Four cartoonists, journalists and bystanders were murdered by Islamist radicals in the offices of Charlie Hebdo. In the aftermath, much of the world rallied in solidarity with cartoonists and their right to free speech. Count me as another voice in solidarity.
It should be noted that Charlie Hebdo didn’t pull punches. Critics claimed the newspaper pushed the boundaries of decency by portraying nuns masturbating, popes wearing condoms and Muhammad in pornographic poses.
Still, as a whole, free speech has been under a conservative eye for some time.
For instance, whether Sony’s computer hack and extortion was the result of a ‘pissed-off’ employee or North Korea, the ability to distribute an uncensored film was targeted. When a treasure trove of highly personal information led Sony to censor themselves, free speech became the larger victim – simply because of widespread fears of violence. And for a while, caving emboldened those who hate free speech.
Sony’s isn’t alone. Russian President Putin fines bloggers, citizen journalists, and activists failing to register as members of the media, and further fines if bloggers failing to uphold strict media rules. Online media expert and high-profile Russian blogger Anton Nosik told the agency that China is “much more liberal” than Russia.
On Friday Saudi Arabia began publicly flogging a blogger sentenced to 1,000 blows, 10 years in prison and a large fine for starting a website critical of the country’s religious establishment. Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, stated Mr. Badawi would face “the inhumane punishment of a thousand lashes in addition to serving a 10-year sentence in prison for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and religion.”
In 2010, Jetsun Pema, the younger sister of the Dalai Lama, was scheduled to present a lecture at the Festival of Tibetan Spirituality, Arts, and Culture in Bangkok, Thailand. She was denied a visa because her presence might be seen as a Tibetan political statement by the Thai government.
Then there’s the Chinese. The Chinese government imprisoned three brothers of a Washington-based reporter for Radio Free Asia, apparently intensifying its suppression of free speech coverage of the troubled province of Xinjiang. The harassment of Hoshur’s family started after reporting on an Uighur torture victim. Additionally, in September, China sentenced moderate Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti to life imprisonment for “advocating separatism” and voicing support for terrorism, a move that the White House condemned as persecution of someone who merely expressed peaceful dissent.
When the Sony hack occurred, Columnist Deon Price argued that in the wake of The Interview, there should have been no rally in support of freedom of speech. Instead, there should have been a rally protesting Sony Pictures and their irresponsibility.
I couldn’t disagree more.
The problem free speech oppressors fail to comprehend is that free thinkers cannot be silenced. The reason we live in a free society is that offensive speech is allowed. Humor exposes the vices and follies of the powerful and is a wonderful means of resistance for ordinary citizens. One may not like someone’s particular thought process or viewpoint, but I like knowing one has the right to like or not to like it.
Laughter is the most terrifying sound to any and all terrorists, especially when such laughter is born from a satirical caricature, drawn from a cartoonist’s hand. For this reason, the pen is mightier than the sword. Ironically, the terrorists failed, as they emboldened surviving Charlie Hebdo staff to print 1 million copies of their next edition.
From a strict Buddhist perspective, speech is a very powerful tool. If we verbally attack someone, those words linger for years. On the other hand, well thought out words can stop conflict, make friends and heal rifts. This is the power of speech and this is why Buddha included Right Speech in the Eightfold Path.
While I concur with Buddha’s right speech perspective, I’m not about to censor anyone whose views conflict. Their words and perspective may establish credible dialogue. Thus, while I haven’t read any of its publications, I’m buying Charlie Hebdo’s next edition. And I’m buying Sony’s “The Interview.”
With that, my personal message to French citizens is I stand in support.
And my message to all upcoming terrorists? Simple … fuck you!