'Charlie' was courageous

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A woman looks at tributes to the people killed at Paris offices of weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, on the wall outside the French Embassy in London, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

TODAY, I was going to introduce you to an investigative reporter from Kenya who received threats on her life. Her government did not step in to protect her because it was the government that was threatening her. The United States gave her asylum.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo, which is an attack on Western values, gave her story an immediacy, so I called her Wednesday and she agreed to talk to me.

Yesterday morning she called, very apologetic, to cancel. "As a journalist I hate doing this," she said, "but Homeland Security thought it would not be safe."

Here, in America, our government had worries about being able to protect her. From whom? From what? Don't we all know?

In 1894, Lord Alfred Douglas wrote a poem about "the love that dare not speak its name" (homosexuality.) In the late 20th century, we have a hate we dare not name (radical Islam.)

Whether it is our government or (most of) our media, our intellectuals and academics, we have been cautioned into not speaking two words - "Islamist" (or variations of it) and "terrorist." They have tried browbeating us to "submit" (what "Islam" means in English) to the idea that Islam is unconnected to terror. They tell us that as assassins shout "Allahu akbar" ("God is great" in Arabic), and as the Fort Hood "workplace violence" killer, Maj. Nidal Hasan, carried a business card identifying himself as a "Soldier of Islam."

The opinion-makers may have to change their minds with the assault on Charlie Hebdo and speak out.

When a fatwa was placed on Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses in 1988, he was protected by the British government, but the outcry against the nerve of some ayatollah giving the kiss of death to a writer of fiction was not widely protested.

It was very different in Paris on Wednesday night as tens of thousands of Parisians poured outdoors to hold up pens or signs saying "Je Suis Charlie" (I am Charlie).

This was a departure from capitulation, and a welcome one.

There was remarkably small outrage when Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who had produced "Submission," a film critical of Islam, was murdered on an Amsterdam street in 2004.

In 2005, Denmark's Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons featuring Muhammad that insulted many Muslims and led to widespread rioting and more than 200 deaths.

Although a major news story, cowardly American newspapers, most of them, did not publish the cartoons for fear of "offending" Muslims. Yet many published Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" in 1987 with no apprehension of Christians' feelings. Hypocrites.

In 2010, "South Park" was intimidated into changing an episode that depicted Muhammad in a bear suit.

There's more, but let's not belabor the point.

OK, let's.

When the Yale University Press published a book about the cartoon controversy, it banned using the cartoons that the book was about. It feared not "offending" Muslims, but being attacked by them.

We are censoring ourselves. How and why is laid out in The Tyranny of Silence, a book by Flemming Rose, the editor who green-lighted the Danish Muhammad cartoons. Most news agencies would not show the offending cartoons then and most news outlets (including this one) today won't show Charlie's cartoons in any detail. Cowards.

Self-censorship is insidious.

Charlie Hebdo refused to do it, and paid the price. The editors and writers and cartoonists are martyrs to freedom of speech.

Will we take courage from them, or cringe in the basements of our fear - or our insane political correctness?


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

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