It shouldn’t be necessary for me to clarify that there is absolutely nothing that can defend the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo editorial – still, let it be clarified.
In the aftermath of the tragic terrorist attack this January, people all over the world have taken to defend the publication, and the slogan ”Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), have been prominent in different social media’s. In Paris over one million people marched in the streets to defend the idea of freedom of speech. Normally, I would be more than thrilled to se so many people coming together, physically and not just digitally, to demonstrate for a good cause. Still, questions can be raised about the purpose of this support, because was our freedom of speech really ever under attack?
Firstly we have to go back and find the framework for what freedom of speech really is. Freedom of speech is about peoples right to express themselves verbally or orally about whatever they want – without obstruction or consequences from higher authorities. Rather than discuss where the limit is between blasphemy and freedom of speech, for instance, let us rather look at who freedom of speech protects us from; arrest or punishment form the countries authorities. Here we find the core of freedom of speech; one cannot be imprisoned (in a free democracy) for expressing an opinion that provokes your neighbour. However, freedom of speech in itself cannot protect you from how people, who act as individuals, will react. It is illegal for your neighbour to punch you if you provoke him – still the law is a judgement of past events, meaning the law itself cannot physically stop your neighbour from reacting in a certain way.
The French authorities did not, as far as I am informed, attempt to stop these pictures being printed. Charlie Hebdo were not robbed for their freedom of speech. With regards to the pictures that were printed, they are in my personal opinion, un-intelligent and extremely provoking. As a non-religious European, I felt offended by them. Even though I believe that French governments should not have interfered, I would never want to identify myself as “Charlie”.
This terrorist attack was an attempt to terrorise all people that are not extremist Muslims. Even though it was a reaching to something being publicised, we know by experience that terrorists aren’t particularly hung up on their actions ability to be justified according to western values. Written and spoken freedom of speech are the main pillar for a well-functioning democracy, and we should defend it with everything we have. However, one may wonder if these drawings are getting us anywhere? Should we use our freedom of speech for more than just provoking?
The question forward is if we perhaps should directly address the elephant in the room rather than claiming our right to poke it without being trampled down?
So yes, let us talk about freedom of speech. Let us talk about Muslim women covered by niqabs without any real right to protest. Let us talk about North-Korea that currently is treating it’s inhabitants in similar ways as the Nazis treated the Jews in the second world war. There is nothing that is more important than us continuing to express ourselves about these topics, but let us discuss them in an intelligent, factual and honest way.