My ambivalent relationship with Charlie Hebdo

Je suis Charlie, Je ne suis pas Charlie

Now that the dust has begun to settle around the recent tragic murders in France I wanted to share my thoughts.

My heart goes out to the families of those murdered while at work at Charlie Hebdo. The fanatical rage that drove the two assassins to kill cannot be justified. They destroyed lives and made a mockery of Islam. But my compassion for the people does not extend to the magazine known as Charlie Hebdo.

Our society embraces free speech as a fundamental virtue. What makes free speech truly free is not the defense of easy and virtuous speech, it is rather in the defense of the ugly and the difficult even the vile and despicable. It is here that free speech is truly free. Only if all speech is defended then all speech is protected, including yours and mine. Our caveat has been to limit free speech so that it cannot be the direct cause of harm to others; we cannot yell “Fire” in a crowded theater is the standard example offered. That is not the only censorship we should consider however.

We must self-regulate. Civility and decorum require we consider how our words affect others. That is based on a respect for our fellow human being and the knowledge that words are powerful and can inflict hurt and emotional pain. We often do not account for how our words impact others and we should before indiscriminately lobbing verbal or written bombs.

Charlie Hebdo is not my cup of tea. Its purpose appears to be to offend wherever and however they can. Charlie Hebdo did not single out Islam for disrespect and mockery; Charlie holds nothing sacred. The tabloid seems to respect little more than its own sense of entitlement and right to print whatever they could to offend whoever they could. This attitude effectively limits their bite. Sometimes there is incisive social commentary, but it is rare enough that most of us do not subscribe to Charlie Hebdo.

The magazine was reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy; its circulation had all but dried up. Charlie Hebdo exercised the right to free speech and we exercised our right to protest it by ignoring the rag. That is how civil society deals with such things. Mocking everything means valuing nothing, including the right to express such things. Outrage over the mistreatment of one of the world’s great religions is however understandable. Carnage however, in the name of protecting the religion, does nothing but defile that religion and threatens one of the greatest of all human rights.

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