"Why do liberals find it so hard to persuade Muslims about free speech?" asks Sunny. And he gives a good answer - that so many of those who are proclaiming their support for freedom are inconsistent or, as David North puts it, dishonest and hypocritical.
As Jacob Levy points out, it is hypocritical for the French establishment to support free expression for those wanting to mock Islam whilst at the same time forbidding Muslims from expressing their religion by wearing the veil.
Not that we need look overseas for hypocrisy. Nick Clegg has been (rightly) praised for saying:
You cannot have freedom unless people are free to offend each other. We have no right not to be offended.
We will continue to monitor comments on social media & any offensive comments will be investigated.
That's in a country where "offensive" football chants are criminalized, where people are punished for "offensive" expressions, and where there are calls pretty much every day for someone who has "offended" others to be sacked or punished by the law.
Not that the hypocrisy is confined to those in power. As Nick Cohen has said, it's ubiquitous:
The same people who scream “censorship” and “persecution” when one of their own is targeted lead the slobbering pack when the chance comes to censor and persecute their enemies. They want them fined, punished and sacked.
In fact, I suspect we should regard the Charlie Hebdo murderers not just as extreme Muslims but rather as extreme versions of the narcissists who want any "offence" against their purified identities to be punished.
Herein, though, lies my question. Where are the real, honest, defenders of freedom?
We'll obviously not find them in the police or security services who forever want to expand their powers. Nor are the main political parties unequivocally on the side of freedom. The coalition, like New Labour, has actually increased the number of new criminal offences. And the next election is likely to be a competition for who can most restrict freedom of movement. Nor should we expect companies to support freedom. Those bloggers who have criticized newspapers for not reprinting Charlie Hebdo's cartoons miss the point - that people become bosses by surrendering principle to pragmatism, which is no basis for a vigorous defence of freedom. More generally, as Nick says, companies use libel laws to suppress critics.
It's in this context that we should remember one of Marx's insights. Ideals, he thought, triumph not because of their intellectual strength but because of their political power: capitalism, he thought, would be overthrown not by sweet reason but by the power of the working class. The problem that we supporters of freedom have is that whilst we have right on our side, we don't have might.