Paris attacks: unless we overcome fear, self-censorship will spread #CharlieHebdo

We take on the powerful – and ask you to admire our bravery – only if they are not a paramilitary force that may kill us

We have a blasphemy law. No electorate has approved it. No parliament has passed it. No judge supervises its application and no jury determines guilt beyond reasonable doubt. There’s no right of appeal. And the penalty is death. It is enforced not by a police bound by codes of conduct, but by a fear that dare not speak its name; a cowardice so total it lacks the courage to admit it is afraid.

The British are the world’s worst cowards. It is one thing to say you don’t approve of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons. But the BBC, Channel 4 and many newspapers won’t run any images of Mohammad whatsoever. They would at least have acknowledged censorship if they had announced that they were frightened of attacks on their staff. They would have clung to a remnant of their honour if they had said: “We are not censoring out of respect. We loathe the murderers who enforce their taboos with Kalashnikovs. But we do not want to spend years living in hiding, as Salman Rushdie did. Or be stabbed in the street, as Theo van Gogh was. Or hear an Islamist smash at our door with an axe and cry: “We will get our revenge,” – as Kurt Westergaard did. So we are backing away.”

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