Like many of you, I’ve been transfixed by the news coming out of France this week which began with the brutal slaughter of the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo and ended three days later with near simultaneous police raids and many more dead.

Almost immediately following the Charlie Hebdo attack, the slogan "Je suis Charlie" went viral both online and in solidarity marches in France.
We’ve been debating the "War on Terror" and Islamic extremism in earnest since 9/11, but I think the Paris attacks this week have brought into focus one of the biggest points of friction between Muslim and western culture – freedom of speech – in a way that the murder of Theo van Goghand the fatwa against Salman Rushdie did not.
Cable news – which in large part I’ve stopped watching – rarely gets to the heart of a controversy like this in a way that gives viewers a sense of the stakes. But leaked emails from Al Jazeera English published in National Review yesterday do capture the essence of the Charlie Hebdo attack.
The exchange starts with a note from executive producer Salah-Aldeen Khadr intending to "make our coverage the best that it can be." He lists several points he wants the network to raise in their coverage of the events in Paris, some of which are valid:
"This was a targeted attack, not a broad attack on the french [sic] population a la Twin towers or 7/7 style."

"Does an attack by 2-3 guys on a controversial magazine equate to a civilizational attack on European values..? Really?"

"Also worth stating that we still don’t know much about the motivations of the attackers outside the few words overheard on the video."
Some of his points are – from a liberal Western perspective – not so valid:
"’I am Charlie’ as an alienating slogan – with us or against us type of statement – one can be anti-CH’s [Charlie Hebdo] racism and ALSO against murdering people."

"You don’t actually stick it to the terrorists by insulting the majority of Muslims by reproducing more cartoons – you actually entrench the very animosity and divisions these guys seek to sow."

"Danger in making this a free speech aka ‘European Values’ under attack binary is that is once again constructs European identity in opposition to Islam (sacred depictions) and cements the notion of a European identity under threat from an Islamic retrograde culture of which the attackers are merely the violent tip of the iceberg."

"This is a clash of extremist fringes…"
Khadr appears to be trying to thread a very tight needle here – he has to report on the attack but he wants to do so in a way that will not alienate his (one would assume) mostly Muslim viewers. But it’s not this original note which is instructive, but the subsequent exchange between Al Jazeera correspondents.
In response, Tom Ackerman sent out this quote from Ross Douhat’s piece in the New York Times:
If a large enough group of someone is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more…liberalism doesn’t depend on everyone offending everyone else all the time, and it’s ok to prefer a society where offense for its own sake is limited rather than persuasive. But when offenses are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed.
Nearly everyone raised in a liberal Western democracy will read this paragraph and think to themselves – that’s about right. They may have some second thoughts about actually doing anything to provoke those who police offenses by murder, but they will at least agree in principle that the best – indeed the only – solution for bad or offensive speech is more speech.
No so for correspondent Mohamed Vall Salem, who writes in response:
I guess if you insult 1.5 billion people chances are one or two of them will kill you…And I guess if you encourage people to go on insulting 1.5 billion people about their most sacred icons then you just want more killings because as I said in 1.5 billion there will remain some fools who don’t abide by the laws or know about free speech…respect breeds respect, insult can degenerate into something worse than just insult, depending who’s at the receiving end…Last, if you no longer have anything that you hold sacred (the death of religion and the death of God, etc…) there [are] 1.5 billion who still have [sic]…don’t ignore their values in the name of yours."
Salem’s final sentence gets to the heart of the debate – when two values fundamentally clash people have to make a choice. Either they hold dear the Western value of freedom of speech or they prefer the Muslim value of reverence to their prophet. There can be no middle ground.
The original email from Khadr was on target in this respect – "Je suis Charlie" is an alienating slogan. It has to be. The people who insist that we can find some middle ground in this freedom of speech debate are fooling themselves, there is none to be had.
Ross Douhat has it absolutely correct, "when offenses are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed."
And in that vein let me perpetuate some of that offense. The murderer’s strategy will not succeed if I have anything to say about it.
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