We weren't alone. Scores of newspapers and magazines around the world republished the Danish cartoons—including many here in the United States, from the Daily Illini, a student newspaper (whose editor was fired), to Harper's, which was yanked from stores in Canada. The satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo also republished the Danish cartoons, as was mentioned in numerous reports yesterday. The fact that we republished them too is something I should've mentioned on Slog yesterday—you know, after we slapped that big "JE SUIS CHARLIE" banner up at the top of our blog. But I didn't mention it. It wasn't that I regretted our decision to republish the Danish cartoons. I just wasn't in a rush to remind people that we had. Because I was afraid.
I was thinking about how afraid everyone is when I heard the Associated Press had yanked all images of Andres Serrano's 1987 work Piss Christ from their website and archives. Before we knew how many people had died in the attack yesterday—before we learned that one of the victims (the one shown on the cover of the New York Times) was a Muslim cop—right-wing news outlets, bloggers, and Twitterers were condemning the AP's supposed hypocrisy and anti-Christian bigotry. Slate:
The Associated Press is among the numerous news outlets that have been self-censoring images of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that may have provoked Wednesday's deadly Paris attack. In a statement, the news organization said that such censorship is standard policy: "None of the images distributed by AP showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. It’s been our policy for years that we refrain from moving deliberately provocative images." The conservative Washington Examiner publication then pointed out that the AP nonetheless continued to carry an image of Andres Serrano's 1987 "Piss Christ" photograph—which is certainly provocative, having been the subject of massive controversy in the United States, and which was actually vandalized by Catholic protesters when it was on display in 2011 in, as it happens, France.
All images of Piss Christ have since been scrubbed from AP's website—they're all gone, including legitimately newsworthy photos of a vandalized Piss Christ. In an attempt to explain the memoryholing of Piss Christ, the AP says they've "revised and reviewed our policies since 1989." The implication: Piss Christ should've been removed from the AP's website years ago and its presence until yesterday afternoon was an oversight. (Perhaps the AP will send the Washington Examiner a thank-you note for bringing this matter to their attention.) The AP's explanation is complete and total bullshit. They didn't pull down those images of Piss Christ because they were "deliberately provocative." The AP pulled them down because they're afraid.
Here's what the AP should've said to Christian conservatives screaming about Piss Christ and double standards: "Yeah, we blurred out those Charlie Hebdo cartoons because we're afraid of them. We didn't do the same to Piss Christ because we're not afraid of you."
The fact that cartoonists, publishers, editors, photographers, artists, comedians, and satirists aren't afraid of "you"—the fact that they're not afraid to mock Christ, Christians, Christianity—is something that Christians, conservative and otherwise, should be proud of. It's something they're usually proud of. It's something Christian conservatives frequently boast about: "Hey, you don't see us resorting to violence when someone mocks our savior the way they resort to violence when someone mocks their prophet."
Here are two (Holly and Robert) boasting yesterday:
Christian conservatives want to have it both ways: They want credit for not reacting violently when their sacred symbols, holy texts, imaginary friends, etc. are mocked while also wanting the same deference—the same kid-glove, blurred-image treatment—that violent Muslim extremists have "won" for their sacred symbols, holy texts, imaginary friends, etc. But you can't have it both ways. You can't claim to be better than "they" are because you can take a joke while at the same time demanding that people stop joking about you. You can't hold up their attempts to eradicate art (and artists) that offend them as proof that they're hopelessly backwards while at the same time demanding the disappearance of art (and artists) that offend you.
Caroline Wyatt, religious affairs correspondent for the BBC, had this to say yesterday:
In the heart of Europe in 2015, the killing of cartoonists and journalists for allegedly insulting God still comes as a shock, despite the rising number of such attacks in recent years. In rational, post-Enlightenment Europe, religion has long since been relegated to a safe space, with Judaism and Christianity the safe targets of satire in secular western societies. Not so Islam.
It is a credit to Judaism and Christianity that both are safe targets of satire in Western societies. Islam is not a safe target. While the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful—and while some Christians are not—a relatively tiny but also terrifying minority of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims thinks the punishment for an offensive cartoon should be death. And an even smaller percentage of that percentage is willing to carry out those death sentences. And that's why the AP blurs them out and the NYT won't publish them and CNN won't show them and I was reluctant to remind readers that we had published some nine years ago. Fear.
Again: Christians can't be angry that they aren't shown the same deference that Muslims are—a deference born of fear—while at the same time demanding credit for not resorting to violence the same way Muslims extremists do. A cartoonist can mock Christianity and get away with it; a cartoonist can't mock Islam and get away with it. That is a credit to Christianity and Christians. (A credit to modern Christians, anyway.)
The AP couldn't bring itself to admit a humiliating truth—fear was the reason they blurred those images of Muhammad—and it has now established a stupid and dangerous precedent: In the future, the AP will "refrain from moving deliberately provocative images" and they will delete "deliberately provocative" images from their archives. And who determines what images (or stories?) are deliberatively provocative as opposed to unintentionally provocative or just plain old provocative or not provocative at all? Who gets to play the censor?
Anyone with a gun or grievance—which means anyone at all.