Can anyone help me understand the difference between cartoons mocking Mohammad and use of the name “Redskins” for an American football team?
I’m not writing to excuse the assault on Charlie Hebdo, and I don’t mean to trivialize its consequences or implications by comparing it with the ongoing uproar over the name of Washington DC’s team. I’m just trying to get my mind around how editorialists and other opinion makers can more or less simultaneously insist that we beneficiaries of Western Civilization stand in solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo staff (peace be upon them), and not with Dan Snyder, owner of the Redskins. Are/were not both exercising the right of free speech, freed expression? Have not both been assaulted (albeit in very different ways) by people who believe that they have the right not to be offended?
Does the difference lie in the nature of the assault? Native Americans and others in the U.S. have used legal action and appeals to public opinion; the attackers of Charlie Hebdo used bullets and (earlier) firebombs. That’s a valid distinction, surely, but does it justify us in ramping up editorial mockery of Islam – as is surely implied by the call for us all to “be Charlie," and not rationalize backing Snyder? If somebody took out the Washington team's owner tomorrow, should we all start chanting “RedSKINS, RedSKINS?”
Or does the difference lie in the perceived basis for the offence? Radical Islamists like those who attacked Charlie Hebdo apparently believe that they are acting on behalf of God/Allah himself when they do their dirty deeds, while Native Americans who object to the Redskins sobriquet base their objections on centuries of genocidal oppression. Maybe that's a valid distinction, but it strikes me as a rather slippery one. In an interesting coincidence, Muslims have been experiencing oppression by western colonial powers since about the same time Native Americans began to feel it – ca. 1492 AD. And God/Allah is notoriously mum about his/her desires (except to some fundamentalist Christian mullahs, with whom he [definitely HE] apparently chats routinely), while history is by definition in the past. The basis for rage among Islamists and some Native Americans in the present seems to come down simply to the fact that they are offended by what they view as disrespect for their spiritual/cultural beliefs.
So where do we draw the line? Under what circumstances do we line up in support of free expression, and when do we support its suppression, whether through self-censorship or the acts of government? I don’t deny that there are lines to be drawn; I self-censor myself all the time, and I imagine that so does anyone else who writes for public consumption. But I worry about it, and I worry about populations and media that rally to slogans without thinking through their implications. I’d be grateful for enlightenment.