THE BLOG

Charlie Hebdo Not Actually an Attack on Freedom of Expression

09/01/2015 12:44 GMT | Updated 10/03/2015 09:59 GMT

Let me start by clarifying that I am not condoning violence as a valid protest to being offended in any way, shape or form. I've been following the commentary over the recent Charlie Hebdo incident and I think in the emotional aftermath of the incident, there is a lot of over simplistic thinking about the issues at stake.

The general theme is that extremist Muslims are attacking our Western freedom of expression. We should band together and write or draw whatever we like to show solidarity against the fascism of the freedom of thought.

If we pause for a moment and consider, this is a conclusion that is fairly easy to disprove. I challenge any reader here to post a cartoon insulting Jesus, the Pope, The Royal Family, our Government or certain football players and I guarantee you - not one extremist cleric who would issue a fatwa for the Charlie Hebdo incident would issue another fatwa for these others topics being mocked. They might not approve of our relative lack of disrespect, but they would do nothing else about it.

Why?

The answer is simple: because they are not interested in attacking our freedom of expression per se. They are protesting at what they see is a grave insult of something they consider sacred.

Big difference.

I think there is further confusion over rights and responsibilities. We do have the right to freedom of expression but to assume there can be no consequences for whatever we say, mock or provoke would be naive in the extreme. After all there is precedent - the Dutch cartoonists had a similar outcome. The French cartoonists were aware of what would likely happen, but they chose to go ahead anyway, inciting the more extreme elements to retaliate, causing the death of unrelated innocent police officers. The families of these officers lost people dear to them in effect to uphold the right to mock certain things some people feel are sacred.

Like it or not, some people feel very strongly about their religion even if you do not. People of all sides have been willing to sacrifice their lives for their religious beliefs and seen their family members die for causes they believe in. As such it would be wise and respectful to not openly mock them about this. Just a suggestion. No one is taking away anyone's freedom, just pointing out cause and effect. As they saying goes ' you are free to make whatever choices you want, but you are not free from the consequences of your choices'.

Yes I wish these two Algerian extremists pursued retaliation through the law courts rather than guns. But as a Muslim friend of mine wrote:

"Anything is open to ridicule. But surely there is a line between satire, ridicule and provocation and I think publications have a moral and social responsibility to not cross that line. Where that line lies is going to be open to debate but I am not sure how putting the man that 1/6th of the world treats with reverance in homo-erotic poses falls under non-provocative or satire (or even funny). In my personal opinion this magazine did not want to satirise or ridicule. It wanted to vilify the man and by extension all his followers. That may not be evidence of deliberate provocation but the fact that there is a well known strain of those who call themselves Muslims who have shown that they have no respect for human life nor tolerance for anything that goes against their creed means that publishing these images will be provocative. You are standing up to the right to challenge my belief. I not only support that right, i welcome it because it allows me to understand other points of view. I do not however believe that this magazine was trying to challenge beliefs. It was taking cheap shots at religion with the most crude methods available.."

When I went to Thailand I was warned that Thais are very proud of their royal family and do not take any insults lightly (unlike here in the UK). So if I want to express my opinion, expect some Thai guy to do a flying knee on me.

At the same time I am coming across more articles suggesting that our own Governments are make it increasingly illegal to protest about their policies (under the guise of anti-terrorism). If we really want to fight for the freedom of expression and the right to protest, perhaps we should be protesting more about our real rights being eroded by our own Governments, not the freedom to mock sensitive religions.