ET: Let’s say you had a new neighbour. You knock on their door and say,
“Hey there, welcome to the neighbourhood. I live next door. Oh, and by the way, you look like a pig. And is that your mother behind you? She looks like a fat old donkey. Dinner at my place tonight?”
You certainly have the right to say all that. But should you? And what purpose will it serve? And though I would not punch you if you ever said those things to me, I would do one thing other than simply closing the door behind me – I would use my free speech to urge you to elevate your own.
After the horrendous Paris attacks, the issue of free speech has made it back to mainstream discourse. Charlie Hebdo, the magazine that published offensive cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), is being hailed as a free speech icon. Since then, many media outlets have shared the magazine’s cover in apparent support of free expression. Numerous others, including leading American papers like The New York Times, have refused to do so. The executive editor, Dean Baquet, explained,
“We do not normally publish images or other material deliberately intended to offend religious sensibilities.”
All this while, free speech enthusiasts are on a wild spree, demonising anyone who is using their own free speech right to disagree with the content of the magazine, no matter how loud their condemnation of the atrocious violence.
Is Charlie Hebdo’s staff worthy of our sympathy?
Yes of course.
There are no “ifs” and “buts” and no justifications for the killings whatsoever.
But is Charlie Hebdo also a free speech icon?
I don’t think so.