The tragic Charlie Hebdo massacre ignited a full and varied debate across the world on our free speech values, particularly what it means and its limitations. Below are some of the issues that came up and what we should remember:
1) Blasphemy is not a crime. Blasphemy is still a crime in parts of the world and as the terrorists showed some people think it is the ultimate crime. If people are not allowed to question or criticise religion then this sets a precedent for them to not be able to question politicians, governments and society's views. People should not fear violence if they criticise the powerful. Questioning the powerful or dominant belief should never be a crime.
2) Second, being offensive and shocking for the sake of it is often childish and pointless. It doesn't accomplish anything and if often more damaging in the long run. Why we find some portrayals and discussions shocking should be explored as these are the truest reflections of our values as a society.
3) Ideas but not groups of people should be attacked and criticised. A lot of people have compared depicting the Prophet Muhammed as drawing a derogatory cartoon of a Jew. However, religions, politics and societal beliefs are widely agreed valid to criticise in order to provoke a debate rather than people which simply encourages hate and exclusion. In the same vein free speech should not be used to stand up for hate speech or to mask it cleverly. Free speech should give voice to issues not often talked about and criticisms not widely heard. Hearing the same criticism about a group of people with little power as a joke or putdown is not what free speech was fought for.
4) Being able to criticise those in power or dominant ideas should be upheld as the essence of free speech. Threats of violence and danger should never be faced with those armed with a pen who wish to criticise ideas such as politics and religions. Humour is here to tackle the serious and respected to consider their values clearly. Pope Francis said that if a friend insulted his mother he should expect a punch when he was speaking about the Charlie Hebdo murders. I refuse to believe the Pope would ever punch anyone, he would surely know that this would not be a Christian way to act and physical retaliation is futile and base. What he did imply was that somehow the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were responsible for the violence aimed at them. Indeed, they knew about the threat but they also knew that if they backed down in the face of nonsensical threats then this could be the thin end of the wedge for more self-imposed restrictions on freedom to criticise. This was more than offending for the sake of offence. Charlie Hebdo criticised Christianity and especially the Catholic faith yet did not fear violence. All religions should feel secure that a cartoon is not a real attack on their beliefs, merely a point that does not genuinely restrict the freedoms of other to practise that religion. When ideas and beliefs are criticised dialogue and dignity should be used to counteract, disprove or persuade, not violence.