Friday, 9 January 2015

Je suis Charlie.

"There is a public interest in the freedom of expression itself."

The attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo earlier this week left 12 people dead, among whom some of the best cartoonists not only in France, but in the world. Today, in the aftermath of the massive manhunt around Paris, it is important we remembered what these journalists died for. As fanaticism, radical Islam and questions on organised religion continue to be the leading headlines of today's and tomorrow's newspapers, we should be grateful that we are able to publicly discuss sensitive topics like these.

It is freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and with that - the free press - that these journalists died protecting, and it is the duty of our society to keep protecting those great civil rights. 

Liberte d'expression

France has been a pioneer in these democratic values for centuries. This is why an attack in Paris feels so personal as this is often viewed as the heart of freedom. Long before Brussels turned into the capital of Europe, there was Paris - the capital of revolutionary France. The state which led the world to democracy. Where people stopped bowing down to the monarchy and created the forever living example of the ordinary man, fighting for his freedom and for his rights. The face of the République. 

Speaking of which, we cannot overlook some of the Enlightenment's main values - individualism, general will, and tolerance. During this era, former institutions were challenged, literacy became more wide-spread, science trumped religious orthodoxy. In France, free thinkers such as Rousseau, Montesquieu and Voltaire, to name but a few, turned into the pillars of free speech. 

Furthermore, in one of the most important documents of the French Revolution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), is stated that:

"The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law."

It is in this same France, where Charlie Hebdo exists and it will continue to exist despite the violent attack. And it doesn't really matter if we liked or agreed with all its caricatures. Chances are, if you look at one of its issues, you will find a good number of stuff that you would find offensive as well. However, the point to satire is, it is sharp and it cuts to the bone - otherwise, it is not such a good piece of satire. What is important now, is that we continue to live in a world, where magazines like Charlie Hebdo exist - even in the 21st century, millions of people around the globe cannot even imagine that their countries would ever allow such outlets to exist. Consider yourself lucky if you are able to read Charlie Hebdo and the likes.

Journalism will always be dear to me and the loss of those brave men, feels like a great loss to journalism as a whole. This was above all a terrorist attack on our free press, on our freedom of speech. And yes, these are values that people would die for. Without these values, even this little blog post would not exist.

Meanwhile, choose not to be offended by cartoons. Choose to have a mind as free as the ideal of free speech. Being able to express your opinion is not given, it is a right that has been fought for.

“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”  ~ George Washington

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