diplomatic outposts and the death of four U.S. diplomats. But some commentators argue that if speech makes people angry enough to do terrible things — like murder — we should consider ways to restrain it.
In light of this swirling argument, and the swirling violence that influences it, we should take a moment to consider what it is that makes free speech so valuable, and its suppression so dangerous. This is a moment not to yield to demands for censorship, but to defend and even celebrate the freedoms that the makers of the video and the cartoons so grossly abuse.