The Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack aftermath showed serious problems with democratic institutions and  national security among western nations.  By publishing a cover that was a challenge to Muslim terrorists, Charlie Hebdo put the West on the spot after all its protestations that “We are Charlie.”  Clearly we were not Charlie.  Only CBS TV news initially began showing the new Charlie Hebdo cover, and after all other major news outlets turned out to be absolute cowards, CBS began showing only pieces of the cover, like everyone else.

Certainly there are restraints on free speech.  Just ask anyone remotely controversial who has tried to speak on a college campus recently.  Colleges are the leading centers of censorship.  Students abhor free thought and college administrators let them have their way.  Certainly there should be limits on free speech, but we find free speech much more restricted than it was fifty years ago.  Big brother is here and monitoring what you say.  Surprisingly, it is not so much NSA or the FBI, but your friends, neighbors and fellow students, who stand ready to attack you for anything you say that they think is “wrong.”  America is less free than it used to be.

In addition, there is the national security issue.  News organizations do not believe that the various levels of government (national, state, local) can protect them from terrorism.  They are afraid that if they show the Charlie Hebdo cover they will be killed on the way to work, or at work, like Charlie Hebdo.  They have some good arguments.  The best is probably that they have Middle Eastern correspondents in the region and that showing the cover would put those correspondents lives in danger.  But there is also the implication that the network anchors and newspaper editors are afraid for their own lives and refused to show the cover out of cowardice, which means that the terrorists won.

I think on balance you have to say that the Charlie Hebdo terrorists won something.  They did not significantly change the societies they attacked, but they did illustrate the moral and security weaknesses of those societies.  France claimed to be a home for unfettered free speech, but then restricted the free speech of those criticizing Jews and some others.  These restrictions may be reasonable but they do not correspond to the high ideals enunciated after the attacks.

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