When militants attacked the Parisian offices of satirical French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, they were making a statement against a publication they deemed an offensive and inflammatory media outlet. However, all these militants achieved, in their brutal attack, is a demonstration of the need for extremists and fanatics to suppress our intrinsic right to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to criticise and freedom to offend.
This act was not simply a massacre of innocent civilians, but it was a targeted attack on the very foundations on which we have constructed our liberal Western societies. In France, the USA and the West alike we have built states on the principle that our citizens have the right to determine their political futures and vote on these decisions. We have argued that people have freedom from religious, racial, political, gender, sexuality etc. driven hatred and we have fought for the right to be able to speak our mind.
We have firmly established the right, in law, that a citizen of this country may freely criticise the government, may question the motives and decisions of groups or individuals and may satarise those in positions of power. Charlie Hebdo was a publication that took that right to free speech so seriously it was willing to risk their safety in the name of freedom.
We may question the necessity of their most controversial publications and question whether aspects of political correctness or simply ‘good taste’ should intervene when the editors make their final decision. But, what we must not question is that their right to offend, criticise and ridicule is a fundamental part of what it means to be a liberal human and citizen.
I do not argue that incitement of hatred, calls for violence or war, genocide or suppression, are things we must accept. As in all things in life we must determine the limits and enforce them vigorously. But, we must always think long and hard before we draw that line and work out that if, in its creation, we are sacrificing some principle that we hold dear to ourselves.
Without this intrinsic right to write and publish freely my site would never exist; the articles I publish would be censored, many deemed too critical. My voice would be stifled and intimidated by those who believe that free speech is a corruption of religious or political principles, when in fact it is a way to empower these groups, allowing them to self-evaluate and develop into something more inclusive and more progressive.
When we deny the right for a group to be criticised then we are surrendering them to a future of continued, unrelenting and oppressive dogma and when we allow ourselves to be coerced into censorship then we have lost our freedom to be part of a modern society. The deaths of those working for Charlie Hebdo are not the first to have died in the name of freedom of speech and for every man or woman killed for ‘blasphemous’, ‘seditious’ or ‘treasonous’ words, throughout history, the events in Paris will stand as a testament that people will always try to assert control and will punish you when you do not yield, but ultimately freedom will always continue.
Remember that the pen is mightier than the sword.
Je Suis Charlie.