After the murders comes the debate about satire, free speech, free thought, censorship.
Last night and this morning #JeSuisCharlie was trending as a way of showing apparent solidarity for the victims and by inference free speech and as some oddly misappropriated “Western values” – which are a big an anathema as “religious values.”
But I’m not writing about religions or the religious, I’m writing about people’s proclaimed intent for upholding freedom of speech. Though seeing the dead illustrators near deified by some (which must be odd if you were one of the atheists amongst them) was typical over sentimentalism. By all means mourn the passings, but honour what they stood for more…
Freedom of Speech is an absolute.
Words can and do inspire people to do acts of good and acts of, for want of a better word, evil. But the words aren’t to blame for the actions, even if the outcome is positive.
The image below represents some of the front covers used in Charlie Hebdo…
I’m not French so I have no idea what the words roughly translate as for each article, or the context for their use, but as you see by the pictures, the art of satire at the magazine didn’t just solely lie with “attacking” Muslims.
Some of the front covers were republished all over Europe apparently – except in the UK.
On Wednesday’s Channel 4 News reporting on the deaths, their story was marked by the on-air admittance “It is Channel 4 policy not to show previous cartoons of the Prophet.”
There is nothing brave or noble in self-censorship.
Today’s (Thursday’s) UK newspapers led mainly with the traumatic image of the injured Muslim cop about to be executed by one of the gunmen. Yes violence sells and newspapers love terror-porn but they missed a trick; about the absolute requirement in an open society to have a free press.
This actually comes as no shock. When violence about pictures of Muhammad first occurred, the seemingly obviously pact between newspapers not to print the offending cartoons was formed.
There was seldom any outcry from the UK press when Salman Rushdie had a fatwa put on his head for his book The Satanic Verses. There was more outcry when, after Rushdie was knighted in 2007 (regardless of what you think about royalty), that this was wrong and an antagonistic thing to do.
But this should contrast with speech that doesn’t even feature Muslims as a “target.”
A Sky News (Murdoch Press) poll was trending today – last I saw 70% said “Yes” to the question “Should the media publish satirical religious cartoons?”
The worry is – and this is the crux about free speech – some will see that as a reason to publish only the pictures related to Islam.
Free Speech isn’t selective, but sadly people are.
If that ends up being the case then that is all on whatever person or publication does that.
This is what people are bothered about, that extremists also get to say what they want, but free speech isn’t only there for those with, shall we say “regular moral compasses.”
There are people who get offended at the burning of flags or armistice day Poppies, calling for arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators.
There are people now arrested and jailed for posting views online that are also deemed offence, because offence is taken whenever something goes against the status quo.
Last night BBC1 screened detective series Silent Witness, the plot revolving around a sniper. Cue those taking to social media harping on about the offence caused that it was screened on the day of the shootings.
Thing is, to paint with very broad strokes; we would have it that those “offended” by portrayals of Muhammad, those that aren’t Muslim, are wet-liberals of the left; whereas those offended by poppy burnings are knuckle-dragging nationalists of the right.
We live in a world where a virtual lynch mob can be arranged in minutes because someone said something that people found offensive. This is met with an equal response by those laughing and questioning the reasons of the offence.
The Sun (Murdoch Press) was vilified for phone hacking a few years back, with calls to curb press freedom led by many famous celebrities. And because the Murdoch rag is viewed as right-wing by liberals (of which the celebs were many) and their acolytes, then the sound of the press losing their freedom was music to their ears, because giving Murdoch a bloody nose was more important that the possible long term impacts.
Of course, that the Sun decries its own persecution for spying on people, but actively supports state spying acts like RIPA and DRIP, highlights the human hypocrisy of free speech and free thought.
The flip side (again more broad strokes) is that an attack against art, music, films, etc. is viewed as a pursuit of the right against the left.
We are only human; prone not only to hypocrisy but to inconsistency and Schadenfreude.
But these things should always be trumped by the freedom to think and the freedom to say what you feel and what you like.
And if something does offend you, don’t shoot people, or threaten people, or ring the police and hope for an arrest, or start an online petition to get the offender removed from you comfortable little world. Either debate with that person or put it behind you and go for a pint in the pub…or another pub.