I’ve wrestled with the awful massacre for more than a week now. Nine days ago I had my finger on the trigger to publish a simple image declaring “Je suis Charlie”. But on reflection, the facile pronouncement didn’t sit right with me. I chose self-restraint. I went to bed.
I’m not going to write a complicated essay on freedom of expression. Such freedom is incontestable. It needs no defense or explanation from me. And those who would obstruct the freedom may be called any number of names, none of which will improve upon the fact that self-expression is a sacred right.
But this sacred right is also nuanced. It is a right to be exercised with conscience. One must ask: What does my expression say about me? What does the manner of my expression say about myself? For every expression, there is an impression.
In the case of Charlie Hebdo, I must confess to getting the impression of an organization that is intolerant, crude, and as backward as the backwardness it attempts to mock. I see a playground fool who lacks self-restraint, whose two lips taunt rather than communicate. This schoolyard tease is bound to be misunderstood, for he often chooses a low form to express a high ideal. In a way, he abuses the very freedom of expression he seeks to defend.
There is no justification for last week’s murderous rampage. There is no justification for incessant, deliberate jeering.
Two of the more thoughtful responses to last week’s attack on Charlie Hebdo I’ve seen include those by Dennis Perrin and David Brooks. I wish I had the time and the patience for that kind of writing. Alas, I do not. My world is literature, and I’d like to get back to writing my novel.
Yes, a satire.
8 thoughts on “Freedom of Expression”
Offensive speech is free speech. I don’t think I’m disagreeing with you, just saying again what’s been said many times by others.
Hi Kate. Thanks for reading. The crux of my post isn’t to take sides for or against freedom of expression (steadfastly for it; to me, unquestionable). What I am pointing out is my view that those who exercise that right by creating inflammatory, provocative, hate-filled–or even just mildly offensive–content, are showing themselves for what they are. And its not attractive. In some cases, its downright ugly. Their expressions are a mirror of their personalities.
You have echoed so many of my own thoughts here much more eloquently than I did in my post. I completely agree. I’ve been badgered all day on Facebook for my thoughts on this. So many people are making this a black and white freedom of speech/press debate, but there’s so much more to it.
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they are wrong. you are right. fight the good fight. (I’m getting it on my end too…).
The satire of Charlie Hebdo is a very old form of satire that attacks authority or those who would like to impose a point of view as the only one. Tradition in France goes back to the years before the French Revolution and in England is found in satire from the same period, then the French were often the butt of crude satire in English papers. Nowadays satire has different targets. However the editorial board of Charlie Hebdo was not racist or hate filled, they simply poked fund at sanctimonious images political and religious. They were well known and respected artists in France with very long careers to their credit. Then we also forget that the terrorists also killed police officers and then shoppers. What had those people done to deserve to be gunned down? Nothing they were just convenient targets, we can all become convenient targets and it has little to do with ideology it is simply done to frighten people. The same crude executions take place in many countries but we do not hear of it. I also do not believe for one moment that those involved were Muslims, they were just criminals.
Thanks, Larry. Absolutely true, and more credit to the point of using our liberties responsibly. One could point a finger at CH for costing the additional lives; for costing the state additional security burdens; for costing the public a renewed sense of unease. With their callous and unnecessary needling, they cost more than they created. I shudder to think of how it would feel to lose a loved one standing at a newsstand attacked by zealots angered by yet another unnecessary crudity showing religious figures (of any stripe) taking it up the ass. History, tradition, long careers yada yada yada, the cartoonists didn’t deserve to die. Nor did they die upholding any sacred values or rights. They died for sticking their broad fingers in the eye of downtrodden countrymen they refused to accept. That is the impression I take from their rightful freedom to express.
In France it is quite correct to say the French have not accepted the Arabs, be it Algerians or others. French Society has a twisted view of their colonial past. They were in Vietnam before 1958 and had to leave. But to this day they still have not accepted it. Very strange. However I do maintain that the team at Charlie Hebdo were not racist more bent on pointing out to French Society all that was wrong with it. What is of concern to me is that many are now calling for surrendering liberties in exchange for peace at home. In politics and in society things do not work that way. Yes France needs to integrate its immigrants and make room for its citizens who feel marginalized. At the same time those people have to make an effort to join the mainstream.
Larry, as always, thanks for elevating the dialogue in this space. -ben
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