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When it Comes to the Charlie Hebdo Attacks, There Are No Shades of Grey

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Pope Francis has already made it clear that he doesn't understand economics. And now, he has made it clear he doesn't understand the nature of free speech or of a free press in the West. Really, I'm detecting some fallibility here, for with his comments about the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices (and the ensuing attacks at a kosher supermarket) in Paris, he joined the chorus of those calibrating and mitigating and de facto justifying that which should not be calibrated or mitigated and cannot be justified.

I knew this would happen. Not that the pope would opine on the matter -- though the man voices opinions on just about everything else so it would have been a safe bet -- but that before the bodies were even cold the parsing would begin, as it did after 9/11.

It has generally been accompanied by the usual chorus of, "but I'm not condoning the murders," sputtered right after having blamed the victims.

I got a taste of it from a friend when I pointed to a particularly weak column (really, what did I expect from a site called "Feministing"?) only to be informed that I was seeing the matter in black and white and ignoring the "full colours." The problem is, it is a black and white matter. Killing journalists because they write, draw or publish something you deem offensive is wrong, and yes, it is wrong even if the thing you deemed offensive is, objectively speaking, offensive. There are no shades of grey here, no colours, no nuances. None of that is relevant. It matters not if the cartoons were vulgar or sexist, or, as many think, not funny.

The horrific crimes of Boko Haram in Nigeria also do not mitigate or provide "full colours" or nuance to the massacre in Paris. If anything, they should make it even clearer that we are in a very serious struggle.

In a recent commentary about Nigeria, Rex Murphy said that "the world is now reeling from examples of Islamic fanatics." His point was not to trivialize the Paris attacks, but to say that the world should be as outraged about Nigeria as France. Impossible to disagree with that, and why one event gets more coverage than the other, and some victims more sympathy than others, deserves to be discussed. Israelis, for example, are routinely subjected to terror attacks and yet are often blamed for those same attacks.

Does that mean that somehow we are missing the shades of grey in regards to what happened in Paris? No, because at the core of these crimes, there aren't any.

Since January 7, I have also been treated to a couple of sanctimonious lectures about understanding "the other." It is as though there were something open-minded and "tolerant" about explaining away violence from a particular group of people, when in fact it does nothing more than marginalize and insult that group of people. A group of people, I might add, that includes a hero at the Hyper Cacher and a hero police officer, two men who might not appreciate these calibrations.

Consider -- if you can even hear it over the din of your inner voice screaming "Oh my goodness, I have to pay for this?" -- the English-language CBC's rationale for not publishing any of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. David Studer, the CBC's director of journalistic standards and practices, asserts that it would be disrespectful of Muslim beliefs to show an image of Muhammad. But given that the CBC does not (nor should it) coddle any other faiths in this manner, it seems to me a disturbing message is being sent: that the CBC considers its Muslim viewers and listeners irrational and potentially dangerous and believes they should be held to a standard different than that to which are held other Canadians. Talk about no regard for "the other."

Studer adds that "our job is to promote tolerance and respect." No, it isn't. The job of a news organization is to present the news.

Of course, it could be that the unwillingness of many news organizations to show solidarity after the horrors of January 7 stems from nothing more than fear. And if so, why not simply admit it? Given the circumstances, the fear is understandable and most of us, if we are being honest, will admit to having been cowards at one point or other in our lives. As such, we can all be smug and claim to empathize with not only "the other" but with the gutless media.

And what are calibrations and mitigations after a brutal terror attack without some garden-variety anti-Semitism? One of the weakest lines of argument has been the "but we aren't free to deny the Holocaust!" distraction, as though denying a historical crime were the same as drawing a cartoon of a religious figure, particularly when denial of that particular crime usually stems from bigotry.

That said, whether one can deny the Holocaust openly and freely in Canada or France or anywhere else does not take away from this fact: free countries can and should debate where lines will be drawn, whether it's the yelling of "fire" in a movie theatre or something else, but there will never will be a justification for what happened at the Charlie Hebdo offices on January 7, or at the Hyper Cacher two days later.

Personally, I would rather have people who wish to deny the Holocaust free to do so, so that I can avoid them. And also so I can echo to them the message of Rotterdam's mayor, who happens to be a Muslim, when he responded to the Paris attacks with a resounding, "F**k off" -- a black and white message if ever there was one.

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