Opinion: The most recent free speech quagmire

While I may not agree with what you have said, I shall defend to the death your right to say it

– Voltaire –

The backlash over French cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed

By way of a response to the
publication of offensive cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed the French are standing by Voltaire because these are the principals upon which French society has been built and has since thrived.
Unlike many values and principals, the ones in question are timeless and not something that need to be re-evaluated upon a supposed entry into a new globalised, multicultural era. They are positive, they are empowering and they are the fundamental basis for a liberal democracy, the form of governance that the people of France have chosen, as have the people in many other parts of the world.
Peoples rights do not end where the feelings of others begin.
You do not have to be a Muslim to feel anger or disgust towards the editors at Charlie Hebdo magazine that authorised the publication of pictures depicting the Muslim prophet. Pedantic and poor taste, by most people standards, but vitally, not everyones. Offensive? Yes, highly. Morally wrong? Questionable. Illegal? No. And this was the point made by French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault in his brief statement released in reaction to the incident. He cited the need to stand by the principals of free speech, but invited anyone to take legal action if they felt they had been offended- this was not special diplomatic permission for everyone in France who harbored a dislike for the cartoons to claim damages off Charlie Hebdo for the anguish
and reduction in the standard of living that they experienced as a result of going out of their way to google these images, or to buy a nearly sold out copy of the publication. No, he was simply reinforcing the legal status of Charlie Hebdo’s actions. If a crime has been committed, then reparations can be paid. But this magazine and anyone else that wishes to poke fun at Islam, even at a particularly delicate time, is essentially protected by the fundamental elements of which most western societies are built; liberal democracy, rights of fee speech and rule of law.
If concessions were to be made to insure that Muslims would be specially protected by anything they may find hurtful the effect would be something like a dam breaking. A society where everyone has a legal case for taking offense to something would not be sustainable, there would be gridlock. What is more, it would not be possible to create an exhaustive list of offensive offenses.
While almost all muslims would object to overt disrespect of their religion and holy texts it would seem that, some people are more capable than others of having balanced and measured discussions about issues effecting Islam and wider society. Those in the “incapable” category are predominantly the thugs for want of a better word marching with signs demanding that those that insult Islam be beheaded, burning flags and making threats. There is also a significant collection of supposedly educated
and intelligent people taking to social networking sites with ignorant and oxymoronic, yet totally serious comments such as “To my understanding the principal of free speech is not about being able to say what you want” with every ounce of seriousness and moral authority that they can muster.
Those who believe that the only pure and true rule of law is that of God may have a case in Iran or Saudi Arabia, but not in France, and this needs to be accepted. Likewise the fact that in the west Islam is not immune from humor, just like the Catholic church, the elderly, fat children, gingers, the monarchy, poor people, Mormons, Hasidic Jews, regular Jews, Welsh people, students, Jeremy Kyle show guests animals, slap stick injury….
Throughout Britain the message boards on the websites of big national newspapers from the Guardian, to The Times, to the Daily Mail reflect a general consensus. Whether or not the cartoons are considered bad taste is a matter of personal opinion, and this notion of opinion is what must be defended to the last. You are not racist or Islamophobic for believing in defending free speech, you are not even racist or Islamophopic for finding the cartoons funny, just as you are not a homophobic for watching Little Britain or sexist for enjoying the sight of a slim busty lady in a bikini, it’s all a matter or preference. I am not “Frenchist” for saying that this is one battle that I doubt that the French will surrender any time soon.
No singular group in society is “special” any notion of superiority is false. And while I may not agree with what the protesters outside the American Embassy in London are saying, I shall defend to the death their right to say it.



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