I have been watching the coverage of the atrocities in France. I feel deeply sorry for everyone who has died or been injured or lost a loved one or friend as a result of these tragic events.
While most reports focus on the violence, some of the news coverage has also dealt with the vexed question of free speech and how far it should go. I believe that the people at Charlie Hebdo had a right to publish what they did. I may have found some of what they published puerile, and I can understand the attitude of some Muslims who feel that this material was insulting, but the bottom line is that freedom of speech is important. It is important to Muslims, to Christians, to atheists. It is important to everyone, whether they recognise the fact or not, because human beings lie and distort the truth, and the only way to establish what the truth is is by debating and discussing – freely. If this offends or annoys some people, then that’s too bad. Without that, you end up with rigid orthodoxies which don’t reflect people’s needs and end up making them unhappy.
So, I don’t believe in smashing presses, or shooting people who write bad books or putting them in jail. Cassidy’s book is rubbish but people have a right to read it and believe in it, just as I have a duty to criticise it. Freedom of speech is a right, but it’s also a privilege which many people in the world don’t enjoy. We shouldn’t take it for granted or waste it on crank theories and lies.
The fundamentalists who shot the staff at Charlie Hebdo and the brave Muslim policeman Ahmed Merabet don’t believe in human rights, or freedom of speech, or basing their beliefs on evidence.
I do. I believe in the right of freedom of speech, and the responsibility to defend it.
Je suis Charlie. Je suis Ahmed.