I am Charlie – Are You?

Since the tragedy that unfolded in Paris a few weeks ago, we have seen an amazing outpouring of support for Charlie Hebdo with the catchphrase “I am Charlie” or in French, “Je suis Charlie”, and this has come from some strange corners, with a tinge of hypocrisy.

Charlie Hebdo is a weekly magazine that displays cartoons, reports, essays, and jokes, all published at the line most comedians agree, they dare not cross, however, love getting as close to as possible. After all that is where all great stand-up comedians operate.

These phrases “I am Charlie” and “Je suis Charlie” support the idea of free speech and freedom of expression, however every world leader that marched at the front of the millions of people who rallied that day, not one of them actually supports this mantra through their legislation and have some pretty pathetic laws that will actually jail you for doing what Charlie Hebdo do week in and week out. My home country Australia came close to passing a law last year that would have allowed for complete freedom of speech and expression, but found that they couldn’t stifle some of the more wacky, crazy, disturbing elements of the community, so after spending months adeptly campaigning on why it serves a greater good, they dropped it.

As I have said in a previous post, The Freedom of Speech is one of the basic tenets of human rights we all should, but sadly do not, enjoy. My Facebook wall has been inundated with people sharing “I am Charlie” and “Je suis Charlie” posts, but I suspect they wouldn’t share these, if it offended their religion, icon or ideology.

One only has to look back into Charlie Hebdo’s archives to see they have skewered in an often times ‘disturbing’ comedic way, just about every world leader, religious figure and icon. Some of it is harmless fun, but Charlie Hebdo’s intention is to strike at the heart of what many hold dear. You name it, they have sketched it, from Popes to Presidents and in many cases putting them in positions you would only see in bedrooms or dark places of the mind.

Freedom of Speech, Comes at a Price

There was a recent article written by conservative David Brooks from the NY Times, makes some points on this subject, but sadly misses the greater point of Freedom of Speech and Expression. He argues that across American college campus professors have been fired for making statements that some may find offensive. But his point is missed in that freedom of speech does come at a price. You should be able to say what you like, and the public entity, or enterprise you work for should be able to fire you for that very same statement, you should also be able to be sued by the target of a statement, if you cannot prove that statement to be true. This is a fair price to pay for those freedoms.

I love Freedom of Speech, for one – the bigots, racists, homophobes etc, are out in the open for everyone to see, instead of like an astute politician strolling through every commentary with the filter turned on high, backed by writers, media consultants we pay for so that they do not make errors the media can set upon.

If someone thinks that being a homosexual is akin to child molestation, I might want to hear it, if David Irving publishes a book denying the extent of the holocaust, I may want to read it, if someone wants to do a talk on how immunization is killing our kids, I may want to attend it and if some nutcase wants to do a talk on how fluoride in our water is a secret communist government plot, I may also want to attend. It doesn’t matter how pathetic or disgusting a persons views are, I prefer them to be out in the open, rather than have my mind and life filtered by the laws of the land in which I inhabit.

Understand this, when governments stifle free speech, you start heading in a direction of public distrust in those governments and their departments. Just look at the countries where free speech and free expression are so limited, that you cannot even trust your thoughts with friends and family, yes these are all failed states, like Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait etc.

But what do Australia, Sudan, Austria, Canada, Ireland, Egypt, Iraq, Iceland, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Russia and many others have in common? Anti Blasphemy Laws. And in many of the countries you can be lashed and sentenced to death, simply for offending ones religion and in most cases the majority religion of that country. Sure the Western Nations penalties are much more watered down, but the idea of having laws in the company of these other nations, is ridiculous and an affront to the freedom of speech and expression.

Freedom of speech is something you should hold dear, especially when it offends you, you then have a choice to ignore it or eviscerate it, your mind is then free to think for itself and I cannot think of something better to drive our democracies well into the 21st Century.

One final note on the image attached to this post. The 87 year cartoonist Albert Uderzo, the man behind the legendary French comic strip Asterix, a comic I used to read prolifically as a child – came out of retirement to pay tribute to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo and I could not be happier.

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