#CharlieHebdo: The Thin Line Between Freedom of Speech & Discrimination

Freedom of speech has always been a tricky issue for me, as the word “freedom” itself is too. Without doubt, it is a right that every person should have. But I have always believed that my freedom ends where the freedom of others starts. And I apply this to freedom of speech too. You are allowed to say your opinion, but there are limits and consequences.

The Charlie Hebdo attack is an inhumane act that needs to be condemned without doubt. A total of 18 lives have been lost during these three days of terror in Paris, and not just cartoonists: two policemen and a policewoman died too, as well as five innocent hostages. Enough prayers can’t be sent to the family of the deceased.

Despite all this, I don’t think Charlie Hebdo should be an icon for freedom of speech. I find their art offensive. Very offensive. Here are some of the drawings:

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The first picture mocks Christianity: the second one depicts the kidnapped girls in Nigeria as sexual slaves in benefits; the third one is a drawing of the French Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, who is black; and the fourth one shows a Muslim with a Coran while bullets kill him.

I have heard people defending these drawings saying they are “satire” and “jokes”. “If you are offended, you don’t get it”. But there is nothing to get. These cartoons don’t even express opinion: they express mockery and hate on the basis of damaging stereotypes. I understand when people say that they are free to criticize religion, because it is a belief based on faith and opinion, though there is difference between critiques and hate. And I believe that when criticizing, if you are not saying anything constructive or intelligent, you are just being hateful. Even leaving the religious aspect of this topic aside, making a joke out of the pain of hundreds of families who lost their girls, girls who were sold and forced into marriage and denied an education, is not sensible at all. Depicting black people as monkeys is not a joke neither, since that ideology of black people being animals lead to black people being treated as animals, enslaved and treated horribly. If you don’t think these cartoons are offensive, you are obviously too privileged, so feel grateful, and still, feel stupid.

Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists shouldn’t be treated as martyrs for freedom of speech, because that would lead to the continuous glorification of racism, sexism, and disrespect towards religion. I say this now as I said it back in the day when Joan Rivers died. She was comedian. Ok. And? Jokes hurt too. Look, I’m not going to act like if I have never said anything insensible. But I’m aware of how wrong what I say is, and I feel bad for it, and I apoligise, and I try not to do it anymore. However, Charlie Hebdo didn’t apologise and the cartoonists never showed regret.

There is always space for jokes in life. But it is easy to difference an innocent joke from a hurtful joke. If you are not part of the minority or social group you are going to mock, or you don’t have any personal ties to it, don’t. Just don’t. And more if you belong to a majority that hurt that minority or social group once, because even if you didn’t mean to offend, you will have offended, which is the case of  French people with Muslims and black people in colonial times. You may think that it is hypocritical that people are able to mock themselves but you aren’t able to mock them. However humor is sometimes a way of making something that really hurt you surreal and inexistent, or it is way of showing how absurd you think something that happened to you is.

Going back to the main topic of this article, discrimination shouldn’t be tolerated in any subject, from politics to arts. Discrimination is one of the biggest limits to the freedom of minorities. You can say “they are just drawings”, but they aren’t just drawings. Germany started with drawings about the Jewish too, before the Holocaust devastated that minority. You are normalizing a discriminatory behavior by allowing these sort of cartoons. And people die due to discriminatory behavior. Because it can lead to a majority thinking it is ok to mock people due to their religion, or due to their skin colour, or due to their gender, so they feel superior. And mockery affects negatively the self-esteem of others. It can even lead to suicide. Or it can backfire and lead to revenge and hate. And hate attracts violence.

Moreover, I don’t understand how people are being so hypocritical. If a Muslim made a joke out of the 9/11 in public press, the outrage would be huge. If a Nigerian did a drawing mocking all the children that have died in school shootings in USA, we would qualify that as “horrible”. Why is it ok mocking some things, but it isn’t ok mocking others? Freedom of speech without limits for everyone, or freedom of speech without limits for no one. Easy and simple. Also, where are all these protests for freedom of speech when journalists are killed shamelessly in countries under oppressive governments for stating mere things such as facts? Yesterday, a blogger was flogged in public for his pacifist blog posts in Arabia Saudi. Now, that can be considered a victim of the lack of freedom of speech, and he wasn’t even offensive or discriminatory. But, who is talking about it? Why tragedies and oppression only matter in Western countries for a lot of people? I blame elitist media for this to start with, but still. Still. Caring only about things that happen to “your people” or in your country/continent or related to your religion is selfish, and that is one of the biggest reasons why the world can’t advance anytime soon when comes to social topics. Humans we are too self-absorbed sometimes.

On conclusion: I strongly condemn the terrorist attack. I don’t think that the cartoonists should be dead, despite of their offensive drawings. I’m not a violent person, I don’t believe in violence as a solution for anything. Cartoons aren’t a reason to kill. Terrorism must be tackled. Too many innocent lives are lost every day because of it. Please, if you are religious, keep all the people dying in your prayers. If you aren’t, just keep them in your thoughts and hope for peace.

However, being dead isn’t a reason to run away with being offensive. The attack to Charlie Hebdo occurred because of terrorism and antagonism: using lack of freedom of speech as the prime reason is misleading. Freedom of speech is a beautiful right everyone deserves. But every right comes with responsibility. We are individuals living in society with other people. And we should respect them. Even if we think their religion is “stupid”. Criticism is good. Hate and mockery, not so much. Be aware of the thin line between freedom of speech and discrimination.

Sharing my opinion,

Emily H. Featherington


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