#JesuisCharlie and Freedom of Speech

I was taken aback yesterday by the sheer volume of postings about the tragic murder of twelve journalists and policemen in France this week. Often things that become big in the media and social media bemuse me. What struck me is the prevalence of the idea that what happened represents an attack on ‘freedom of speech’, it doesn’t and is actually an unhelpful interpretation of the events.

The facts are that these journalists were murdered by a bunch of sick individuals. That is it, it is terrible and awful, but apart from pray for their families and loved ones there is nothing people can do about it.

Why the huge reaction? innocent people are murdered by messed up people and fascists everyday, particularly so in Syria and Iraq in recent times, so this week is just like any other. These murders are just as terrible and tragic as those in France this week and just as deserving of moral outrage.

It seems likely that the perpetrators of this crime are misguided Islamic extremists, so it can be argued that this was a terrorist act. It seems as though society at large has forgotten how it should deal with terrorism as we learnt to do in Britain when subject to IRA terrorism. You ignore it, you don’t let it effect your life, you carry on as normal, you don’t change laws. You continue to work for social justice, unity and a fairer society, you keep talking until issues are resolved and  tackle the issues that lead people to adopt the crazy belief that killing innocent people is going to solve anything. Everyone is at risk of being killed by extremists, so modification of behaviour is pointless.

Having said this, why is there a perception that this was an attack on freedom of speech. The actions of our own government represent a much larger attack on individual liberty that this one incident. The satirical magazine used images of the prophet Mohammed, which is known to be offensive to Muslims. Yes, people have the right to say and draw whatever they wish, that is to be defended. However it is also important to respect people from other cultures, to respect the majority of peace loving Muslims, when attacking the unislamic beliefs of the extremists. These crazed, gun wielding, murderers exist, so it is wise to not provoke them. I’m not saying that the journalists shouldn’t have published cartoons if it was important to them, and everyone else has the right to criticise them for bullying a minority group, but going around being offensive to a minority group (Muslims in France in this case) is going to cause problems with the irrational extremists. The effect is not promoting harmony but may cause further division and mistrust. They have the right to do it, but  shouldn’t have targeted Islam in the way they did. What the cartoons lacked is a separation of the extremists, from the majority of real peace loving Muslims. Our society is not ideal, prejudice and oppression exist, rather than perpetuating such myths, people should work towards unity and inclusion. By doing so, the nutcases are exposed and can be dealt with through the justice system.

It’s perfectly possible to criticise Islam or aspects of Muslim culture without causing offense to the group of believers. It is sad that we live in a world where there are oppressed groups and most of us are aware of this and careful not to attack the groups label in our humour, but instead target the behaviour we disagree with. Generally, in the West, I appreciate the unnecessary privileges, white males such as myself have and take issue with anyone who cracks jokes about groups such as: black people, women, homosexuals and the disabled. As a Welshman, I am not very much oppressed, so the tirades of sheep jokes I suffer, are not a furtherance of oppression and I am free to hit back with my arsenal of jokes about the larger group, the English.

Having said all this, I like the ‘JesuisCharlie’ sentiment. It is true that we are all ‘Charlie’, we are all oppressed and sickened by the actions of extremists who take the name of God in vain, or whatever misguided creed they subscribe to support murder, who want to kill everyone in the world that doesn’t subscribe to their twisted corrupt perversion of Religion. We are all oppressed by those in power who fail to deliver the fair, just world the majority of people want and often perpetuate the divisions in our world.

I identify myself as a Christian, and as such I perhaps should take issue with the extremists who purport to be Christians. The thing is you can’t force people to listen, to understand and open their hearts and minds, sometimes all you can do is lead by example and hope that the light of truth will enter these people lives and keep the doors open. It is important to remember, whether you are a Christian or not, that Jesus was nailed to a cross, for saying that we should strive to be better people and to be kind to others especially the less fortunate and not to go around kiling people because they offended you, ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone’.

What the world needs is peace, love and a good laugh at ourselves.

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