“I am strong, I will hurt them with my words” (My 3 year old son, when being told what happened in France today)
This post is not about cold legal analysis, or even about law. It will not be particularly structured or elaborate. It is an expression of shock and anger at what happened in Paris today.
Two armed men entered the most famous French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo and shot a dozen people before escaping. Apparently, the two men claim to do this in the name of Islam. The attack led to the death of four of the most famous French cartoonists (Wolinski, Tignous, Cabu and Charb, the editor in chief of the newspaper). These individuals represented freedom of expression in France and were known for fighting those who opposed this principle, whatever their creed and religion. These cartoonists helped me grow up intellectually throughout my youth and shaped my capacity for critical thought. They taught me that intellectual freedom and freedom of expression are the most important values and that words are the sharpest weapons.
France, the birthplace of Voltaire, is in shock today.
Charlie Hebdo had taken a stand in 2006 when it decided to reproduce the famous caricatures of Mohamed that had initially been published in a Danish newspaper and sparked tensions throughout the world.
It is the protection of freedom of expression which led me to start this blog nearly five years ago. My second post was to denounce a resolution from the UN Human Rights Council on the “defamation of religion”. The UN should not be held hostage or be complicit to such theories.
My one and only belief is in freedom of expression.
I believe that freedom of expression is the most fundamental liberty in a democratic society.
I believe that the capacity to debate and to accept disagreement is the symbol of the maturity of a community and what separates us from animals.
I believe that offending someone is not a crime nor a human rights violation. I believe that human rights activists who frame the question of limits of freedom of expression around questions of “human dignity” and “offense” are directly conceptually and intellectually complicit with what happened today. The protection of the freedom of expression should not depend on the subjective perception of any individual who might take offense.
I believe that all laws that limit the freedom of expression, whatever its content, even genocide denial, wacky scientific theories or racism, ultimately harm a society and prove its weakness, not its strength.
I refuse to be silenced by anyone and ideologues of any kind. I refuse this intellectual dictatorship which, as its name indicates, would try to dictate how to speak, and ultimately, how to think. I am often told of the risks of too much freedom of expression, that words are powerful and can move people to do evil things. Maybe. But this is the one issue I choose to be an idealist about but the brave new world that is the alternative is not one I want to live in. and I will fight with those, like the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, who preferred to die standing, rather than lie down before the threat of violence.
And I hope to offend people here, on this blog, as elsewhere, for many years to come.