Charlie Hebdo and The Supposed Limits of Free Speech

So after a week of thinking about it and listening to all the talk, it’s time to put my two cents in on a topic that everyone seems to have an opinion on.

Last week, twelve people were murdered at the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” by extremists who justified their actions by saying the magazine had blasphemed against their religious beliefs. The World appeared to be outraged, and in a united front appeared to support “Charlie Hebdo” and their right to Freedom of Speech, blasphemous or not with a massive Free Speech rally, including most of the world’s leaders (US not included, which became an issue for what reason- who knows?). That should have been that. After all, if you can’t satirize religion, politics, or modern life, what can you satirize?

Except it wasn’t, as France, the country directly attacked in the “Charlie Hebdo” massacre, arrested 54 people in an antisemitism, hate-speech crackdown just days after the march. Saudi Arabia condemned the killings while carrying out the flogging punishment of a blogger who called for Democracy in that autocratic country. The Egyptian Foreign Minister marched in Paris for Free Speech, while in Egypt, 16 journalists sit in prison. Turkey was there. The list is long, and you get my drift. So, on one hand, leaders will gather and march to protest the murder of caricaturists, and on the other, they will throw them in jail for doing the same against them.

And then the Pope chimed in. He condemned the killings, which one would expect, but then added that perhaps it was a good idea to limit one’s speech because, after all, if you swore at his mother, you could expect a punch in the nose. Ignoring the fact that a punch in the nose for swearing at his mother would be assault and battery ( a felony), what does that say about the Catholic Church which supposedly tries to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, who is quoted in the Bible demanding that you punch someone in the nose for swearing at your mother. Oh, wait…

Not to be outdone, Ben Carson, that eminent man of letters, admired the attackers for their conviction, as they were willing to die for their bastardized view of Islam while the West was being pc and believed in toleration. Never mind that conviction in and of itself is not a good thing. After all, the Nazis had conviction (Yes, I went there). His conservative audience applauded him for his stance; the same conservative audience which had demanded Bill Maher’s firing for making the same point about the 9/11 hijackers. But that was when the president was white and a conservative Republican.

Brent Bozell also seems to believe that Freedom of Speech should be limited, particularly when it comes to religion. It’s interesting to note that that puts him in the same camp as the Pakistani protesters who are protesting the latest issue of “Charlie Hebdo” because of its portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed. Just so you know I’m not making this up:;

The same kind of idiocy occurs on the left: Brandeis University rescinded an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali because a group of students there demanded they do so, considering her inflammatory statements about Islam. Students at Miami University in Ohio protested to have the University rescind an invitation to George Will because of his comments on rape as a college badge of honor. The University did not rescind the invitation. Activists urged the University of Minnesota to rescind a speaking invitation to Condelezza Rice because of her role in the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Students at UC Berkeley protested Bill Maher giving the winter commencement address because of his past statements on Islam. Bill, it seems, is a lightning rod for this sort of thing.

Which bring us to the more troubling aspect of this debate regarding limits on Free Speech: On one side, we have Bill Maher who doesn’t see the problem with his latest New Rule regarding Free Speech. In it, he speaks of bullying, including what he considers liberal bullying such as the boycott of Rush Limbaugh’s sponsors for advertising on that wonderful piece of radio journalism known as the Rush Limbaugh Show. On the other, we have the Pope, who believes one should limit their speech lest one have violence committed against them. Both of these positions are wrong.

The Pope’s, in this case, is the easier to refute. Violence of any kind is wrong when it comes to speech. If you have to resort to violence, you’ve already lost the argument. It may feel good, but that is only because your faith and belief are so weak that they cannot withstand even the smallest of criticisms. This seems, unfortunately, to be a common problem when it comes to religion. God, it appears, does not instill enough confidence in his omniscience for his believers to not have to resort to violence.

Mr. Maher’s, on the other hand, almost sounds reasonable until you think about it a little, for what is he advocating other than you, if you do not like something, should keep your mouth shut and let whatever bile gets vomited up to be vomited up without opposition. So if, say, Rush Limbaugh calls Sandra Fluke a whore, we should simply allow this. After all, Rush has his right to his opinion and his freedom of speech. On the other hand, us boycotting Rush’s advertisers is somehow placing an undue burden on Rush’s speech.

But, while The Constitution guarantees Freedom of Speech, The Constitution does not guarantee that I owe you or your advertisers my dollars whether or not I agree with what you said. If I do not agree, I can take my dollars elsewhere, and if I find you disagreeable enough, I can find those who believe as I do and we can boycott said sponsors. That, too, is Freedom of Speech. I may not have a radio show, but I can show my displeasure, without violence and without interfering with your speech. You can still say whatever you want; I just don’t have to agree with it. And by keeping my mouth shut, or in this case my wallet open, that is what I would be doing. So I choose otherwise.

What Bill Maher and the Pope both seem to have overlooked is that Free Speech is just that: the right to say what you want. That’s all. It doesn’t guarantee agreement or complacency. It only guarantees you the right to be whatever kind of ass you wish to be.

Charlie Hebdo, the magazine and the fatal events that occurred there that started this soul-searching, had a normal weekly print run of just 60,000 issues. France’s population is 66 million give or take, making Charlie Hebdo’s normal circulation something like .01% in France. LeMonde, the French daily, does 5 times that everyday. Yet even though few people read it regularly, “Charlie Hebdo” did what any good irresponsible, free speech-loving satirical magazine sets out to do: It tweaked those in power and those who follow power without thinking, whether that be religion, politics, or commerce. But, since you too have the right to free speech, you can disagree.

Je suis Charlie!


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