Live and Let Live

The ability to express and the power to repress is a battle that is being fought not only here in the Western world but by thousands everywhere. It is hard to know if anyone will ever win. 'Live and let live' I say.

I have never struggled with speaking my mind, sharing my thoughts or engaging in debates. I guess people could describe me as vocal and I'd probably find that hard to argue against. I have an opinion that I will share quite happily should someone ask.

I write about issues such as development, equality and feminism. Even if I don't directly state what I believe, I think from my articles, one could summarise pretty quickly what I regard as right and wrong.

Now, having grown up in the Western world, been educated in and residing within it, the opportunity to express these thoughts has never once been questioned. It is, as I'm sure most would agree, my right to do so. I can write about whatever I want and express my opinion. Period.

But never have I been in such inner turmoil about this normative thinking. The murderous attacks in Paris where Islamist Militants killed 17 innocent civilians, (twelve of whom were killed at the magazine headquarters of Charlie Hebdo) has brought the very idea of the right to free speech to the fore.

I want to emphasise that in no way do I condone these attacks. It is utterly disgusting and morally wrong to kill another human being for the reason of making a joke or insulting (however one may look at it) another's religion. There is no justification for the murder of all 17 victims.

It is at this point, however, I am struggling internally to comprehend just what I define as 'the right to free speech' and where there may be limits to this supposed freedom. I am a walking contradiction.

On the one hand, as a blogger myself and a citizen of a secular society, I believe it is our right to exercise our freedom of expression, whether that be in the form of writing or drawing of a cartoon: to hell with those who attempt to restrict me.

But on the other, do I have the right to openly insult and potentially upset others? Is it not their right to express anger and upset towards me if I insult them?

Here in Britain, we are free to say the most stupid, ignorant things (just look at comments said by political parties, celebrities, MPs, comedians...everyone...). While I am sure the majority, like myself do not condone killing, we are happy to let those who have said 'the wrong thing' to be sacked, banned, ridiculed, arrested or charged as a subsequent reaction to their action.

From this, I think (and I say this tentatively) I do believe it wrong to openly insult Muslims by drawing the Prophet Muhammad, someone whom millions dedicate their lives to. Who am I to make fun of that, even if I don't believe in him?

The very phrase 'freedom of speech' is ambiguous. You could argue, quite easily, that there is no such thing. We live in a collective hypocrisy, a nation full of constant contradictions, and one that is outwardly confusing and inwardly confused.

This became all too clear at the Charlie Hebdo rally in Paris where the world's leaders came together in the name of free speech. It embarrassingly highlighted how these world leaders are a source of this paradox.

David Cameron was of course at the front of this solidarity march yet he, amongst other government officials, forced the destruction of computer hard drives containing documents provided by the whistle-blower, Edward Snowden back in 2013 which were suspected of revealing US and UK surveillance secrets.

What I found particularly baffling was the presence of Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. In Ireland, blasphemy is an offense. Only in 2008 was this law lifted in the UK. It makes me wonder if the illustrators at Charlie Hebdo had drawn a cartoon blaspheming Catholicism: would it be allowed on the Irish shop shelves?

(A summary of just how these world leaders contradicted themselves can be found here)

I don't understand. I am confused. And my thoughts and what I thought I believed about the freedom of speech are in a muddle. Do I have it? Or do I not? Does anyone?

Perhaps the only thing I can say with certainty is this: The French-Algerian Kouachi brothers who committed the abhorrent murders on the innocent were weak, weak to commit such crimes on those who were doing their job.

The ability to express and the power to repress is a battle that is being fought not only here in the Western world but by thousands everywhere. It is hard to know if anyone will ever win.

'Live and let live' I say.


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