A friend was feeling washed up in late 2005. From all outside appearances, things were going well for him. He had a wonderful wife, a cheerful disposition and he was a regular commentator on Fox News, albeit an unpaid one. In reality, he was dead broke; his career was going nowhere, and the grip of melancholy was on him.
While on a guest panel of “Fox & Friends” one day, he was seized with a desperate idea to achieve overnight fame. The show’s topic at the time was Islamist death threats against the publishers of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. It had printed a dozen sketches of the prophet Muhammad, knowingly defying Islamist belief. My lunatic friend, who is as impulsive as he is mischievous, hastily scribbled a stick figure of the prophet on the back of a sheet of paper right on the set. To make sure no one could misunderstand his handiwork, he added an arrow pointing to the figure reading, simply, “Muhammad.”
“Everyone on the planet’s going to know who I am tomorrow,” he thought, waiting for the camera to turn to him. He knew exactly what he’d say when it did: “Come and get me, you Jihadi bastards,” words that would surely be heard around the globe. But when the camera swiveled, his arms went limp. His brain told them to lift the sheet of paper, but his hands didn’t comply. Call it a preternatural defense mechanism. That, or his better angels took hold of his senses.
I always wondered what actually would have happened had he gone ahead and broadcast that forlorn drawing. On Wednesday, we probably found out. Twelve dead in Paris over a satirical cartoon.
It’s amazing the world we live in today. It’s amazing how much rage is out there. Every few weeks there’s another jihadi attack somewhere on the globe — Australia, Belgium, Canada, France . . . The ones in the Middle East are so common they’re barely even covered anymore.
It’s tempting to react to hatred with more of it. My personal inclination after the Paris massacre is to do what my friend considered doing: Draw a picture of Muhammad and tweet it to the world. “Hah. Take that!”
But what does that really accomplish? If depicting the prophet Muhammad is genuinely offensive to Muslims, and it is, why would anyone want to do it? I don’t. I really don’t, as much as I do sometimes.
It’s easy to offend millions in this hyper-connected world, and every day it gets easier still. A simple tweet, Instagram post or YouTube video can be excuse enough to draw gunfire from fanatics. One of the stupidest movies ever made — yes, I watched “The Interview” — put a nuclear power’s panties in a bunch. Sure, artistic freedom needs to be protected, but we may want to be more careful about gratuitous insults going forward. They’re not worth it in a hair-trigger world.
Being respectful isn’t the same as capitulation.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican consultant.