Charlie Hebdo: This is not the time to discuss “limits” of free speech

When there were some tweets yesterday that raised questions if the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo should have been “careful” and “respectful” towards the Muslim sentiments, we thought that those were isolated voices.

However, a day after the ghastly terror attacks, more and more similar voices are being raised by different people in the mainstream media.

While questions like “whether absolute free speech is possible” or “should there be a limit to the free speech” have been being debated since ages, OpIndia.com believes that this is hardly the right time to discuss such questions.

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It is akin to discussing “should women dress modestly” when a rape has taken place and the rapist claims that he was “provoked” due to the skimpy clothes the woman was wearing.

Any such debate will unwittingly legitimize the medieval and violent ideology that the perpetrator of the crime subscribes to.

Unfortunately, such debates are taking place. For example, look at this article published on Firstpost.com, which explains the “nuances” of why the author, Sandip Roy, is not supporting the campaign #JeSuisCharlie, which was started to show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo.

Je Suis Charlie drawing by Jean Julien
Not everyone is willing to support this movement; there are other priorities for some.

The author declares that the cartoons were indeed offensive, and quotes another view that says that “Their satire was bad, and remains bad. Their satire was racist and remains racist.”

Surely, the author has all the right to say that – free speech after all.

It further says, rather quotes, “The murder of the satirists in question does not prove that their satire was good.”

Indeed, even this point is taken – free speech after all.

But dear Mr. Roy, what we ought to be discussing right now is that not whether the murder of the satirists in question prove that their satire was good, but whether the act of murder proves that the grievances of the murderers were genuine.

The “quality” of cartoons is the last thing we need to discuss at a time when the terrorists, and their apologists, are citing deeds and teachings of Prophet Mohammad, claiming that the act of murdering someone for saying offensive things is sanctioned in Islam.

Let’s keep the political correctness aside. The truth is that even if a cartoonist draws an approving illustration (as opposed to a mocking cartoon) of Prophet Mohammad, chances are very high that he would be accused of blasphemy and there will be calls for beheading him.

Isn’t it the right time to question such beliefs?

How is this belief – that one shouldn’t draw pictures of a particular personality – fundamentally different from a belief like “one shouldn’t eat non-vegetarian food on Tuesdays”? Why should there be satire that mocks only the latter belief?

It is not about particular beliefs. It is about the priority our commentators are assigning – questioning the satire versus questioning the beliefs.

Why are our commentators not debating issues that question and attack the dogmatism of the terrorists, but are instead choosing to debate issues that question and attack editorial tastes and discretion of the magazine?

Do they really think this is the time to discuss limits and boundaries of free speech? If so, the terrorists are nodding in agreement.


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