Tag: free speech

Who’s Charlie Now?

It was just a few weeks ago, days really, that most people in France and many around the world were saying, even at the Golden Globes (right?), “Je suis Charlie,”…

It was just a few weeks ago, days really, that most people in France and many around the world were saying, even at the Golden Globes (right?), “Je suis Charlie,” [“I am Charlie.”] identifying with the staff at the French publication Charlie Hebdo who were brutally murdered by Islamic extremists.

While I am not a supporter of the content that Charlie Hebdo generated, I will defend their right to say what they said.

Interestingly, last week, a French court convicted three people for writing despicable tweets against homosexuals. Some of the tweets made claims that all homosexuals should be killed. But I doubt such speech would hold up as a viable threat in a court of law. It might provide circumstantial evidence were one of the authors to be accused of killing someone in this group, but it wouldn’t be a threat per se.

Clearly, these three individuals writing despicable content were not Charlie in the eyes of the court. But the content of Charlie Hebdo, arguably similarly despicable in many cases, was not convicted in a court of law and was extolled in public opinion. It was defended as satire. (Last week, I linked to a piece by George Weigel in which he argued that it was not satire, but something far more serious.)

Again, I don’t agree with the content of the tweets in question. But I fail to see how they’re not covered by free speech, no matter how deplorable. And, in any event, aren’t we actually safer when we know who such people are because they freely publicize it? To me that seems better than not knowing who they are, but fearing that they’re probably out there somewhere.

The Charlie references remind me, in a tragicomic way, of a joke that bum told a group of us coming out of a pub. (To get this, you’ll have to know something about 70s TV. We, admittedly, were a little slow on the uptake.) We were four, myself and three male friends. The bum stopped us and asked each of the men, “Are you Charlie?” Of course, none of them was and we had no idea what he was talking about. After he asked the last one, he asked them all, “Then what are you doing with this angel?” We all agree that he earned a tip for that one! [In case you need some help with the 70s cultural reference, it was the TV show “Charlie’s Angels.]

So who’s Charlie now after the buzz of a couple of weeks ago when world leaders gathered to lead a rally of millions in defense of free speech and as a stand against a violent reaction to free speech? After all, in both the case of the magazine and the individuals tweeting, the content was awful and not defensible except if one accepts the right to free speech. Neither group was yelling “Fire!” in a crowded space or talking about terrorist activity while standing in line at airport security.

Thoughts?

UPDATE. Here’s a thoughtful post by Luke O’Sullivan, written immediately after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. He gives several examples in France of those exercising free speech legitimately who were not granted the recognition and promotion of being “Charlie.”

 

 

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“Charlie Hebdo” – Free Speech Or A Very Different Issue Altogether?

The inexcusable and inhuman attacks on the staff of the French publication Charlie Hebdo have prompted some good discussion about free speech. But is free speech really the issue? George…

The inexcusable and inhuman attacks on the staff of the French publication Charlie Hebdo have prompted some good discussion about free speech. But is free speech really the issue? George Weigel writes what may be the most interesting article on this topic and maintains that the Charlie doesn’t actually fall under the category of satire. Rather its tone is closer to nihilism. The issue is not about rights, but about deeper philosophical considerations that shape our very understanding of the human person. Arguably, the nihilist consideration of the human person makes the question of rights irrelevant.

Weigel writes:

In the world of Charlie Hebdo, sadly, all religious convictions (indeed all serious convictions about moral truth) are, by definition, fanaticism—and thus susceptible to the mockery of the “enlightened.” But that crude caricature of religious belief and moral conviction is false; it’s adolescent, if not downright childish; it inevitably lends itself to the kind of vulgarity that intends to wound, not amuse; and over the long haul, it’s as corrosive of the foundations of a decent society as the demented rage of the jihadists who murdered members of Charlie Hebdo’s staff.

The sophomoric nastiness regularly displayed in Charlie Hebdo most certainly does not constitute any sort of warrant for homicide; the incapacity of some Muslims to live in pluralistic societies and the rage to which those incapacities lead is a grave threat to the West. The question is: What do those two truths have to do with each other?

Here’s my suggestion: You can’t beat something with nothing—perhaps better, you can’t beat something with nothingness.

The entire piece is worth a thoughtful read and a good discussion. Are we in a post-Christian era? Has it created a void that spawns extremism? I will defend the right to free speech, but it’s hard for me to imagine the content of Charlie Hebdo as the product of a living Christian culture, indeed as the product of any culture that is ordered towards life.

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