Come on then, let’s see your Prophet Mohammed cartoon

I don’t want to join a Holy War before it’s even started


I’ve got a really good cartoon for you. If you want it, email me. Because I am not afraid to admit that I am…afraid.

Among all the bravery and the solidarity, and the republications of Charlie Hebdos, how many newspapers or magazines have you seen do their own cartoons depicting he-who-must-not-be-depicted? I got sent one the other day for publication. It’s really well done, really brave and clever. Are we publishing it? Not for all the virgins in heaven.

My reason, and feel free to call me a coward, is not just a fear of getting killed. I’ll admit, it’s a bit about that. About the fact that we have a staff of 16, and hundreds of journalists around the country. About having to get better security at the door, or the fact that some thugs beat up our editor in Birmingham (don’t tell Fox) for publishing a story about Halal meat being served to students. Yeah, not that keen on getting beheaded for a cartoon.

And I know that it’s cowardly, because it means “they win”, and I know I am literally refusing to use a freedom which people have fought and died for.

Except, the thing is, I was never that interested in publishing cartoons to upset deranged extremists. Ask me six months ago if I wanted to bait some Muslims by whacking up pictures of the most important person in their world, I probably would’ve replied “nah, bit busy using my free speech for things I actually want.”

Charlie Hebdo’s fight was never everyone’s. Yes, the events of last week changed the game completely, and yes there is value in republishing their cartoons to show we will stand up to censorship, but that might be enough for now. I mean, I would defend their right to say it (probably not to the death, sorry), but that doesn’t mean I want to join Charlie Hebdo in what they say.

Maybe there’s value in sticking your head above the parapet and offending for its own sake. David Aaronovitch is probably right that the lack of other outlets willing to risk offending the religious is what made Charlie Hebdo look like an eccentric, isolated stand out.

But if that means everyone should start publishing near-the-knuckle digs and upsetting Muslims, to even up the balance, count me out. You don’t have to subscribe to bashing religions to show solidarity with the victims. You might even be playing into the terrorists’ hands, by getting all divisive. And you don’t have to always use free speech just because you have it – it’s a right, not a duty.

If Baghdadi comes to Brixton, I’m willing to fight, or more likely polish the boots of the people who will fight. But on balance (and it is a fine balance, this editorial decision-making), I don’t want to join a Holy War before it’s even started.

A lot of people who really like The Tab would probably be disappointed by this, especially if you saw the cartoon – it’s not even offensive, apart from offending a ludicrous rule about drawing pictures. It’s just quite clever.

The cartoon’s author said to me: “Without showing the cartoon, it’s hard to explain how it manages to undermine both the Charlie Hebdo originals and the abhorrent response from those particular extremists.

“I wasn’t jumping on the ‘let’s insult Muslims just to even things up’ bandwagon, I was making a valid point.”

He’s right, but as editors sometimes say awkwardly, over much less charged submissions, it’s probably not one for us.