Freedom from Terror
“Let’s talk about the limits of free speech…” somebody nearby says. The host invites guests to call in and between callers launches into a polemic on the attack at the Charlie Hedbo offices. He says something about the Middle East and the crisis of multiculturalism. “Who can we get from the Muslim community?” The buzzing in my ear tells me our discussion on the Paris tragedy has gone off the mark – badly.
Are we, by placing the attack into a discussion about freedom of speech, looking to identify some justification for the killers? And by turning our focus on the rights of a free press, aren’t we entering into a simulation of a debate – one that distorts our view of reality? It seems to me that we’ve got words and actions all mixed up: both as criticism and as direct violent intervention.
In the world of early-18th century British journalism, for sheer cantankerousness Daniel Defoe had few peers. A businessman, he wrote in defense of the bourgeoisie and his satiric pamphlets mocking the aristocracy and the clergy for which he was arrested, tried, and pilloried. Still, while in the stocks the crowds threw flowers and sang his satirical poem “Hymn to the Pillory” which he’d managed to publish while incarcerated. The journalists from Charlie Hedbo now occupy this place in my mind, with a single difference: 300 years ago the symbol attached to the pillory was one of censorship, a term which now can be substituted with the terms tolerance or political correctness, though the idea is the same.
Are there principles for journalistic expression? Indeed, and caricature, according to the rigorous definition of journalism is nonverbal reportage – a genre of journalism that assumes a level of subjectivity and enjoys a more liberal editorial standard. What Charlie Hedbo was involved in was social critique framed as satirical journalism. The weekly was certainly not the first publication to take shots at religion and government, and more of periodicals of its type will surely follow. And this is as it should be. Otherwise we would drown in a sea of unreflective moralizing, unfit for creative work, self-irony, or finely wrought and general lunacy.
The Radio Svoboda website where I have worked as a journalist and caricaturist for nearly three years placed a “Je suis Charlie” banner on the site in honor of those who died in the Paris attack. Yet editorial policy decided against posting any caricatures from Charlie Hedbo in stories on the tragedy.
“This is too rough”. This was the explanation given any number of times by our editorial staff for rejecting one of my drawings. On one drawing of St. Cyril the cross had to be erased in order for the work to be published. Is this an abuse of freedom of speech? Hardly. Each periodical should be as cautious or daring as it sees fit in formulating its worldview, as long as it’s not concealing information or spreading distortions of fact. In truth, each media outlet is only a metaphor for real processes, prisms, that reflect reality.
As an author no topics are off limits for me. I’m free to joke about whatever I like – with the only issue really being how good the joke is. Freedom of speech lies in this: my assertions can be commended, denounced, or ignored, but above all – they can be.
So the caricatures of Charlie Hedbo – these are entirely on the realm of words. But with our comments on the events in Paris we find ourselves unavoidably in the realm of actions.
One could argue that it creates hate violence. But this manipulative statement. First, the magazine was equally cantankerous to very different ideological camps, and getting confessions from him evenly. Second, not “Charles Ebdo” European stereotype formed at least on the number of Muslims in Europe (France, for example, they – eight percent of the total population, while the majority of the population believes that figure reaches 31 per cent). Not “Charles Ebdo” starts political campaign with the slogan “They take away your job” or prohibits Muslim women wear veils. The purpose of the magazine, after all, was not sacrilege. Journalists – declaring leftist views – criticized the limitations and lack of freedom – as straightforward as could afford.
Proof of this is the tweet that appeared after the attack, tagged #JeSuisAhmed. “I’m not Charles, Ahmed I, who died in police. “Charles” ridiculed my culture and religion, and I died defending his right to do so.” Europeans have long experienced times when freedom of speech fought life. That is why the victim “Charles Ebdo” can not be justified, and any discussion of their ethics seems to me irrelevant.
After all, it certainly draws us into endless chewing conflicts often hypertrophied efforts of those who benefits, and drives away the thought of what really is important. Very few of those cartoons that appeared rapidly after the tragedy in solidarity, in fact, related to Muslims. Most were united in condemning the violence.
Alain Badiou in his “Ethics” – some kind of manual of modern morality – sharply criticized the so-called “ideology of human rights.” This book was published in the early 90’s and later became one of the replicas anti-humanism philosophy, common in France in the 60s, which consisted in the fact that worrying about right, we totally ignore freedom. Badiou speaks of superficiality kulturalizmu (as capturing diverse customs and traditions) and export democratic values, based on the maxim: “Be like me, and I will respect your difference.” And then he posits another maxim as counter-everyone is different – that differences between people much more than the obvious, marked by religion or political preferences. In fact, “between Chinese peasant and a young Norwegian managers as much difference as between me and anyone else – including me most.”
Therefore, “I am – Charles” does not mean “I – French” or “I – left.” “I – Charles ‘means’ I – a man.” And if we still need universal ideals, why do not we believe in human life as the highest value? I believe – and so my feelings hurt.
It’s a pity only that our feelings so often wrong words and much less – everything else.