There's a huge chasm between physical assault and mere insult. But that's a distinction some people seem too anxious to abandon.
Following the terrorist attack on a satirical French magazine, former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbingniew Brzezinski last week suggested that perhaps we should re-examine the concept of free speech. While admitting he hadn't personally seen the cartoons that allegedly sparked the massacre, he said, I've been told…that some of (them) are absolutely appalling and directed at the prophet himself,” and he asked “Is that really humor?”
Well, humor is always subjective, but Brzezinski's question implies two troubling suggestions. One, that perhaps writers and artists should avoid making provocative editorial statements so as not to stir things up. And two, that if they fail to do so, maybe they share some of the blame for any ensuing physical retribution.
This is preposterous, and hard to imagine coming from a former high U.S. government official. Rationalizing that massacres may be justifiable reactions to perceived blasphemy is a coward's reaction that will only embolden terrorists – not placate them. And if last week's attack is really enough to make us question our free speech rights, then it was more tragic than we even imagined.