Thursday, November 19, 2015

Charlie Hebdo & Free Speech

Trigger Warning:
Old post is old...
So this is an old Facebook post I made in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.  Figured it was a good time to bring this out considering John Effing Kerry thinks the attack was "legitimate."

Americans love us some free speech. Right or left, black or white, male or female, alien or sentient potted plant, free speech is the one thing that everyone agrees makes this country great. We love the fact that we are free to say whatever we want, think whatever we want, and feel whatever we want to feel without having to worry about jackbooted thugs hauling us off to the gulag for offending Dear Leader.

So you want to publish a treatise on what economic policies you think the country should be following? Go for it. Disagree with something that the president/congress/The Man is doing? Head to the nearest social media platform and have at it. Have a mind to post a racist screed extolling your idea of the master race? Fire away, even though it makes you a mega-douche. Hate the TV show Firefly and everything associated with it? Speak your peace (and fuck you for breathing tyvm). Yes, free speech comes easy for us Americans.

Except...when it doesn't. We have it so easy here that we often forget that free speech comes at a price. People may disagree with you, and might challenge you. You may have to defend your beliefs in a public square. Your opinions may offend some folks that read them. Hell, they may offend most folks. You might make people angry, and some of these people may lash out at you. The attacks could come online or, God forbid, in person. You may, one day, have to decide whether or not you're ready to die for what you believe.

No one knew this better than the people at Charlie Hebdo.

By now most people know the details of the attack. Most people know that 12 employees of the magazine were killed by a group of Islamic terrorists. Most folks will also know that it was done in retaliation for the cartoons they had published insulting the prophet Mohammed. What most people may not know was this wasn't Charlie Hebdo's first run in with terrorism. In 2011 Charlie Hebdo's offices were firebombed after they published an issue that was "guest edited" by Mohammed. They responded to this attack not by pulling back and apologizing, but by continuing to publish what they had always published. Their editor, Stephane Charbonnier, stated that his magazine's cartoons would "shock those who will want to be shocked." He was one of the people killed yesterday.

How did the rest of the media respond to yesterday's violence? Self-censorship. Multiple major news outlets, from the AP to NBC, stated that they would not depict the offensive cartoons in any way. Fox News briefly showed one cartoon during their morning coverage, and then stated they had no plans to do so ever again. The Daily Mail even went as far as to blur out the cartoons in one photo.

Some outlets took it a step further. They took to the airwaves and print to state that maybe, just maybe, the people at Charlie Hebdo had it coming. They offended people, they insulted an entire religion. Violence was the inevitable result, they said, and Charlie Hebdo should have known they were playing with fire.

On the one hand, this reaction is understandable. It's rare that journalists are attacked so brazenly, and I'd wager many of them are shocked to their very core. To put it bluntly, they're running scared. They have every right to be.

However, they have caved to the terrorists by self-censoring. The media likes to pretend that they are unaffected by the will of thugs and tyrants. The vaunted 4th estate will defend the right to say what you want to say come hell or high water. Except...when that speech may require one to pay the ultimate price.

Freedom of speech isn't free. The employees of Charlie Hebdo are French, but they understand that statement better than any American.

 Share your thoughts and comments below.  Or follow me on Twitter @trigwarnblog, or check out my Facebook page.

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