Following the awful attack on Charlie Hebdo, the Europa partnership of newspapers released the following statement:
“The attack on Charlie Hebdo on 7 January in Paris and the odious assassination of our colleagues, fierce defenders of freedom of expression, is not only an attack on the liberty of the press and liberty of opinion. It is an attack against the fundamental values of our European democratic societies.
Freedom to think and freedom to inform had already been targeted in recent months by the execution of other journalists.
Refusing to give in to threats after the publication, almost 10 years ago, of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, Charlie Hebdo magazine had not changed its culture of irreverence one iota. Similarly, we European newspapers, regularly working together as part of the Europa group, continue to promote the values of liberty and independence. We continue to inform, to inquire, to interview, to comment, to publish – and to draw – about every subject that appears to us legitimate, in a spirit of openness, intellectual enrichment and democratic debate.
We owe it to our readers. We owe it to the memory of our assassinated colleagues. We owe it to Europe.”
Europa: Le Monde, the Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung, El Pais, la Stampa, Gazeta Wyborcza
In one sense I have real sympathy with their statement. Freedom of speech is one of the key human rights. Everyone, regardless of position, wealth, gender, race, religion etc. has the right to express themselves. It is important that there is a freedom to challenge one another, to have different views.
I also want to be clear that being offended by satire does not in any way justify the use of murder or violence. But Freedom of speech has its limits. In the United Kingdom the law prevents us from being racist, sexist, hateful, libellous or homophobic. In addition we’re not allowed to disclose State secrets. But even in the community we have limitations on our freedom of speech. The golden rule of do unto others as you wish to be done unto you prevents us from deliberately attacking and provoking others in our community.
But isn’t that what Charlie Hebdo did in printing the cartoons about the prophet Muhammed. The cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo had previously published a portrayal of Jesus as a contestant on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, and Pope Benedict holding aloft a condom at Mass. It is by definition a publication that likes to test the boundaries of taste, political and religious tolerance.
For me I would want to dwell on the concept that with great power comes great responsibility. The challenge is that we don’t need to publish cartoons and articles for the sake of publishing them and equally we need to not just pick up guns and shoot people when we disagree with a drawing or comment they make. We need to learn to be more adult like in our living together.
Currently we seem to be creating more extremists on both sides – the war on terror actually seems to lead to more terror. Extremism leads to extremism. Unless we change the way that we engage this situation will go on and on. Already we’re seeing in the news more attacks against Muslims in the streets, mosques being damaged — proving true the very thing these extremist Muslims believe — that the West hates them.
We need to find a better way of challenge and disagreement. We need to help our young people to lead us in a new direction.