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Free Speech Is the Lifeblood of Humanity Not Oil to the Flame

08/01/2015 12:51 GMT | Updated 09/03/2015 09:59 GMT

Three gunmen in Paris, killing journalists at the office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, cannot be allowed to dictate a response on their terms. Neither violence nor censorship - nor fear to challenge extremists - can be be how we react.

Shouting "we have avenged the Prophet Mohammed" (BBC) gunmen made their point. Rather than living to show Islam is a religion of peace they marked out the staff of Charlie Hebdo for violence. By death they wanted the ultimate last word against cartoonists, editors and writers.

The response cannot be along the lines of the Roman Catholic La Croix to earlier cartoons by Charlie Hebdo: "editorial responsibility requires an assessment of the consequences of what one publishes ... fuelling the flames to show one's noble resistance to extremism leads to offending simple believers."

The insult to the religious as simple, while that extremism must be cowed down to as you surrender your opinion with the pen to the man with the gun. Charlie Hebdo understood better "if you say to religions they are untouchable, we are screwed" as one editor put it to Le Monde.

It is no mistake in that Le Monde article the magazine mentioned the hope that one day Islam may be talked about like Catholicism. As a religion that can be criticised, mocked, ridiculed. As well as worshipped and followed.

We must show solidarity with those murdered today. We must not be intimidated that our opinions and humour are never to be expressed for fear of a violent backlash.

This is not an open opportunity to hold Muslims as accountable for the crimes of the gunmen. Free speech works both ways. Anyone has the right to express in words how offended they are. How much The Prophet and their religion means to them. We in turn can point out that not having blasphemy laws protects all citizens in expressing their opinion, including Muslims too.

Those that promote violence to make their point need to be held to account. We cannot allow restrictions of free speech, nor rely on making press offices fortresses, as a substitute for tackling the preachers of hate against pluralism and free thought.

Without those values of toleration being promoted, but violence being considered an appropriate reaction, we will never escape the shadow of the gunman.

If publications reprint the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, it is not putting oil to the flame. The fundamentalists do that for themselves. Rather, we are showing that freely expressing our words and opinions are the lifeblood of humanity. They surge through us, they are a part of who we are.

To deny them is to make us dead without a shot being fired.

Background to Charlie Hebdo and Blasphemy can be read at The New Yorker where the La Croix quote comes from.

Article originally written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus' Weblog