Now that the Charlie Hebdo dust has somewhat settled and reporters are no longer “live in Paris” all day, everyday, I figured it would be a decent time to ask a few questions that are confusing me about this whole Freedom of Speech/Expression thing.
Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always thought of Freedom of Expression as the right to express my views and ideas. I know (and love) that I possess such a right but where does that right end? When does my Freedom of Speech morph into insult? Does it even involve morphing or is Freedom to Insult just a subcategory of Freedom of Speech? For instance, the topic for this post, is that me just exercising my right to free speech or is that me insulting those who experienced loss during the Charlie Hebdo attacks?
I’m no expert but isn’t the whole “offence principle” idea there to stop free speech encroaching onto the grounds of insults? i.e. limiting free speech so it doesn’t turn into, say, religious offence or incitement to racial hatred? Why then are we defending Charlie Hebdo’s freedom of expression when they are clearly offending a large cross section of the society?
The thing is, we (humans) are diverse. What offends one won’t always offend the other. So making fun of the prophet Muhammad may not be offensive to you but it’s offensive to someone, just as making fun of rape may be offensive to you but not to someone else. So if the powers that be can condemn and even ban a publication that makes fun of rape or those affected by it, why not condemn publications like Charlie Hebdo when they mock the faith of others? If you can’t publish a cover mocking a race of people, why can you publish one mocking the religion of a people?
Whether or not you believe in a religion, I’m sure you’ll admit it plays an important role in the lives of many a people. I’m not a Muslim myself but I know they take great offence at depictions of their Prophet Muhammad. As such, I don’t make a habit of depicting, satirically or otherwise, said Prophet. Am I thus curtailing my own Freedom or Speech or am I just choosing not to insult others?
One would be forgiven for thinking, as is the case in many spheres of society, that some people’s freedom of expression is more important than others’. You can insult the things that matter to some people but not to others. Like how anti-Semitism seems to be a No! No! while anti-Islam rhetoric is almost considered acceptable nowadays. That’s why French comedian Dieudonné (whose shows are routinely banned in France) was arrested and charged with “defending terrorism” after he said, on his Facebook page, that he supported the Paris attacks.
Wait a minute, they arrested someone for expressing his views only 48 hours after a “historic rally” supporting the right to free expression? Don’t mind me, I’m just scribbling my thoughts.
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