It is easy enough for those in the media to recite the words "nous sommes Charlie Hebdo" in solidarity with the victims of Wednesday's terror attack on the editorial offices of a satirical magazine in Paris. But uttering slogans is cheap. In the wake of the killings, most major media in the U.S. have refused to show the cartoons that the terrorists claimed warranted the slaughter of 10 journalists and two police officers.
It is possible to see the cartoons online, if one goes to the trouble to search for them. And a few media outlets have published one or more. The Washington Post did so on Thursday -- and perhaps others will follow their lead in the days to come. But a host of media organizations have demurred, including CNN, the Associated Press, Fox News Channel and The New York Times.
The Charlie Hebdo cartoons in question range from somewhat benign drawings depicting Mohammed (which fundamentalist Muslims believe is forbidden) to more suggestive ones featuring the prophet and sexually explicit drawings of Muslim women.
Some are funny, like the cover on an issue that may have provoked the attack. An edition called "Charia Hebdo," a play on Sharia law, showed Mohammed promising readers 100 lashes if they don't die laughing after reading the issue (which the magazine proclaimed Mohammed himself edited).
But while those that seem over-the-top -- like one cartoon of a naked Muslim woman running down the street, her burqa hanging out her rear end -- may justify a warning before they're shown, they should hardly be censored by news organizations. To do so denies viewers important information. But it also plays into the hands of terrorists, who will be encouraged to kill again in order to achieve their ultimate aim.
It is not enough merely to describe the cartoons. A picture -- as the saying goes -- is worth a thousand words. To show even offensive material in a news article or TV report in order to better inform the public is not the same as endorsing the material. Failing to show the images leaves viewers in the dark --which is exactly what the terrorists want.
These images may offend the devout -- but no one forces those who might take offense to buy the magazine or look at the images reprinted in the newspaper or shown on TV. In secular society, whether in America or France, there is much to offend religious sensibilities. But when was the last time the editors and producers of mainstream media outlets let the religious beliefs of potential viewers dictate what could and could not be shown? Does The New York Times ban photos of same-sex couples?
The fact is, these media giants won't show the cartoons because they are afraid. They are afraid of becoming targets themselves. They are afraid of being accused of being anti-Muslim.
But giving in to fanatics is no way to ensure safety. The Islamists who killed 12 Parisians this week didn't just want to kill those individuals who had drawn or published images they hated. They want to kill freedom itself.
The attack on Charlie Hebdo is part of a larger war being waged throughout the world. Wherever radical Islamists are, they try to impose their ideology on others. Individual conscience is anathema to these extremists. Free will does not exist. Militant Islamists want nothing short of totalitarian control of all aspects of life -- for believers and non-believers alike.
They will kill, behead, rape, enslave, pillage and destroy everything and everyone who stands in their path, as they are doing throughout parts of the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.
As the late political scientist Samuel Huntington described in his book of the same title, we are in the midst of a "clash of civilizations." "The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future," Huntington wrote more than 20 years ago. We are seeing it played out now.
When the media accept the rules dictated by the enemies of freedom, they are choosing sides in this clash. They are not Charlie Hebdo, but cowards.