Monday 12 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo, bandwagons and the misconception of freedom of speech

In the wake of the recent atrocities at Charlie Hebdo, millions of people across the world tweeted #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie) in solidarity with the French satirical publication. I was one of those people but on reflection that was a rash decision that I would not repeat if (God forbid) the same should happen again. It goes without saying that what happened in Paris on the 7th of January was a reproachable act of terror and one of the worst examples of inhumanity but the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists are not entirely innocent and we shouldn’t be so quick to venerate them without properly considering their actions. Since the cartoonists were so violently murdered, the topic of freedom of speech, why it is important that nothing is above satire and the need to stand our ground against people who want to intimidate us into forsaking our values has been discussed but Charlie Hebdo is not about freedom of speech or the inability of Muslims to appreciate satire. It is about what I believe to be a widely held misconception that you can do and say what you like to anyone without any regard for their sensitivities all in the name of freedom of speech and making a point. Especially when it comes to religion.

Charlie Hebdo

A recent Huffington Post blogpost discussed the hypocrisy of the cries of freedom of speech and the Islamophobia that is rife in France, giving rise to a lot of the tension surrounding these incidents. The blogpost highlights the fact that while Charlie Hebdo is being championed as a bastion of free speech, the Islamic faith that it so often mocks is not so free to express itself due to stringent laws that have basically turned Muslims, especially women, into second class citizens. In the words of Emma Lazarus, until we are all free no one is free at all. If we are going to talk about freedom, we must also consider the Muslims in France that are, by law, unable to freely express themselves. On the topic of Muslims appreciating satire, the movie, Four Lions, with a predominant Muslim cast, is an excellent example of satire and humour, and how Muslims are not afraid to have a laugh. This, in my opinion, knocks the issue of satire and Islam on the head. What Charlie Hebdo stands for is another form of inhumanity. The type that takes what is sacred to one person and deliberately makes a mockery out of it for its own pleasure. Its form of satire is as much of a threat to civilisation as the terrorism that is rampant in our world today and we should not cower to it either. I am not for a second condoning what happened to those twelve cartoonists. They were the victims of a horrible crime against our collective humanity and that should not be underplayed. That said, they are not saints or martyrs either and should not be held as a standard for what we as a community should aspire to when we seek to express ourselves. No sane person would find it funny if anyone threw strips of bacon all over a synagogue or if anyone prostituted themselves on a church's premises for a laugh. We would regard that as very distasteful and would not recommend that sort of behaviour. Why then are we all jumping on the bandwagon of venerating people who (in comparison) have committed a greater offence against Islam. What Charlie Hebdo did in publishing those images and its decision to continue to do so, to me, is just slightly less barbaric than the acts of those terrorists. It is a blatant disregard of another man and his values just because it differs from theirs. You don't have to agree with a religion and its sensitivities. You don't have to agree with anyone at all. What we do have to to, as champions of civilisation, is start by respecting other people's views and sensitivities and their right to hold those views and have those sensitivities. We cannot disregard someone else's sensitivities and then be shocked when ours are disregarded. That would be equivalent to pointing out the speck on someone else's eye while a big log sits on ours. It is regularly said that freedom of speech is a key pillar of modern society but there is vital virtue that should go with that if we truly want to forge a better world, and that is respect. Freedom of speech doesn’t give us the right to insult others. Neither does it give us the right to say whatever we want whenever we want. True freedom, they say, is having an accurate understanding of your boundaries. It is not only about what you can say and do but what you should say and do. With all these considered, je ne suis pas Charlie (I am not Charlie) and I am confident that many people that used that hasthtag aren’t either. Just well meaning people caught on a bandwagon that carried them away before they could consider whether or not it was heading in the direction they wanted.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Featured post

Five man-made wonders that will change your opinion of African architecture

For most people, when you talk about African architecture, especially before European colonisation, you have the pyramids in Egypt and mud ...