Thursday, 15 January 2015

But what if it's not really about freedom of expression?

Most of the discussion circulating in the media and social networking tended to frame last week's Charlie Hebdo killings as a freedom of expression issue.  Radical Muslims, angered at the cartoons featured in CH, attacked the magazine's offices, killing 12 people in hopes of silencing the publication for once and for all.  In response to this, people from across the world stated their support and solidarity for the magazine, or, more generally, for the value of freedom of expression in western society.  The hashtag #jesuischarlie arose as a rallying cry. 

But what if it's not really a freedom of expression issue after all? In an earlier post on this blog (see below), I treated it as such.  I must admit, though, I had my doubts.  The reason for my doubts: it's far too easy to echo #jesuischarlie and to restate the value of free speech--and yet that doesn't address the real concerns, the real problems.  

Certainly the killers wanted to silence the magazine; certainly they were not in favour of free expression.  But affirming that we are in favour of it doesn't address the pressing issues: why did the killers become killers? Why did they arm themselves and seek out an opportunity to commit murder at a magazine office?  What forces - social, economic, religious - played upon them so that what they did was, in their minds, the best option? 

Repeating #jesuischarlie again and again does not in any way begin to discuss those issues. It only affirms something that we can assume has already been affirmed.  A value that was never really questioned by most westerners (it's safe to assume most of us already value free expression).  We have built our societies on this value--though how well our societies live up to this value is another matter.  

In short, instead of making affirmations, we need to be asking questions.  


Joe Sacco's provocative cartoon titled "On Satire" asks some difficult questions. And in turn Chris Hedges article "A Message from the Dispossessed" provides a few uneasy answers. 
Borrowing from Sacco's "On Satire," published in The Guardian last week, it seems to me that we do indeed need to sort out "how we fit in each other's world."  


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