Universiteit Leiden

nl en


Terror Has Already Led to Self-Restraint

Self-censorship violates principles of a free society but few people want to take the role of the martyr.

Paul Cliteur
13 January 2015
Article in The New York Times

Should artists, like cartoonists, stand-up comedians and columnists, but also public intellectuals sometimes restrain themselves in criticizing religion, in particular radical Islam? One thing is certain: they do. And they will continue doing so more persistently after the slaughter of the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.

Immediately after the liquidation of the cartoonists, we saw many journalists and colleagues of the French cartoonists mourning over their deaths on European television channels and showing solidarity with the victims. But none of those people had taken the liberty to draw cartoons like the French cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo had done over a long period of time. Since the cartoon crisis in 2005, not a single cartoonist had dared to draw Mohammed in a Dutch national newspaper the way the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard or the French cartoonists did.

But not only did the overwhelming majority of cartoonists exercise self-restraint over the years, the newspaper editors and publishers have done so as well. We should not forget that Salman Rushdie has never published a book like The Satanic Verses anew. And even if Rushdie would have been prepared to sacrifice what has been left of his free life, certainly his publisher Penguin would not do it. And never forget: Westergaard has only made one cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, the cartoon for which he has lived in a fortress of protection for almost 10 years now. 

In my country, there is one politician who makes critical comments on Islam on a daily basis and he is the most severely protected man in the country. 

If we take all this into account, it’s amazing that the French authorities had not organized much heavier protection around the French bulwark of artistic freedom Charlie Hebdo. How could the French have been so naïve? 

But then the question is: Should we exercise restraint? 

No. If we want to uphold the principles of a free society we certainly should not.

But because there are hardly any private individuals left who want to take the role of the martyr, anonymous publishing will become more prevalent. We’re back in 17th and 18th century Europe when religious criticism as exercised by Spinoza, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and others, was published anonymously or under nicknames.

This website uses cookies.  More information.